Batman Annual #2 (2013) by Scott Snyder and Marguerite Bennett – Friday Flash Review [Shadowhawk/Bane of Kings]
Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings review the brand-new Annual issue for DC’s Batman.
“As with last year’s issue featuring Mr. Freeze so it is with the new one as Scott and Margueritte flesh out a new villain for the caped crusader and they do it in mind-boggling style.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
“A title that manages to provide a fun look at the interior workings of Arkham Asylum with a nice, solid annual, however – as Snyder is not the main writer, it isn’t as impressive as what we’ve seen in the past – but it is still worth checking out, and is certainly worth the extra cost.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
I’ll start off, as usual, with the good stuff first. This issue highlights something that we have barely glimpsed in this rebooted universe, as far as Batman concerned: how did his villains become who they are? We’ve seen Bruce’s brother (a top agent for the Court of Owls), Clayface, Joker, the Red Hood Gang, Mr. Freeze, and Edward Nygma so far, apart from a couple cameos during the “Death of the Family” crossover from some of the other villains. Perhaps it is interesting that just as the previous annual gave us the rebooted origins of Mr. Freeze, so does the new issue, establishing a certain familiarity and continuity where the Batman mythos is concerned.
And I loved that. With the entire “Court of Owls” event in the first year of the series, Scott gave us a brand-new enemy for the caped crusade rand he did it really well, adding in so much nuance and excitement to the whole thing that it was all just perfect. Or as perfect as you can get to the whole thing. Here, we get to see the Anchoress, the oldest inmate in Arkham. In fact, she is so old that she was actually the first ever patient admitted to Arkham back when it was an actual treatment facility rather than a freakshow containment facility. And that’s where things start to head south for Batman and the staff at Arkham.
It was really great to see such an extended origin story for the new villain. She is suitably creepy, mysterious and full of anger as only Batman villains can be. Which dovetails really nicely into the fact that even though Scott is not the actual script-writer on this issue, the “Batman feel” is still there. Margueritte Bennett, who I’m given to understand is a student of Scott’s just like James Tynion IV, has delivered a really well-paced (for the most part) story that shows off everyone involved on the pages in a really fresh and interesting light.
I loved how Arkham brings in Batman to test its defenses, contingencies and other capabilities should various supervillains break out. In a panel-by-panel breakdown, we see how the Scarecrow, the Man-Bat, Killer Croc, Bane, Mr. Freeze and others could escape their cells and roam free in the entire facility. Batman’s dialogue here is especially noteworthy.
But here’s the thing, this was all too linear and straightforward. The faked breakout, when Batman does all the narration comes off as a little clumsy. And that’s because Batman is talking so much. I would have expected there to be some really terse, brief dialogue between Batman and Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, coupled with a heavy dose of internal monologues by Batman. That would have been more the kind of Batman that fits in a situation like this. Instead, everything is front-loaded.
And while I liked the entire background we get on the Anchoress, at times it was too on point, and we got a lot of info-dumps as well, which didn’t really work all that much for me. But then again, we do get to see how Batman’s arrival as a symbol has changed all of Gotham, starting with Arkham which is what it is these days, a freakshow dungeon.
Finally, as far as the story is concerned, I’d say that I’m confused why this is a “Zero Year” tie-in issue since nothing in the story has anything to do with that period of the rebooted mythos. Aside from a couple panels or so.
Wes Craig’s pencils are almost always on point and his Batman I really liked. Made for a nice change of pace from what Greg Capullo has done so far. And that’s where things fall apart a bit. Because you see, Batman is all about shadows and darkness, not bright environments and lights, which is what happens here. For most of the story, Batman is in well-lit places and therefore his “dark” persona is severely negated. And since the colourists have primarily gone for brighter colours, the effect is even more heightened. All that said, I still enjoyed the artwork. It comes at a really good time in the series, contrasting with the feel of the entire “Zero Year” event so far, with all of its brightness, but that’s more fitting since in that timeline, Bruce is not yet Batman, just a vigilante.
As a last point, I just want to say that Jock’s cover here is magnificent. So much contrast between the white and the black, with those blue highlights in various places. It’ll surely be a classic in about 5 years or so.
Marguerite has had a decent enough start and I would love for her to do more one-shots like these. Batman has set some high standards so far, with Becky Cloonan’s #12 which was, if I recall correctly, the first time a female artist had worked on the main Batman title, and here Marguerite is the first female writer to work on the main Batman title (at least in the New 52). Progress is great! And I’d urge you to go out and get this issue. Its a good break from the main story going on, despite its flaws.
Bane of Kings:
Art: Wes Craig | Cover: Jock
A special ZERO YEAR tie-in! Bruce Wayne’s first year as the Dark Knight has just barely begun…and already dangerous elements are coalescing, leading Bruce toward his final destiny.
If you’ve been following The Founding Fields for quite long now, then you’ll know that this comic made it into my ‘Top 5’ list for Potential Pick of the Week, despite the fact that not only was Greg Capullo not taking up the role of the main artist, but also Snyder wasn’t taking on the main storytelling duties, handing over that role to Marguerite Bennett, a former student – which was also how James Tynion IV, current writer of Talon and Red Hood and the Outlaws broke into comics – I believe with last year’s Batman Annual #1.
Batman Annual #2, like Detective Comics Annual #2 – is a fairly solid comic. Unlike when Snyder is the main writer, nothing really stands out – even when you compare it to last year’s Annual which was mainly written by Tynion IV, this feels somewhat weaker in comparison. However, there are several strong moments about this issue. I liked the fact that pretty much all of this issue was spent inside Arkham Asylum – Batman himself is working with the overlords to test the many ways in which various inmates could escape, and how they could be countered. The issue itself also introduces two new guards to the Batman verse, who will probably not play a major role in the series to come unlike Harper Row. One of the narrators for this story is Eric, who’s just arrived, all optimistic, all with uplifted spirits from Metropolis, to work in the Asylum. After having the bus break down twice en route, not only does he find himself introduced to the Riddler, the Mad Hatter and Clayface, but also the mysterious Anchoress, who plays a key role in shaping the plot of this Annual.
Alongside Eric, Mahreen is the other character who we meet in this issue – who gives Eric a tour of the Asylum. They’re nice characters who won’t annoy some as badly as Harper Row did with her introduction (I actually find myself quite liking Harper however) – and I wouldn’t mind seeing them play a bigger role in the future, particularly with Arkham-based stories. But that doesn’t look likely to happen for a while yet, though – as we’re still in the middle of Zero Year.
Art wise, Wes Craig’s pencils is fairly solid – but it’s nowhere near as epic as Greg Capullo’s. However, this may change on a second read-through – after being used to David Aja’s work on Hawkeye – Francavilla’s artwork knocked me off balance, feeling odd and out of place when I first read it – but now after several more issues (and The Black Mirror graphic novel), Francavilla is one of my favourite artists across the board right now. So maybe the same lies in store for Craig? I don’t know. However, one thing’s for sure – even though Jock’s cover is fairly simple – it’s actually incredibly awesome, and easily one of the highlights of the book for sure. I’d love to see Jock do more covers for Batman in the future, although that’s not to say that Capullo’s covers are equally as awesome.