Among the problems fans have cited with DC’s current New 52 continuity are the questions surrounding Batman’s timeline. Since it’s been fairly well established that the majority of the superheroic age since the DC Universe was rebooted in 2011 has taken place in a roughly five year span, it’s raised some questions about how Batman’s career could possibly be compressed into such a short period of time. Perhaps because of the success of Grant Morrison’s ongoing Batman saga, which had yet to reach completion when DC implemented the ambitious reboot, there would appear to have been some hesitancy to make serious, lasting changes to Batman’s history. As a result, despite Batman having been around for only five years of “comic book time,” there have still been at least three Robins, one of whom is Bruce’s ten year old son, Damian.
For the most part, the content of the Batman titles in the New 52 DCU has been virtually indistinguishable from that of their pre-52 counterparts. Batman, for all intents and purposes, picked up exactly where he left off pre-Flashpoint. While the same can be said for other books, namely the Green Lantern family of titles, Batman presented a unique challenge. While fans were left to wonder how many of the details of Hal Jordan’s pre-reboot history could remain in place given the newly compressed timeline, particularly his time as Parallax and the Spectre, such events could be vaguely papered over without raising too much of a fuss. But the very visible issue of how Batman would have time to employ and train as many as four Robins in such a short span of time is unavoidable, given that each of them features prominently in various solo and team books.
It should also be noted that Batman has NEVER been the focus of a full-blown re-boot. While plenty of stories have been sidelined, ignored, contradicted, or retconned throughout his history, Batman and his surrounding mythology has never been given a clean slate/fresh start. Even the famed Batman: Year One, generally considered to be the definitive origin of the post-Crisis Batman, was published some months AFTER the wholesale changes to the DC Universe brought on by Crisis on Infinite Earths. While Superman and Wonder Woman (and to a lesser extent, Green Lantern) were given fresh origin stories AND new first issues after Crisis wrapped up, the Batman titles (there were only two in 1986…imagine that!) continued on, with little to indicate that there had been any appreciable change in the character’s status quo. Sound familiar? It was three months into the post-Crisis publishing schedule before Batman: Year One hit, and then the following issues of Batman and Detective Comics lightly tweaked the mythos by giving Jason Todd (the second Robin) a new origin, as well as new reasons for Dick Grayson to have hung up his yellow cape.
But further attempts to revamp Batman’s past were less consistent (and less successful) than Miller and Mazzuchelli’s classic. Both Batman: Year Two and Batman: Year Three were quietly retconned by the events of Zero Hour and/or Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween and its sequel, Batman: Dark Victory. Through all of this, Miller and Mazzuchelli’s Batman: Year One, arguably the greatest Batman story ever told, remained untouched, thanks to its status as a bona-fide classic. Perhaps because of the character’s continued success, Batman’s nearly 75 year history has been subject to a series of rolling retcons, without any creative team getting the freedom to start from scratch the way John Byrne did with Superman in 1986’s Man of Steel. Grant Morrison’s ambitious seven year dominance of the Batman mythology has played heavily on this fact, using virtually every recognizable creative era in Batman’s history to weave a story that could ONLY be told with a character that has decades of continuity, and, potentially, decades of actual crimefighting experience under his utility belt.
Which brings me to Batman: Zero Year, a massive, 11-part story which kicks off in June’s Batman #21. Scott Snyder, for his part, claims that this isn’t a new origin for Batman, but it seems we’ve heard this before. In the lead-up to DC’s publication of Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s Superman: Birthright in 2003, there were claims that this story would co-exist with Byrne’s Man of Steel origin, without necessarily invalidating anything. Of course, that wasn’t the case, and Birthright gave fans a completely new interpretation of Superman’s formative years. DC is understandably hesitant to “invalidate” Batman: Year One, hence Snyder’s tiptoeing around the question of where Zero Year will fit. While it seems that Zero Year will take place “between the lines” of Year One, it’s also an opportunity for DC to finally cement Batman’s timeline in respect to the rest of the new DC Universe. In other words, it’s possible that Snyder and Capullo can address issues of when Bruce Wayne had time to train multiple Robins (and father a child), perhaps by establishing that some of these events took place before he officially went public as Batman, thereby keeping DC’s “five year plan” in place (this is, of course, pure speculation on my part).
Fans (and DC editorial) shouldn’t be afraid to “let go” at this point. Batman: Year One will remain a classic which transcends the superhero genre, regardless of whether or not it’s contradicted by future stories. It looks like we’re going to see two remarkable talents in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo make the flagship Batman title into the perfect entry point for new Batman fans, while answering some of the nagging questions that the die-hards have been clamoring for. In order for the new status quo to really be effective, it might be time for Batman to step out from under the shadow of one of his greatest stories. Given the runaway critical and commercial success of Snyder and Capullo’s “Death of the Family” it looks like the Batman legend is in good hands.