The mysterious new Batman of Earth 2 was initially introduced the series' first annual issue last year, and now "Earth 2 Annual" #2 by Tom Taylor, Robson Rocha and Scott Hanna bookends that appearance with the character's full origin. The mystery begun by former series writer James Robinson has carried well over the past several months under both writers, but Taylor chooses not to stretch it too thin and instead wisely tells all here, in the format of a longer, single-issue story that's well-suited to such an origin. The anonymity of the character is now gone with his identity revealed to readers, but this revelation offsets the lack of secrecy and the now not-so-mysterious new Batman remains just as interesting as before.
It's actually two origins for the price of one, as Taylor first explores the background of Earth 2's first but now-deceased Batman, beginning with young Bruce Wayne. As most would expect on this alternate world, Taylor keeps the basic elements of the original Batman's origin intact, but tosses in a few twists, not to mention a pretty radical but brilliant one that throws the very nature of Batman's motivations into question. This origin tale would have stood just fine on its own, but its ties to the new Batman give both origins an extra and unexpected dimension, and it helps to make the revelation of the new character's identity all the more surprising.
Taylor fills the issue with some superb moments. A dying Thomas Wayne's final words to young Bruce carry additional meaning than they first seem to, Taylor institutes a well-placed but believable false lead regarding Batman's true identity, and the moment of the big reveal as it transitions from past to present day is perfectly paced and comes across as a genuine shock. There are actually several transitions through time throughout the issue, but Taylor ideally sequences them so they don't become jarring or confusing. It was 1979 on Earth 2 when Bruce lost his parents, and it's refreshing to see Taylor commit to an actual era, when most of the countless flashbacks to this key moment in young Bruce's life are made to look and feel ambiguously timeless by most creators.
The issue feels anything but timeless as drawn by Rocha and Hanna; as the cars, clothing, and hairstyles make it very clear that it's the early 1970s in the scenes set during Thomas and Martha Wayne's days of young and irresponsible adulthood. The artists don't go over the top with big afros, smiley faces, and VW Beetles everywhere; instead, it's understated but abundantly clear when this part of the story takes place. Rocha and Hanna also add some other unique touches; triggerman Joe Chill doesn't look like the usual two-bit crook from some old crime-noir thriller. Instead, he looks like a 70s-era street punk, with unusual scars and a bad haircut. Overall, the entire issue is impressively drawn; both incarnations of Batman look dark and imposing, as they should, and all of the major characters are given unique physical traits instead of just looking like generic crime bosses, butlers, and steroid-pumped musclemen.
All creators involved demonstrate a level of quality and attention to detail that is often glossed over in origin stories like these. Comic fans have seen plenty of versions of Batman's origin, but Taylor makes sure that this story is plenty different, and plenty clever. "Earth 2 Annual" #2 establishes Batman's character and place in this world, enabling his main storyline to move ahead. Even those not following the series will find a great example of comic storytelling using an almost-familiar character.