A Vicious Gotham Cycle: Reviewing ‘Detective Comics 2022 Annual’ #1

Gotham City is a place that has a varied and rich, often dark, history that has only grown over time as more and more creators add to the tapestry. With the main plotline of Detective Comics featuring the Orghams, the family that eventually became the Arkhams, it was only a matter of time before their part in that history would be revealed. 

What a delightful reveal it turned out to be. 

Annual issues tend to fall into two realms, either they are fully stand-alone or one-off stories featuring elements of the regular title (cast, places, etc) or they are issues that play an expanded role in whatever the current ongoing storyline in the series might be. Ram V chose the latter for this excellent issue, taking us all the way back to the 1700s version of Gotham, known as Gathome Settlement at the time, in a world that has some intriguing parallels to the city that we know in the present-day. 

It begins in a familiar way, a young boy is a witness to the murder of his parents and things take a turn from there. Those aforementioned parallels begin here and keep growing from the murdered couple being Tim and Moira Wainwright (Thomas and Martha Wayne) and the one investigating their murder is one Garret Jardin (James Gordon) who is the law in the settlement. Religion and commerce are represented in this realm by the fear-focused pastor Ichabod Kraine (Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow) and the local merchant Pebblecroft (Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin). There is a healer known as Aiyanna, declared a witch by many, who is tied to Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy in various ways, and the right-on-the-nose Darcey Hunt who has half of his face heavily scarred like one Harvey Dent/Two-Face. 

There is even a Batman stand-in eventually. 

These parallels are not there just for the sake of it, they are part of an overall system of repeating patterns that play into the main plotline. Everything that has plagued Gotham for so long is because of strings that Lord Ethaniel Orgham pulled in the past as well as the Reality Engine that was buried in the settlement. The Wainwright murder by the Orgham werewolf associate Gael was the spark and Orgham’s work with Kraine and Pebblecroft to destabilize and control the settlement is the situation that they want to enshrine through time. That reality engine essentially will cause the patterns we keep seeing in Gotham from the various individuals to the crooked darkness within that is pushing to control the city through crime/commerce. 

It’s deep things like this that stand out so much about how Ram V approaches a project. In a sense, this is a retcon but it’s not one that breaks or really alters anything that we know about Gotham and the stories we’ve already read. In fact, it strengthens them and builds off the idea that has long been part of the Bat line that Gotham is sort of stuck in a repeating pattern. Now the reason has been made clear, it wasn’t that the city is just predestined to be a bad place but instead this was thrust upon all generations long long ago. 

In the present, they speak about how Batman must be removed because he’s basically mucking up their plans, but we see here that the introduction of a sort of Bat character through time became part of the pattern. An outsider named Aldridge Pearce took care of the Wainwright boy and protected others, and donned a sort of Bat suit when a man claiming to be from the future known as Mordecai (which happens to be a name that Bruce Wayne took when he was bouncing around time following his ‘death’ in Final Crisis) told him to go back and save the settlement when Pearce and the boy tried to leave. He was told to train the boy, to help him harness the fear and anger he was feeling after the loss of his parents while giving him a costume to hide his identity and to become the ‘demon’. Sounds pretty familiar hmm?

We’re given a really interesting artist jam situation in this issue as Rafael Albuquerque, who was the artist on the first portion of this Detective Comics run, handles the framing of present-day pages, and then we get Christopher Mitten handling much of the past set section with Hayden Sherman contributing some pages near the end of that section. It all flows together so easily since they are depicting different eras which would naturally be visually different since things change in appearance all the time. 

One of the things about the past that is great is that all the various parallel elements are easily recognizable to be callbacks to things we know, without having to be overly abundantly clear. What I mean by that is that they have their own appearance and energy and status as characters/figures with elements that are in common with what we know. Slipping between the rougher style of Mitten to the smoother but still rough style that both Sharman and Albuquerque employ feels so simple. 

Lee Loughridge has such a way with the colors, making things so visually appalling while still having a naturally grounded tone to them. All the spaces feel real with light and darkness prevailing with them respectively but allow for some really big splashes of vibrant greens or reds to heighten the moment/mood. There is also a sort of rough quality to the colors that match the sort of rough style that Mitten has, which changes to something smoother almost slick in style when added to the pages done by Albuquerque and Sherman. All of them though have a weight and darker quality to them, fitting the tone and style of this world/story. 

Deron Bennett, the owner of Andworld Design which is a fantastic group of letterers, handles the lettering within this issue. Bennett is just so good at making lettering stand out in the best ways, adding little bits here or there to not only allow personality or vocal tendencies to shine through but also make sure that tone/volume are clear at first glance. This allows the reader to instantly hear the words in the tone that they are meant to be picked up, taking any guesswork out of the equation for us which makes things smoother. All the great lettering things I love to see from a shout that bursts right out of a speech bubble, bubbles that conform to the words no matter their size, timely varied in the moment SFX, and layouts that just dance around the page in the easiest and most logical format for reading ease. 

Detective Comics 2022 Annual #1 is now available from DC Comics. 

Gotham City is a place that has a varied and rich, often dark, history that has only grown over timeCOMICONRead More

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