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Comic Book / Batman: Zero Year

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"Maybe that's what Batman is about. Not winning. But failing, and getting back up. Knowing he'll fail, fail a thousand times, but still won't give up."
Bruce Wayne

Batman: Zero Year is a major comic book storyline set in the DC Universe, spinning out of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's relaunched Batman title. It is a reimagining of Batman's origin story, explaining how Bruce Wayne donned the cape and cowl for the first time and how the Dark Knight became Gotham City's greatest protector in the New 52 continuity.

Consisting of three acts (Secret City, Dark City and Savage City), it depicts Bruce Wayne's return to Gotham City after years of absence and his first attempts at crimefighting, as the city nears the brink of destruction during a catastrophe: as a terrifying superstorm comes raging, the city's first supervillain The Riddler shuts down all electric power and leaves the citizens to face the storm in the dark while he enacts a mysterious plan. Amidst the panic and chaos, the legend of Batman begins.

The year-long arc lasted from June 2013 to July 2014 in the Batman title, with a prologue in the form of September 2012's #0 issue. During the second act of Zero Year, many other titles had their 25th issue as a tie-in depicting their (at the time non-superhero or villain) characters during the storm and blackout in Gotham: Action Comics (focusing on an early, cocky Superman), Batgirl, Batwing, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Detective Comics (focusing on Gordon and the GCPD), The Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern Corps (focusing on John Stewart as a marine), Nightwing, and Red Hood and the Outlaws.

Certain aspects of the storyline serve as one of the inspirations for the film The Batman, namely with the Riddler being the villain.

This Comic Book storyline contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Origin Connection:
    • Implied to be the case with Batman and The Joker in the last part of "Secret City". In the third chapter of the arc, the Red Hood Gang leader tells Bruce how it was the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and the terror that the deaths of these prominent citizens to a random mugging sparked in the minds of most Gothamites, that inspired him to turn to a life of crime and similarly terrorize Gotham. The Red Hood Gang leader is implied to be the future Joker, resulting in this trope.
    • In a more tangential sense, circumstances resulting from Bruce Wayne's return to Gotham set Edward Nygma down the path to becoming The Riddler.
    • And, in the inverse, as revealed in the finale, Bruce Wayne was this to his rogues, as he also went to Arkham Asylum. The difference that makes him a Shadow Archetype is that he actually tried to change and went there to get better, and didn't treat it as a prison.
  • Adaptive Ability: Dr. Death's bone-regeneration serum causes his bones to rebuild in distorted ways every time they are broken. However, he can only do this so much, and when he finally dies, it's because the regeneration has caused too much damage.
  • Adaptation Expansion: In the pre-New 52 continuity, Batman's early days were told in Year One —> Batman and the Monster Men —> Batman and the Mad Monk —> Batman: The Man Who Laughs (covering the Joker's first appearance as the Red Hood) —> The Long Halloween. Although Zero Year is a continuity reboot that works the Red Hood into the first adventure of Batman, the character is expanded into a full gang.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: How the Batman is ultimately played out by Bruce Wayne. Though the deaths of his parents were meaningless, their lives were beyond meaningful, and he aims to celebrate and protect life through the shadows, not revel in and perpetuate death. This is what he learned when he was about to shock his personality and identity out of himself through electroshock therapy at Arkham Asylum before becoming Batman.
  • Arc Villain: While Riddler is the Big Bad of the story as a whole, each act has a different central villain, allowing Edward to serve as the Greater-Scope Villain before then:
    • Secret City: The Red Hood.
    • Dark City: Doctor Death.
    • Savage City: The Riddler.
  • Ascended Meme: At one point, Loeb refers to Batman as "the Goddamn Batman".
  • The Bad Guys Win: Twice. The heroes fail to stop Riddler from causing the blackout and flood he uses to take over the city. Subverted at the very end, when they're able to take Gotham back from his control.
  • Badass Driver: Bruce learns to drive under the tutelage of a noxious getaway driver named Don Miguel, who fires a rocket launcher while driving. He once drove his car into an art gallery and stole four million dollars in artwork without ever slowing to under 30 miles per hour. However, since he's a murderer, once Bruce's training is complete, he clocks him and leaves him for the police to arrest.
  • Bait-and-Switch: During Phillip and Bruce's second meeting, Phillip urges his nephew to reveal his survival to the world and publicly take over Wayne Enterprises, but Bruce refuses. Earlier, Phillip's Toxic Friend Influence, Nygma, urged him to kill Bruce if he took that view. Phillip then tells Bruce that his nephew has left him no choice, and ominously presses a button on a remote control. However, rather than trigger a trap, or summon an assassin, the button merely turns on the lights, revealing that Phillip has organized a welcome back party to reveal that Bruce is still alive and push him back into public life.
  • Big Bad: The Riddler is the overall Big Bad.
    • For the first section, the Red Hood Gang takes the duties more directly. Riddler is busy setting up his plan, barring paying them to attempt an assassination on Bruce Wayne.
  • Big Storm Episode: The second act involves a hurricane hitting Gotham and the Riddler taking advantage of it.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Gotham is saved (although it still needs to be rebuilt), the Riddler is under arrest, Batman is accepted by Gotham City as its biggest hero. At the same time, Bruce realizes this is his place, what he needs to be from now on, giving up on any chance of having a normal life and anything that comes with it. When Alfred talks about the joys he will never know as a lonely vigilante, Bruce simply says that he's not meant to.
  • Body Horror: Dr. Death's serum causes this, making the bones grow harder and larger until they burst through skin and kill the victim or the body gives out due the skeletal deformation. Death himself qualifies, since his exposition to an old version of the formula left him as a bone-covered monstrosity that gets worse with every wound he gets.
  • Book Ends: Bruce Wayne and Edward Nygma meet each other for the first time in The Sphinx room at the museum. The Riddler's lair, where the final showdown between him and Batman ultimately takes place, is... the sphinx room at the museum.
  • Chummy Commies: One of Bruce's mentors, Gadgeteer Genius Sergei, worked at the Kremlin during the Cold War and might be the most pleasant and amiable mentor to appear in any of the book's flashbacks, despite being a Sink or Swim Mentor at times.
  • Criminal Mind Games: In a story with the Riddler as the Big Bad, it couldn't be otherwise. The final confrontation between him and Batman is basically a very intense session of this with the fate of Gotham City at stake.
  • Cutting the Knot: In the finale, after Gordon and the GCPD disabled Riddler's signal, Batman takes this approach to Riddler, lampshading the original story with Alexander the Great, since it was the answer to the final riddle.
  • Dirty Cop: Gordon is shown to have been this, albeit a reluctant one, which is why he kept wearing his old trench coat. At the end, Bruce gives him a new one, showing him that its ok to start over.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: For the first act of the story, the Red Hood gang serves as the antagonist. Once the leader Red Hood makes his fateful drop into a vat of chemicals, he's written out and the Riddler immediately takes up Big Bad duties.
  • The Dragon: Dr. Death is revealed to have been this to the Riddler all along.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: A young Duke Thomas, who later becomes known as the hero Signal, briefly makes his debut in this story.
  • Evil Uncle: Well, morally-ambiguous uncle. Bruce's maternal uncle Phillip Kane has been running Wayne Enterprises during his absence. He's more then a little shady, having declared Bruce legally dead and keeping Edward Nygma on the payroll. But at the same time, he's loyal to Bruce and has more principles than most corrupt executives.
  • Eyepatch of Power: The intimidating and unyielding Norwegian queen has an eyepatch as a result of her own initiatory Duel to the Death.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Batman, Gordon and Fox, who end up joining forces to try and defeat the Riddler.
  • Flash Mob: The Red Hood Gang, aside from the leader, essentially operates as this.
  • Foregone Conclusion: It's a prequel, so it's inevitable. Batman defeats the Red Hood Gang, Doctor Death, and the Riddler, saves Gotham City, and is accepted by its people as their hero.
  • Freudian Excuse: Played straight with Dr. Death, who started a path of self-destruction after his only son was killed while investigating a possible terrorist cell. Seemingly averted with the Riddler; Batman theorizes a background that would explain his behavior and the Riddler, though irritated (because he thought Batman was going to challenge him with a riddle), counters by speculating his own version of Batman's background, neither confirming nor denying the previous theory.
  • Futureshadowing: Par for the course for a prequel, many hints are dropped for future events.
    • Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Barbara Gordon are shown marveling at the Bat-Signal when it's switched on for the first time.
    • The Detective Comics tie-in sees Jim quip that he'll need a bigger flashlight when Batman comes to his aid instead of the Dirty Cop he was signaling, referencing the Bat-Signal itself.
    • In keeping with Snyder's own stories, Harper and Cullen Row are also shown in a quick cameo and back-up story during the 'Dark City' arc of the story.
    • Dr. Pamela Isley is shown to care more about her plant specimens than the human victims when the laboratory she works in is shut down, and is ultimately revealed to be developing a serum that makes plants grow to gigantic proportions.
    • Talia al Ghul takes an interest in Batman and reports back to her father. She also interacts with Jason Todd, whom she will eventually bring back from the dead, and recognizes his abilities regarding the Untitled.
  • Gonna Need More X: In a tie-in in Detective Comics, Jim Gordon uses a flashlight to signal a fellow cop, unaware he's a Dirty Cop. When he's saved by Batman instead, Jim quips he's going to need a bigger flashlight next time.
  • Healing Factor: Due to his exposure to his serum, Doctor Death has one of these in an imperfect form that applies only to his bones. However, every time he regenerates his bones, they tend to go through wounds he's taking to heal up the damage, and eventually, the amount of damage is so severe that his bones end up causing damage to his internal organs, killing him.
  • The Heavy: Doctor Death serves as this in the second act. While he is working directly for the Riddler, he's still the primary threat while the mastermind is mainly staying in the background.
  • How We Got Here: The first issue opens with Gotham City in ruins as Batman goes to face the one responsible for it. The story then rewinds five months prior to explain how things got to that point.
  • Imagine Spot: As part of the Bittersweet Ending mentioned above, Alfred has one in which he envisions a happy, normal life for Bruce Wayne in which he marries and settles down with Julie Madison.
  • Involuntary Battle to the Death: When Bruce goes to a nomadic Norwegian tribe to learn how to fight, he isn't told the fight is to the death until after the battle commences. When he spares his opponent (after a 24 hour fight), the tribe's queen sends her entire tribe after him. Bruce incapacitates everyone who comes at him until the others are too scared of him to continue.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The Riddler was behind Dr. Death, who initially seemed to have no relation to his plans.
  • Mythology Gag: Quite a few of them, as usual.
    • Batman's suit has plain purple gloves, just like he did in his first story.
      • Additionally, during his battle with the Red Hood gang, the cover image of Detective Comics #27 is deliberately recreated.
    • At one point, upon seeing an unidentified aircraft, Commissioner Loeb says it can only be "the goddamn BATMAN".
    • When jumping from his aircraft to the Riddler's weather balloon during the storm, Batman displays his iconic pose from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
    • Dr. Death is the first real 'super-villain' Batman fights in this story (not counting the Red Hood Gang). In the early Bob Kane/Bill Finger stories too, Dr. Death was Batman's first recurring villain.
      • For that matter, another of his earliest stories had him battle the Scarlet Horde, an army of criminals who operated from a blimp or zeppelin.
    • In the fifth issue, the debut of the Batmobile is similar to the first appearance of the Tumbler in Batman Begins; being chased by police cars and choppers into a tunnel, and stunning the GCPD with a miraculous escape.
    • Liam Distal the true leader or puppet leader of the Red Hood Gang is a roundabout allusion to Bill Finger, one of Batman's co-creators. Liam is a variation of William, and Distal is a reference to the bones in the fingers.
    • In his very first appearance in 1948, the Riddler robs a bank by flooding its vaults and commandeers a crossword puzzle on an electronic billboard to give clues to the police. Here, while he's far more than a mere bank robber, he floods large parts of the entire city and uses a similar electronic billboard to communicate with the citizens as they try to stump 'him' with riddles.
    • At one point, the Riddler addresses Batman as "Detective", much as Ra's Al Ghul traditionally does, and as Riddler himself did in the Batman: Arkham Series.
    • The Riddler's base in a Sphinx statue in the Gotham museum may be a reference to his keeping a base in the very same location in a Post-Crisis story from The Batman Chronicles.
    • Early in the story, it seems as if Philip Kane intends to kill Bruce Wayne in a sequence that feints towards a sequence from Batman (first series) #35, the origin of the robot T-Rex seen in the Batcave in most iterations of the character.
    • Both Edward Nygma and Pamela Isley are first seen working for Wayne Industries, a reference to the backstories they were given in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.
      • Additionally, the Riddler's scheme here involves electronic signal boxes, albeit without the Mind Control properties of the "boxes" used in Batman Forever.
    • More generally, the Riddler's costume and civilian identity combine elements from his various prior incarnations: he wears the green suit that first appeared in the 1960s live-action show, but has the red hair of his animated counterpart, and shares both a corporate background and the "y" variant spelling of "Nigma" from the animated series and the films. However, "Edward Nygma" is also said to be an alias, much as the Neil Gaiman Riddler origin that was canon in the Post-Crisis DC Universe stated that he was actually named Eddie Nashton and changed his last name to "Nigma" when he became the Riddler.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The Red Hood Gang delivers one to Bruce early on, breaking into his townhouse and waiting to ambush him. He barely escapes with his life.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: The Riddler is a very dangerous criminal mastermind, but he's not a fighter. That's exactly why he arranged everything so that simply defeating him in a fistfight wouldn't solve the problem. After the signal to his technology is blocked, Batman beats him this way anyway.
  • Origins Episode: The arc focuses on how Bruce became Batman, and how Batman became Gotham's protector. It also shows how other people developed in Gotham City, such as James Gordon, Riddler, and Joker.
  • Save the Villain: Before he officially becomes Batman, Bruce saves the Penguin from getting killed by the Red Hood. He also tries this to the Red Hood himself. That doesn't work as well, as the Red Hood falls into a chemical bath.
  • Self-Deprecation: Scott Snyder often writes trivial factoids about something into the story often to either make a character appear smarter or as a lead-up to some kind of Moment of Awesome. Snyder seems to have caught on that this can become annoying and has a scene where Batman disables a Riddler drone just as he was about to prattle on about such a thing.
    Batman: Enough fun facts.
  • Soft Water: In issue 31, Gordon escapes from one of the Riddler's drones by jumping from the top of a tall building and landing on a flooded subway entrance. He survives without as much as a broken bone, despite said fall being obviously fatal in real life.
  • Superhero Paradox: Defied Trope. According to Batman, he is to be a "lightning rod" for criminals so that they go after him and not civilians, but they always existed and likely always will. He's just an adaptation to help defend against a progressing system of violence.
  • Superman Stays Out of Gotham: Justified. Zero Year takes place years before superheroes in the New 52 become public, meaning there is no real community or experience among the heroes to come help out with Gotham's problems.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Batman does this repeatedly to Riddler during their final encounter. A Justified Trope, since he was just stalling him so that he would have less time to answer the critical riddles to save Gotham from an air strike.
  • Straw Nihilist: The Red Hood, leader of the Red Hood Gang and implicitly the future Joker, takes this thought process. In his mind and that of his parents, he says that the meaningless deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne caused him and his parents to realize the meaninglessness randomness of the universe, and he created the Red Hood Gang in order to be that meaningless horror. Batman calls him out on his bullshit and takes The Anti-Nihilist approach instead.
  • Terrorist Without A Cause: The Red Hood Gang's modus operandi.
  • Title Drop: Upon taking control of Gotham, the Riddler cuts off its power and technology and basically reduces it to ruins, declaring the city is back to Zero Year and mankind must find a way to evolve again.
  • Two-Part Trilogy: The first act in the story, Secret City, could be read almost completely standalone save for the very end. It primarily focuses on Bruce struggling to stop the Red Hood Gang, who are acting completely separate from the Riddler. Acts two and three are more closely connected, with both of them being about Gotham going to hell after Riddler shuts off the power, and the central villain of the second act, Doctor Death, works directly under the Riddler. The trade paperback collections even treat the stories as such, with Secret City collected in its own trade while both Dark City and Savage City are collected together in the following trade.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Despite Batman's efforts, the Riddler takes control of Gotham for the entire final act.
  • The Unreveal: Red Hood #1. Ultimately, the man who falls into the chemical bath in Ace Chemicals becomes the Joker, but a Liam Distal's corpse is discovered, and revealed that he really is the original Red Hood #1. The unreveal comes from when the future-Joker replaced Distal. Was it before Bruce ever met him, during the events of "Secret City", or during the Ace Chemical showdow, when Red Hood #1 can be seen ducking or being grabbed behind a column, a man then shown with the helmet off (and a very Joker-like facial structure shown in the reflection), before re-emerging into the fight.
  • The Villain Knows Where You Live: Gordon recalls how after he unsuccessfully tried to break up a dogfighting ring around the time Bruce's parents died, one of the people involved sent his daughter a pitbull puppy for her birthday.
  • We Will Meet Again: The Red Hood says this to Batman before his fateful drop into a chemical bath at A.C.E. Chemicals.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Riddler declares himself to be one, as the way he sees it, he's forcing people to smarten up in a world where intelligence is increasingly undervalued.
  • Villain Respect: Riddler. Not just for Batman, but for the few civilians who challenged him.