By: David Hine (first story writer), Agustin Padilla, Andres Guinaldo, Lorenzo Ruggiero, Walden Wong (first story artists), Tony Avina (first story colorist), Paul Tobin (second story writer), Ramon Bachs (second story penciller), Mick Gray (second story inker), Trish Mulvihill (second story colorist), Kyle Higgins (third story writer), Trevor McCarthy (third story artist), Andre Szymanowicz (third story colorist)

The Story: In the first feature, The Question works alongside both Batmen and Nightrunner to take down a Parisian cult from the inside.  In the second, Veil helps humanitarian clinician Leslie Thompson find regret and fulfillment in her work.  In the third, Nightrunner finds out how tough it is to wear a controversial icon amidst city riots.

The Review: Series annuals are usually a mixed bag.  On the one hand, the bigger page count offers an opportunity to tell big stories outside the continuity of the main ongoing.  Many times, however, you get a bunch of unrelated short stories from various writers and artists, all cobbled together.  This annual definitely falls under the cobbled category.

The editors could have taken a little more care at least in figuring out which story gets placed where.  The obvious connections between the first and third features make them shoo-ins to be companions, since they both involve the Parisian traceur Nightrunner, but they end up bookending the entirely unrelated second feature instead.  This by itself makes the annual a disjointed read.

The sense of disconnect invades the stories themselves.  The first feature jumps around without offering much in the way of what’s going on, or even who some of the characters are.  So much attention gets handed over to The Question (as played by Renee Montoya), it’s easy to forget the story supposedly ties into the Batman Incorporated banner.  Too bad Nightrunner, the candidate to be France’s Batman, doesn’t get more page-time or stuff to do than he does in this issue.  At least he fares better than Leni Urbana, the high-stakes intended victim of the story—at least, you assume so, because never once do you find out exactly who she is or what she does.

If writers want to sell the idea of other heroes taking on Batman’s symbol, then they have to work harder at selling those heroes in the first place.  What little Nightrunner gets to do in this issue is rendered moot by the American heroes.  Even as the focus of the third feature, Nightrunner’s background remains largely mysterious and his personality gets grossly overshadowed by Batman—either one of them.  Kyle Higgins introduces the interesting real-world element of Parisian racial conflicts, then spends too much time talking about them than showing their effects on Nightrunner.  Higgins really would have profited from having more pages to tell his story than he got.

Which brings us to the second feature.  Don’t get me wrong—it’s not a bad story.  Like Higgins’, Paul Tobin probably would have delivered much better with more pages.  But as is, the story goes by so fast, you never get attached to either Veil or Leslie Thompson (both fairly unfamiliar characters, at least to me), and the heartwarming elements of it lose the impact they could have.  It doesn’t help that Sedge Moslin, Leslie’s former patient with major anger issues, acts as a supremely silly antagonist.

The big pluses of this annual are the artists.  The first feature gets decent treatment, despite the mix of pencillers, but it’s nothing special, even muddy at times.  The second and third features are the ones that really wowed me, art-wise.  Ramon Bachs delivers impressive details, especially in character expressions, but he’s also successful in getting across dynamic movement when needed, and his attention to setting is no slouch either.  Same goes to Trevor McCarthy, whose looser style of lines and more ambitious panel layouts keep the story energetic, even though it’s completely talky.  Are these guys working for any ongoing titles?  If not, DC better sign them up, because their art goes hard, despite the limits of the stories they’re working with.

Conclusion: As annuals go, this one isn’t terrible, but you can’t come away from it without feeling like each story got short-changed a little.  The art gets great treatment, however, and picks up the stories very well, so it’s not a total loss.  Despite the Batman Incorporated stamp, the issue only sticks to that concept half the time, so don’t go in expecting a full tie-in.

Grade: B-

-Minhquan Nguyen