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Batman Annual #2

Review by Paul Bowler

Batman Annual #2 is a Zero Year tie-in by Scott Snyder and new writer Marguerite Bennett, with art by Wes Craig, where a turning point from Bruce Wayne’s first year as Batman returns to haunt him, as one of Arkham’s oldest inmates plots their escape.

The story by Scott Snyder and Marguerite Bennett, written by Bennett, introduces us to Eric Border, a new orderly who has just arrived from Metropolis to work at Arkham Asylum. During a tour of the facilities Hall of Fame (where Batman’s deadliest foes are held) by one of Dr Jeremiah Arkham’s assistants, Mahreen, Eric becomes curious about the old wing of Arkham where the asylums first inmate, the Anchoress, is still locked away.

Meanwhile, over in the new Tartarus Wing, Batman has agreed to help Dr Jeremiah Arkham test the security systems, allowing himself to be imprisoned so he can see how well the automated security will cope with any potential break out. After escaping his cell, Batman puts the high-tech security systems through their paces, while Eric returns to the old wing of Arkham to visit the Anchoress – who is secretly planning to escape and take revenge on Batman for all the chaos and evil that she believes he has inadvertently inflicted upon Arkham during her incarceration.

Batman Annual #2 (Cover)

Marguerite Bennett, recent MFA graduate and former student of Batman writer Scott Snyder, has done a fantastic job writing Batman Annual #2 and her debut storyline nicely encapsulates the essence of Zero Year, brining a new insight into Bruce’s early career, weaving these events seamlessly into Batman’s mission at Arkham Asylum in the present. We are introduced to some great characters: Eric has a caring and sensitive outlook towards his new job at Arkham, he is welcomed by  Mahreen, who takes the time to help show him around on his first day, which is more than can be said for Jeremiah Arkham, who has little time or patience for the new orderly.

The real standout character of Batman Annual #2 is the Anchoress, a troubled individual who rebelled against her parents wishes, and unwittingly caused the accident that killed them. Wracked by guilt, she became just like the old anchorites, someone who willingly locked themselves away to live out a life of remorse. At first her time at Arkham was relatively peaceful, the asylum was more like a sanctuary for her, but when Batman arrived in Gotham the asylum began to change. It was no longer the place of healing she had once so desperately craved, instead it became an evil place of darkness and punishment. The Anchoress also has a unique ability of her own, one that she intends to use to punish Batman who she blames for how she was left forgotten and alone in the old wing of Arkham.

When the Anchoress confronts Batman, we learn how Bruce first encountered her during Zero Year, and we discover just how great a significance that event now holds for them both. In her attempt to create the perfect cage for Batman, she attempts to use Bruce’s own memories to ensnare him in her trap, torturing him with a plethora of the personal tragedies that drive him. Marguerite Bennett takes us to the inner world of Batman’s secret torment, drawing on some of the most defining moments that have shaped Bruce’s life. The sublime horror of these moments plays out like a waking nightmare for Batman, which linger long after the Anchoress is defeated.

I like the way the art by Wes Craig for Batman Annual #2 strikes just the right balance between the high-tech Tartarus Wing and the older, more foreboding areas of Arkham Asylum. The way Batman escapes from his cell is ingenious, and he assesses each of the automated systems in exactly the same way that members of his rogues gallery would, leading to some exciting moments as he has to outwit a number of the Asylums sophisticated countermeasures. Later, when under attack by the Anchoress, the dark visions Batman experiences are brilliantly staged, each successive jolt of fear becoming intensified by Wes Craig as we witness Bruce’s horror firsthand.

With a fantastic cover by Jock, Batman Annual #2 is a fine addition to complement Snyder and Capullo’s Zero Year. With its dark and compelling narrative, wealth of intriguing and well developed characters, Batman Annual #2 forges an indelible link with the events of Zero Year and offers a new insight into the motivations and forces that played a role in Bruce’s early years.