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Synopsis: Taking place six years prior to the events of Death of the Family, Bruce Wayne is legally dead, but operating as a vigilante in the Narrows while Gotham City is under control of the Red Hood gang.  

The Comic Spot is back in some familiar territory. I haven’t been reading many comics these days; I’ve actually been reading books without pictures recently, but I just took my honeymoon, so I was able to blow through the fourth installment of the Batman New 52 arc during the flight back home.

When we last left Batman, it was Death of the Family, the huge event that sprawled through the Batman family of comics. Zero Year takes a step back six years, and is essentially The New 52 version of Batman: Year One. We don’t have to sit through another retelling of that time Bruce Wayne’s parents got killed, but we do get to see Bruce Wayne when he first returned to Gotham and tried to reclaim the city. We also get to see him take on the Red Hood gang, and the potential origin story of Batman’s greatest foe. I’m not big on revisiting origin stories. I mean, how often do I have to see Uncle Ben get shot in a Spider-man story? Surprisingly, though, I absolutely loved this installment and this volume may be my favorite of the four I’ve read so far.

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With Secret City, we go back to the Gotham that has been taken over by crime, back when Bruce Wayne was still legally dead and when Batman faced an uphill battle to reclaim the city. The city is run by the mob, but even Falcone’s crew is losing its grip on the city, as the Red Hood gang, with its chaotic brand of crime takes everything they need from everyone they can. SPOILERS!!!! The story of the Red Hood gang directly leads into the creation of the Joker, which was foreshadowed (or reverse foreshadowed?) in Death of the Family. We also get the rise of Edward Nygma, aka the Riddler.

One of the best parts of this installment is Bruce Wayne, as silly as that sounds, but it’s an interesting character arc to see him live as a no name person living in the Narrows and not as Bruce Wayne. At this point, he’s more Batman than he is Bruce Wayne. To see him struggle with retaking his name and deal with what that name means to the city makes this installment a better-than-your-average Batman arc.

Red Hood (or should I say the Joker) does the heavy lifting for the villain role, with a side story for the Riddler, which sets itself up for the next volume. I like this Red Hood story better than the Joker storyline in Death of the Family. This Red Hood plot is closer in line with his turn in The Dark Knight, where he manages to cripple the city with fear. This is a grander story than the previous installment, but it also works to make Death of the Family a better overall story. It strengthens the odd relationship between Batman and the Joker and informs the intimacy that the previous volume alluded to.

Once again, the artwork is top-notch. It’s moody at times; simple at others, and it even lends itself to give a nod to the original Batman Detectives Comics cover. There are a couple of interstitial comics at the end that change up style a bit as Greg Capullo gives way to another artist. It’s a nice change of pace, but nothing quite compares to Capullo’s work. It’s on another level.

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Overall, as I’ve said, this might be my favorite installment of the Batman New 52. It’s exciting to see Batman take on the Red Hood gang in this battle for Gotham City and, while we’ve seen the Batman origin story countless times. It’s a strong character story for Bruce Wayne, as he struggles to accept being who he is and what his family meant to the city itself. This is a Bruce Wayne comic and a fantastic one at that.

OVERALL RATING: 5 out of 5

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