You can pickup your copy of Batman Annaual #4 now where all good comics are sold.
In this new annual, it’s two unique stories by BATMAN mastermind Tom King! First, King reteams with Lee Weeks, his collaborator on the Eisner-nominated BATMAN/ELMER FUDD #1 to send the Caped Crusader into space in search of the rare element he needs to save a life on Earth. But what terrible gauntlet of tyrants and monsters will he have to go through to reach his objective? Then, it’s back down to Earth and the grimy streets of Gotham City as King and acclaimed newcomer Jorge Fornés task the Dark Knight Detective with a dangerous case only he can solve.
Taking a break from the natural order of things can sometimes be a breath of fresh air. Other times a break in a long-running narrative could be perceived as an editorial decision to stretch a story out over a longer period of time.
DC Comics (and plenty of other publishers) have been releasing these bumper annuals for decades now, so having them appear to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
But Batman Annual #4 comes at a very important time and features a very important story.
If you are following what writer Tom King is doing in the main book then you will be well aware that the fate of Alfred Pennyworth has been in the balance for a number of months. A cliffhanger seemingly featuring his demise has yet to be concluded as the “City of Bane” arc switched its focus back to Bruce and Selina returning to Gotham City.
With that cliffhanger in mind, I don’t find it at all surprising that King chose to tell the stories in this annual purely from Pennyworth’s perspective. The Batman series can always fall back on the parental connection between Bruce and Alfred when it needs to up the ante and now was the most critical time to do it.
Setting the story of Batman Annual #4 aside for a moment, the impact of bringing back Alfred’s perspective at this point in time is crucial. It brings back a tiny slice of the character at a time when we need him most, but also reminds us as readers (not that we had forgotten) that there’s still a cliffhanger to resolve. As I was fondly reading the book in the back of my mind I was thinking about what knife twist is coming when the main story picks back up.
Though the stories in Batman Annual #4 are all very different the follow through of Alfred’s narration ties everything together nicely. We start out with Batman zipping along rooftops… on a horse, but whilst the action plays out with some great visual flare, Alfred tells us a brief anecdote from the life of young Bruce. It’s brief but buried in there is a wonderful reminder that even a young Bruce Wayne had the determination which would eventually see him become Batman.
As we navigate through stories of dragons, boxing matches and detective stories it becomes strikingly clear how Alfred relates each to a part of Bruce’s personality of his history. These larger than life tales all have a very human core and that it’s Bruce’s emotions and his upbringing and much of that comes from how Alfred has raised him.
The story which see’s Batman infiltrate a train and masquerade as a guard is one of the most emotionally telling stories I’ve seen this character appear in for some time. As Alfred surmises that Bruce faces extreme terror whenever he puts on the costume, I could feel how strongly King reveres the connection between the two characters. It’s impossible not to feel a new sympathy towards Bruce and an affinity with Alfred as the parental figure.
The book picks up the paces as time moves on with stories getting progressively shorter until they are no longer than one panel. As it draws to a close the eventual point of the annual becomes clear: Batman will always go on. There will always be enemies to overcome and challenges to surpass but Batman will always be there and Alfred will always be to support him… or will he?
Artwork duties on Batman Annual #4 are shared between Jorge Fornes and Mike Norton yet there’s a consistent look through. The style of both artists gels very well and doesn’t break the narrative flow between stories. There’s a very classic look to this book and I felt like I was almost reading re-prints of some classic Batman stories.
Being set outside the current continuity allows for some nostalgic flare to Batman’s costume design as well as to the look of the villains. Look out for a very Ceaser Romero style Joker as well as the classic Zebra-print Batsuit which makes an appearance.
At a time when we need him most, Batman Annual #4 serves as a great reminder of the connection between Bruce and Alfred. It tells a number of interesting short stories with some excellent visual flare and really gets to the core of what makes the relationship between these two characters great.
Batman Annual #4 is written by Tom King with pencils and inks by Jorge Fornes and Mike Norton, colours are by Dave Stewart and cover art is provided by Lee Weeks.