Friday, January 1, 2021

Batman Annual #5 Review and *SPOILERS*

The Clownhunter Story We All Really Want

Written By: James Tynion IV
Art By: James Stokoe
Letters By: Clayton Cowles
Cover Price: $4.99
Release Date: December 29, 2020

*Non Spoilers and Score At The Bottom*

We run into this new Batman annual after having completed our latest story in the regular Batman series. While covers are seldom a good indication of what is happening in a comic book these days, this one promises a dive into the backstory of our newest vigilante in Gotham, Clownhunter. Now, through the Batman book itself, we have pretty much gotten full context in regards to Clownhunter’s story. However, using context clues or a small chunk of lore here and there is much different from actually seeing it on the panels in front of you. My excitement in regards to this new character has fallen recently, but I’m hoping this pseudo origin story will reignite it. So, let’s jump into this annual and see what it has for us.

Our issue begins with a woman walking down a Gotham street. The monologue over the scene talks about how the area used to be an up-and-coming district, but after a grizzly murder one night, Park Row became better known as Crime Alley. The woman turns down the alleyway and we see a brief glimpse of the scene we all know so well. The moment that created the Batman. Just after we get that flashback, a man suddenly jumps from behind a dumpster and pulls a weapon on the woman demanding her purse. The woman begins to follow his instructions but another man sleeping in the alley hears them and walks up behind the mugger, showing that he is significantly bigger in stature. The mugger recognizes the man as Big Henry, who immediately tells him that the woman is Leslie Thompkins and she runs the free clinic that has saved many in the neighborhood. Big Henry threatens the mugger before he ditches his weapon and runs away. Leslie and Henry share a quick conversation before she continues on her way. As she opens up the free clinic, she sees the silhouette of Clownhunter on her rooftop.

Check out our Batman Annual #5 Video Review

Leslie makes herself a cup of tea before she hears a crash and runs into the next room to find Clownhunter. He has broken glass in his arm and he tells her that Batman told him to come here if he needed help. We then cut to a flashback from three years ago where Bao is playing video games in his room before his mother comes in and stops him, demanding that he help out with opening the restaurant. Just as he starts though, in walks none other than Harley Quinn with two wild hogs. More goons follow and then eventually The Joker himself joins them. The family seats and serves the couple all while dealing with being held at gunpoint. Joker asks for the check and the family tells him that it is on the house. As a tip, Joker then sprays them with Joker toxin and the two die in front of their son. After the police arrive, Commissioner Gordon brings Bao inside where he meets Batman. Bao asks him to do something to stop this from happening to anyone else and Batman promises that he will. We return to the present where Leslie is fixing Bao’s wounds as they talk. He confides in her about the situation with Harley Quinn and he is paranoid that Batman just wants him to believe in his mission again. However, he has seen far too many times where the Joker returned only to cause more suffering.

We flashback to the Joker War, where Bao is interrupted by a neighbor who asks him to help. One of their neighbors had been set on fire by a clown and even though Bao tries to help, there’s nothing he can do and no help is coming for them. In a fit of rage, he renounces Batman and proceeds to assemble his outfit. He creates the bat-bat and his Clownhunter persona. He takes the fight to Joker’s goons and the neighborhood cheers him on as he provides relief that they weren’t getting from anyone else. Now, however, Bao finds himself conflicted. Is he just another bad guy? Could the clowns who did terrible things before have had a change of heart? Leslie talks with him about the nature of violence and even offers him a position to help with her anger management class (which is all a ruse to get him to join them) and eventually Bao leaves but not before properly introducing himself as Bao instead of Clownhunter. At the end of the issue, Batman appears in Leslie’s clinic and thanks her for helping Bao as he has found it difficult to reach him. Afterward, he flies off into the night and the issue ends.

This issue is actually really entertaining. It builds upon the story that we’ve gotten from this creative team up to this point and gives us our first look at the backstory of a new fan-favorite character. However, it also falls flat at certain points. First, the art. I’m not a huge fan of James Stokoe’s art and this issue didn’t change my mind about it. I don’t dislike it or anything. I’m just not blown away by it. In addition, I’d say that I enjoyed seeing Bao’s backstory in full panel glory, but at the same time, I was hoping to gain more insights into the character from seeing it. Instead, we just saw all the things that we already knew about. All the things that these characters had been talking about for the past 6 issues or so were finally in front of us and none of it really added to the overall story of Clownhunter. You could skip this issue and still fully understand Clownhunter’s backstory and that’s a problem. That being said though, I still really enjoyed reading and seeing it. So even for its downfalls, I think this issue is pretty good.

Bits and Pieces:

While the issue really does nothing to add or expand upon the story that we already know, we finally get to see Clownhunter’s backstory come to life on the panels of a comic book and that is something that I’ve been looking forward to. However as much as I enjoyed seeing it, the fact that nothing new was given to us and the rest of the issue was lackluster, does hamper the effectiveness of the annual.


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