There are some moments that transcend anything as ordinary as continuity or storyline. One of those moments is in Frank Miller’s Batman Year One. A brutalized Bruce Wayne sits in his study, staring at the bust of his father’s head. He does not know how to scare the underbelly of society. As he bleeds out, Wayne asks out loud for his father to give him guidance from beyond the grave, or else Wayne will let himself die. A bat smashes through the window and Wayne utters the infamous words “Yes, father. I shall become a bat.”
No matter what the New 52 has done with Batman’s continuity, writer Scott Snyder is smart enough to understand you can’t screw with that one scene. Snyder is currently penning Batman Zero Year, his own version of Batman’s origin, one that’s a better fit to the New 52 than Miller’s Year One. So far, Snyder has staked out his own path, involving a whole new set of characters and situations. Still, he knows what is sacrosanct in Batman’s legacy, so he builds Batman #23 around that climactic scene.
As Batman #22 ended, the Red Hood gang blew up Wayne’s penthouse. Unwilling to return to Wayne Manor or to let the world know that he isn’t dead, Bruce Wayne has been planning his decimation of the underworld from a condemned building overlooking the place his parents were murdered. Batman #23 is about coming home, about Bruce Wayne taking the first steps to becoming something bigger than a vigilante. Thus far, Wayne’s anger has gotten him nearly killed, involved in a fight with Alfred, and has struck fear into absolutely no one.
The Red Hood Gang leader (who might actually be the Joker pre-acid) stands over a beaten and bloodied Bruce Wayne, explaining why he’s blowing up his penthouse, and even adding that the deaths of Bruce's parents drove him to starting his criminal empire. Sure that Wayne will die, the Red Hood Gang leaves him to burn. Bruce crawls out and limps his way to Wayne Manor, the one place he knows will be safe. In essence, Bruce comes home.
From there, the masses would expect a nearly dead Bruce Wayne to crawl to the study, demand an answer from his dead father, and see the bat. Snyder decides to go another way. Even with that scene intact, Zero Year has to be its own thing. Wayne wakes to find Alfred tending to his wounds. The two even manage to patch things up. Bruce, beaten and dejected, runs to his study and rails to his dead father, which leads to a part I’m unsure about. It involves what looks like a hologram of the caves beneath the Manor showing through the walls of the study, and a weird glowing ball. I’m not sure if that’s real, or Bruce is imagining it. Regardless, bats fly into the study and the classic scene concludes.
I only had issue with two things in Batman #23, one small, one large. The small one was the amount of abuse Bruce Wayne takes from the Red Hood gang. He’s beaten with a mace and sledgehammer. Nobody gets up from that, not even Batman. The larger one has to do with a scene between Riddler and Bruce Wayne’s estranged uncle. The scene itself is solid, but I find the placement of it to be odd. Batman #23 should have been a straight story of Bruce returning home and taking his first steps to being a hero. This scene, which would have been fine in issue #24, takes us out of the bigger story, which is disappointing.
Greg Capullo continues to dazzle on art duties. Batman #23 isn’t an action packed issue, but Capullo still gives us exciting work. The scenes involving the Red Hood Gang are particularly brutal. Capullo understands tension in the art, he understands how to get the most from each panel. No wasted detail, everything right on point. I also give full kudos to the secondary story, which explains just how dedicated Bruce is to not killing. Snyder and James Tynion bang out and exemplary tale in just a few pages, and Rafael Albuquerque’s art is spectacular.
Batman #23 is a solid, if flawed, installment for Zero Year, and Snyder continues to etch his place alongside Dennis O’Neal, Frank Miller and Chuck Dixon, as one of the most important Batman writers in the character's history.
(4 Story, 4.5 Art)