Batman 2021 Annual #1 (a very special review)

Ladies and gentlemen… This is my last review with Batman News. In fact, it almost doesn’t seem real. But if I’m going to leave, at least I’m leaving with a Batman Annual. Why is this fitting? Well, for a good chunk of years now, the Batman Annuals have been the best Batman content that DC has been publishing. So, it’s my honor and pleasure to sign off with this issue.

(Opens book.)

Wait… Ghost-Maker? It must just be the first story in the Annual.

(Reads a few pages.)

Surely this is wrapping up soon, right?

(Flips through a few more pages.)

Ok… When does this story end so we can get to the Batman story for the Batman Annual?

(Frantically flips through more pages.)

No… They can’t… Please tell me DC did not pull a bait and switch! This is my last review. I can’t end my tenure at Batman News by reviewing a Ghost-Maker story! I can’t! I refuse!

(Flips to the very end of the book to see the Ghost-Maker story’s conclusion… with no Batman story anywhere to be found.)

Leave it to freaking Tynion to write a Batman book without Batman!…. <Beep>…. <Beep!> …. <BEEP!!!>

Bait and Switch

Since DC decided to pull a fast one and not tell a Batman story for their Batman Annual, I’ve decided that I’m not going to actually review it! That’s right DC! I spite you with spiteful spiteness! Instead of talking about Ghost-Maker (practically nobody wants that), I’m going to take the positive route and share some heartfelt sentiments I have concerning Batman News before signing off for the last time. (Low key, though, if you guys want a review, I really will write one.)

So… I guess I’ll just start at the beginning…

The Application

About a year before I started writing for Batman News, I stumbled back into comics. I hadn’t read anything since No Man’s Land, had no clue what to pick up, turned to Google for some help, and found some dude named Andrew Asberry at Batman news. After some guidance, I started picking up and reading what I’d missed. Within the span of a few months, I completely caught up on everything leading up to the New 52, then embarked on that journey. Along the way, I discovered that I was getting hyped about a number of stories I was reading but had nobody to share my excitement with. So, I found myself visiting Batman News more and more frequently. Why? Because it was the only site that I felt was providing damn good reviews, plus it provided me with a community to share my thoughts with.

*I should probably note that at this point in time, I viewed Andrew Asberry as a celebrity… I mean it. In my eyes, this dude was the GOAT, and he played a HUGE role in me regaining my passion for comics.*

Anyway, Batman News was my happy place. Reading comics, then hitting the BN comment section was what I looked forward to the most every, single day… Until this yahoo, Andrew Asberry, announced that he would no longer write comic book reviews for Batman News. And just like that, I hated the guy. How could he ruin my life like this? What a selfish douche!? Am I right?

But then… Andrew announced he was assembling a comic book review team. A sort-of Justice League of comic book reviewers. Andrew was no longer a yahoo or a douche in my eyes but was right back to being the GOAT. I got excited about the mere thought of the opportunity! This was perfect! This was my chance to become Andrew Asberry 2.0. Was I qualified? No! Did I care? No! I was going to apply anyway!

Then, as I started writing my application, reality sat in. There’s no way I could do this. I didn’t have time to write reviews. I barely had time to read and comment. It was a stupid, fleeting idea. I didn’t apply.

June 6, 2014, rolled around (nearly a week after Andrew announced the application process). I had one of the worst days in my life at my job at the time. I came home defeated, depressed, and knew I needed to do something for myself. Screw it. I applied for Batman News. I was determined to find a way to make it work. So, at 2:36 AM, I sent in my application.

Believe it or not, I nearly didn’t make the team. I’m not joking. But considering I started the “Tell me about yourself” portion of the application with, “Now I have the daunting task of telling you about myself. Well, first, I’d like to start off by saying I’m not a drug dealer. I’ve never killed anyone. And I may or may not enjoy pancakes a little too much.” that really shouldn’t be a surprise.  I mean, at this point, looking back, I’m judging Andrew for even moving me past the first round, much less giving me a job. And if I’m being honest, I think one of the main reasons (aside from me offering free jeans from the denim company I worked for) I was even considered to begin with, was because I was the loudest voice offering to take the crap books that nobody else wanted to touch. I’m about 99% positive I landed this gig because it was literally a pick me situation or certain books wouldn’t have been covered. (I’m looking at you, Anne Nocenti’s Catwoman. And also you, Birds of Prey, Suicide Squad, and Batwoman.) 

But, somehow… For some reason… I got the final slot on the team. And from that moment on, my life changed drastically. So, now that you know the backstory, I’d love to share some of my personal highlights from Batman News. (We can agree this is better than me spending 1,000+ words to discuss how much I disliked Ghost-Maker, right? Ok, cool. Just checking. Because as much as I dislike Ghost-Maker as a character, this specific story and these villains are even worse.)

My Five 10/10 Comics

I’m known to be a tough critic. Many people think I’m negative. Many think I’m an asshole. And some of you realize that I need to have some self-indulgence with my humor just to maintain my sanity… And yet, despite my negative/asshole reputation, and despite my “I’ll never give a book a 10/10 score because nothing is perfect” mentality, five books managed to create a strong enough reaction in me to warrant a 10/10.

  1. The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1 – This book is perfection. The technicality of this book easily makes it the best thing I’ve ever reviewed. I, legitimately, consider this a masterpiece.
  2. Super Sons #10 – I adore this book, and I didn’t hesitate when an opportunity popped up to fill in for Jay to review it. It just so happened that the issue I reviewed, in my opinion, ended up being one of the best issues in the series!
  3. Justice League #49 – If you want to know how to do an event right, just look to Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok’s Justice League: Darkseid War. The scale and execution of this story are epic, and this issue knocked it out of the park.
  4. Suicide Squad #16Rob Williams and Jim Lee managed to create something rather special with their Suicide Squad, and because of how they needed to structure their stories due to Jim Lee’s schedule (a shorter main plot, with a character-focused back-up featuring a guest artist), they inadvertently created this perfect balance of character and plot. For well over a year, Suicide Squad just kept growing and building on itself until it became one of DC’s best books. This issue served as the peak to all of this, and made for a damn good read!
  5. The Silencer Annual #1 We didn’t expect much from the New Age of Heroes line, and we especially didn’t expect much from The Silencer. In fact, this was the book we were the least excited about. And then it debuted and it was damn good. This issue, for me, is a perfect marriage of what made The Silencer great, while also showing the potential of this title, as well as the character.

Despite these being the best books I reviewed, my favorite review to write was actually Tom King’s conclusion to Batman in Batman #85. (AKA: The review where I used a ton of gifs.)

The Five Best Runs That I Reviewed

  1. Justice League: Darkseid War As I said earlier, this is how you write epic comic book events! I’ll just leave it at that. Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok deserve endless praise for this story! This run averaged a 9.3/10 from me.
  2. Genevieve Valentine’s Catwoman – I’m sure part of this stems from how bad Nocenti’s Catwoman was, but Valentine delivered some damn good writing that really took what Selina has been set up with in Batman Eternal and ran with it. Valentine’s run averaged an 8.7/10 from me.
  3. Gotham Academy – I only reviewed the first six issues of Gotham Academy, but my God, this book is an absolute treasure! Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan, and Karl Kerschl created something so special, and it’s a shame that more people didn’t read it. #Maps4Eva! Gotham Academy averaged an 8.6/10 from me.
  4. The Shadow/ Batman – This was a sequel to Scott Snyder’s Batman/ The Shadow, and it didn’t have as much hype for a few reasons: 1. It was a sequel to a story that I would consider “decent.” 2. Scott Snyder wasn’t writing it. For this story, Steve Orlando was taking the helm solo, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t love this mini-series! If you ever want to see Damian Wayne as a total badass, this is your book! The Shadow/ Batman averaged an 8.5/10 from me.
  5. Midnighter – Tom King, Tim Seeley, and Mikel Janin introduced me to Midnighter, but it was Steve Orlando that made me fall in love with the character (the second time Steve is on this specific list, by the way)! M is easily in my top 3 all-time favorite characters (along with Nightwing and Huntress), and this run is what made me stop and buy everything The run averaged an 8.1/10 from me.

Five Posts That I’m the Proudest Of

  1. Batman: The Killing Joke movie review – This was a big deal for me! I got to see an advance screening at SDCC. It was a highly anticipated film. It’s based on a beloved book. There was a bit of a controversy with the film itself, as well as an exchange between the writer and a fan at SDCC… It was huge for me, and probably the biggest thing – in my opinion – that I did for Batman News.
  2. SDCC 2015: 10 Minutes with Brenden Fletcher, writer of Gotham Academy and Black Canary (and co-writer of Batgirl) You might be asking yourself, “Why is this here?” Well, it was my first year working San Diego Comic-Con, and this was my very first interview with talent. I was nervous. Actually, I was a wreck. I was sweating so bad because I was nervous, that I stuffed paper towels into the armholes of my shirt so I wouldn’t sweat through it. And when I sat down, I think Brenden could sense that I was nervous. I commented that he was my first review ever, and he completely put me at ease. There was a warmth and kindness to him that I will always appreciate and respect.
  3. Ramifications of a Wish: An Interview with Steve Orlando – Ok, so this has less to do with the interview itself, and more to do with what led to the interview. I was reviewing Orlando’s Justice League of America and I hadn’t been very kind in my reviews. In fact, in one review, I commented how frustrated I was with the title and said something along the lines of “just keeps giving me blue balls” (super professional), and it resulted in Steve reaching out to me directly. Do you know what he said? “Hey, I’d love to chat if you have time.” I immediately felt like crap, but knew I needed to talk. Our phone call was nearly two hours long. We talked about a ton of things: Midnighter, Steve’s general passion for comics, wrestling, some behind the scenes details about comics/ Justice League of America, Steve’s tenure as the “End of Line” sign holder at SDCC, and even some guys that we thought were cute. (We like guys… What can I say?) The point of it is, I was less than gracious in my reviews, and Steve was nothing but gracious to me. He gave me one-on-one time when I didn’t deserve it. I was a nobody who, quite frankly, trashed something he was writing, and he reached out in the kindest way possible to introduce me to the human that was on the other end. Was this easy for him to do? I doubt it. But he did it anyway, and it’s resulted in me having the utmost respect for the man. So, Steve… Thank you. Whether you knew it or not, you taught me a lot that day, and I will forever feel indebted to you because of it.
  4. SDCC 2015: Ten Minutes with Tom King and Tim Seeley – Writers for Grayson – I’ll just be honest, this is the most fun I’ve ever had doing anything related to Batman News. I had an absolute blast with Tom and Tim. We laughed for most of the time, but there was also a slip-up from Tim at the end of the interview, and it was a proud character moment for me.
  5. Upcoming Comics – This is rather general, but it’s something I’m very proud of. The one thing I loved the most about visiting Batman News before I started writing for the site was the “water cooler” aspect of it. I love having a community to talk to. And after writing Upcoming Comics for over six years, there’s a lot that we got to experience together. I mean, yeah… We had our general love for comics (and sometimes hate), but it was more than that. As people, we’ve gone through massacres, natural disasters, pandemics… Each and every one of you became an extended family in some way. And that, to me, is special.

A Little Bit of Sappiness to Wrap Things Up

I’ve already written way too much. Andrew will probably read this and think, “Who do you think you are? This isn’t the Josh show!” And he’s right (he usually is). However, I can’t say “goodbye” without actually acknowledging something…

The best thing to come out of me writing for Batman News, is the people I’ve met. From Chris providing a platform for us, and Sean letting us keep that platform. To the friends I’ve made in people who frequent the site (Chad, Martine, Anthony, Mark, Rick, etc), to the friends I’ve made from other platforms (Joe Corallo, Wes, Perch, Ian Miller, Skip, Dok, Rick Shew, THE Chris Evans, Mike Snyder, etc). I think it’s amazing we can connect because we have a common love for something.

But, most importantly, I have my fellow team members. There are a lot of us, and saying something about everyone would take way too long, so I’ll just highlight a few specific people.

Andrew Asberry – While we wouldn’t be here without Chris or Sean (they ran/run the site), we really wouldn’t be here without Andrew Asberry. He built something special with the comics page, and once he built up something that was “a gold standard” (those are DC’s words, not ours), he passed it off to others so they could succeed. He coached me endlessly. He was there during personal times when I was really struggling, and he always found a way to critique me while also reassuring me. He created this family, and he’s the family member that keeps this family together. You may not see much of him on the site, but he’s constantly behind the scenes organizing trivia nights, video calls, movie watch-a-longs, writing projects, etc. Simply put, he always pushes us to be our best. If you ask me what my favorite memories are concerning Batman News, it would be the late nights eating frozen yogurt at SDCC and just talking. I kind of view Andrew as the person who made those nights happen.

Jay Yaws and Brian Warshaw – There are some people that you meet in life, and in doing so, they just challenge you. They don’t directly challenge you though. They challenge you by living their life a certain way. They set an example with their character and integrity in a way that makes you stop and say, “Man… I want to be more like that.” And that is the best way I can describe Jay and Brian. Without meaning to, they challenge me to be better, and they’ve done so for years. They’re great people, and I’m honored I can even remotely call them my friends. They’re also really freaking funny. That never hurts.

Nicholas Finch – I will just say this… You have an uncanny charisma and energy to you that is downright infectious. Any time I talk to you, I feel like my day gets better. You are a special human in this crazy, crazy world, and you inspire me constantly. Please don’t ever stop being true to who you are.

Again, I could say things about everyone that’s been on the team (Brandon, Elena, Casper, Kat, Jesse, and on), but I’ve already hijacked this post enough.

Finally… The End

I know this is very self-indulgent. I’m also aware this probably comes off as some sort of eulogy as if someone died. I sincerely apologize for that. When I started writing this “not-review,” it was originally just going to be a gag review. Then I felt the need to be a little more positive and, at least, acknowledge my time here while giving some thanks. Then that turned into me actually reflecting on the role that Batman News has played in my life for nearly a decade… And that created this. A heartfelt love letter to something that was a shining light through some incredibly challenging times in my life.

I’ll still be around from time to time (which only makes this post feel even more absurd), but for now, I’m switching priorities to focus on my site, Popped by Culture, for a proper launch next year. I’ve poured a lot of money into it, and it’s time that I pour some time and energy into it as well. I hope to see you there. I hope to see you back here when I do pop back up. And I hope you hop onto Twitter just to say hello or chat (@JoshuaLMcDonald).

So, again, if you made it this far… Thank you.

P.S. – I did not like Batman 2021 Annual #1 because it was nothing more than a conclusion to the Ghost-Maker back-up that ran through Batman that I despised.


(See? I kind of did my job.)