(p) Greg Capullo
(i) Danny Miki
Let's get this out of the way right up front: this issue is amazing. Not only does it perfectly set up the entire storyline that's set to last for the next calendar year, but it also introduces a host of new elements to Batman's 'New 52' history. It's a tight race this week for which of Scott Snyder's books -- Superman Unchained #1 or Batman #21 -- is comes out on top. I'm in the Batman camp this time.
I'd like to address an issue I've been seeing online since "Zero Year" was announced, and that now is becoming more prevalent. Many people are upset that Snyder is taking Batman into the past for an entire year's worth of issues. This criticism is two-pronged: the arc is too long, and it's firmly set in the past instead of progressing Batman's current-day adventures. On both counts I'm not convinced.
The allegation that "Zero Year" -- at 11 issues, but taking a full year due to the break in September for Villains Month -- will be too long seems silly at this point in Snyder's career writing Batman. His initial arc on Batman for the 'New 52' was technically also 11 issues in length, though it's considered two arcs. "Death of the Family" may have been only five issues in Batman, but the numerous tie-in issues gave the core narrative a larger breadth than it normally could have achieved by itself. At this point, I trust Scott Snyder to deliver something incredible. And on a purely logistical level, the title page says "Zero Year - Secret City: Part One" alluding to the idea that this mega-arc will be broken into more manageable segments.
On the gripe with Snyder focusing on Batman's past instead of his current day exploits is just redundant. First of all, Batman has been framing the Batman family of titles for most of the 'New 52', if not directly than at least through Snyder's characterization of Batman staying mostly consistent across all the titles he's featured within. Second, Batman is the solo star of two other series -- Detective Comics and Batman: The Dark Knight -- as well as having his name in an additional two others -- Batman and Robin and Batman, Incorporated. All of these titles will be telling current day stories (save for November, from some rumors I've seen online), so why can't Snyder delve into the past? One of the major complaints about the 'New 52', in general, is the lack of information regarding the five to six years between the first appearance of Superman in Metropolis and what's going on in the current day. For the next year, we get to see just that.
Batman: Year One was bout Batman's relationship with Jim Gordon. "Zero Year" is about Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. It's a simple concept that bears a lot of weight because with the condensed nature of the 'New 52', this is the year of Batman's career when he establishes his rogues gallery. Yes, there seems to be a central antagonist here at the starting point, but it would be folly to assume Snyder will only stick to one villain for eleven issues that spans a year of Batman's life.