Don’t be fooled by the massive ‘Zero Year’ on this book’s cover, there’s at most 3 pages set during that time period. I understand why DC would want to make us think this was linked in with Snyder’s latest epic, but really, this is a much more standalone story. It’s very good, don’t get me wrong, but don’t go in expecting Zero Year.
Just like with last year’s Batman Annual, Scott Snyder is only plotting this comic, and another writer is scripting. I believe this is Marguerite Bennett’s first ever comics work, and on the basis of this issue, she has a bright future. I think it’s really cool how often Snyder brings in new writers to co-write with him, he’s done it with the likes of Kyle Higgins, James Tynion IV, Scott Tuft, and now Bennett. Even though he himself is a relatively new name, he’s already giving back.
The story here is focused on Arkham Asylum, as Batman is invited in by Doctor Arkham to test out the new hyper-secure wing of the Prison. These scenes are a lot of fun, showing not only how bad-ass Batman is, but also bringing up the capabilities of a fair few of his most notable villains.
But the real villain here is a new one, the Anchoress. A woman who, in the process of becoming irradiated, killed her family, she committed herself to the Asylum in the late 19th century, and is actually the first ever patient. I thought Anchoress was a really cool new villain, and her motives get at one of the core themes of Batman. It’s often said that Batman himself is the reason for all of the various freaks he combats. Before he came along, the crime in Gotham was like real-life crime, with gangs and robberies. But Batman upped the ante, and people like the Joker had to exist to challenge him. In the case of the Anchoress, before Batman appeared, Arkham was an actual asylum, a place for mentally ill people to get treatment. But post-Batman? It’s just a prison for evil bastards, Batman did not improve Arkham, he ruined it, and, in her mind, ruined the Anchoress’ chances of being cured. I really like this as a hook for a villain, as she really does have a point, and is almost sympathetic.
I say almost, because really, in this issue she goes off the deep-end into villainous ranting way too quickly. The best scene in this issue was when Anchoress went inside Batman’s head and forced him to relive his traumas. So not only do we get the obvious vision of his dead parents, but we also see Damian and his brother, Thomas. It actually felt strange to see deaths from Snyder’s run and Morrison’s run in the same comic, for too often, they have felt like completely separate stories and characters, but here, they make sense as a whole.
The artwork here comes from Wes Craig, an artist I feel is really underrated, I loved his work on Guardians Of The Galaxy and THUNDER Agents, he has a style that really walks the line between cartoonishness and realistic, and he can adjust his style accordingly. It’s a shame though that his pencils in this issue have 6 inkers working on them, which is just crazy and makes things look a little inconsistent.
This was a solid Batman story, that not only shows the strengths of the character, but also his weaknesses, and introduces an interesting new villain. I was impressed by Bennett’s first comics work, and I am interested in seeing what’s next for her. It’s just a shame that Snyder’s main Batman series is set in the past, because there probably won’t be any follow-up to this story any time soon.