Review – Batman Annual #5: Clownhunter’s Refuge

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Batman Annual #5 variant cover, via DC Comics.

Batman Annual #5 – James Tynion IV, Writer; James Stokoe, Artist

Ray – 10/10

Ray: James Tynion IV’s run has been defined by the new characters, from the sociopathic Punchline to the obsessive Ghost-maker, but I think his crowning achievement is Clowhunter. This teenage vigilante is a visceral reminder of Batman’s failures, of his inability to keep Joker from creating more victims. What could have easily been a generic teen Punisher rip-off has turned into a fascinatingly tragic character—and it’s just about time he got his spotlight. Tynion’s chosen well for a collaborator on this oversized issue, with cartoonist James Stokoe bringing his distinctive horrific style to the combat scenes while dialing it back just enough for the more character-driven moments.

Dark night in Gotham. Via DC Comics.

This is essentially a two-character play, with a wounded Clownhunter going to Dr. Leslie Thompkins for help. For Leslie, who has been trying to help Bruce for decades and never being able to turn him away from his path, it’s a second chance of sorts. As she stitches up Bao, she gets him to open up and we see for the first time what happened to his family. It was essentially a chance encounter—Joker dropping into their restaurant for food after a caper—and they tried everything they could to keep him happy and he still killed them for his own amusement. It’s easy to see how this drove Bao over the edge, and the compounding events of Joker War years later created someone who saw violence as the only solution.

Despite the incredibly bleak and violent scenes during the siege of Gotham, there is room for hope in this issue. While Bao has a deep grudge against Batman for failing Gotham and isn’t willing to let him reach out to him, he has no such grudge against Leslie. In fact, they have similar feelings about Batman in some ways, and that allows him to open up to her. Not only is this the most powerful writing of Tynion’s run, but it’s one of the best work of Stokoe’s career. It’s less detailed than some of his epic spreads, but his grasp of emotion and character design is as good as ever. This is the perfect epilogue to “act one” of Tynion’s run, and makes me more excited than ever to see what he has planned for Clownhunter and others in the next act.

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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