Warning! Contains spoilers for Batman #24 in The New 52!
Lately, it has occurred to me that being a historian is the saddest profession in the world. This is because no matter my dedication – the historic documents I read, the archives I visit, the photographs I look at – I may only experience the past in the present. I will never know what it was like to run, helter-skelter from a schoolyard to the nearest newsstand in May 1939; to hand over my shiny ten cents in exchange for what was waiting for me and millions of other kids – the first sighting of Batman, ready to show the world what the opposite of cowardly and superstitious meant. So, the cover of the original Detective Comics #27 has never felt like mine. It belongs to someone else; an eleven year-old child born long before me.
At least, that’s what I thought until October this year. You see, I am not like some comic readers. I don’t read previews and generally avoid other such glimpses of art and story. Also, I don’t buy the same comics each month due to money restrictions. Furthermore, because my interests lie so deep in the past, I assumed that I wouldn’t find too much to keep me in ‘The New 52!’ A kind of historian’s snobbery, I suppose. So, up to this time my reading of new Batman stopped after Volume One – The Court of Owls story arc. I had thoroughly enjoyed that, but there were other things to buy, such as 1930s Sandman stories and also my MA history dissertation to complete. However, my attention was drawn to some fuss online about a new Batsuit in Batman #24, and I thought, ‘What the hell? I’ll treat myself this month. I’ll buy an issue…’
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was unprepared for what was waiting for me. Even though the front cover made it obvious, even though I knew that Zero Year focussed on his origin, I was innocent still – unknowing, no better than a child. So in my state of wide-open, infantile ignorance, I turned the page and saw this:
I think I may have stared at him for twenty minutes. I could not move. Snyder and Capullo had granted my wish. They transported back to 1939, made me eleven years of age and presented Batman to me for the very first time. And though he seemed completely new, that picture also called forth everything I knew about him and set it against an amber-coloured sky. It was like he was made just for me – familiar, yet original.
So perhaps that’s how kids felt in 1939, like all their birthdays and Christmases and Halloweens had come at once. Now they had something new to play with, yet this something new they loved all the more because he was secretly what they’d been waiting for. Batman was an innovation rooted in their cultural past, formed out of their shared experiences of growing up in 1930s America. He was the absolute hero for their time. Therefore, this picture not only gave me my own first sighting of Batman but also managed to sum up the underlying premise of my research. Namely, that 1939 and Batman came together for a reason. The world was waiting for the Dark Knight and didn’t even know it.
This post was a simple fan’s letter of love for Zero Year. However silly and non-academic it seems, it begged me to write it. However, publishing this post and reading Zero Year has made me think about how history works in DC comics. Next week, I shall be providing a more in-depth exploration of this theme.