Review by Paul Bowler
Having plunged Gotham into darkness, the Riddler trapped Batman in the catacombs. Batman and Lieutenant Gordon must work together as the superstorm closes in on the city, but when the power is restored the Riddler’s grand design for Gotham City is finally revealed. The Dark City chapter of Zero Year concludes here, in Batman #29, a special extra-sized issue, were events from Batman’s past converge to influence his future as the storm reaches Gotham…
Batman #29 is one of those comic books you get on new comic book day that you read and then immediately want to read again. Greg Capullo’s stunning cover alone is enough to wet your appetite for this issue, emblazoned with a single question mark depicting Batman almost drowning in a sea of bones, its not long before we see the Dark Knight bursting from this sepulchre of Gotham’s past with an almost primal rage to save the city.
Scott Snyder has weaved an inordinate number of plot threads into the Dark City chapter of Zero Year. Here, as we watch Lieutenant Gordon oversee the evacuation of neighbourhoods at risk of flooding, the meticulous groundwork and attention to detail that Snyder has installed in nearly every aspect of Zero Year begins to come to fruition. A familiar face here, along with a subtle link to the scientists that Helfern killed, and the very act of restoring the power to the city, all converge around one distinct landmark that has been hiding in plain sight all along.
A new Bat-Vehicle makes a spectacular entrance in Batman #29 as well, and it’s a real punch the air, didn’t see that bit coming, kind of moment that will leave you gasping in awe as the Dark Knight makes his entrance. With a knowing tip of the hat to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, the rest of this issue quickly gets down to business. Batman knows the Riddler has managed to construct a remote hacking hub, which together with the other technologies and research he has acquired will enable him to take control of the city once the power is switched on. The com-chatter between Batman and Alfred is another standout moment here; there are some brilliant exchanges between them, especially when an impossible leap of faith is called for so Batman can reach his goal.
From here, the issue speeds along at a break-neck pace. Events from the opening stages of Dark City become even more prevalent, especially when Batman has to face Dr Death again during the height of the storm. While Gordon’s confrontation with the Riddler leaves him caught between a rock and a hard place, the revelations begin to come thick and fast during Batman’s fight with Dr Death. The way Snyder and Capullo bring these various elements together against the backdrop of the storm is breathtaking, and we begin to realise just how closely Dr Karl Helfern’s life and work has become entwined with Batman’s own past. The fact it stems from such an ambiguous link to a song written on a soldiers helmet as he went to war, makes it all the more tragic that Helfern’s research consumed his life and made him easy prey for the Riddler’s schemes.
You know, I’m starting to run out of words to describe just how good Greg Capullo’s work on this series has been. I’m sitting here writing this, and I just keep flicking back through the pages, especially the *censored* one, and I have to say that I am left speechless by this man’s artistic talent. Capullo has really pulled out all the stops with this issue: the dynamic layout paces the story perfectly, there are full pages which are simply outstanding, and the ferocity of every thunderclap punctuates those big action set-pieces as Batman’s struggle with Helfern takes centre stage. Danny Miki’s inks are as flawless as ever, while FCO’s colors are simply phenomenal – I can’t stop looking at that page where Batman leaps into the storm; it’s magnificent!
Dr Death returns this issue, bigger, and more powerful than before. Helfern becomes even more horrifically deformed in his fight with Batman, the accelerated bone growth cause by his serum leads to some gruesome scenes of body horror. The Riddler also emerges from the shadows, strolling into the storm drenched streets, casually twirling his cane as he unleashes the greatest riddle of all on Gotham and her citizens. The themes of climate change have played a major role in this chapter of Zero Year. In his plan to create a new environment for Gotham, Nygma has set a challenge that will send Batman and the very city he is sworn to protect back to a base level, forcing them all to evolve in order to survive if they are to have any hope at all of catching him.
Ever since Zero Year began, the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne has never been far from our minds. Batman #29 is Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s version of this momentous, almost sacred, part of Batman’s origin. Zero Year has shown us glimpses of events from the day leading up to that fateful night in Crime Alley, each issue has steadily been building up to this defining moment in Bruce’s life, successfully expanding the mythology of the character to a new level while brining a fresh insight into Bruce’s early crime-fighting career. Batman #29 draws us inexorably towards this tragic moment in Crime Alley, from the ominously placed poster in the police station, to the heartrending finality of that night, Snyder and Capullo’s take on this pivotal scene is nothing short of magnificent. The haunting clarity of this moment will envelope you completely as the gunshots ring out. In a perfect fusion of storytelling and art the impact of this scene is multiplied tenfold when the genesis of Batman’s grief and rage boils over as Gotham succumbs to the storm.
As the second arc of Zero Year closes in Batman #29, we now approach the final part of Zero Year, the intriguingly titled Savage City, that will conclude writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s stunning 11 part retelling of the beginning of Bruce Wayne’s crime fighting career as Batman within the context of The New 52. So far it’s been one hell of a ride, and I’m sure Savage City will form an equally epic conclusion to this storyline.