SYNOPSIS: 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. - DCCOMICS.COM
The second BATMAN Annual of the New 52 arrived this week with a script by lovely newcomer Marguerite Bennett, who co-plotted the story with regular BATMAN writer Scott Snyder.
It's the first night on the job for new Arkham orderly Eric Border, a Metropolis transplant whose hometown idealism is about to collide with a wild, wild night on the job. Also touring the facility is Batman, but for reasons far different from Eric's. While Eric has come to help the troubled souls within the asylum's walls, Batman has come to the new Tartarus Wing (named with a nice nod to Greek mythology) to test its security systems for keeping the inmates where they belong.
Watching Batman run the gauntlet is a lot of fun, with Bennett taking a page from Snyder's book by injecting whiz-bang science into Batman's explanations of why nothing is quite good enough to contain his various rogues.
Meanwhile, Eric reaches out to Arkham's oldest inmate, the Anchoress, who's offended by Batman's presence for a poignantly original reason. She sees Gotham as her place of penance for the tragic accident that destroyed her family and feels The Batman has brought sacrilege upon its sanctity by filling its cells, both literal and figurative, with evil monsters and men.
To make matters more complicated, The Anchoress gained powers from the same accident that sent her to Arkham in the first place. And if Eric can't think fast on his feet, she may just succeed in destroying The Dark Knight once and for all. Along the way, the story references recent events from "The Court of Owls," BATMAN, INC., and Snyder's current "Zero Year" origin from the pages of his monthly BATMAN title.
Wes Craig's artwork is far simpler than Greg Capullo's, but it fits the story and doesn't suffer inconsistencies from a surfeit of inkers. Ian Hannin's colors similarly get the job done; they're brighter than what I'd expect in an Arkham tale, but they fit the story's optimism.
Indeed, Marguerite Bennett's idealism is enthusiastic and contagious. Eric is a good man with a big heart who works hard to take responsibility for accidentally unleashing The Anchoress. If the story has a weakness, it's in the way Batman simply seems to run away at the end. I understand why he does; he knows his presence is the source of her rage and that his leaving is the only way for Eric to contain her, but something's missing in the conversation between the story and the art. Maybe a line from Eric about how he knows Batman trusted him by leaving would have made that a little more clear.
The main question is whether you're willing to part with $4.99 for a story that's not really centered on Batman at all. And though you do get 37 story pages, it's still a lot to pay for a tale about two characters we likely won't see much of in the future.
The main value I found here was the discovery of Bennett, whose heartfelt hopefulness is a welcome addition to the dark alleys of Gotham. She's certainly welcome to stick around. - John Bierly
John Bierly still can't believe he gets to write for BOF.
Check out JOHNBIERLY.COM to read about the other things he writes about.