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Comic Review: Batman #21

Batman #21 DC Comics Zero Year cover

Writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo take readers back to the New 52 Batman’s formative days in Batman #21, the first entry in the Zero Year arc for the Dark Knight.

Batman #21 goes back six years to set up a genuinely engaging take on Batman’s early days that centers on Bruce Wayne’s relationship not only with the criminals he hunts, but with the city of Gotham itself.

It also manages to avoid stepping in the same footprints of Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: Year One origin story, making for a fresh take overall.

Gotham has always been a palpable thing in Scott Snyder’s New 52 run on Batman, particularly in his early Court of Owls storyline. Batman #21 is a return to that perspective on the city, but this time Snyder tries to show what it is about Gotham that Bruce loves so much.

It’s a take on the character Batman fans haven’t seen before, and it’s made all the more intriguing by an opening sequence that appears to show a run-down Gotham where Batman is just starting to make a name for himself.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While the Batsuit makes an early appearance, much of this issue is about Bruce Wayne. Bruce has just returned to Gotham City after years of training abroad, and he’s eager to begin his war on crime.

In this case, crime means the Red Hood gang and their mysterious leader (cough Joker cough), who was introduced in Batman #0 last October.

Joker’s not quite Joker yet, and Batman certainly isn’t Batman, but Scott Snyder has all the seeds for these characters in place.

The grin Capullo draws on Red Hood is particularly effective at alluding to his future identity.

Snyder writes Bruce Wayne’s early crimefighting days very much in the vein of the current Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, complete with master disguises, daring escapes and good old fashioned detective work.

But while Bruce fights the Red Hood gang as a master of disguise, he’s also gathering his arsenal of gadgets and struggling to decide how to pick up a civilian life that he’s not sure he needs.

All the groundwork is there for Batman, and the fun is going to be seeing how Snyder assembles the pieces.

Snyder is effective in his use of flashbacks, particularly when he leaps back to Bruce’s childhood for a conversation between papa Wayne and little Bruce that leads – ultimately – to a certain formative cave on the Wayne grounds.

Greg Capullo’s work is especially effective in his portrayal of Bruce Wayne. Capullo manages to capture the jawline and the bright eyes of Bruce at age 25 and age 10 so that it really does feel like you’re looking at the same character at different points in his life. Capullo’s facial work is excellent, and while there’s only one action sequence to draw, he renders it well.

The Red Hood gang is the center of Bruce’s world in this origin story, but the Riddler also makes his appearance before the end.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo lay out new questions about Batman’s origin with Batman #21: Zero Year, but they also appear to have an origin of sorts in mind for the birth of Batman’s Gotham City.

Where the Riddler fits into that city will be the real question.

9 out of 10

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