The higher price of annuals and uncertainty of content gives many potential readers pause when it comes to choosing whether or not to purchase, but Greg Pak and a trio of art teams give plenty of good reasons to hand over six bucks for "Batman/Superman" Annual #1. The absolute price point is steep, but the comic offers a better story than many of its peers, and it has ties to the main title -- two aspects that many standalone annuals often lack.
For one, both regular series writer Pak and artist Jae Lee are on board, and readers are treated to as many pages, if not more, than they got in a typical issue during his run early in the series. In fact, this is apparent not only from the cover but from the very first page; Lee's typically and stylishly beautiful art is immediately recognizable, even without reading the credits on the cover. The story is also a sequel of sorts to the recent Mongul storyline, which is also strongly and immediately hinted at in Lee's splash page, giving the annual some relevance among the other issues of the series. It's also a much better and satisfying story than the earlier Mongul arc.
June Chung's colors play a large part in beautifying Lee's pages, most strikingly with the blood red skies on that first page but no less so with the misty, smoky backgrounds on the subsequent ones. Ken Rocafort and Nei Ruffino handle the art and coloring respectively for the issue's second chapter, and Philip Tan and Hi-Fi do the same for the final chapter, before Lee and Chung return for the two-page epilogue. All artists involved nicely blend into the look and layout established in the first half of the comic, making for a remarkably consistent collaboration.
Story-wise, Pak knows what historically has made the best annuals so much fun and delivers that here: an extra-long story, and one filled with lots of guest stars. The reason for these guest stars is a little manufactured, but it's really too fun to matter, as Superman and Batman grab a couple of members from their extended Super- and Bat-families and head off into space to face the son of the vanquished Mongul. Even Krypto comes along for the ride, although it looks like he's been reincarnated in the New 52 as an Irish wolfhound, judging by his size relative to those he's traveling with. Regardless, it's nothing but fun throughout, and while son of Mongul Jochi might sound like he was named after a Russian city, he's an intriguing character who's not quite a chip off the old block.
"Batman/Superman Annual" #1 is a pricey but worthy issue that carves out a deserved place as part of the series, rather than as an out-of-place contrivance. It's well-packaged and attractively built, but perhaps most importantly, it's fun to read. In a marketplace filled with annuals that seem little more than filler material or tryout issues, this one shows how it should be done.