By: Scott Snyder & Marguerite Bennett (story), Bennett (writer), Wes Craig (pencils), Craig Yeung, Drew Gerraci, Craig, Jack Purcell, Sandu Florea & Marc Deering (inks), Ian Hanin (colors) and Dave Sharpe (letters)

The Story: Batman meets a new/old denizen of Arkham while testing out their security systems.

Review (with minor SPOILERS): Bravo to DC and the creative team for introducing a new character!  I know that the fanboys love to read another Joker story, but I personally find new villains to be much more interesting.  Only with new characters are there unclear motives, unclear powers and unclear outcomes.  All the new character needs is a little hook to make them unique and it is suddenly fascinating to watch the creators fill in the blanks of the character.

The new character from this issue is named yhe Anchoress.  She has a really cool hook in that when her powers manifested, she accidentally killed her parents and was sent for therapy at the original Arkham Asylum back when AA was a place where a Dr. Arkham actually tried to help the mentally ill.  As such, she hates Batman for turning AA into a supermax prison for his rogues gallery.  Once that happened, nobody cared about helping the mentally ill. They just wanted to keep Joker and Clayface in their cells.  It’s an interesting way to introduce a character and to make us look differently at a landmark like AA.  I mean, I think almost all modern Bat-fans look at AA as a prison.  It’s easy to forget that AA probably used to have a different purpose….like treating the mentally ill and perhaps now those mentally ill don’t have the same prospects for treatment.  Readers of this site know I love real-world parallels (and so does Scott Snyder, I think), so I can’t help but see relationships between this take on AA and the closing of mental health institutions in the 1980s and all the crime and homelessness that happened as a result.  It’s just interesting to think about some of these criminals or bums as mentally ill people who have been failed by “the system.”

Anyway, the Anchoress is very interesting.  I like her story.  I like her powerset.  I’m sure we’ll see her again and – when we do – I have NO idea what will happen.  She could die, she could become a kinda hero, she could become an ally of the Joker….all sorts of things could happen with a new character.  That’s why I love new characters.

Another thing I liked about the Anchoress is how she shows up in the middle of Batman testing out the security in AA.  You know how it goes….Batman is just kinda bouncing along, dealing with the increased security at AA.  It’s kinda fun to see him dealing with the problems as they arise, but it’s all just an exercise.  Until the Anchoress shows up while Batman is dealing with a new element of the security system.  That’s a very “Are you REALLY prepared for anything Batman?” moment.  If you crawl inside Batman’s head, he probably had plans for dealing with an inmate escape during his test of the security system.  He probably knew what to do if he was suddenly confronted with Dr. Freeze or Mad Hatter.  But, how in the world is he supposed to be ready to deal with the Anchoress?  Suddenly there is this old lady phasing through the wall and yelling at him about how he ruined AA.  As we see in the issue, not even Batman can be prepared for everything.

The art in this issue is perfectly fine.  It’s a little varied, but that will happen when you have SIX inkers working on the issue.  But, only the most picky art snobs will really notice the slight changes in style (or care about the changes).  None of the art is anything that has be scrambling for my wallet to buy some original pages, but I don’t think there were any bad panels in the issue either.  It’s just solid, professional art.

Conclusion: Hey look!  It’s an annual that is (a) self-contained, (b) introduces an interesting new character and (c) shines new light on a familiar Gotham landmark.  That’s really all you can ask from an annual (especially considering how lousy annuals sometimes are).  The art is fine even if it isn’t excellent enough to merit a higher grade.

Grade: B

-Dean Stell