By Peter Tomasi, Doug Mahnke (pencils and inks), Pat Gleason, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen Mark Irwin, Mick Gray, Tona Avina, Dezi Sienty, & Taylor Esposito.
Why is Damian Wayne dead? Sure dramatic effect is important, and of course since death was killed by Superman it’s not an absolute factor, but subjecting one of the coolest new characters in the Bat-Family, if not the DC Universe, to this just seems dumb. Even as a memory, Damian resonates through the story in a more powerful manner than any living character. Regardless, as an escape from overbearing, continuity-driven storytelling, Batman and Robin Annual #2 is wholly successful. As a fun one-shot read, this issue delivers one of the best bang-for-buck deals from DC’s current lineup.
Tomasi is in a better position than most writers to approach a heart-warming, fun story which evokes the memory of Damian Wayne. Having worked with the character for over a year, Tomasi developed the Son of Batman to be an irritatingly sardonic yet witty and fun character. The story of Annual #2 stays true to this foundation, and expresses it through excellent pacing, and by mirroring Damian’s personality through Nightwing.
In a sense, we get three stories for the price of one: Damian’s frustration at being subjected to Nightwing’s storytelling; a forgotten memento uniting the thoughts and hearts of surviving Bat-family members; and Dick’s first night on the job as Robin. Each sub-story is entwined in the complete narrative, flowing seamlessly from one to the other. No individual element overwhelms or overshadows any of the others, giving what would normally be a simple “early years” story a much fuller appeal.
If the story is well paced and properly sectioned, the art breathes life into the drama. Generally, splash and especially double splash pages are used overabundantly, conflating grand action or dynamic moments as substance. Here, Mahnke, Gleason, and company employ splashes exactly how they should: to build anticipation and create excitement for the reader. These pages are so successful it was impossible to merely take the action in and move on; each required a moment of contemplation to process the captured moment in time and think “wow, this is cool.”
Together as a layout and finishes team, Mahnke and Gleason make an odd couple. There are certainly pages where one artist’s style is more prevalent than the other’s, and they tended to clash whenever this occurred. It could also be that passing the book between six inkers led to such a wide range of visual styles. Whatever the case may be, the fluctuating art styles don’t detract anything from this fantastic read.
Batman and Robin Annual #2 does exactly what an annual should do: tell an independent, continuity free, fun story. If more New 52 comics were driven by the same motivations, even within continuity, the entire line would not just be more palatable, it would allow their characters to be more interesting as a whole. Tomasi, Mahnke, Gleason and company enable the Bat-family to let their hair down a bit and show they’re capable of expressing something beyond anger. Their characters were more engaging, giving the comic a significant lasting appeal. Should the same approach be taken towards the rest of DC’s incredibly rich catalog of characters, the New 52 might become a more welcoming place to read.