There are moments in superhero origins so deeply ingrained in the social consciousness, everyone seems to know them as if by instinct. We're all aware of the destruction of Krypton and how an infant named Kal-El was sent away from his loving parents and home world in a last ditch effort to keep his species' legacy alive. Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider is a iconic accident we relate to the notion that greatness could happen to anyone. And the image of a young Bruce Wayne kneeling at over his slain parents in a dirty alleyway has been singed in the minds of people who have never even picked up a comic book.
These moments make up our new mythology, their results birthed a new pantheon of gods. But those who have seen these moments depicted in comics, film, cartoons and video games over the course of the better part of a century can often become numb to their impact. Instead of iconic, they come off as rote, worn too thin to have any real meaning. It's only when a creative team tackles them from a different angle can they truly feel relevant again.
In Batman Annual #3, Tom Taylor and Otto Schmidt have done such a brilliant feat in breathing new life into a tragedy which gave birth to one of our greatest heroes.
Theater. Robbery. Pearls. Gun shot. Dead parents. Orphan. The inception of Bruce Wayne's journey to becoming Gotham City's greatest defender can be boiled down to this staccato grouping of words. How this singular moment effects the larger cast of character populating Batman comics is rarely touched upon, but in this issue, that changes. We've seen some supporting characters' reactions to the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne in different mediums before, of course. Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon, for example, was on the scene after the murder in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, and his involvement that early with young Bruce Wayne led to one of the most resonant moments in the film series' final installments.
Batman Annual #3 shifts the focus of this tragedy to how it impact arguably the most important person in Bruce Wayne's life. In the opening pages of the story, appropriately titled "Father's Day," we witness Alfred Pennyworth getting the worst phone call in his life. It's a jarring introduction to Taylor and Schmidt's tale, but it is extremely effective. We feel Alfred's terror, and we see how strong he has to be in order to keep young Master Bruce's world from completely crumbling. It's as beautiful as it is harrowing. Tom Taylor is a writer who handles deep emotional impact on the page wonderfully, and how this moment is presented in no different. Even though we know what comes next. We know who Alfred is about to learn, we are still sucked up into the shock of what's to come.
Otto Schmidt (Green Arrow) is an artist who should be receiving far more praise for his work. Much like brilliant artist Lee Weeks, Schmidt is often overshadowed by the flashy, hyper-kinetic work of his peers, and it's a genuine shame. Schmidt handles each panel with care in this story. His attention to detail and visual characterization is just as important to a scene where young Bruce Wayne is weeping in his bed as it is to a panel in which Batman is kicking a villain in the face. Both of these moments matter in the narrative, and their treatment as equals elevates the overall story.
Of course "Father's Day" does extend beyond the idea of what Alfred was doing with the Waynes were murdered. The rest of the issue focuses on his relationship with Bruce under the guise of Batman and gets into the inner-workings of their relationship. It's a wonderful portrait, painted by a pair of artists who respect and admire their subjects. Batman Annaul #3 is a must buy for anyone who is a fan of comics. It's amazingly told and gorgeously illustrated. Add it to your stack if you haven't already.