Detective Comics 2021 Annual #1 review

This annual serves as a prelude to the upcoming “Shadows of the Bat” event that will run through Detective Comics. It remains to be seen how essential this issue will be to that event but, really, it doesn’t matter because I don’t recommend buying “Shadows of the Bat” anyway. The reason is that, for the coming 12 issues, Detective Comics will go weekly and each issue will remain pretty expensive at $5. If you decide to pull the entire event, you’ll end up paying $60 in total. Add this annual, and it’ll cost you $65.99. It’ll be even more if you’re buying card stock covers. This is much too expensive if you ask me, especially since I’m not confident that this event is going to be of high quality.

I’m not going to beat around the bush: the annual reads like a jumbled mess. Basically there are three parts to the story: 1) the main plot about Batman and Nightwing as they try to catch Meager Man; 2) flashbacks to Bruce’s childhood, with his dad; 3) Batman and Nightwing’s discussion about Arkham Asylum and how patients should be treated. There are good ideas here, but the creative team hasn’t managed to make strong connections between each of these parts. While it’s true that the hunt for Meager Man sparks the debate between Batman and Nightwing, and Thomas teaches Bruce a lesson which he is reminded of at the end of his team-up with Nightwing, this comic just doesn’t really commit to fleshing out any of these three threads.

For example, the main plot is about as bland as it could be. There is no excitement to Batman and Nightwing’s adventure because neither of them has to put in any effort whatsoever to track Meager Man down and catch him. Batman has a scanner that magically points to Meager Man’s location and he simply knocks out Meager Man with a single kick. Nightwing is really just along for the ride, although he does act like a real superhero when he saves someone’s life at a certain point. Since the A-plot is so bland, the constant return to Batman and Nightwing’s debate gets rather intrusive pretty fast. I feel like a sense of conflict needs to come from this debate, with Batman being as stubborn as ever, but the two of them stay pretty friendly, and Nightwing even comes across as naïve at times.

Moreover, as it stands, the flashbacks don’t really add much to the story. They could’ve added a nice additional narrative layer, but the reason it doesn’t work for me is because the flashback hinges on Batman being reminded of a lesson that he learned from his dad, which is basically that people like Batman and Nightwing don’t get to choose who they save. While I’m all for heroes learning things so they can grow as characters, this is not something that Batman should still have to learn. This is already a big part of Batman’s mission, something that he has had to deal with numerous times over the years. In short, this entire story is overcooked and I struggle to find inspiration here. Seriously. Where’s the compelling detective quest? Where’s the fun adventure? Why does it read like we’re just kind of going through the motions because DC has pages to fill?

On top of that, Meager Man himself is a boring villain. His motivation isn’t fleshed out well at all, and with a lack of personality the character is almost a nonentity. The character seems to only exist to get taken out by Batman and Nightwing, as there’s nothing threatening or scary about this guy. Perhaps, had the creative team decided not to spend so much time on incorporating three different story-lines in this book and spent more time developing Meager Man, the character would’ve at least been interesting. It’s a missed opportunity.

To wrap this up, I’m not a big fan of the artwork, either. I’ve already use the word “bland” to describe the story itself and, unfortunately, I have to use that same word to describe the art. While the layouts, sequential story-telling and character interactions are fine, I don’t care for the muddy inks, the flat colors, the stiff figures and action scenes, and the fact that so many of the backgrounds are left empty. There are some pages which are nicely detailed with interesting compositions, such as the one where Meager Man’s preparing a dark ritual using chicken bones, but when Batman and Nightwing leap from a rooftop and the image looks static rather than dynamic, you know that you have a bit of a problem.

Recommended if…

  • You have 6 bucks in your wallet that you really want to get rid of.

Overall: To me, this comic is boring because the villain is weak, there is no conflict, the heroes don’t have to put in any effort to win, and the art looks bland. Additionally, the whole scenario about a new Arkham doesn’t seem that interesting, or at least no creative team has been able to convince me yet. This comic is also too expensive and it’s a prelude to an upcoming event, not an annual that you can just read by itself. So, no, I don’t recommend this issue.

Score: 3.5/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.