Flash forward a bit, and Bruce has already begun to set up shop in what will become the Batcave, while Alfred shaves his head… making him look kind of crazy, but that's just me. Elsewhere, the Red Hood gang are boosting some chemicals, but some of them seem to be pretty nervous, as there's been word of a certain demon in Gotham lately, but one seems pretty confident that it's nothing. You see, as this Red Hood member goes off into the building by himself, he explains to the others he's been in Gotham a long time, and be it witches, owls, or a demon man fighting crime, none of it is ever real… And then he comes to the roof to find his buddies tied up in a bat symbol, with Batman telling him he still needs a head for it.
The next morning, while Red Hood One reads about the Batman, and deals with his men, Bruce and Alfred look at a map of the Red Hood Gang's crimes, trying to find a pattern. While the thefts of chemicals are trying to come off as random, being that one group will steal sulfuric acid, while the other will steal ice cream powder, Bruce starts to see a plan in what the Red Hood would like to perceive as "random." Alfred suggests Bruce may need to look at this all from a "higher" perspective.
To get this perspective, Bruce meets with his uncle Philip, who is relieved to see Bruce is alive after the Red Hood Gang attacked him. Philip admits that the Red Hood Gang have gotten to him, he tells Bruce he tried to control the situation, but Red Hood One locked him out of the tracking system on Wayne Tech facilities. Philip tried to contact the police to warn them, but when he did, two gang members showed up and branded him as RH347. The most Philip can do is give Bruce the "keys to the kingdom" which is access to the system the gang has hijacked. Before Bruce leaves, Philip asked why he came back, this time especially. Bruce tells him that what he thought he wanted before turned out to be wrong. Philip figures Alfred got to him, and asks if he finally got Bruce to come out of his cave.
Not exactly, because cut to the Batcave! Bruce is looking over all the Wayne Depots the Red Hood Gang have raided, as both he and Alfred notice that there's one particular plant they've yet to hit. They both come to realize what this potentially means, but despite Alfred bringing up Batman, Bruce decides this is a job that he needs to attend to personally.
Later in the GCPD, Commissioner Loeb is looking over Red Hood stuff until a cop comes in to alert him to something he may want to see on TV. Bruce Wayne is holding a press conference where he claims to be dropping bombs. The cop asks if he should send a few cars down there, and Loeb tells him to send someone who could use the headache (Gordon).
At his press conference, Bruce addresses all those watching, and asks why they love Gotham, pointing out what everyone who has read a Batman comic knows: Gotham sucks. Terrible, awful place to live. But Bruce claims that Gotham tears you down, only for you to emerge a better person, a hero of sorts, and that is why he has returned. Then Bruce turns his attention to the Red Hood Gang, and exposes their plan to create a flesh eating radioactive poison they plan to use as dirty bombs across the city, he knows this because… and that's when the Red Hood Gang sets some rockets on Bruce. In the chaos, Alfred manages to unlock some of the doors, which allows Bruce (and eventually the GCPD) to enter the facility.
It doesn't take Red Hood One long to find Bruce, and lock the GCPD out from getting any deeper into the factory. With a gun to his head, Bruce calls Red Hood One out on his shit, quite literally saying he's full of it. Bruce doesn't buy into the whole concept of life being meaningless if you can die tomorrow, because it's about what you do before you die. While his parents deaths were an act of random violence, what they accomplished before that is what really matters.
Before Red Hood One can shut up Bruce permanently, the lights go out, many of them through out the city. A police chopper hovering above notices the blacked out section of the city looks like a bat. When the Red Hood members put on night vision goggles, they see what looks to be a black mass come and take Bruce away. Then the lights come back on, blinding the gang members with the googles on. While Red Hood one takes cover behind a pillar, taking his hood off (yet cloaking himself in his cape) Batman attacks the other gang members. Red Hood One watches on from behind the pillar, we don't see much of him, but we do see a crooked nose in his reflection, but he sees quite a bit of Batman, and his wide eyes clearly indicate a certain fascination.
Red Hood One gets his shit back together and puts his helmet back on. While Bruce fights off the seemingly endless amount of gang members, Red Hood One pulls out a long barreled high caliber revolver, and aims it directly at Batman's head. But before he can fire, one of his gang members shoots at him, only for his bullet to ricochet off the helmet. Red Hood One isn't pleased with 347, but says he'll forgive him… with a bullet or two to the chest.
Hearing "Red Hood 347" tips off Bruce, and as the police barge in, the chaos takes its toll and causes some explosions. Bruce goes to tend to Red Hood 347, and sure enough, it's his uncle Philip. The police come in and of course, decide that trying to arrest Batman is the bigger priority, but Batman tells them to back off. Why would they do that, asks Gordon. "BECAUSE." God damn right, Batman.
Bruce gets to the roof, and sees Red Hood One on the ladder of a helicopter flying away. Bruce uses his grappling gun to pull him down, as they plummet back into ACE Chemicals. The two fight it out on the walkway, but an explosion divides it in two. With the Red Hood's section of the walkway starting to fall apart, Red Hood One figures out that Batman is the vigilante, only evolved. Bruce tries to get him to grab his hand, saying it's over, but Red Hood One tells Bruce that it would be "no fun" and that it's "only just the beginning" then falls into the vat of chemicals below.
Sometime later, Bruce has upgraded the cave a bit more, and Alfred finds him sitting at a large computer screen. The two discuss recent events, and how it was clever to loop the Wayne Tech night vision goggles to show Batman rescuing Bruce Wayne, in order to start to build the legend. Bruce jokes that everyone will probably figure it out in a week, and that Alfred will be sharing his jail cell.
They go on to discuss the Red Hood Gang situation, and Alfred suggests that it should be over. Nope. Turns out there are still too many questions. No body was recovered form ACE, and some deep gang members seemed to have figured out that the Red Hood One was a criminal by the name Liam Distal. Alfred then asks if Bruce thinks Distal is still out there, only crippled by his incident? Nope again. Distal's body was found the day before in a barrel of lye outside Amusement Mile. The lye dissolved much of his remains, meaning it's impossible to figure out where and when he was killed. So while Distal was no doubt the leader of the Red Hood Gang, his death leads to countless circumstances. Bruce could have been fighting Distal this whole time, he could have been fighting a patsy who was playing the part of Distal, or Distal could have been offed weeks ago, and Bruce was fighting his replacement, or Distal could have switched places on the roof of Ace Chemicals, and escaped as an average looking Red Hood member. There's no way of knowing the truth.
Alfred goes on to give what will be the first of many "What Batman means" pep talk, but there's quite a large interruption. Edward Nygma has adopted his roll as the Riddler, and hijacked every video signal in Gotham, to deliver a riddle: "There are two sisters, each gives birth to the other. Who are they?" The Riddle of the Sphinx, to be exact. The answer is day and night, and with that, Riddler calls for a "dark, dark night." With a large set of explosions, Riddler tells the city they'll have to do better than that, or the city will die for real, and the power to the entire city is cut.
The Good:First thing's first, you want your money's worth? Batman #24 gives it to you. If you've yet to figure it out, this issue is a 54 story page beast, a majority of which is Greg Capullo with some epilogue pages from Rafael Albuquerque. There's hardly any wasted downtime in this issue, things keep popping off one after the other. Moving past the pure value this issue offers, I could praise it fall my usual reasons to like Zero Year. It's got all the unfamiliar take on a familiar story elements that I enjoy, but let's address the elephant in the room.
Prior to this issue, one of the biggest hesitations about this arc in general, was that it was getting dangerously close to defining the Joker too much. And there was a point in this issue where you think the line is crossed, but the epilogue seems to blur those lines as necessary to keep the mystique of the Joker present. Personally, to me there is no question the man Batman fought that night was the Joker. The glimpse of his facial features, his wide eyed fascination towards Batman, and his ultimate demise into the chemicals, with no body ever found, all points towards the Joker. That was never the issue, Joker falling into the chemicals dressed as the Red Hood was always the accepted cannon, but putting that twist of could this have been a guy who killed the real Red Hood One a week before, or maybe it was longer than that and he was fighting Bruce the entire time? It leaves enough questions unanswered to keep Joker's identity a mystery, and not giving him more definition of a character as needed. Snyder was clearly just toying with this element the first few issues, and really delivered the non answer that many would require to stay happy.
The Bad:This isn't a big deal, but I kind of just have to say this: Bruce's haircut… I honestly think it makes him look like a psycho. One of those super intense militaristic psychos who probably runs a group of neo nazis in the deep south… that or I'm just waiting for him to ask Alfred for some "french fried potaters." It just makes me feel sort of uncomfortable.
I also thought the transition into the next part of the story was a little quick. Instead of a transition, it felt like a hard cut, and Riddler doing all that is pretty crazy to just sort of throw at us in such a brief moment.