The second annual for DC’s flagship title introduces a a few new characters, and proves that you don’t have to wear a cape to be a hero.
Scott Snyder has had something of a tradition in his two-year tenure on Batman, punctuating his major story arcs with a solo story about a minor character that impacts the Dark Knight in various levels of significance. From this concept came the wonderful Harper Row, the determined potentially future partner of the Bat, and some of the best single issues of the last two years. Batman Annual #2 both adheres to and departs from this formula, providing us with a standalone story that also ties into the current “Zero Year” arc.
Series writer Snyder takes more of a back seat in this issue, co-plotting a script written by former student Marguerite Bennett. Where the first Batman Annual in 2012 reintroduced Mr. Freeze into the New 52 DCU, Batman Annual #2 takes the opportunity to take us deeper into the archives of Gotham City, specifically the Arkham Asylum. As a new recruit Eric Border begins his first shift at Gotham’s oldest facility for the criminally insane, he is immediately confronted with the Batman himself. There to test out the security system, his presence awakens a much older soul, the very first patient of Arkham: the Anchoress.
Bennett touches on a recurring theme in this dark and character-driven piece, that Batman’s presence changed the face of Gotham forever. An ‘anchoress’ is one who chooses to seclude themselves away, and in this case it is due to the mistakes of her past. The Anchoress blames Batman for coming into her sanctuary and bringing the most outlandish criminals with him, while she remains neglected and forgotten in the furthest wings of Arkham. Her nature allows us another glimpse into Bruce Wayne’s earliest pre-Batman days, in a brief interlude that crosses over with the current narrative in the main title. Yet for this most part, this is about the Anchoress and her new ‘friend’, and its as touching as it is tragic.
Greg Capullo also gets a break for this annual, with Wes Craig the primary artist for the extended issue. While not as distinctive as Capullo’s art, now intrinsically tied to the title, he is also no stranger to Batman, having pencilled some of the digital Legends of the Dark Knight and a few issues of Nightwing. He ties the aesthetics of his issue to those of Capullo’s world, skillfully balancing the look of Arkham’s/Bruce’s ultra-modern gadgets with the Gothic architecture of Arkham. There’s a wonderful three-quarter page shot of the Panopticon that sits at the heart of the facility, a nice flip on the often claustrophobic asylum. The design of the Anchoress is a spooky mixture that would sit right at home in Doctor Who.
While the issue may be a little exposition heavy at times, Batman Annual #2 manages to tell a compelling solo story while maintaining links to the main title. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in future issues.
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