I think about the amount of calories that must be put into the creation of any one issue of a comic book and I am wrapped in guilt. The planning of a page, the layout of each panel, distribution of dialog and the pacing of page turns. Stretching a narrative over x number of issues and trying to time that cliff hanger ending so that it feels natural in the story arch, but thrilling in the issue. I haven’t even brought up that more energy is put into a single panel of comic book art than I put into my eight hour work day.
That’s why this most recent run of Batman has been so special. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have spoiled us since they took over in 2011. Never before has there been a team that so constantly makes each issue feel like a life’s work. The series has elevated itself by blending together intricately assembled pages, liquid panel composition, and epically planned and paced storytelling.
With issue #33, we come to the end of Snyder and Capullo’s third major story arch “Zero Year.” The story has been a fresh reimagining of Batman’s first year wearing the cowl, and has focused mainly on Batman’s battle to free a crippled and isolated Gotham from The Riddler.
Gotham is in ruins. Vegetation chokes the skyscrapers. Citizens feed themselves by fishing from the flooded subway systems. The Riddler has challenged the survivors of a dying Gotham to “Get smart or die.” A humbled, underequipped and outwitted Batman has spent the last several issues trying to flip the chess board on the villain with the help of Jim Gordon, and Lucius Fox, but The Riddler is always a move ahead.
In issue #33 Batman and The Riddler have the show down that has been teased for over a year. The confrontation is played out on a game board with robots and lasers enforcing The Riddler’s twisted rules.
The scene is beyond tense and while it is void of action, it is a violent boxing match of frontal lobes. Climatic without being flashy, the scene builds, but the issue shows its one fault when it is concluded with a rather random and straight forward final puzzle piece. The triumph in the final struggle ends up feeling more a consequence of chance than a victory.
After the issue’s slight misstep we get to experience a truly brilliant epilog that takes us to a place I did not expect. As we close this over year long look at what turned Batman into Batman, Synder turns the focus of his whole epic inward.
During Zero Year we saw why Bruce Wayne became Batman and in the story’s final panels we see why he chooses to stay Batman.
Batman has always been Bruce’s attempt to heal from his parent’s death while giving it meaning. The beauty of this issue lies in the one moment when Snyder asks, “what if becoming Batman, was not the only way to do that?”
It’s one of the most small and touching moments in the Batman mythos. It changes the way the reader sees Batman, sculpting us a hero that is more medicine than messiah.
Zero Year and Batman #33 in particular, have given us a Batman that is everything we have always loved, yet something new to call are own. A love letter to all Batman fans, this issue is a perfect conclusion and an intriguing new beginning.