Zero Year and the Fluid Nature of the Past

batman404There’s certain type of english class that I’m sure a lot of you have had where the teacher wants to make the experience more “writers workshop” then a traditional classroom and the grading scale is either a B meaning acceptable, an A which means extraordinary and re-write which means c’mon bro. I’ve had two of these types of classes in my lifetime, once during my junior year of high school when I first got to boarding school and once in my sophmore year of college at a small catholic university in the NY metro area. Both times I got the first A in those classes and both times I wrote about the same subject which was my life immediately pre dating my time in boarding school. Now I’m sure you can guess the reasons for my parents sending me to a school that was far away from my friends and family with nothing around it besides a lake, a church and corn fields. Funny thing is they way I wrote those and how interpreted the memory were completely different. This was only four years apart but the experiences I had in that time period reshaped the way I looked at my past and if you were to ask me now my take would be even more different. Nothing in the past actually changed what’s essentially my origin story but my interpretation of it did. I thought about that a lot in the context of Zero Year, The New 52 reinterpretation of Batman’s origin story. Our memories and interpretations of the past are fluid; why should intellectual property be any different?

The more I think about it the less I feel that Frank Miller and David BobKane_Batman_GothicManor_100Mazzuchelli’s excellent Year One is the definitive Batman origin story. In fact the only true origin story for Batman is the one about Bob Kane and Bill Finger creating Batman. And duh I know everything past that is fictional. I also understand that the fictional origin story is important. But Batman as an idea and a concept is something that evolves over time. As ongoing serialized character that’s lasted for decades; he’s older than my parents and was almost always a significant part of popular culture since his inception. That’s because he is a reflection of us on some level because if he wasn’t we couldn’t relate to him and if we couldn’t relate to him then he wouldn’t be as ubiquitous as he has been from generation to generation. Whatever your memory of Batman may be it’s only your memory. It’s going to change and grow and you’re going to have a different outlook on it as time goes by.

b2There are a lot of things that Frank Miller does not understand but one thing that he had an acute understanding of is New York City in the 1980’s. He was a young kid from small town Vermont that jumped into the city head first at a time when it was at the apex of it’s modern decay and then documented his interpretation of it through comic books. He was the perfect writer to reimagine Batman for the 1980’s. I can only imagine being Scott Snyder at that time, an 11 year old kid in New York City seeing something that was probably so very familar in those pages with a fictional character that was so inspirational. I know it inspired him with his current run on Batman, you can see it in his writing since his run on Detective. But Snyder’s New York City is not the same one that Miller lived though in 1987 and neither is his Batman. Year One isn’t his Batman story and it’s not our either. Neither is Zero Year. Our Batman story is the one we experienced. It’s me dressing like Batman for Halloween when I was six years old, it’s me playing with a stuffed Batman with suction cups on his hands to stick on a car window because my parents didn’t understand action figures, it’s watching the first Michael Keaton movie with my dad in his crappy apartment, it’s watching the second one in the theatres and realizing that it kind of sucked, it’s coming home every day from school to watch the animated series it’s reading The Dark Knight Rises, The Killing Joke, Gothic and The Long Halloween for the first time and having my mind blown, it was going to see The Dark Knight in the movie theatres and coming to the realization that a super hero movie can be as good a lot of my favorite crime films (almost at least) and it was engaging in Grant Morrison’s most recent run from beginning to end and seeing how the greatest mind that’s ever existed in comics told Batman’s story. At least that’s how I remember it. Your interpretation is probably a little different.

24 thoughts on “Zero Year and the Fluid Nature of the Past”

  1. Great article, Patrick. This kind of goes back to Conor’s make up your own continuity in your head. We all have varying interpretations of Batman, and we all construct the best run to support that interpretation. Fun stuff!

  2. Nice one Patrick. You’re article had me remembering my own experiences with Batman as a kid…. something I plan on talking about now in Sundays Drawing Lines. Thanks for this write up and the inspiration.

    1. Thanks man. It’s hard to be a comic book fan and not have a lot of different experiences with Batman throughout your lifetime.

  3. Great post, Patrick. I enjoyed Grant Morrison’s attempt to build a cohesive character history out of all those past representations of Batman (the vigilante avenger, the camp crimefighter, the international adventurer, etc.), as well as Warren Ellis’ exploration of the character’s variability in PLANETARY/BATMAN: NIGHT ON EARTH.

  4. Great post. Characters like Batman stay living and relevant because new creators are allowed to envision them afresh for different times and places. I think one of the reasons there is so much dismay with the Superman titles right now is that DC can’t figure out what the character means in 2013.

    1. Yeah I also think Batman speaks to something a lot more simple for people then pretty much any other Super Hero. He kind of represents what we want to be in so many ways but also has this very human and tragic back story that I think people can understand easier then Superman which is dude comes from another planet. With that being said I think Superman is an amazing metaphor for the idea about how immigrants can come to America and making themselves stronger and more powerful then they ever could have in there home worlds but that’s been lost over time unfortunately. Part of that is that you can’t really put him back in the time period of his inception when that meant something different ala Captain America with the great depression, WWII and the wave of Irish immigrants of that time period. I was listening the ifanboy booksplode (writing that feels gross btw) about how Batman Year 100 and I actually think that a superman book would really benefit from a similar theme. But yeah even though superman is almost as ubiquitous over time he hasn’t been able to penetrate pop culture in the same way Batman has. But I do find it interesting how Superman does still permeate himself in the larger pop culture like his symbol being used in a collage on the cover with pictures of David Berkowitz, sharks and old school cannon for a critically acclaimed obscure rappers album and stuff like that

  5. Patrick this was an excellent article! I’m more a marvel guy then DC just because of the things going on around me when I was growing up, but somehow I have always had this deep connection with Batman that surpassed any other hero. I think you are right we all pull out the things we love from Batman and make it our own Batman. How can we love all these different iterations of Batman all at the same time. What a great concept Patrick. My next book of the month meeting is on a Batman book, I’m going to bring up this article to facilitate some great discussion. Thanks for this!

    1. Ahhhh thanks man. Yeah I’m the same. I actually think Batman himself got me thinking about comics at a super young age when the first movie came out and he was on everything but what crossed me over into comics was my cousin dumping all his old marvel comics on me when I was like 7 or 8 years old and just going through that. Plus X-Men 1 with that foldout Jim Lee cover.

      1. Hey, you got a copy of X-Men number #1? Lucky, you, that’s so valuable, I mean, just the other day I heard it was going for — what? It’s in the dollar bins? Um, OK . . .

        Sorry, couldn’t resist. (And yes, I bought all five versions of that issue when it came out).

        Back to serious comics talk now . . . 🙂

        1. Haha dude I got that when I was a kid taking it back and forth between two parents and my grandparents house. That shit was torn apart in less then year. I was terrible at taking care of my comics & sports cards. Not that it matters now

  6. Ya know, I’m really enjoying what Snyder/Capullo are doing with Zero Year. So far, so fantastic.
    I also really love and adore Year One. It’s one of the first Batman stories i ever read. it was new at the time and has thrived within my imagination ever since.
    One of the great things about it is that DC has designated it to Earth 31, along with the rest of Frank Miller Batman. The Miller-Verse, if you will. Year One, DKR, DKR2, Batman&Robin the Boy Wonder and it’s much debated and long overdue 6 issue conclusion which will be renamed Dark Knight/Boy Wonder.
    For me, Batman has many beginnings because he exists in many different realities simultaneously. The Multiverse is one of my favorite concepts. It makes the idea of continuity obsolete, which is a good thing because often enough, stories are so bogged down by excessive layers that render the original personalities of the characters we fell in love with near unrecognizable.

    1. Yeah that multiverse is a really cool concept albeit somewhat confusing. A Millerverse sounds like a horrible place to live.

      1. I can’t wait to see what Morrison does with the Multiverse in his upcoming Multiversity. I love seeing our heroes reimagined in parallel universes.

        1. Oh my god I know. Although even with the relatively recent preview art I’m dubious as to when it will be released. My brother in law actually thinks that Morrison is taking a break from comics to focus on TV and Film. I really hope that’s not the case.

          1. That’s the rumor that keeps bouncing around: that Morrison is taking a break from comics. My impression is that he’s taking a break from monthly series to focus on projects like Mutliversity and the Wonder Woman graphic novel. Knowing his history with deadlines, I doubt the scripts for both of these are completely finished.

            And if they are Grant, how about the long ago promised third Seaguy mini? Please . . .

            1. Yeah I mean the thing is they’ve been talking about those two comics forever. Idk just seems like one of those things that’s never going to come out until everybody’s forgotten about it. Also I remember they were saying Morrison would have some announcements soon about a new Vertigo series which I was hoping to hear about at comic con to no avail.

              1. If there’s only one thing I learned from Final Crisis, RIP & Batman Incorporated its that deadlines are not Morrison’s friend. I don’t think that DC will let the Wonder Woman project fade away, since they have a lot invested in their Earth One line. Worse case scenario, they’ll start bringing extra artists onto the project to speed things up. The Multiverse project may be a bit longer coming, though. Remember when the excuse was that he needed Final Crisis to finish and set the stage for Multiversity? Sigh. You wouldn’t think it’d be that hard to write six or seven one-shot stories set on different Earths? I mean even at a rate of one a year it’d be finished by now, right?

                If we ever want to see any of this, we should probably hope that he stays off monthly books for awhile. Or write Seaguy Volume 3. You hear me, Grant? I’m not letting you forget about it . . . 🙂

                  1. Yeah. Honestly, out of those three projects (Seaguy, Multiversity, Wonder Woman Earth One) it’s the one the interests me the most . . .

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