Wayne Manor has survived its brief incarnation as the new Arkham Asylum and, as Alfred tidies things back up, Bruce Wayne’s reclamation of his family home is interrupted by three former inmates in James Tynion IV and Roge Antonio’s “Batman Annual” #4. Of course, Bruce’s memories are now gone and he feels no attachment to his childhood home, so there’s more to the story than just convincing him to resign the deed to the mansion. Tynion’s story runs a little verbose, though, and Antonio rushes the art a bit, giving the issue a kind of thrown-together feel.
Tynion actually has a compelling premise for his story: The Riddler, Mr. Freeze and Clayface all remember the pain they have felt at the hands of the Wayne-financed Batman. Taking exception that Bruce no longer recalls the pain of his own early life, they try to inflict some new punitive hurt on Bruce in an effort to rebalance the scales, but Tynion’s execution of his own idea is overly lengthy and laborious. The Riddler acts as the de-facto leader of this triumvirate, but his methods and the mind games he tries to play with Bruce come across as more a diluted version of what Scott Snyder did so well between the Riddler and Batman during the “Zero Year” arc.
Tynion’s usage of the Riddler seems to be a bit puzzling on its own, as he doesn’t really utilize the character’s shtick. Ditto for Mr. Freeze to a lesser extent, who actually resorts to merely punching Bruce at one point, rather than freeze his hand or some such. The handling of Clayface makes a bit more sense, despite his presence amounting to little more than a convenience; Tynion fails to tell a story that requires these particular members of Batman’s rogues gallery and, in fact, their beef with Bruce is one that would be held by any of Batman’s foes. With such an array of potential characters to use as foils, the Riddler seems the most logical one to sit out, especially since he’s used in such a derivative manner.
Antonio makes a number of lapses of his own, mostly at the expense of poor Alfred. It begins with Bruce and Julie Madison’s arrival at the mansion on a rainy night, where Alfred appears to be drying her off as though she were the family dog. The art is stiff throughout, and the facial likenesses of some of the characters are often weak; Antonio nicely lays out a panel where Clayface spooks Alfred, but his expression is more akin to surprise than fear. The hunting rifle Alfred later fires at Mr. Freeze seems to have all the firepower of a pop gun, and Alfred’s hand even grows back in one panel.
Overall, the structure of Antonio’s layouts are competent and carries Tynion’s story, but doesn’t offer much in the way of pizzazz; his Clayface looks imposing and the Riddler has a casual kind of cool, but Mr. Freeze not so much of either. With the majority of the story taking place within the mansion’s dark and cavernous areas, colorist Dave McCaig doesn’t get to add much pizzazz, either. Artistically, the highlight of the issue is Sean Gordon Murphy’s eye-catching cover, featuring a gritty black-and-white image of the traditional Batman against a red Gotham sky.
Beyond the cover and a cool idea, “Batman Annual” #4 doesn’t have much else going for it. Other than bringing Wayne Manor back to its traditional role in the Bat-mythos, there’s really nothing critical or worthy of note contained within.