Batman #0 is an issue of two stories, the first being “Bright New Yesterday” set six years previously, before Bruce Wayne had donned the cape of The Batman. A trained and eager Wayne is working to take down the Red Hood Gang, a group of murderous criminals run by one man, the Red Hood. The opening panel shows a knife slicing through the old Gotham Bank and a slice pulled away – a cake to celebrate the opening of the new and improved bank. Just as they start to eat, they are met by a knock-knock joke. Hmm, this seems familiar. The Red Hood reminds the bankers that the traditional way to deal with a robbery is to stay quiet and still, to avoid death – when the manager steps in, he is dealt with brutality, although not enough. Immediately suspicious that one of his men would miss an opportunity to kill a man, he unmasks the man who is definitely not Red Hood Five and gives him the choice of shooting himself or being tortured by them. The gun is in the man’s mouth as the Red Hood reveals that the cake was poisoned yesterday – all the employees are already dead, and an early Bruce Wayne has failed them. He makes it out alive, of course, cursing himself for not being patient and doing more research on the Red Hood Gang and runs into the police, narrowly escaping them also. He pulls off the latex face he has been wearing for disguise, hops on an early Batpod and makes it back to the Batcave.
Similar to the underground facility owned by Batman in The Dark Knight, it is huge, clean and serious – no giant coin here. Scattered around are various prototypes of gadgets we have come to know as part of Batman – the night-vision goggles, the Batplane, the grappling hook; even early versions of his costume which at this point seem somewhere between a Knight’s armour and ninja clothing. The facility is based underneath a house on Crime Alley, the street where his parents were murdered – Bruce is sure that this where his war on crime should come from. He is at a thoroughly interesting phase in his development, not having taken the Bat as a symbol yet but knowing that he can not be just Bruce Wayne any more. Alfred tries to warn him that suspicions will be aroused if he is never seen around the city as himself, but Bruce’s solution? The Batarang. Oh yes, a very early version, shaped much more like a boomerang but with a timed return – something completely untraceable. As he throws a “Batarang” timed for four minutes, a very young Lieutenant Gordon comes to the roof for a talk and a cigarette. The timer is counting down as Gordon talks about Wayne Enterprises’ new boss, Philip Kane, cousin to Bruce Wayne on his mother’s side. Nothing much is done, and Bruce seems safe until Gordon brings up his second issue – the vigilante in the area. Gordon isn’t stupid, he knows Bruce is a likely suspect, especially due to his being able to afford the incredibly advanced technology the vigilante has been using. The two dance around each other, both half-accusing, and as they leave Gordon lets out a pearl of wisdom; “I’ve heard crusaders in Gotham, they end up pretty damn lonely.” The Batarang hits the lift doors as they go inside.
Outside the Red Hood Gang sit in a car, discussing blowing up Bruce Wayne’s “nest” in Crime Alley. The Red Hood tosses his carnation out of the window, grinning. There is obviously a lot of talk about the leader – it was established in The Killing Joke that the Joker was the Red Hood for a short amount of time before his swim in chemicals. The knock-knock jokes, the trademark lapel flower and the utter disregard for human life are all indicators that yes, that is this same man, and his origin story is expected to be created again in 2013 with Scott Snyder. Of course there never has been, and never will be, a canon story of how the Joker came to be, and it is much better that way, but different versions add more to the mythology of Batman’s most famous villain.
The eight-page mini story “Tomorrow” at the back is set a year after the events of “Bright New Yesterday” and it would seem that Bruce has adopted the Bat as his sigil. Gordon stands with his daughter Barbara on the roof of what I would assume to be Gotham City Police Department as she begs him not to turn the entire justice system upside down by reaching out to a vigilante but Gordon is sending a signal, “to let the heroes of tomorrow know that they aren’t alone.” We cut to Tim Drake in Graystone Academy – not only is he the highest achieving student in the school but he has found evidence that his head teacher has been embezzling money from the school. He clearly already has a clear-cut sense of right and wrong, and of justice. Jason Todd is robbing a store with a friend, but when he tries to comfort a scared bystander she is shot – he runs after the shooter, his supposed friend, and beats him until he is dragged off by a policeman. Dick Grayson is practising outside the circus when he sees a woman’s bag being stolen and apprehends the criminal with a cheesy joke, telling the girl that this weekend he will be performing for the famous Bruce Wayne before looking up to the sky to see the Bat signal. All three boys look up, inspired by the signal in the sky, and finally Barbara stands on the rooftop, her father gone downstairs, hesitant to leave the sign of the Bat.
This collection, while interesting and a great nod to the Batman fans who will get what others don’t (for example, the implication that the Red Hood in question is The Joker) causes some major issues for continuity – namely that Batman had to have had four Robins in a five year period. The “Bright New Yesterday” storyline seems like an excellent ramp up to a new re-telling of the Joker origin but unfortunately we will have to wait until next year for the continuation. Meanwhile this issue serves as a great insight into some parts of the Batman mythology that have often been skipped over – we all know the story of how Bruce adopted the Bat, but rarely seen is just before that, when he was still experimenting with exactly how to conduct his war on crime. Written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Greg Capullo, it is not necessarily to be taken as an addition to the canon but works wonderfully as a mood-setter and a hint to why we Batman fans feel so strongly for its hero.