Taking a break from the turbulence of “City of Bane” in the main series, writer Tom King and artist Jorge Fornes remind readers what makes the Caped Crusader so endearing.
Alfred Pennyworth, beloved caretaker of the Wayne family and assistant to the Batman, logs every night of the Dark Knight’s “activities” for almost two months. From chasing criminals on horseback to fighting dragons in the Gotham streets, Alfred makes a note of the actions and emotions guiding Batman through his endless crusade against crime.
King’s writing of Alfred here as an emotionally invested observer is genuinely some of the most heartfelt work he’s accomplished in his Batman run. He fills his quiet, analytical writing style with Alfred’s full knowledge of specific events without ever getting bogged down in excess exposition. There’s also very little dialogue, as the entire issue is laid out as a series of journal entries. Despite this, King is able to run through nearly every possible emotion that can be had in a Batman comic, from absurd, silly humor to heartbreak. One story is an amusing tale of Batman in a boxing match, and another is a tale of Bruce Wayne’s abandoned first love. King puts the Bat-mythos through any and every set of circumstances, from the street-level to the cosmic, and comes away with one of his most spectacular pieces of writing to date.
The best way to describe artist and frequent King-collaborator Fornes’ work here is as a mix of Silver Age style and David Mazzucchelli’s work on Year One. Fornes nails everything he draws here, from distinct character facial expressions to ambiguous cosmic entities. The fact that his style remains so consistent while drawing so many situations places him as one of the most impressive artists working today. He gets a little help from artist Mike Norton, who draws a few pages further into the issue. This addition is likely due to the last-minute change of plans this Annual underwent. Fortunately, his inclusion is almost unnoticeable in the best possible way. His work blends nearly seamlessly with Fornes’, to the point where the artist change would likely go unknown if it wasn’t credited in the issue.
What makes this issue visually pop and makes Norton and Fornes’ work blend together so well is undoubtedly Dave Stewart’s colors. His color palate has a slightly muted sensibility to it, making it reflect the Golden Age noir moments and the Silver Age spectacle that this issue pays tribute to. The more detective focused scenes are cast in moody grays and subtle blues, while the big cosmic and fantastical moments are bathed in light. The tone of the comic is further aided by Clayton Cowles’ lettering, which is done in semi-cursive to mimic Alfred’s handwriting. Not only is it believable, but it also accomplishes this neat combination of being distant but also intimate. This isn’t a conventional narrative, just a collection of stories from another person’s eyes. Every part of this issue works together to ensure this concept works, and it pays off in spades.
King stated that his final Annual would be his “thesis/last word on Batman.” With only a handful of issues left of his run, it’s easy to see why King is delivering such an impactful issue here. “Batman Annual #4” is one of the most emotionally satisfying issues of Batman ever created. King and the wildly talented art team deliver an issue that pays tribute to the World’s Greatest Detective by examining everything that makes the character so special, from the eyes of one of comic’s most beloved supporting characters. Stop by your local comic shop by October 30th and make sure this one is in your pull list.