Brian Buccellato takes the writing helm all to himself (unlike the other issues which were co-written by artist Francis Manapul) for "Detective Comics Annual" #3, joined by artists Werther Dell'Edera, Jorge Fornes and Scott Hepburn. And while the book nominally ties into Buccellato's "Icarus" storyline, this is a comic that feels disjointed and not as strong as it could be, considering the extra page length available.
"Detective Comics Annual" #3 tackles several different plot lines -- a young man guarding a shipment of the Icarus drug, a string of new weapons entering Gotham, and a young boy whose father can't remember his child's birthday -- and it's with varying degrees of success. I like that each artist tackles a different story rather than just arbitrarily chopping up the book into sections based on where the pages fall within the comic, so that's something that works here. As the book shifts from one plot line to the next (all of which inevitably intersect), you're clued into what's going on thanks to the sudden changes in art style.
The problem is that none of the stories are that compelling, and perhaps more importantly, it's hard to care about most of the characters involved. It's a very by the numbers series of plots, and Buccellato's stitching all three together by the end of the comic doesn't bring any extra sort of punch to any of these threads; if anything, having them all intersect is almost disappointing because of the lack of excitement when these pieces finally snap into place.
In terms of art, Dell'Edera was a familiar choice whose pages are dependable and wonderfully grim. I first encountered Dell'Edera's art in the "Dark Entries" graphic novel for Vertigo Crime, and it's hard to shake that connection even now. It's a dark, dank style that would be just at home drawing books like "100 Bullets," and it sets the right tone for Buccellato's story here. Who knew a fight in a men's restroom could be so visually interesting? And yet, between the strong angles and the tight quarters, Dell'Edera sells every page that he draws.
I hadn't encountered Fornes' art before, to the best of my knowledge, and I like to think that I would have remembered it. Drawing the sequences that kick off in an alleyway with a young witness to a crime, his art is fluid and well-rounded, but at the same time still holds that overall dark feel that Dell'Edera establishes with his pages. Considering that coloring for these pages seem to be primarily with fluorescent hues, that's no small feat, but somehow it works. Fornes gives us a Batman who is primarily snarling or scowling, and even when he smiles it's a creepy moment.
Hepburn draws the pages involving the Icarus drug, and the problem here isn't Hepburn's art, but rather that it doesn't seem to match the tone of the rest of the comic. Hepburn's art is a little lighter-looking and cheerful; he's not the right choice to draw the comic. His characters look good, his pages are laid out well, the expressions are just fine... Ultimately, nothing is done wrong by Hepburn or Buccellato, this is simply an editorial mismatch between writer and artist. Someone more in line with Dell'Edera and Fornes should have been brought on board here.
As much as I overall applaud the return of the annuals at DC Comics when a five-Wednesday month rolls around, this feels like an addition to the lineup that needed a bit more work. The story just never quite comes together, and some of the pages are drawn in a style pretty far removed from everything else in the comic. In the end, it feels like a little more work needed to be performed in order to pull it all together.