I found the Dark Knight Annual to be a pleasant surprise.
- Does a great job calling back to writer Gregg Hurwitz’s previous three arcs
- Has very atmospheric artwork by Szymon Kudranski who manages to find a nice balance between the horror and the laughs
- Stars three classic Batman rogues
- Light reading
- Easily accessible to new readers. Anyone can pick this comic up.
It starts off on Halloween night, that’s right it’s a Halloween special of all things! And the setup is a good haunted house trope that sees characters receive letters inviting them to a location on a dark spooky night, but when they get there they quickly realize that each letter says it was sent by a completely different guest at the party– so who invited everyone to come here? And why?
Our party-goers are Mad Hatter, Penguin, and Scarecrow. Each of them was instructed to come alone, something I don’t think that any of them would dare follow through with– especially Penguin. And their #1 suspect for who set them up is Batman. So the entire issue we watch as Jervis, Oswald, and Jonathan gradually devolve from Super Villains to the Sticky Bandits (that’s a Home Alone, reference. Home Alone 2 if you want to be specific) as they try to find a way out of the old house and away from Batman.
It’s a fun concept, but it lacked that special something to cause the characters to dive head-first into buffoonery. It reminds me of a less well executed version of the “Pine Barrens” episode from The Sopranos. With the latter, the characters gradually became funnier in their attempts at survival because they were at their wits end after finding absolutely no means of escape. In The Dark Knight Annual, our characters jumped to desperation way too early. It’s more satisfying to watch these criminal masterminds slowly act stupider and stupider after being pushed to a breaking point rather than have them fall over themselves first thing. But other than that hiccup it was a enjoyable. There are some panels where it was a little hard to decipher what I was looking at since it was so dark and the colors were so washed out and a two-page spread showcasing the effects of fear toxin was a little under-drawn, but overall the tone of the book and the art went well together.
Watching these three villains interact is good fun. Seeing them all find common ground by discussing their hatred for Batman and actually making jokes about the cliched things this hero does was good for a laugh. The thing that pulls the issue back down is that we get too many pages focusing on the similar, tortured childhoods these villains had. Had there been less of that and more character interaction and fun attempts at escape, I think the issue would’ve been a lot stronger.
I still haven’t read the Red Hood annual yet, but as of right now this seems to be the best Annual issue of the day and it’s one of the best issues of Batman: The Dark Knight yet that nicely ties together all of Hurwtiz’s previous stories. I think it’s good and worth a read, but $5 dollars good? I keep going back and forth on that. This Halloween special has some scenes that go on a bit long and if they were trimmed then “Once Upon a Midnight Dreary” would’ve made a fantastic $2.99 issue come October.