I have a soft spot for the Annual, even though it's been abused a lot in comics over the past several decades. I like the idea of an oversized issue, once a year, with a story too big to fit into the regular series, or perhaps something just so off-beat and different it needs to stand out. Years of bad events and crossovers throughout Annuals killed them for quite a while, though, and it's only just recently starting to show up with any sort of regularity.
"Detective Comics Annual" is the first half of a two-part story, similar to how it and "Batman Annual" were used last year to launch "Azrael." Here, David Hine ties the comic into the new status quo of "Batman Incorporated," as a trip from Bruce Wayne to Paris lands him in the middle of a bout of violence and killings. It's an interesting take on Bruce Wayne, making him much more forceful in his civilian identity as he bullies the head of the Police Nationale in Paris and flaunts his connection not only to "Le Batman" but Oracle as well. It's such a blatant in-your-face sequence that it unfortunately seems more than anything else to reiterate that people failing to figure out that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one and the same person means that most people in the DC Universe are not terribly bright.
The rest of the story itself is actually rather unremarkable. I'm not entirely sure why the time is now for a parkour-inspired hero, now that it's been years since parkour and free-running were a hot new commodity, but if nothing else it's an easy shortcut to getting a new hero up to physical snuff. The best part is probably Hine playing with having two Batmen at his disposal in this story, and the careful way he keeps from identifying which Batman is whom. The second half is still around the corner, so there could be more to come that will lift the main story up, but for now it's just disappointingly average.
There are also two back-up stories in the Annual, with varying degrees of success. Brad Desnoyer, Lee Ferguson, and Ryan Winn tackle a story starring Renee Montoya, the sole purpose of which seems to be to try and close off (for now) the new situation she was in when the Question second feature came to an end in "Detective Comics." It's unfortunately the weak point of the Annual; the story feels more like a lecture than something of interest, and exists solely to remove a problematic new feature (the Mark of Cain) so it doesn't interfere with what other writers want to do with the Question. I did like Ferguson and Winn's first page of art for the story, which looks iconic and classy as Renee walks through the wilderness, bringing to mind artists like Rick Burchett. The rest of the feature (once people with faces start appearing) isn't as memorable, though, but it does show what Ferguson's strengths are in that initial scene.
Better is Kyle Higgins and Trevor McCarthy's first half of an origin story for the new character of the Night Runner (or Nightrunner if you go by the cover logo, versus the title of the story). The story is slightly predictable, but Higgins tries to infuse a sense of politics into his script, and that makes it stand out. I love McCarthy's art, which reminds me a lot of early Jason Pearson with its stylized, smooth and bubbled forms. In places it makes me feel like I'm looking at animation cels, and I definitely would like to see more of McCarthy's art. Fortunately, this story also concludes in this month's "Batman Annual" so presumably we're about to get another dose.
At the end of the day, "Detective Comics Annual" #12 is just all right. I suppose I should be thankful it's not part of some of DC's less-interesting Annual crossovers ("Bloodlines" or "Planet DC," anyone?), but I wish there had been a bit more of a punch to the story overall. It could have been worse, but it could have been better, too.