25 January 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LXI: Zero Year

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2015 (contents: 2013-14)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2016
DC Comics: Zero Year

Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion, Greg Pak, Marguerite Bennett, Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, Marc Andreyko, Christy Marx, John Layman, Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato, Jeff Lemire, Van Jensen with Robert Venditti, Kyle Higgins
Artists: Greg Capullo & Danny Miki, Rafael Albuquerque, Aaron Kuder, Fernando Pasarin & Jonathan Glapion, Eduardo Pansica & Júlio Ferreira, Trevor McCarthy, Andrea Mutti, Pat Olliffe, Jim Fern, Jay Leisten & Tom Nguyen, Romano Molenaar, Daniel Sampere, Travis Moore, Vicente Cifuentes, Scott McDaniel, Aaron Lopresti & Art Thibert, Jason Fabok, Chris Sprouse & Francis Manapul, Karl Story & Keith Champagne, Andre Sorrentino, Denys Cowan & Bill Sienciewicz, Victor Drujiniu & Juan Castro, Ivan Fernandez & Rob Lean, Allan Jefferson, Will Conrad & Cliff Richards, Andy Clarke
Colorists: Fco Plascencia, Dave McCaig, Arif Prianto, Blond, Paul Mounts, Guy Major, Chris Sotomayor, Sonia Oback, Tomeu Morey, Brian Buccellato, Marcelo Maiolo, Matt Hollingsworth, Garry Henderson, Peter Pantazis
Letterers: Nick Napolitano, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty, Todd Klein, Travis Lanham, Jared K. Fletcher, Carlos M. Mangual, Rob Leigh

Strictly speaking, this book doesn't cover a crisis, but throughout this project I have found it interesting to examine the fallout of crises as much as crises themselves: reading History of the DC Universe and Legends added to my comprehension of Crisis on Infinite Earths, for example. So, I'll be reading the five big collections DC has released from the "New 52" era (after Flashpoint, before Rebirth) in the order they take place.

This book gives snapshots of the early lives of a number of superheroes, framed by two parts of a Batman origin story. Someday I will read the full Batman: Zero Year story, but I liked what I got of it here. The book opens with Bruce Wayne as Batman taking down the Red Hood Gang, in what seems to be one of his first real superheroic actions. It's hard to judge the writing, since I only have a snippet of the story, but I really enjoyed Greg Capullo's art and Fco Plascencia's colors. This is a moody Gotham, but in a very different way to that of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. This is a harsh, dynamic, neon Gotham-- a purifying crucible for the weird. The story ends with a little epilogue that introduces the idea that a giant storm is about to hit Gotham... and some fellow calling himself the Riddler has deactivated the electrical grid.

Who knew Gotham was so pink?
from Batman vol. 2 #24 (script by Scott Snyder, art by Greg Capullo & Danny Miki)

This provides the setup for the stories that follow, as various young heroes who either live in Gotham or come to render aid to Gotham each has their own experiences during the hurricane. I think there are about twenty-five different stories, and as you might imagine, that results in quite a range of quality, andI don't think I could point to any I found outright terrible, though many are somewhat generic, which is perhaps worse.

I'll focus on the positive here. The best stories were the ones that approached the storm as a testing ground or a crucible, a horrific event that allowed the hero in question to demonstrate who they really were deep down. The very best was, unfortunately, the first of these, a story of Superman. Eager to prove he can do something other than smack on criminals well below his weight class, young Clark Kent flies to Gotham to battle nature itself, and learns that there are limits even to his own power, as much as he still attempts to be the best person he can possibly be. It's a dynamic, involving story: Aaron Kuder does surprisingly good action sequences, and Greg Pak really captures Clark.

Not pictured: Clark Kent vs sharks.
from Superman vol. 3 #25 (script by Greg Pak, art by Aaron Kuder)

I also really enjoyed the story of young Barbara Gordon. With her dad having to do police stuff, Barbara is left at home to protect her brother-- but when their apartment gets evacuated, this turns out to be harder than she thought. There's no big moment where she decides she's going to be a superhero one day; it's simply Barbara deciding to stand up for what she believes in and protect her fellow human beings because it's impossible for her to imagine doing anything else. It's a well-drawn, well-scripted story of how we find who we are during the darkest of times. Literally!

One question: why is Barbara Gordon cosplaying as an engineer from Star Trek: The Next Generation?
from Batgirl vol. 4 #25 (script by Marguerite Bennett, art by Fernando Pasarin)

There's also a James Gordon story. It's a little too focused on cop corruption, and not very focused on the storm, but it has its moments, and some of them are great. But then, I always like a little bit of James Gordon. The Kate Kane (the future Batwoman) story isn't very complicated, but it is a good depiction of two women finding their way toward heroism.

The ones I found less effective were either the ones that seemed to contrive the situation to make this moment significant in the life of its hero, or the ones where the fact that there was a giant storm came across as nothing more than incidental set dressing. An example would be the Flash tale: though it makes sense for policewoman Maggie Sawyer from nearby Metropolis to be deployed in Gotham to help out, or for Marine John Stewart to be sent in to help evacuate, it stretched my belief that that an unpowered forensic scientist would be sent to Gotham all the way from Missouri or Ohio (or wherever Central City is), and I sort of rolled my eyes when it turns out that this is when Barry meets Iris West for the first time. Plus the story is all about a weird drug, and very little about the city's crisis. Not that it's a bad story, and given that it's partially drawn by Francis Manapul, it certainly looks good, but it didn't take advantage of the setting in a compelling way.

I should pick up Manapul's other Flash work; his art on this and the Flashpoint lead-ins was pretty great.
from The Flash vol. 4 #25 (script by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato, art by Francis Manapul)

I didn't care for a significant part of Green Arrow's backstory happening to occur in this place at this time, but Andrea Sorrentino's amazing artwork almost makes me want to pick up the Green Arrow comic book again. The backup tale from the same issue shouldn't have been included here, though, as it has nothing to do with the Zero Year story beyond taking place "in the past."

Delightful: Batman and Green Arrow beating up a thug while taking turns throwing punches.
from Green Arrow vol. 5 #25 (script by Jeff Lemire, art by Andrea Sorrentino)

What's weird about the book is how it ends, with another chapter of Snyder and Capullo's Batman story... but one that clearly takes place before the two dozen stories you've just read, as the storm hasn't hit yet! But it ends with Batman being abducted, so it's unclear to me how it lines up with Batman's cameos through Zero Year (he appears in the Jim Gordon, Green Arrow, and Batwing stories, for example). Maybe this is explained in the next issue, but if so, why wasn't it included here, and why weren't these tales put in order?

The second Batman issue opens with this vignette about Army guys in the Nigerian desert finding a hole in the ground. Nothing in this book makes clear what it has to do with anything else that is happening. But it sure is gorgeous.
from Batman vol. 2 #25 (script by Scott Snyder, art by Greg Capullo & Danny Miki)

Overall, though, this is a surprisingly effective glimpse at a formative time in the new new new DC universe.

In Two Weeks: I said I'd be reading all five, but I actually have to skip the Zero Omnibus because I couldn't obtain it through interlibrary loan. So it's forward to the beginning in DC Comics: The New 52!

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