Annuals are odd beasts, with everyone having a different approach to the (theoretically) once-a-year oversized comic. Over the years, comics annuals have done everything from just tell longer stories, to a smattering of shorts, to being part of big line-wide crossovers. "Detective Comics Annual" #2 takes a nice approach to the format, with John Layman, Joshua Williamson, Scot Eaton, Szymon Kudranski and Derlis Santacruz using the extra space to tell three stories that connect with one another. For those reading the main "Detective Comics" run as well, there's also a connective thread between the main series and the annual.
Layman and Williamson focus on the character of Jane Doe, a master of disguise introduced into the Batman lineup of villains about a decade ago. At a glance it seems like a very simple character concept: someone who dresses up as other people for nefarious purposes. There's something almost refreshing about the fact that it's a person with wigs and masks. Sure, this is also a character that has no skin on her own face, and things are a little grim, but it's nice that there aren't superhuman potions or the like involved.
What makes the villain work so well in "Detective Comics Annual" #2 is that Layman and Williamson get inside the idea of what makes an effective mimic. It's not the wigs, it's the way that Jane Doe becomes her victim from the inside out. That's what the main thrust is; not only the complete transformation but also the effect it has on those who come into contact with her. It's a clever read of the character, and at the same time it's still an exciting story. Those reading "Detective Comics" right now will find a tie-in to the story involving the Wrath, but the appearance won't leave new readers in the dark. For a character that's never held my interest up until now, this works well.
Eaton gives the art for the main feature, and it's good. Once again, it's surprising that Eation isn't on a regular title. The storytelling is easy to follow and energetic; the opening sequence in the bank feels like it could serve as a storyboard for a hot action movie. Jane Doe and company spring from one panel to the next, and every drawing feels like it's not wasted. Look at the bottom of the first page, with "Mrs. Wenner" having a look of surprise on her face as her ruse is spoiled by the man who knows that she's supposed to be dead. Turn the page, and the scene explodes into action. The first two panels are smaller but tight, and they're a perfect setup as she punches and dodges her way into the third and fourth panels. The third panel is the money shot, and it's appropriately framed in the center of the page as "Mrs. Wenner" starts firing her gun even as her necklace and earrings bounce from the movement, and her fur coat spins away from her body while she turns. The last page of people being hit by the bullets could have been an afterthought, but again Eaton follows through with a nice, solid progression of images. It's that sort of attention to how a comics page works that reminds me that Eaton's been around for a while now; here's to more of his art before long.
What's nice is that after a main feature telling the bulk of the story, there are two backups also written by Layman and Williamson, that further expand on the events. The first is drawn by Kudranski, and gets further into the head of Jane Doe. It's just six pages, but that's actually all the space it needs. Kudranski's moody and dark art is the perfect accompaniment for a story crawling into the heart of the insane Jane Doe, doubly so with it being set in Arkham Asylum. The second story is drawn by Derlis Santacruz and Rob Hunter, and it shifts back to a more traditional style as we get a better idea of how one of the victims of Jane Doe is recovering from the incident. Once again, six pages is just the right amount of time for this story; while I can see repercussions spreading into "Detective Comics" for months to come, this sets things up well and is drawn in an attractive manner.
"Detective Comics Annual" #2 is a good approach to how to create an annual; it provides a payoff to both first-time readers as well as those who already pick up the main series, and it's a story that can be enjoyed as an extended one-off, while allowing for follow-ups down the line. This is the sort of comic that's perfect for a five-week month.