For some reason, we got the 2021 annual in 2020… I guess DC just wanted to rush this out for a sales bump? Or, perhaps, they felt that waiting a few months would make the story come a little too late? Regardless, this issue features Clownhunter’s origin, and after reading it, I’m not sure it’s even necessary.
Batman Annual #5 is written by James Tynion with pencils and inks by James Stokoe. The story takes place after the last encounter that Batman had with Ghost-Maker, and features Clownhunter crossing paths with Leslie Thompkins. While a portion of the story is meant to initiate the relationship between these two, a large percent of the book is actually used to showcase how Bao became Clownhunter, and… It’s quite lackluster.
If you’ll remember, we previously learned that Bao’s parents were killed by Joker and Harley. This issue dives into that incident, revealing specifically what happened. Typically, I enjoy these issues because I feel that they provide new insight into the character, or potentially create new plots. This issue doesn’t accomplish that. In fact, I actually feel that Bao’s story was more powerful when the details of how Joker killed Bao’s parents were left to our imagination. So, for me, there’s nothing worthwhile or new here, and that makes this issue feel unnecessary.
Ok, yes, we do get a glimpse of Bao before all of the trauma, but it’s brief, and I hate to say it, but even before his parents’ murder, he isn’t very likable. He’s just a grumpy, disgruntled teen that acts like the entire world is against him. And yeah, I get it, he’s a teenager… but instead of coming off like a typical teen, he just comes off as the absolute worst. Even though it’s cliché and somewhat of a trope, I was hoping that Bao would’ve been a little more vibrant before enduring the tragedy of his parents’ murder. It would have made his current situation more heartbreaking. But… There didn’t seem to be a huge difference in his personality from start to finish. He’s just insufferable, and it’s quickly becoming clear that there aren’t many, if any at all, redeeming qualities about him.
In the present day, our interactions are completely focused on Leslie Thompkins and Bao. The story actually opens with Leslie walking through the narrows to get to her clinic. There’s an unnecessary flashback to the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. It’s pointless. We’ve seen this enough. If DC hadn’t de-aged Leslie, and had she been the one there to take care of Bruce on the night of his parents’ murder as she was originally depicted as doing, I would’ve been all for it… But that’s not the case anymore, and I can’t help but think that this is just here to fill pages.
We do get a scene where a thug tries to rob Leslie, and is stopped by another thug who recognizes Leslie and the good that she does for the community. This is a running sentiment that I’ve always enjoyed when it comes to Leslie’s character. I like the depiction of criminals seeing her and respecting her because she’s made a life of treating them like human beings instead of criminals. They see that she’s sacrificed to provide care for certain communities and demographics that may have otherwise gone without. As much as I love this aspect though, I do feel that this is one of the poorest executions in showcasing it. Almost everything about the scene is just… odd. There’s a finesse and grace that’s lacking here, and it makes me miss the “good ol’ days” of Batman comics.
Sticking with the theme of execution, I feel let down even more by the actual scenes with Bao and Leslie. Yes, there are some nice moments, but Tynion misses the mark as often as he hits it. And even when he does hit it, he barely does so. I mean, the fact that their relationship starts with Bao busting through the window of the clinic – which is completely uncalled for, and one of the many reasons Bao is unlikable – feels like foreshadowing that this relationship is busted. But, alas, it is what we have, and we must live with it.
Something I do take issue with is this constant notion that Leslie is some type of psychiatrist or psychologist though. It’s completely off-point for her character. Leslie Thompkins is a medical doctor. She’s been a rock for Bruce in the past, yes, but again, in that timeline, she also served as a pseudo motherly figure while he grew up. The fact that Tynion keeps using her as a character witness or for someone to talk to feels like he completely misunderstands her as a character, or the difference between a medical doctor and a psychiatrist/ psychologist. Like, if you wanted a psychiatrist, just use Dr. Chase Meridian.
Anyway, this issue appears to have had the best intentions, but it fell quite short of that goal in execution. Even Bao creating his Clownhunter costume – which you can tell Tynion thought was super cool – is just bland. Bland and misguided… That pretty much sums up James Tynion’s Batman, but specifically defines Clownhunter. I wanted to like Bao. I really did. But the more that I read of him, the more he becomes more and more unlikable.
James Stokoe delivers the art for this issue, and if I’m being honest, I’m not a fan. To be fair, I think Stokoe has a solid craft, but I’m not sure he’s right for Batman or traditional superhero comics. I feel his art style is tailored more for something with monsters or aliens – which I would probably enjoy – but his depiction of people is really weird. Their faces are strange, and I kept being reminded of how comic book artists would draw the Japanese during WWII.
It’s almost as if his depiction of people is more of an expressionist take. There are embellishments to the way he draws people. Plus, he embellishes weird things. For instance, the teeth of a zipper on a jacket. Stokoe draws them so that they’re exaggerated, almost as if they’re actual teeth.
While I’m not crazy about this aspect of his work, I do love the detail and realism he puts into his scenery. His buildings are great, and I enjoy the texture of his pencils. It creates such a strong sense of realism, but it contrasts greatly with his depiction of people.
- You want to see Clownhunter’s origin.
- You’re a fan of Clownhunter.
Batman Annual #5 feels like a step down compared to the previous slate of Batman Annuals, but feels relatively on-par with what we’ve been getting from James Tynion… Relatively basic, standard fair Batman that is poorly characterized.