It's a month with five Wednesdays, and that means it's time for a few Annuals from DC Comics. This go-round includes "Batman: The Dark Knight Annual" #1 by Gregg Hurwitz and Syzmon Kudranski, and it's something that integrates well into Hurwitz's run as writer on "Batman: The Dark Knight." Ultimately, that's also a slight problem. For people who've been reading "Batman: The Dark Knight," this comic may feel slightly familiar.
Hurwitz tells a story where the Penguin, Mad Hatter and Scarecrow are all lured to the Arkham Detention Facility for Youth through a series of invitations that each claim to be sent by one of the others. Once there, the three villains begin to worry whom the real sender was, and what comes next is a descent into paranoia and villainous psyches. It's not a bad idea by any stretch of the imagination, and one of the things I've liked about Hurwitz's run on "Batman: The Dark Knight" is that he's been deliberately plumbing the depths of the villains to pull them apart and see what makes them tick. It's a method that has helped keep this the "dark" Batman title, and to set it apart from the rest of the line.
The problem, though, is that Hurwitz has had only two storylines in "Batman: The Dark Knight" so far; one all about the Scarecrow, and one all about the Mad Hatter. The end result is that the issue hits a lot of material that's been read before. It's not bad, and there's a certain newness to having Hurwitz's takes on these characters all colliding at once. But there will certainly be scenes where you can't help but think, "I've read this before." Most likely, it's because you have.
Kudranski's art is dark and moody as ever. There are some scenes that are composed beautifully, like the outside of the Arkham Detention Facility, or the first time that lightning strikes and we get the silhouette of Batman in the night sky. His rough, jagged style is made for this sort of moment. He's also someone who takes great care in how he lays out a page; little things like the hard-edged crosshatch around the panel where the Penguin strikes the floor with his umbrella, for instance, give a staccato of emphasis at that moment, and it shows us that Kudranski understands how to use the language of comics. Every now and then faces look a little odd, though, most notably the Mad Hatter who at times seems more like a mannequin than a person. It's a minor issue, though, and the dark and creepy atmosphere that's captured on these pages (in the same way that artists like Bill Sienkiewicz, Ashley Wood, and Ben Templesmith make pages dark) more than makes up for it.
"Batman: The Dark Knight Annual" #1 is a comic that's best aimed at those who haven't read Hurwitz's "Batman: The Dark Knight" before. If you like what you see, you're in luck because a new storyline is just around the corner, kicking off with "Batman: The Dark Knight" #22 in July. For those who have already experienced Hurwitz's run, though? Just look at this as a remix/greatest hits album, and you'll be all right.