This was a really terrific installment for me! The yuletide season is here and the amazing tandem of Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul (a fellow Filipino) has come back to give us the Anarky storyline just in time for the holidays. As a premise issue, this was utterly delightful, most notably because I have missed Manapul-Buccellato art so badly that being able to peruse through them was enough to get me warm and fuzzy. This is a comic book you will never get tired looking at. Visually, there are a lot of layers and spectacular panel layout choices that further enhance the noir quality of the story being told at hand.
If you didn't know this already, Manapul and Bucellato write and illustrate for their Detective Comics instalments and their five-issued Icarus was one of my favorite Bat-stories EVER (even if the conclusion was a tad disappointing). One of the reasons it held such a memorable appeal was because the breadth of the artwork was consistently atmospheric, able to capture certain scenes and moods with minimalistic touches. Whatever color palette the artists would decide on, the finished pages produced are always guaranteed to convey whatever the story demands. With Manapul and Buccelatto, their issues can tell a story using visuals alone, and could even thrive from scarce written descriptions. This is something you don't always get in comic books these days, let alone in the superhero genre, though I believe Batman: Detective Comics is the perfect place for such a style to make a lasting impression on. And I can assure you that it does.
Anarky starts in the middle of an ongoing investigation concerning the titular villain in question and we get snippets of the procedural cop drama between Harvey Bullock and the new character Nancy Yip whom Manapul and Buccelatto introduce in their previous issues. It's a good thing that readers are immediately thrust into the action already and could just figure out their way from there which wouldn't be that difficult, considering the case is still picking up the pieces and constructing a nuanced profile for the Anarky character itself. As for Batman, we see him confronting Mad Hatter as the said villain is deliriously searching for "Alice". This was a reference to The Dark Knight run (volume 3, I believe, which I have yet to read myself). Later on, we get a heartwarming exchange between Alfred and Bruce in which his butler and old friend asserts that Bruce doesn't always have to live through his mask as Batman, that he still has a choice to have a life outside it as Bruce Wayne. Together with the pet dog Titus, they light up Wayne Manor with Christmas lights as they stand there, watching everything twinkle.
The issue deliberately ends with a suspenseful sequence inside Wayne Tower where Harvey Bullock, Nancy Yip, Lucius Fox and a handful of frightened employees are trapped next to a detonated bomb about to explode. Batman tries to stop it but the last page leaves us with the understanding that the bomb did explode as the red symbol of "A" marks the entirety of the infrastructure. What is left to find out is if they survived that, if Batman found a way to get them all out. I'm convinced that it's possible that not everyone was lucky to get away. There may be a few deaths in the next issue. But we shall see. I'm very pleased to have Manapul and Buccelatto for this series again and I hope that they will continue to produce such invigorating and beautifully illustrated issues.