We’ve reached the end of another year which means its comic book annual time. To mark the end of this year various Batman writers have come together to deliver some Christmas-related stories starring the Dark Knight of Gotham City. With an all-star line-up of writers that includes Paul Dini, Scott Snyder and Tom King I’m coming into this new Batman Annual with high expectations. Whether the stories have long-term ramifications or not I expect that they should all be enjoyable. Let’s find out if that is the case with Batman Annual #1.
Writers: Tom King (Good Boy); Scott Snyder and Ray Fawkes (Silent Night); Paul Dini (The Not So Silent Night of the Harley Quinn); Steve Orlando (Stag); Scott Bryan Wilson (The Insecurity Diversion)
Artists: David Finch (Good Boy); Declan Shalvey (Silent Night); Neal Adams (The Not So Silent Night of the Harley Quinn); Riley Rossomo (Stag); Bilquis Evely (The Insecurity Diversion)
Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb (Good Boy); Jordie Bellaire (Silent Night); Ivan Plascencia (Stag); Mat Lopes (The Insecurity Diversion)
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5.5 Night Girls out of 10
On September 2nd Batman gets bitten in the neck by a dog wearing an ace mask.
On September 23rd Batman and Commissioner Gordon find the same dog that bit him earlier that month viciously looking at them while standing over three other dead dogs. Commissioner Gordon mentions that the dogs Joker forced them to fight each other for the laughs.
On September 25th Alfred visits Gotham Pound and gives the clerk a large check to take ownership of the dog Batman and Commissioner Gordon found.
On September 26th Bruce complains to Alfred that he was not expecting to see the dog on his dining table for breakfast. Bruce and the dog glare at each other.
Over the next 3 months while Bruce solves various cases as Batman, Alfred trains the dog in the Batcave in order to domesticate him.
On December 14th Bruce tells Alfred that he believes the Joker broke the dog they got. Before heading into the Batcave Bruce mentions that he always said that some wound can’t heal.
After Bruce is gone Alfred tells the dog, who he has now named Ace, to sit. Ace does as Alfred says peacefully.
On December 19th Batman arrives in the Batcave injured and tired. Once he sits down Ace happily greets Batman and they have their first moment getting along.
On Christmas Day Bruce gives Ace a Batman-styled mask to wear. As Bruce pets Ace he mentions that he noticed Alfred didn’t get him a gift. Bruce ends up telling Alfred he is just joking about the gift since he has everything he wants.
Alfred walks away sarcastically saying “World’s Greatest Detective. Indeed.” End of story.
Batman tests the new software he installed in the Batcomputer. The new software is able to detect all emergency calls a split second before 911 operators and analyzes each one to figure out which crimes are real.
As Batman goes about respond to each crime a group of people in red trench coats appear in Gotham City Square. Two of the people in the group take off their coats and begin climbing a large statue. The Gotham citizens gathered think that they are going to die.
Batman soon arrives on a nearby rooftop. He watches on as he has a rare moment where there is nothing being reported.
As he watches the scene he, along with the Gotham citizens, witness the mysterious group performing incredible stunts. The performers quickly draw a large crowd to watch them perform their act.
Batman smiles for a moment and then suddenly gets a detection of a crime from the Batcomputer. Batman heads out to respond to the crime. End of story.
The Not So Silent Night of the Harley Quinn
On Christmas Eve Harley Quinn is up on the roof of the GCPD building. Just as she is about to do something Batman grabs her and takes her away.
Inside the Batcar Harley complains that Batman stopped her from delivering candy and cookies. Harley then explains how she has turned a new leaf and is actually a role model now. Batman doesn’t believe it and says he is dropping her off at city limits, much to Harley’s charging.
Harley decides to put on some Christmas music. As Harley sings “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” Batman spots two kids being bullied by another group of kids. Before Batman does anything one of the kids being bullied wearing a Harley hoody grabs a baseball bat and fends off the bullies, forcing them all to run away.
As Batman and Harley continue to drive through Gotham City they see various incidents and crimes take place. Before they do anything each of these events someone who looks like various versions of Harley ends up saving the day.
After a long drive Batman drops Harley off at Coney Island, which is where she wanted to go all along. Harley is then greeted by Poison Ivy and her friends, who are ready to celebrate Christmas with her. End of story.
At Gotham City Hall Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon attend the Barry O’Neill event where kids are able to ride some attractions. Minister Blizzard suddenly attacks the event.
Bruce is able to break away from Commissioner Gordon and Barry to change into his Batman gear. Batman soon arrives and makes quick work of Minister Blizzard. He then hands Minister Blizzard over to Gordon to arrest.
Barry worries that his event for the kids was ruin. Commissioner Gordon cheers him up by saying the kids still had fun.
At the Wayne Mansion Duke walks in on Bruce sitting in his library in the dark. Duke wonders what Bruce is thinking about. Bruce says he was thinking about all the miracles Barry has performed for the disadvantage youth even as he is nearly 100 years old. It got him to think that for all he does as Batman something will always get the best of them.
Elsewhere, Barry arrives at his apartment and is suddenly stabbed by a mysterious figure in the forehead. End of story.
The Insecurity Diversion
While Arkham Asylum is holding its annual holiday party Batman investigates a mysterious scent he has found. At first he thinks its gingerbread that he smells but as he starts to have weird thoughts he knows that is not the scent. After putting on his gas mask he realizes the scent is fear gas and it’s infecting the entire city.
At Arkham an inmate named Haunter is able to escape through the front door. As she makes her way through Gotham she is able to find some clothes to wear.
Back at Arkham Batman discovers that Haunter, who can kill people using their DNA has escaped. He decides to go after Haunter since she also has a connection to Scarecrow and possibly the fear gas.
At Scarecrow’s hideout, Haunter gets some material from Scarecrow. Before Haunter can leave Batman knocks her and Scarecrow out of the room.
Haunter reveals that Scarecrow gave her some of Batman’s DNA. She uses her powers against Batman and she believes she killed him.
After a short period Batman gets back up and says that he took precautions to make it difficult for someone to use his DNA against him. He goes on to say he solved the fear gas case and on his free time whipped up a nerve toxin he already tagged Haunter and Scarecrow with. Batman then gives the two the option to freeze to death or go back to Arkham. End of issue.
The Good: The first thought I had when finishing up Batman Annual #1 was that it was a good effort that is completely forgettable. Even after going back to read this issue over again after reading several other comic books there was nothing that I came away with that makes the stories memorable. It’s not to say that Batman Annual #1 is bad, because it’s not, but it isn’t something every fan needs to pick up.
Tom King’s story “Good Boy” is unsurprisingly the strongest entry of all the stories we got in Batman Annual #1. With this story King is able to add the formerly forgotten Ace the Bat-Hound back into continuity. While the character has never had big role in the Batman books it is a great addition to the franchises supporting cast. With Ace around we have another character outside of Alfred for Bruce to have interactions with outside his cape and cowl without putting on an act. Even if it’s for one or two panels they will be moments that ground stories to show Bruce’s actual life outside of being Batman.
It was also fun to see how King used Ace to give Alfred sometime in the spotlight. Given that he has had Batman involve with some big stories Alfred hasn’t had a lot of development during his run. But with his story in Batman Annual #1 we see that King understands Alfred’s role in Bruce is life is more than just being his butler that interjects every once in a while. Seeing how Alfred spent so much time training Ace to get him from being a wild dog to a dog that can be family for Bruce was sweet. His last line about Bruce not figuring out that domesticating Ace was his Christmas was a nice way to tie-up the entire story.
Scott Snyder and Ray Fawkes portion of Batman Annual #1 the other standout of the issue. Seeing what happens in a singular moment in time where there is absolutely no crime for Batman to respond to was a nice change of pace. Snyder and Fawkes did well in playing up how strange of a moment that was for Batman. And it’s in that strange moment for Batman that Snyder and Fawkes are able to offer up a look at Gotham City we don’t see very often. The joy that we see as Gotham City’s community gather to watch some street performers is a time where you realize not everything about the city is bad and that there are things to enjoy in it.
The rest of Batman Annual #1 was enjoyable but did not standout as something to go on and on about. Paul Dini, Steve Orlando and Scott Bryan Wilson’s stories were respectively well executed for the page count they were given. And I would be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to see Harley Quinn interacting with Batman in a rare one-on-one scenario. The story was a nice showcase for how far Harley’s character has come since Batman: The Animated Series. But even then the story, like the other two, missed something that would’ve made it special.
Much like the majority of the stories, the artwork in Batman Annual #1 was solid but nothing stood. David Finch’s art was possibly the strongest amongst the group. He did well in delivering the facial reactions for of Alfred when he was training Ace. Similarly, Declan Shalvey was able to deliver on what the impact of a quiet moment would be like for Batman while protecting Gotham City.
The Bad: When I look at Batman Annual #1 and its short story format it felt like a miss opportunity to explore Batman’s world during the holiday season more. Even though the title of this annual is Batman the character has become much more with the family he has created for himself. And with this season being so much about family it would have been fun to see Batman interacting with Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl and others. It would’ve made this annual special given all that has happened with Tim’s death and the Batman Family being spread across the globe at the moment.
And without the rest of the Batman Family’s being involved in some way in any of the stories it makes Harley Quinn being the lone guest star feel like a shameless plug. I understand that Harley is DC’s current darling but for her to be the only Batman related character to appear is disheartening. If one of the other stories had Batgirl or Nightwing involved than Harley’s appearance would felt less like a Suicide Squad movie plug than it did.
The other thing that hurt Batman Annual #1 is that there weren’t any chances taken with the style in story or artwork. Every story in this annual had the same look even though there were five different stories. This would’ve been the perfect opportunity to have one of the stories feature something like a Lil’ Gotham type story that isn’t like any other Batman story. Just something different that we would not normally get from the dozens of Batman comics we get year-round.
Overall: Batman Annual #1 is a perfect example of a forgettable comic book. It’s neither good nor bad, but rather somewhere in between. With such an all-star line-up headlining this annual had the potential to be so much more, especially given the cover price. Instead Batman Annual #1 is a comic only for the most hardcore Batman fan that feels the need to have for their complete collection. For everyone else, this is an issue you don’t need to worry about purchasing at all.