Zero Year is an eleven-part story arc in the Batman comic book, written by Scott Snyder and pencilled by Greg Capullo, which tells the untold tale of an inexperienced Bruce Wayne's formative years in his war on crime, before honing his craft and establishing himself as The Batman. Someone said
In this story, a young Bruce Wayne attempts to save Gotham City from the murderous group known as the Red Hood Gang. However, since Bruce has yet to establish a reputation in the criminal underworld, and has yet to turn himself into the fearsome figure of Batman, he has been having a hard time winning his war. His inexperience, carelessness and uncontrolled anger have not only stalled his mission but also strained his relationship with his faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth.
Bruce's uncle, Philip Kane, who had declared Bruce legally dead during his absence from Gotham, has taken control of Wayne Enterprises and is using it to produce weapons. In an attempt to improve the company's public image, Philip attempts to convince Bruce to take control of his family's company, but Bruce refuses, as has no interest in living as "Bruce Wayne", focusing all his attention on his war on crime. To make matters worse, the Red Hood gang is stealing the weapons produced by the company to further terrorize the city. Phil's leading strategist, Edward Nygma, the future Riddler, advises Phil to kill Bruce in order to solve their problems but Philip refuses and still tries to convince Bruce to lead the company.
For weeks, while keeping his identity a secret using sophisticated technology, Bruce has been hunting down the Red Hood Gang and sabotages several of their operations, but is unable to take them down. The gang is getting stronger and stronger, equipping themselves with Wayne Tech and causing several random acts of violence throughout the city. However, following a surprise party for Bruce by his uncle, the Red Hood Gang, thanks to a tip from Nygma, ambush Bruce and give him a vicious beating. Bruce barely makes it back to the manor where he is nursed back to health by Alfred. Enraged by Nygma's actions, Philip attempts to kill the villain, admitting that Bruce is a better man than both of them, but Riddler incapacitates Philip and ends their alliance.
Bruce comes to terms with the fact that he is losing this war and asks his father for guidance. Then a bat crashes through his window, and Bruce finally decides that he will become a Bat.
Finally realizing his purpose, Bruce and Alfred set up their base in a cave under Wayne Manor, and Bruce sets off to strike fear in the hearts of criminals as a vigilante who the press calls Batman. He starts by methodically taking out members of the Red Hood gang, quickly establishing his reputation and finally getting the attention of Red Hood One. While investigating the gang's operations, eventually, with some help from a guilt-ridden Phillip, who was forced into becoming a member of the gang, Bruce discovers that the Red Hood gang are planning to use a dangerous toxin from the Ace Chemical factory to terrorize the city. He holds a press conference in front of the factory and exposes the gang's plans, forcing them to invade the factory right away. As Batman, Bruce fights off the Red Hood gang, but not without the death of Uncle Philip, who was killed by the leader for attempting to stop him. As the GCPD round up members of the gang, the factory burns down and Batman goes after the leader, preventing him from escaping and defeating him, but despite Bruce's efforts to save him, the Red Hood allows himself to fall into a large acid container.
In the aftermath, Batman continues setting up his Bat-Cave and establishing himself as a hero in Gotham. Edward Nygma, now calling himself The Riddler, then makes his presence known and knocks out all power from the city, in an attempt to challenge the people to get smarter.
During the massive blackout, a heavy storm comes and the city falls into chaos, and Commissioner Loeb makes it the GCPD's priority to take down the Batman, but to no avail, as the hero repeatedly evades them. Bruce is determined to make an enemy out of the police because he sees them as corrupt and untrustworthy, especially James Gordon, who seems to have a connection to the Waynes' deaths and Bruce resents him for it. Bruce is also working on a jammer, because he feels that, even if the police manage to get the power back, they'll only fall into Riddler's trap and another blackout will take place.
During this time, a series of suspicious murders have taken place, the victims, who were scientists working for Wayne Enterprises, had been ripped apart from the inside after their bones radically grew out of their body. Bruce investigates these murders and he is eventually led to Doctor Karl Helfern, a former Wayne Enterprises scientist who developed the formula that causes these effects. Bruce decides to visit the only man who may know something about it, Lucius Fox, an engineer who used to work for Bruce's father but was fired by Philip. Fox reveals that Helfern was working on a serum that was supposed to harden bones for protection against trauma, but it became unstable, and so was Helfern. However, Fox reveals that it was also his project and injects Bruce with something that incapacitated him, thus apparently revealing himself as an ally of Helfern, who is now known as Doctor Death.
Bruce is kidnapped by Doctor Death, who has apparently injected himself with his own serum but instead of killing him, it has turned into a monstrous figure and becomes even more unstable. He almost kills Fox, but Bruce manages to fight him off. Lucius apologizes for the injection and reveals that it was actually a vaccine against Helfern's serum. As the two try to make their escape, Doctor Death catches up to them, now has become even more monstrous, and almost kills Bruce if it wasn't for the timely intervention of Gordon, who shoots Helfern and knocks him out of the building.
Bruce is brought to a hospital where he is confronted by Gordon who wants to help Wayne and seeks to get more information about the killed scientists. However, Bruce does not like Gordon because he believes that, before his parents' deaths, Gordon and his partner, Corrigan, once escorted Bruce, who believes to have seen them take bribes from the neighbourhood. Bruce declares that Gordon and the rest of the police are crooked and that he will never trust them.
At the age of nineteen in Rio De Janeiro, Bruce met a criminal by the name of Don Miguel who taught Bruce high-speed driving and several insane driving tricks including colour cover, crowd ducking among others. In their final lesson, however, Bruce was instructed to lose the Policia in a bright red custom-made convertible car. After an intense car chase, Miguel attempted to kill the cops using a dangerous, but Bruce, having learned everything he needed from the criminal and wanting to prevent him from causing any more damage, crashes the car, trapping Miguel before finally knocking him out and leaving him to be apprehended by authorities.
At the age of twenty-one, in Egypt, Bruce seeks out an old Russian scientist named Sergei to teach him what they call the impossible. He challenges him to test by trapping him under the Sphinx, where he has limited supplies and oxygen. Bruce spends six months preparing for this test, tinkering with tools and planning for every scenario in order to survive, but Sergei tells him that he needs to go beyond planning and what is called possible in order to survive. Indeed, once Bruce is actually trapped, most of his preparations weren't operational and he was forced to go beyond what he thought is possible in order to escape and pass Sergei's test.
At the age of twenty-four, Bruce found himself in the middle of a pit in the Northeast of Harstad, Norway, fighting for twenty-eight hours straight in deathmatch, defeating every fighter to challenge him but avoided killing anyone despite the insistence of the Pit Queen. Bruce came to this pit seeking to use his body to wage war, but the Queen claims that he cannot win this war without killing, and he will continue to fight until he dies. However, Bruce persists, winning battle after battle but without killing anyone, and in the end, there were no more fighters to challenge because they were all afraid of him.
The story starts six years ago, having recently returned to Gotham City after travelling the world, Bruce Wayne decides to use the skills he learned abroad to cleanse his city of crime, his first target being the Red Hood Gang, a growing group of criminals made up of middle and upper class Gothamites who were convinced or blackmailed into joining the group by the leader, whose identity still remains a mystery to Bruce, as he never takes off his mask, not even in front of his crew. Using a disguise, Bruce infiltrated the group but his cover was eventually blown, and he was cornered by the gang. Though he managed to escape and save the hostages held by the gang, this encounter showed Bruce's carelessness and lack of discipline that almost jeopardized the entire mission.
Back at his base, Bruce's faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth, who is heavily against Bruce's crusade, tries to talk some sense into him and attempts to convince Bruce to announce his return to the city, but Bruce says that he wants to remain legally dead as he feels that he's more efficient that way in his war and he doesn't want to be distracted by "Bruce Wayne". On his way out of the manor, Bruce is met by his uncle Philip Kane, much to Alfred's dismay, who reveals that he was the one who declared Bruce legally dead so he could re-built Wayne Enterprises into something new, by merging it with Kane Chemicals, becoming a leader in protective technology, specializing in weapons. Bruce disapproves of what his uncle has done with the company, and despite Philip's attempts to convince Bruce to take control of the company, he refuses because that's not what he's here to do and it's not who he is. Later that night, while meeting with an associate, Philip reveals that he wants Bruce to lead the company to improve the company's public image since they are hated for building weapons, and to make matters worse, the Red Hood Gang is stealing those weapons from them. The associate, who is revealed to be none other than Edward Nygma, tells him that the solution to Philip's problems, or Riddle as Edward calls it, is simple: killing Bruce Wayne.
The Red Hood Gang hijack Luca Falcone's blimp, as part of their plan to take over all other gangs in Gotham. After the leader, Red Hood One, throws Falcone off the blimp, he gloats to his captive, who appears to be Oswald Cobblepot, about having acquired all the drugs, information and advanced weaponry, including a Wayne Sonic Rifle. Then suddenly, "Cobblepot" attacks Red Hood One and reaches for his hood, but gets electrocuted. The Hood then deduces that this is, in fact, the vigilante who has been giving them trouble for the last few weeks. It was in fact, Bruce, having kidnapped the real Cobblepot and trapped him in the blimp's basement, disguised as the villain, in another attempt to take down the gang. Impressed, the Red Hood leader offers Bruce a spot on his team, claiming that they are two of a kind, but Bruce refuses and manages to take down some of the Hood's men, and even stabs the leader with his gauntlet, thereby getting a sample of his DNA. Bruce barely manages to escape unscathed, with the real Cobblepot with him.
Back at the manor, Bruce is still upset by the fact that he's still losing this war, as the leader's DNA has no match in any records, and he is still unable to stop this gang while it's quickly growing and becoming more dangerous. Alfred tells Bruce that his war is doomed and disapproves of the way in which he is fighting it. At Bruce's insistence, Alfred tells him that fighting from the shadows as a ghost is cowardly, unlike his parents, who fought for their city in public. He also disapproves of the fact that he is letting the Wayne name rot and leaving Wayne Enterprises in the hands of his uncle, who he sees as a sad, angry man with no purpose but glory. A heated argument breaks out between the two, as Alfred claims that Bruce's parents would be ashamed while Bruce tells him that's the real coward, provoking Alfred to slap Bruce in the face, before heading back to the manor.
After the argument, Bruce meets up with Philip at the Museum and tells him to shut down his operation because gangs have been stealing tech from Wayne Enterprises. Philip is reluctant and again tries to convince Bruce to be part of the company so they can things out, but Bruce turns him down again and insists that Bruce Wayne should stay dead. Philip then turns on the lights and reveals Welcoming Party thereby revealing his return to the city. Bruce angrily storms off and while searching for the Museum's exit, he encounters Edward Nygma. During their conversation, Nygma implies to Bruce that his uncle is giving weapons away to the Red Hood in an attempt keep them away from bigger ones, but refuses to say anymore. After solving Nygma's riddle concerning the Museum's exit, Bruce tells Edward on his way out to try harder next time, to which Edward mutters that there won't be the next time. As he reaches the manor, he is caught in an explosion set up by the Red Hood.
Bruce is then ambushed by the Red Hood Gang, who give him a vicious beating. The Red Hood reveals that the death of Bruce's parents changed his own life as well. The fact that the Waynes, scions of the city, were randomly killed by a nobody for no reason, inspired what the Red Hood gang is all about, acts of randomness inspiring madness, fear and survival. He also reveals that there is another man, like Bruce, who has been fighting them, but promises that, in the end, they will get him just like they got Bruce. Before leaving Bruce to die, the Red Hood thanks Bruce for leaving that theatre with his parents that night, because it inspired him and then proceeds to takes down down the Waynes portraits and puts two bullets through them. Severely wounded, Bruce barely manages to make his way to the lower levels of the Manor before passing out.
Meanwhile, it is revealed that Edward Nygma was the one who sent the gang after Bruce, and Philip, enraged by actions, threatens to kill him. However, Nygma says a password that activates the magnetic plate in Philip's head, which was placed there after a childhood accident, causing Philip to collapse and to be incapacitated. Nygma announces his resignation and leaves Philip laying on the floor in pain, but not before Philip taunts him with the fact that despite all his strategies, he's nothing more than a shadow, an empty question mark and that no one will know who he is. Edward simply pauses and tells him goodbye.
Bruce is found by Alfred and was nursed back to health. Alfred tells Bruce that despite their differences, he promises that he will always be there to patch him up. Bruce simply taps him on the shoulder as a sign of gratitude. Bruce then wanders the mansion, distraught at the fact that he is unable to win this war, and then faces a statue of his father, asking for guidance. Remembering the traumatic event as a child when he fell into a pit near Wayne Manor, before he was saved by his father, he was attacked by a swarm of bats. His father once told him the lifeblood of Gotham runs under Wayne Manor and asks him what the city told him to be. Just then, a bat crashes through the window and lands on Thomas Wayne's statue. Bruce replies "Yes I see. Yes, Father. I shall become a bat."
Finally realizing his purpose, Bruce and Alfred set up their base in a cave under Wayne Manor, and Bruce sets off to strike fear into the hearts of criminals as Batman. He starts by methodically taking out members of the Red Hood gang, quickly establishing his reputation and finally getting the attention of Red Hood One. Following the gang's heists, Bruce sees no patterns, as all their acts are random, and decides that he needs help from his uncle. Philip is extremely regretful of what happened and reveals that he has been marked by the gang and forced to become a member himself. He gives Bruce access to the system which allows Bruce to realize what the gang's plan is, when and where they are planning on executing it. On the anniversary of the Waynes' murders, the gang is planning on forming a deadly poison using material obtained from the Ace Chemical factory, and exploding at several different locations around the city. Bruce realizes that this is a job for Bruce Wayne, not Batman, so he holds a press conference the day before the scheduled execution of the plan, outside the Chemical factory, to officially announcing his return to Gotham City. He goes on to explain why he came back despite what happened to his parents, because Gotham city, despite its flaws, is transformative and challenges everyone to be the best person they can be. He exposes the Red Hood Gang's plans and encourages the people of Gotham to fight back against this menace. Before he could finish, however, the gang launch their attack in an attempt to kill Bruce, but he is saved by Lieutenant James Gordon.
During the confusion, Bruce sneaks into the factory during while Gordon attempts to lead a group of cops through the front door. Inside, Bruce is confronted by Red Hood One, who is impressed by Bruce's efforts but tells him that the cycle of randomness opened with his parents' murder and it will close with his death, and the destruction of the factory with the police inside while the gang escapes through the back entrance with what is available of their toxin, which they will unleash on the city the next day, opening a new cycle. But Bruce tells him that his parent's death may have been random and meaningless but their lives weren't, and he tells Red Hood that his life is an abomination and he is nothing more than an evil man pretending to have a purpose.
Just before the leader can pull the trigger, a massive outage takes place in the entire neighbourhood, thanks to Alfred, and in a masterfully executed facade give the illusion that Batman appeared to save Bruce. The light then goes back on, and Bruce, now suited up, as Batman, appears and engages the gang in combat and gains the upper hand while Alfred shuts down the bay doors to prevent the gang from escaping. After defeating most of the gang, Batman is almost shot by Red Hood One, but he is saved by a member of the gang, who is then shot and killed in retaliation by the leader. To Batman's horror, it is revealed to be his very own uncle Philip who was forced into joining the gang. As the place starts to go on fire, Gordon and the police enter the factory and confront Batman, who manages to evade them to go after the fleeing leader. As the police round up the incapacitated members of the gang, on the rooftop, Red Hood attempts to make his escape using a helicopter but Batman grapples onto him and they both plummet into the burning factory. They engage in combat and Batman finally defeats the Red Hood but the railing they were standing collapses. Batman extends his hand and tries to save his enemy but the Red Hood refuses and declares that this is just the beginning before allowing himself to fall into the acid below.
In the aftermath, Bruce and Alfred finish setting up the Bat Cave, and they finally reconcile, with Alfred telling Bruce that his parents would have been proud of him and that Batman's legend begins with him saving Bruce Wayne thus cementing their separation into his legacy. Though Bruce has doubts that his identity will be uncovered, Alfred reassures him that if plays his role right, the people won't want to know who is behind the mask, because Batman can be something they can believe in, that can transport them to a world where anything is possible. Just then, Edward Nygma, now calling himself the Riddler, makes his presence known on a giant screen and announces his plan to make the people of Gotham smarter, challenging them to a riddle, and then proceeds to knock out all power from the city, leaving Gotham under a massive blackout.