Batman: Zero Year is underway and we're discovering what happened when Bruce Wayne returned to Gotham City after spending years away, training to become the skilled fighter/detective we know today. As we witness the birth of the legend that will become Batman, Gotham is being terrorized by the Red Hood Gang.
The Red Hood Gang has existed, to some extent, in previous comics. With more of a focus on the gang, their activity and the mysterious leader, we can't help but wonder about his identity and if he's supposed to be who we think he is?
There may be some minor spoilers below but only if you haven't been reading Zero Year for some reason.
Originally, it was the Joker who was the leader of the Red Hood Gang. Wearing a giant pill-shaped helmet and a cape, in his final robbery at the Ace Chemical Plant, the leader fell into a vat of chemicals which resulted in the birth of the Joker.
In Alan Moore's THE KILLING JOKE, we saw the man who would become the Joker was not quite the cruel and calculating man the Joker is today. Getting involved with the gang, this man was told they all took turns being the "leader" and wearing the costume to throw off the authorities should they get caught. Basically, he was a patsy.
Then his encounter with Batman and the GCPD resulted in him falling in the chemicals once again. Of course the flashback/memories of the man Joker used to be could have been false according to Joker as his memory sometimes gets muddled.
In Zero Year, the leader is just that, he is the absolute man in charge. Based on history, it seems we're supposed to assume he will become Joker. He just doesn't quite feel like he could be the same man.
Granted, we're talking the New 52. Things can change. As much as THE KILLING JOKE is praised, the idea of Joker previously being a nebbish…loser just felt wrong. Of course it could be the chemicals that twisted his mind and transformed him into the Joker. But that goes into the questioning of what is Joker's motivation and why. That's a completely other topic. Whether or not it was purely the chemicals that caused Joker to be as cruel as he is seems too easy.
That being said, perhaps there is something to the idea of Joker being the guy in control that we've been seeing. If that was the case, it leads to some other implications. The leader of the gang has mentioned recalling when Bruce's parents were killed. How much older than Bruce would he be? Has anyone ever really thought about the possible age difference between Batman and Joker? Was Joker always a resident in Gotham? Even with white skin, wouldn't there be someone that would recognize his facial features?
There's also the fact that the gang itself exists. Joker may have some henchmen from time to time but he rarely keeps so many around. The leader told Bruce he formed the gang because people were afraid of random violence like the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne.
"…at the end of the day, what people are afraid of is the nothing of it, Bruce. The randomness. The empty center. Stare into it and try to find meaning, you'll go mad. All you can do is fear, and survive."
Joker's never been one to have an actual plan or motivation for his actions to this extent. He doesn't normally give speeches quite like this, even though he did have quite a bit to say in THE KILLING JOKE. Would he have the initiative to form a gang in order to terrorize the citizens of Gotham? And for what reason? The leader has been pretty organized and structured, something Joker isn't exactly known for. Joker is more about the quick and big results. He wouldn't work with someone like Philip Kane just to get his hands on some Wayne Enterprises tech.
Another thing to note is when Bruce had an encounter with him in the blimp and was almost unmasked himself, he did manage to get a DNA sample of the leader.
We would imagine Batman's managed to get a sample from the Joker during their fights over the years. Even if there wasn't any records to who the DNA belonged to, he would be able to match the DNA of the Red Hood Gang Leader to Joker's.
Is Joker the leader of the Red Hood Gang? History suggests we should believe this is the case. Scott Snyder has earned our trust when it comes to Batman and the other characters. This question just has us guessing. We're used to expecting the unexpected, especially with some of the liberties creators have been allowed in the New 52. Snyder seems more rooted with tradition in regards to the characters. Something just feels a little off. Could it just be a matter of the inevitable chemical bath that changes the Red Hood Gang Leader's personality and M.O.?
There's still plenty more left to Zero Year. We shouldn't try to predict what Snyder will throw at us but something smells a little fishy with the leader.