Review by Paul Bowler
Batman #22 delves even further into Bruce Wayne’s past as the second chapter of Zero Year sees Bruce taking drastic measures during his next confrontation with the Red Hood Gang. There is also some unexpected resistance from the Penguin, tensions run high when Alfred speaks his mind, and Bruce is caught of guard by Philip Kane – his uncle and advisor at Wayne Industries – who is secretly plotting with Edward Nygma to kill him.
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s next instalment of Zero Year continues to explore the formative years of Bruce Wayne’s crime-fighting career, as he infiltrates the airship carrying Red Hood Gangs next target – Mr Luca Falcone. However, Mr Falcone’s faith in his subordinates proves to be his undoing. Although his disguise is soon compromised, it does afford Bruce the opportunity to finally get close enough to attack the Red Hood.
After the encounter in the skies above Gotham necessitates a swift exit, Bruce returns to his base of operations, but he is disappointed when the DNA sample that he managed to get from the Red Hood fails to proved him with any new leads. Frustrated that the Red Hood has managed to steal sonic weapons from Wayne Tec, and with Cobblepot also proving to be a dead end, Bruce is then forced to face up to Alfred’s doubts out his “war” on crime.
Bruce contacts his uncle, Philip Kane, and arranges to meet him at the museum at midnight to discuss the stolen weapons. He wants Philip to shut down operations until the Red Hood Gang is stopped, but his uncle is more concerned about persuading Bruce to announce his return to Gotham and come back to Wayne Enterprises. Philip Kane has one more surprise for Bruce, one that takes the decision out of his hands, and forces his nephew back into the limelight.
The night at the museum leads Bruce to an enlightening confrontation with Edward Nygma, where the deadly game begins in earnest as secrets and betrayals are finally revealed. Bruce decides that he needs to act fast, he returns home, only to find that the Red Hood has arranged a deadly surprise of his own…
While the true identity of the Red Hood remains a tantalising enigma, this issue continues to embellish the mystery surrounding the character, with his dialogue sounding increasingly like a saner version of the Joker. It is entirely possible this is all just an ingenious red herring, one designed to keep us all guessing, allowing Snyder to push the boundaries of our expectations of Zero Year as we eagerly scour ever page for clues. I also really enjoy how Scott Snyder refers back to the discovery of the cave while highlighting Bruce’s bond with Alfred in the present, balancing the terror of the moment where Bruce explored the cave in his childhood with the mutual respect and trust he now shares with Alfred which serves to make their furious argument all the more poignant. Bruce is still young, inexperienced, and more than a little arrogant. So when Alfred voices his concerns it leads to a bitter exchange of words between them, a few home truths are vented, and the end result is perhaps exactly what Bruce needed hear at this point in his life.
Edward Nygma steps out of the shadows in Batman #22 to confront Bruce. In a brilliantly crafted scene, Snyder builds up the underlying menace of their confrontation, it’s almost as if Nygma is sparing intellectually with Bruce, and as a result their face-off seems even more bruising in the absence of costumes, fighting, and high-tec gadgetry. The wordplay here is outstanding, as Nygma and Bruce face each other, with Nygma’s pointed remark about the Egyptian Sphinx hinting at perhaps a more significant feline reference.
The art by Greg Capullo and inks by Danny Miki for Batman #22 are as fantastic as ever, their work on this story arc is proving to be some of their best yet on the series and the colors by FCO Plascencia are superb. Gotham City looks magnificent as the airship is attacked by the Red Hood Gang. The scene where the young Bruce discovers the cave beneath Wayne Manor is one of the standout moments of Batman #22, running parallel to his adult self’s difficulties in apprehending the Red Hood while adjusting to life back in Gotham, and Capullo ensures this iconic moment is absolutely breathtaking as we catch our first glimpse of the bats flying towards Bruce in the light of the visual mapper.
The scenes at the museum are another fine example of how Snyder and Capullo have made this title so successful. With the meeting between Bruce and Philip Kane initially playing out beneath the jaws of a T-Rex, with the exhibit of the Sphinx providing a nice link to this issues back up story, and Nygma’s first encounter with Bruce framed against the Egyptian game that depicts the circular Oroboros creature, Batman #22 brings together story, art, and legacy in a seamless fusion of past and present like never before.
The cover by Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia for Batman #22 encapsulates how Zero Year is beginning to forge new aspects to the legacy of the bat, and the variant cover by Mike Janin is equally as impressive.
With a story by Snyder and James Tynion IV and art by Rafael Albuquerque, the backup story for Batman #22 features a secret event that occurred in Egypt, when Bruce was travelling the world in his quest to complete his training. Its an intriguing story, where an elderly Russian called Sergi teaches Bruce about sophisticated military technology, so he can find a way to use the components to escape from an airtight chamber beneath the Sphinx.
Batman #22 is full of action set-pieces and great character moments, the pace never seems to let up for an instant, and the exquisitely crafted build up to Bruce’s run-in with Edward Nygma is brilliant. In the space of only two issues Snyder and Capullo have already begun to expand on the full scope and potential that Zero Year has to offer, infusing the story with enough symbolic imagery and subtexts to fill a batcave, and leaves us waiting eagerly for the next chapter as the cliffhanging ending brings Bruce’s world crashing down around him.