REVIEW: ‘Detective Comics,’ 2021 Annual #1

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Detective Comics Annual #1

Detective Comics 2021 Annual #1 Bruce Wayne’s past, Gotham’s present, and the future of Arkham Tower. Mariko Tamaki and Matthew Rosenberg plotted this annual. David Lapham brought the artistry, with Trish Mulvihill and Lee Loughridge on colors and Ariana Maher on letters. This annual sets up some groundwork for the upcoming Shadow of the Bat storyline DC will push as the Detective Comics regular series soon gets churned out on a weekly basis.

Shadow of the Bat isn’t just about the fact that Batman will soon no longer be in Gotham. This is about the new Shadow growing from the construction of Arkham Tower, the new mental health rehab skyscraper meant to replace Arkham Asylum. To tell this tale, we are given a flashback at the beginning of the issue; the Wayne family is out for ice cream. First off, it’s a treat (pun intended) to see Bruce Wayne as the little boy eating too much ice cream. It’s a great way to begin the story, especially since the rest of it jumps into the Gotham abyss of madness and psychological thriller. Quickly the Wayne family is leaving when a madman jumps out of a window and threatens Martha Wayne. This is the Meager Man, a serial killer who finds blood to be sacred and builds constructs out of bones. Not so sure it was a good idea to have the Waynes attacked before they are destined to be killed, but here we are. Despite this one minor quip, the scene gives readers a compassionate and pragmatic look into Thomas Wayne. This is great, as lately, the only bits we get of him are from an alternate Earth where he’s a murderous version of Batman.

Flash forward to the present, and we find Batman with Nightwing on the trail of the Meager Man, or at least, someone else taking up the role. The hunt is on for the Dynamic Duo, while Foxtech is approached by the designers of Arkham Tower, who are looking to garner support. Nightwing brings up whether or not Arkham was ever a good idea and if he and Batman have only helped to further damage villains by simply throwing them back again and again into the asylum. Here’s where things get deep. The flashback was being narrated by Batman, and we also get his thoughts about the Meager Man along the way. Those thoughts are introspective, empathic, self-doubting and honestly make Batman much more likable as a character. However, in dialogue, Batman continually comes off as identical to the System. Violence treats the symptom but never cures the ill, seemingly without remorse. He is very much the cop in a costume. Nightwing, on the other hand, is a people person and is committed to finding a better approach, especially after the decision he’s made since the new creative team came along in his series.

Detective Comics 2021 Annual #1 leads into some great dialogue between the two heroes who don’t see eye-to-eye on the subject, plus other good interactions between Nightwing and other members of Gotham (both good and confrontational) who are tasked with protecting Gotham. This is just a good thriller with fine pacing and character-driven discussion about one of the worst institutions in a very bleak metropolis.

Thanks to Tamaki and Rosenberg for giving us this glimpse into the midnight morass of Gotham City while plucking on the string of hope that things could get better one day if everyone simply works at it. The flashback shows us Thomas Wayne in a more fleshed-out manner while displaying that Bruce is definitely his father’s son. They also have an excellent handle on Nightwing’s character and his compassion. I am loving this storyline even though it seems the Tower is doomed from the get-go, it’s nice to see Gotham and other citizens being portrayed and how the city needs to change to move forward.

Lapham’s art is direct and to the point, and I like it a lot. Some may have come accustomed to the extra animated, hyper-realistic artwork made popular since the 90s, but Lapham’s no-frills style has a lot to admire. the dedication to detail is there, as is a talent for dark, heavy inks. His pencils can render a Dark Knight or a greedy young Bruce with ease and I found his illustrations of the fully decked out Meager Man to be disturbingly good. Mulvihill and Loughridge stray away from bright colors in the annual in favor of subtler tones that for some reason help the mood of the story. Maher juggles all the dialogue like a pro, and puts a nice, cringe effect on the Meager Man’s font and word balloons that sells him as a creepier villain than most of Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery.

This is a nice prelude to what fans can expect in the regular series soon. Arkham tower looks to be a story that will be more inclusive for a wide variety of characters beyond Batman. With any hope, its effects will be felt for a long time coming, and offer more of Gotham to absorb than just the same villains and crossovers that have little impact. 

Detective Comics 2021 Annual #1 is available now wherever comic books are sold.


Detective Comics 2021 Annual #1
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TL;DR

This is a nice prelude to what fans can expect in the regular series soon. Arkham tower looks to be a story that will be more inclusive for a wide variety of characters beyond Batman. With any hope, its effects will be felt for a long time coming and offer more of Gotham to absorb than just the same villains and crossovers that have little impact.