(a) Wes Craig
Scott Snyder’s Batman is epic. Since the beginning of the ‘New 52’, Snyder has had the freedom to build big stories that have lasting and permanent ramifications. “The City of Owls” not only established a new status quo for Gotham City, but it also introduced a deadly new Wayne into the Batman mythos. “Death of the Family” brought the Joker into the ‘New 52’, and also broke Batman’s relationships with his crime fighting allies. Now, “Zero Year” aims to reinterpret Bruce Wayne’s evolution into Batman. All of these ideas are big, grand, epic ideas that have are very important to Batman’s corner of the DCnU. The other Batman titles, on the other hand, tend to focus on the more nitty-gritty side of Batman’s mission, taking down the likes of Penguin, Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Clayface, and others. Batman Annual #2 splits the difference by mixing writing techniques usually reserved for the long con arcs into a self-contained, single-issue story. The Anchoress is an extremely important villain because she is a real example of a hero faltering.
Arkham Asylum has been a lot more relevant in the ‘New 52’ than it ever was before. Now, this isn’t to say that Batman’s de facto drop-off point for his psychopathic enemies was irrelevant. It’s the opposite, in fact. Arkham Asylum is a highly secure, deeply terrifying mental health establishment. Prior to the linewide reboot, Arkham was treated, more or less, like a maximum security prison for super villains instead of a place where mentally sick people go to get better. In many ways, Batman Annual #2 is Scott Snyder and Marguerite Bennett’s chance to fix that, to make Arkham the meaningful, integral character it’s supposed to be. The Anchoress is the metaphor for this change, and we even get a glimpse back into “Zero Year” to see why.
The Anchoress gave herself that name because she came to Arkham Asylum of her own volition. She knew that she was sick and needed to be healed, a very rare bit of self-awareness not often seen in those who need it the most. Plus, she was in an accident involving chemical imbalances and the such that resulted in the death of her parents and left her with the ability to walk through walls. When one’s world falls apart, it’s impressive when one can recognize one’s downward spiral and confront that descent before it gets too dark to see. The Anchoress blamed herself for her family’s deaths, so she entered Arkham by choice. Even though we only experience it in quick, fleeting flashbacks, seeing Arkham Asylum as a place of healing and positivity instead of a place where nightmares are born was a refreshing change of pace, if only for a moment here and there.
The Anchoress became a patient before Batman started using Arkham as a holding space for freaks and monsters. She came in when the doctors still treated their patients, made time to observe their behavior and make a suitable diagnosis with prescribed medication or treatment. The Anchoress is the last vestige of what Arkham used to be. When Batman started dropping off the likes of the Joker, Two-Face, Riddler, Bane, whoever, he inadvertently turned an effective mental institution into a cage for the criminally insane who have little to no chance of recovery. People like the Anchoress, who benefited greatly from human interaction and psychological treatment, were forgotten and shoved into the deepest, darkest corners of the Asylum.
Now, the Anchoress is pissed because her “sanctuary” has mutated from a place of safety and healing into a cold, pale ghost of it’s former self. The best villains are the ones you can relate with, and the Anchoress hits this nail on the head. This woman went through so much so early in her life that she voluntarily put herself into a cage she couldn’t escape to protect everyone else. She went into Arkham a trusting person who only sought help. Batman’s influence on the Asylum’s purpose hardened her into the vengeful old lady we see in the pages of Batman Annual #2. The Anchoress wants to end Batman because Batman ended her, effectively. She repeats it to Batman a few times, that she is “Your creation!” The Anchoress sees the downfall of Arkham Asylum as Batman’s fault, pure and simple.
Batman Annual #2 is a phenomenal issue. The epic nature of Scott Snyder’s Batman run is palpable throughout this issue simply because Anchoress is such a compelling and important character. Batman knows a lot; he’s the most intelligent tactician on the planet and he’s versed in nearly every form of martial arts there is, he can go head-to-head with some of the most vicious and deranged criminals in the entire world. But there are still some things he cannot do. He can’t predict scenarios playing out years later, he can’t make up for past mistakes, and he can’t be anything other than Batman. The Anchoress forces Bruce to confront these truths and ask himself how he could let someone slip through the cracks of his mission to eradicate crime from Gotham City. In the end, Batman recognizes his own weaknesses are the ones he doesn’t even know about. Every Batman fan should read this issue.