Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Batman #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Snyder does a great job here building to the moment that we all knew was coming, but still felt like a surprise when it arrived, namely Batman's final confrontation with the Red Hood and the inadvertent birth of the Joker.  One challenge that Snyder had from the start was that this story has been told so many times that it's hard to imagine anyone successfully breathing new life into it.  Even with the license that the DCnU concept gives him to re-imagine it, he's still forced to hit certain marks; the Red Hood has to fall into a vat of chemicals at the A.C.E. Chemicals factory.  That said, the tweaks that Snyder add are clever, even if I'm not entirely sure that they do much to change the story.

First, A.C.E. is owned by Wayne Enterprises and the Red Hood Gang's influence over Philip Kane means that it's been using the factory as a base of operations to build the dirty bomb that the Red Hood plans on unleashing on Gotham.  Second, Philip (himself an invention of this arc) gets redemption here, saving Batman's life at the cost of his own.  Snyder doesn't let that moment pass without comment, allowing Bruce a brief moment to mourn the death of his last living relative.  Perhaps most significantly, Snyder has the Red Hood decide to fall into the vat, declaring it a "new beginning."  Finally, we conclude with Bruce giving Alfred a well narrated tour of the Red Hood's possible identities.  This part might not seem like a tweak, at first, since it's not like the original story provided any real insight into the Joker's identity either.  But, it's actually the most significant tweak.  Snyder strongly implies that Joker had more agency in this plot than he had in previous incarnations.  In fact, the whole idea of the Gang being comprised of people that Joker coerced into service recalls the origins of the Red Hood as a nameless flunky forced to commit crimes on behalf of organized crime.  Joker is usually portrayed as one of the various lackeys who donned the Hood; he didn't become interesting until he fell into that vat.  Here, Snyder has Joker be in charge from the start; he's not the coerced, but the coercer.  I was fascinated with the idea that Joker didn't create the Red Hood Gang but instead decided to take it from its original leader.  It shows how clever and flexible he is and, in the end, how dangerous he is.  Someone builds a better mousetrap to commit crimes, so he steals the mousetrap to commit terrorism.  Creepy, to say the least.  In a way, this possible origin seems to encapsulate the diabolical genius that it's hard to believe that Joker didn't always possess, as it seemed in the original stories.

Moreover, Snyder is actually able to make it seem possible to the read that the Red Hood would actually succeed; after all, the first few pages of "Zero Year" showed a Gotham reduced to the Dark Ages.  It's why I still found myself holding my breath until Red Hood actually fell into that vat, since the DCnU essentially puts everything on the table (as we unfortunately learned in the zero issues).  Instead, it seems that the Riddler is the villain who's going to deliver us into darkness, so to speak.  As I've said previously, I've enjoyed "Zero Year" so far, even though I'm not entirely sure at this point that it's doing anything too innovative to Batman's mythos.  Joker may emerge as more in command of his destiny when he was the Red Hood than he was in original stories; but, the guy who emerges from that vat is still Joker, regardless of who he was before he fell into it, his own siege perilous.  But, we'll see where we go with the Riddler.

*** (three of five stars)

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