Man, I love this book. I should be annoyed by a flashback book that takes place roughly 6 years ago (and then keeps flashing back to other time periods beyond that) but the only reason it's taking place "6 years ago" is to separate it from the continuity of today. I'll have to look, but I don't think Morrison kept referring to "X years ago" in Action Comics, but that started its run off with the conceit of being years ago, whereas this is issue 21, so, "6 years ago" quickly sets the stage, while Greg Capullo establishes the scene of a trashed out Gotham with broken buildings and flooded subways. Some shit went down.
Five months earlier Bruce Wayne is in disguise, but his latex appliance has torn off so his cover seems to be blown... oh yeah, the Red Hood Gang has their guns trained on him, so obviously his cover is blown. He's in a cargo truck with a half dozen men in the back, on the roof of a multi-story parking lot with nowhere to easily go. He makes a naturally daring escape (despite Alfred's protestations in his ear), and saves the day. The Red Hood is impressed multiple times over, he even applauds this mystery man's latest feat. Bruce meanwhile throws him the bird.
Afterward, Bruce has a work out, during which he and Alfred have an exchange about how his return is not as Bruce Wayne, heir to the Wayne Enterprises, but as a tool of justice. Bruce's Uncle, Philip Kane, current chair of the company, has been keeping a watchful eye out for any sign of Bruce, and greets the boy at his door, leading to a very wordy but important conversation about just where things are at in the company, and just who the heck this never-before-heard-of-family-member is anyway, and who he is to Bruce (not much... Kane... any relation to the Kane family of Batwoman?).
Another flashback to Bruce's childhood, shortly before his parents murder, establishing the "Robin" "R" as a symbold of something else (Thomas wears it on his ballcap), but that's background noise, more forward looking is that Thomas is a bit of a grease monkey in his spare time and already Wayne Ent is on the cutting edge of technology, so Bruce is introduced to super-tech at a young age. He's given a portable 360 degree camera by his dad, which, by the final page, it looks like he's going to drop down an abandoned well he finds out back. It's all so very nice, the little details of the influences in his youth that form him as a man!
Later that day, Uncle Philip has a chat with an employee, one Edward Nigma, so things are blossoming in very interesting ways in this issue and I bloody love it. There's even a quickie back-up by Snyder, James Tynion IV and Raphael Albuquerque that shows how Bruce learned to drive.
This book seems to takes some influence from the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, as it feels very much like it could fit within the first two films. The only difference is, there's a bit of playfulness here that the films largely missed out on. The Joker's playfulness was dark and twisted, but here it's actually quite fun. Capullo's style lends itself well to presenting a brighter past, and Bruce's daytime interactions. With the exception of the introduction to Edward Nigma, there's virtually no heavy shadows in this book, and it's a wonderful change of pace from all the dead son, grieving father business of the past few months.
Snyder's set up is dense (given that this is to be a year-long arc, it's apt), introducing at least three separate story threads, as well as the character arc that Bruce/Batman faces, so I'm definitely excited and intrigued, not to mention entertained.
And the cover design? I dig it, though I'm getting so many grubby fingerprints all over its glossy coat.