The DC Zero Issues – When nothing can mean everything

The zero issue has traditionally been an issue where a background story or an aspect of a character can be revealed outside of regular continuity. There is only one opportunity to carry out this kind of issue and you would think it brings importance. I have read most of the new 52 zero issues and felt compelled to summarise or critique them because there is a lot of variation amongst them. On the whole there are some stand out issues but the average is pretty low and some issues do not seem to have any point at all. I have grouped them into vague categories and I am sure there is some overlap. We shall begin with the traditional use of the zero issue.

The retcon (retroactive continuity) issues are generally most common and recount an origin story or have changed a character’s background. Issues such as Animal Man and Swamp Thing bring a welcome revision. The story of Animal Man has been done before but with the creation of the Red power source an up to date version was needed. It has been nicely combined with previous stories and makes sense. Swamp Thing has a new story, which ends the previous arcs before the 52 issues began, and fits well with the first issue. They do not bring any changes to the characters or make you seen them from a new angle, but they are good stories. Catwoman and the Robins part of Batman have changed key characteristic features of the characters beginning which seem to make little sense and appear to be changed for the sake of it. They do not relate to current continuity and add nothing to the arcs.

There are other retcon issues that show certain features of the protagonist that have not been revealed previously. Green Lantern Corps showed Guy Gardner in a new light, even though it was a retelling of his origin. It was a fantastically well written issue with great action artwork. The Flash origin remained relatively faithful but introduced Barry’s father to the story with flashbacks to his childhood. It is a nostalgic childhood memory, which enhances his character’s need for closure about the death of his mother. Detective comics took Bruce’s training in the Himalayas and introduced another emotional aspect to his development, “If you carry love, you carry weakness”. It changes the way you see Batman and tries to explain why he can appear emotionally stunted. I,Vampire was a phenomenal story which focused on Andrew Bennett conversion to a being a vampire. It dealt with him having to leave his love because of the tragedy that befell him and it was drawn emotionally and really added to his persona.

Three background issues really stuck out for me in this month for different reasons. Justice League Dark revealed a love triangle between, Zatanna, Constantine and another male sorcerer. It was a very important issue because it explains the history between Zatanna and Constantine and the love affair they once shared. The tension between these two characters is obvious in the JLD story and this really explained the character’s actions. With Batgirl, I expected a reveal of how she managed to walk again but sadly this was not the case. In its place was a bittersweet first person narrative of her humble beginnings as a superhero. The final panel is very emotional and upsetting because it is the same as a significant panel in the Killing Joke. The Red hood zero issue was another first person narrative of the childhood of Jason Todd. It’s a sad story of an abusive upbringing and the pencilling is great for the emotional panels of Jason with his mother. The retcon of the Joker “creating” a Robin was annoying and unnecessary but the issue was good on the whole.

Moving from the background issues, we have issues that show events from characters past, which do not seem to have any references to current continuity or a hero’s origin. Batman recounts Bruce beginning his journey as Batman and the mistakes he made. It’s a nice story of little relevance but the action is drawn sharply. This is similar to Action Comics, which tells the story of Superman’s cape excellently and the artwork is smooth and pretty. There are a couple of great sequences in this book that the pencilling does proud. Superman describes the fall of Krypton and adds yet another version of it’s destruction. Wonder woman recollects an old issue and is quite a retro issue. Dial H adds to the insanity of the current arc and once again leaves you baffled! Earth 2 adds a new villain to the Earth 2 universe but really adds little for the current work. However these stories may well play a part yet in the new 52.

There are two further classes of zero issues that do not fit the traditional definition. There are summary issues that tell key events from a character’s development that are from previous comic arcs. Ironically three of these are Bat titles including Batman incorporated, Batman and Robin and Batwoman. Batman Inc. is very difficult to follow without prior reading and Batman and Robin adds certain aspects to the previous arcs of Damien’s story. Batwoman is more interesting as it is a first person narrative describing why she dislikes her father, focusing on the events of the first JH Williams III arc. They are reasonable issues but have nothing really of new interest.

The other group of books are those that are far from zero issues in the fact they should be labelled as current continuity books. Unsurprisingly these involve two lantern books that did not even restart properly at the inception of the new 52, let alone provide a proper zero issue. Both are unimpressive issues and the story arc themselves do not even progress as you would expect. Justice League 0 takes its time to finally give Billy Batson Shazam powers and is told and drawn superbly. It really captures the fact that this massively powerful adult man is still a child but it adds nothing to the Justice League continuity.

Finally there are three new books hitting the 52 series, Team 7, Talon and Phantom Stranger and they seem to have begun as a zero issue. This is a difficult scenario because we have yet to read their first issues so we are unable to truly appreciate what these issues mean. I have reviewed Talon 0 and am interested to see where it goes in the first issue. Phantom Stranger is well known to many readers and the zero issue is a sad tale, bringing empathy to the oncoming series. Team 7 is a standard bringing a gang together tale and really should be labelled issue 1.

Overall the zero issues seem to have brought little excitement to people. There are some excellently written issues and some very poorly executed ones. The main titles are disappointing (except for Justice League) and the interesting ones are the B titles or ones with lesser known heroes. There are a variety of issues and they approach their protagonists from different perspectives and I personally like to read a story that has a reason to exist. Adding further unimportant information to an arc is not why I read a zero issue, recapping and summarising previous arcs and origins are not why I read a zero issue, and continuing current arcs is the last reason for reading a zero issue. Why should we buy this issue? They are not supposed to be in continuity and you will not miss out if you do not buy them. The books have to add to why the character is who he/she is and help to explain their actions in the main books. I can fully appreciate that many of the popular heroes have had a plethora of background stories and their characteristics done to death but it does not mean you can be lazy with them. Every author tries to bring something new to their version of a superhero and the zero issue is a perfect opportunity to show why they are different. I do not want to read a pointless stand alone issue unless it shows character development or new intricacies to the superhero. Fortunately some issues actually achieved that and my favourite ones were Talon, I,Vampire, Green Lantern Corps, Batgirl, Justice League Dark and Red Hood.

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