I thought this was an incredible read. I loved Snyder's Justice League he wrote, as well as Metal/Death Metal either side with Capullo, so I was looking forward to finally checking this out. It definitely lived up to expectations and the hype. For me this is a benefit of reading in this format, but I particularly loved how the stories kept escalating and the scale kept increasing throughout the omnibus. I just thought it kept getting better and better.
The book itself is more or less split into three main stories.
The first one, Court of Owls, feels like quite an intimate storyline. A classic detective Batman story within the run if there ever was one. It was so well built up, and felt very refreshing considering the majority of my Batman solo series exposure before this was the current main run, going back to Rebirth. There's something about Capullo's art in that story. It's far from the slick house style nature we see often in some comics these days, and I mean that as a positive in this case. Especially with Glapion inks and FCO colours (more on those colours a bit later) it feels rough, it has that dark feel both tonally and artistically, but it manages to achieve that without getting bogged down in it.
Especially in the wider New 52, there were those comics that were so dark tonally to the point where it was just downright depressing, or just generally if a comic is artistically dark to the point where it becomes murky and hard to make out. Point being, the colours are bold. Not that there are many of them early on, but it's very clean, with nice dark blacks and bright whites, it just works. That style contributes a lot to the intimate feel of this first story. Especially given it's nature, how it starts to explore Gotham's past, how his parents and the Wayne family in general are involved. Just a really well done story to start off the run, I can see why it's so popular.
Then after an interlude and zero issue, we have Death of the Family. I loved this story. Everything I was loving about the omnibus so far, just got escalated here. The art continues to be absolutely on point. With the inclusion of the wider Batfamily and the Joker, there is more colour involved than Court of Owls, which just makes it feel all the more stark. The rough style is retained, making the flashes of colour, especially in the Joker's face that more dirty and disturbing feeling. The main Joker War event, over a year ago now, had some phenomenal work by the always spectacular Jorge Jimenez, but there was more of a psychological focus. The scale was so grand that any Batman action felt detached from the Joker himself.
But here it feels much more personal, and genuinely menancing. This has felt like exactly what I'd always expected and wanted in a Joker story. He's terrifying, he's maniacal, he's just so plainly sinister. But probably the most scary is how calculating he is. He's not just for mindless chaos. He has a plan, and one he executed for reasons he makes clear in the story. What I loved most about this was the change in pace from Court of Owls. From starting out as a slower detective story, it has an action packed finish. The couple interlude issues aside, that momentum is carried brilliantly into Death of the Family.
It has that same intimate feeling that Court of Owls did, but on a deeper scale. That felt very broad, it was an excellent storyline building something into the history of Gotham and the Waynes. But this was much smaller, and much deeper. Personal in a way only the Joker can provide to Batman. It feels like a very claustrophobic storyline. Court of Owls was 11 issues, so it had a bit more room to breathe, to make it feel more like a classic detective Batman story. Death of the Family takes place over half as many issues, but what a packed five issues they are. It feels like such a short timeframe, a lot of it is at night, or in the cave, or just in dark places, which of course elevates the claustrophobia. Even with Batman just in the cave at the computer, planning, you're anxiously on the edge of your seat, knowing the Joker is out there, waiting to see when he will show up next. This was really something, such a strong continuation of the book after an already great first arc.
Finally, after a few more interlude issues, we have Zero Year. Easily my favourite story in the whole omnibus, and honestly, one of my favourite Batman stories in the several years since I started collecting. This was just simply incredible. Such a simple but brilliant idea for a story, but executed so perfectly, it was simply magnificent. Similar to this book itself, Zero Year is split into three parts.
Secret City - Bruce Wayne has returned to Gotham after being gone for some time, to find the Red Hood Gang occupying the place. I loved the focus on Bruce himself in this part of the storyline. After two quite heavy stories, it was great to take a step back and actually take a look at Bruce as a character. As someone dropped into the story around the time Bruce has returned, you get to experience all the various changes Gotham has been through, through his eyes. It makes it feel fresh and exciting. Not just another Batman story, but one that showcases Bruce's talents and how much he has trained elsewhere, before even deciding to wear the cowl. It makes the transition into the famous Caped Crusader in Dark City all the more earned, the way you spend three issues here getting to know Bruce Wayne and his own conflict with the Red Hood Gang.
Dark City - "Yes father, I shall become a bat."
The iconic line from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's classic Year One is homaged at the end of Secret City, and as we head into the next part of Zero Year it appears some time has past since that moment. Batman is now up and running in Gotham, with one of the earliest incarnations of the Bat Cave but still mostly a myth by this point. Dark City has the most issues out of all three phases of Zero Year, and just #24 is a double sized issue that feels like a full story on it's own.
There's a lot to like here. A while ago a comic podcast I listen to covered Zero Year, and I thought it was interesting when they mentioned how it feels opposite to Year One, which is quite dark tonally and artistically. Whereas Zero Year is much more vibrant, almost playful, and embraces the larger than life superhero based ideas of this rich guy dressing up as a bat and what he goes up against. That really comes into play here. Particularly with #24, which brings the story of the Red Hood Gang to a close, where the rest of Dark City builds to a climax leading into Savage City. It all just feels so grand, bold and epic, managing to embrace more of the fun and vibrancy but importantly without it veering into silly.
Savage City - The vibrancy I mentioned is present in both Secret City and more prominently in Dark City, but here is where it really comes into it's own. One thing I noticed was that Zero Year features Danny Miki as inker, taking the place of Jonathan Glapion. Now I loved Glapion's work in the earlier issues, but the change to Miki is noticeable and in a good way, for the storyline. Or maybe it's just the colourist FCO being more vibrant, or that Capullo just generally cleaned up his art to make it less rough feeling. But there's a certain freshness to the art in Savage City in particular, the new wildness of the city is illustrated gorgeously, everything feels so full of life and genuinely out of control.
I think this final part is what cemented my enjoyment of Zero Year for me. The culmination of the three phases, with a character journey for Bruce you can really plot out and understand. With the Riddler as the villain, more focused on the mental side of things, that arc can be nicely brought full circle. Secret City was about Bruce's wits and his experience in his old city he was newly returning to, and Dark City was about the rise of him as the Batman, with the culmination of the Riddler's plan. Savage City is then about the aftermath of that. How the city recovers. How Batman and Bruce Wayne recover. Using those wits and connections he's made to take down the Riddler and restore the city back to normal.
The whole Zero Year storyline just feels like the perfect Batman character study, I adored it. So gorgeous, so much fun but without losing that Batman edge that makes his stories so interesting. Especially as a nice breather after the first two arcs.
Highly recommend checking this run out if you haven't already! Very excited to get the second omnibus now, when I can.
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