There’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 Mazzuchelli’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.
There 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.