Now this is what I want to see in a Detective Comics Annual. Gotham history? Check. Villain plots and backstory? Double check. Lost in time Batman references? So so many checks.
I love it when creative teams get a chance to dive into Gotham’s history. Some of my favorite single issues, stories, and runs have focused on the history of the city and its inhabitants. So this annual was always going to be a ballpark star for me, and it did not disappoint. In its broadest strokes it tells not just the Orghams arrival, but the seed of Batman in Gotham as an idea and a person. But those are broad strokes, so let’s look at it in more detail.
The annual is bookended by present day scenes with Gael and Shavhod –assistants to the Orgham family– on a quest to dig up something buried in Arkham’s ruins. It’s actually really nice to see them interacting, because outside of here we haven’t seen them doing too much but be beside the other Orgham characters. So for the brief panels we have them, I enjoyed it. It adds another layer of depth to the cast Ram V has been building.
Aside from that, the main story takes place in 1776 Gotham, or Gathome as the residents call it. Gathome is populated by faces familiar and old. Gael himself is actually there, and we see a number of characters who work as early family for the Waynes –in the Wainwrights. We also have characters like the healer Aiyanna and the thief and raider, Darcey Hunt, each of these characters are obvious past archetypes to major Gotham players in the present day, like Two-Face.
We enter the story just as events are in motion to make things in the town begin to change. The two most notable are the death of the Wainwrights and the Orghams arrival. Both of these events play in sync with one another as Gathome is embroiled in confusion and chaos over the Wainwrights death. They were founders of the city, with their only son left alive in the wake of their brutal death. People aren’t sure if it was wolves, a werewolf, or if, as the pastor claims, it was a curse from the town healer and something needs to happen in order for the town to feel normal again.
Much of the plot is centered around the healer, the Orgham’s plans, the local priest, and the man who took in the Wainwright boy: Aldridge Pearce. These players give and take between one another as different people strive to guide the future of Gathome in the wake of its founders’ passing. The priest and Orghams want to essentially run the town, while Pearce wants peace and a good life for the child he’s now taken in. While other characters just want things to continue on as they have. It’s an interesting dynamic, and one that works really well to highlight the plans the Orghams have both past and present for Gotham, and their history with the city.
It also is a great Batman story, with Pearce working as the vigilante in this instance. He’s a man willing to stand up for those who need protecting, like the healer and his new ward, and also one hurt by his own past. His character is clear in just the few pages we see him in, and easy to like. Ram V does a good job making him feel like a Batman of the past, especially after a little nudging from a certain man who doesn’t quite fit into the time period.
The art team does an equally great job making him look and feel like Batman in the few action scenes he gets. He’s got a fierce face and tough attitude, and while fighting he’s ruthless and efficient, much like our present day Batman.
Speaking of the art team, Christopher Mitten, Rafael Albuquerque, and Hayden Sherman all cover art and for the most part it’s highly consistent throughout. The only exceptions being the opening and closing scenes, done under Albuquerque’s pen to reflect the present day sections. The overall aesthetic of the book fits well with the historical theme, with the artists doing a great job on styling characters and making the city look just right for the time period. Lee Loughridge gives the whole book a darker color palette, one that feels typical for this historical type of narrative with the colors a little washed out in some places, sepia in others, and even brightly tinted when need be.
If I had to pick at one thing here, it would be that it is a little heavy handed with its representation of characters like Two-Face and even Poison Ivy being represented in the past much like they are in the present. Visually there are moments where it feels like the present day characters tripped and fell into the past. While I appreciate reflections and the issue’s theme of ideas and histories repeating themselves I found some of the designs a little too obvious. That said, it didn’t really detract from the story being told, and even as heavy handed as it was I still appreciated the fact that the choices feel intentional and plot relevant, instead of being there for fun or surprise value. The designs, stories, and themes really do come together in a way that makes the whole issue work.
- You enjoy seeing reflections of the present in the past, and the past in the present
- The history of the Orgham family is something you like to see
- Historical Batman vs historical Gotham baddies? Yes please
I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed this story. I love Gotham’s history and I love it when writers play with the ideas of the present repeating the past. This annual strikes the balance between all of those elements. It’s a great one and done story, while also being a piece of the bigger picture of the series. Ram V has written an annual that not only lays the foundations of the Orgham’s plans for Gotham, but one that shows those of the Dark Knight himself. This is certainly a great book to pick up and enjoy.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.