Spoilers for Tom King’s Batman run ahead. Proceed with caution.
Tom King’s Batman run is coming to its conclusion with just a handful of issues before the finale, and the climactic City of Bane has made some bold choices that will seemingly reverberate through the character’s world for a good while: most notably, the killing of Alfred. This annual brings more closure to the loss than has been provided within City of Bane thus far, written from the perspective of Alfred’s journal as he catalogues his own perspective on Batman’s various adventures. The story doesn’t read as tragic, though – it feels like a father proud of his son.
The issue’s structure is a series of journal entries every day from March 7th to April 24th, cataloguing Batman’s adventures and Alfred’s personal thoughts on what he does and how it connects back to his upbringing. Starting with a horseback chase that Alfred uses to reminisce about Bruce’s childhood love of horses, the issue continues through Bruce’s various outings and adventures every night, depicting the absurdity of the world of Batman while also showing how grounded and personal his stories are. One day Bruce could be fighting dragons, and the next he could be beating up a domestic abuser. One day he could be solving a murder mystery and soon after he could be stopping a weapons deal. Yet through all of these adventures, Batman’s compassion and humanity are incredibly evident. King uses the events of each day alongside Alfred’s second person narration of the events to dig into Batman’s personality and motivations, and explain what makes him… well, Batman.
The structure and premise of the issue feels very reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s classic Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? However, rather than showing all these different scenarios where Batman would sacrifice himself to save people, this issue does something perhaps even more powerful – it depicts times where Batman chooses to continue being Batman, to continue his life in order to save people. A recurring motif in Tom King’s run is Bruce choosing to be Batman even when it appears to be self-destructive – I Am Bane ends with Bruce explaining that a girl needed to be saved, so he saved her. This concept is the core theme of this entire annual – Gotham needs saving, or the world needs saving. So Batman saves it. While the fun of the issue is its matter-of-fact depiction of the absurdity of Batman’s world, its heart is in its depiction of Batman’s kindness and compassion. This is one of the strongest issues King has written on Batman, potentially the best single issue of the run.
Artistic duties are shared by Jorge Fornés, who does the majority of the issue, along with Mike Norton who does an 8-page chunk towards the end. Dave Stewart colors the issue, and Clayton Cowles letters as always. The art switches feel organic – Norton takes over when the entries start to become shorter and shorter, doing more individual adventures but each one relegated to a single panel. Fornés does an excellent job drawing the action and conveying the emotion of the entries prior, while Norton expertly tells complete stories in just a single panel. Stewart’s colors vary through each scene, choosing a palette that fits the tone of each night. Cowles also does a great job – cursive lettering tends to be difficult to read, but Cowles is able to make it clearly legible while still keeping the stylistic flair.
Batman Annual #4 is a masterful standalone experience that conveys the everyday existence of Batman as a character. King is able to use all of his strengths to craft this single issue story, and the art team brings a versatility to the book that allows each scene to feel unique yet still combine well to make the issue feel consistent. This is perhaps the strongest single issue of King’s entire Batman run, and is up there among the best Batman issues of all time. It’s a must-read issue for fans of Batman, and serves as an excellent depiction of why the character is so popular.
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