There's always been something fascinating about Black Mask. He's not one of the biggest villains in Batman's rogues gallery but he has the potential to rise in the ranks. He apparently died before but I was surprised by his appearance in DETECTIVE COMICS #9. With the history of Roman Sionis and Jeremiah Arkham, the power and pull of the Black Mask makes an intriguing story. We get hints of the existing continuity of the pre-New 52 mixed in with the current stories. I'm not sure how Sionis came back but it does make an interesting story especially considering Arkham is back running the Asylum.
This is where we get to see the follow up to what happened to Sionis. The battle to reclaim his throne among the False Face Society makes this feel like it should be Black Mask's annual and not Batman's. During Black Mask's journey, he finds himself going up against another Batman villain. It's a great rivalry and also makes this other character (I don't want to spoil who it is) more interesting in the New 52.
This story worked out great for an annual. Many of DC's new annuals out this week are simply continuations of this month's titles. This does continue the story of Black Mask from a few months ago but isn't directly tied into it. A reader can easily pick this up and dive into the action without having to worry about what just happened a couple weeks ago. This also adds value to the annual for those that might check it out in the future. We're definitely in the New 52 universe but it has a strong self-contained feel while still tying into the overall mythos of the current Batman stories.
This is a Batman annual but he felt more like a peripheral character. That's not necessarily a bad thing but when he does appear, it almost felt like it was a contractual requirement with Batman's lawyer.
I'm still not clear on how Black Mask came back. It's possible I missed something or that this was just another tweak when the New 52 started. It's not a huge deal but more of a nagging question in the back of my mind.
Some of the fighting with Batman felt weird, especially when Batman was fighting a new threat, Mad Bull. I assume his armor suit allows him to take quite a beating. He gets thrown through some wooden supports on a roller coaster and is barely fazed. I prefer the days when Batman didn't take so much physical abuse because he was able to avoid it during fights.
Comic Book annuals should focus on the current story and not tie directly into or continue from the current series. There's needs to be a sense of being self-contained so that readers can read and enjoy the over-sized format. Thankfully this annual does that. There is a tie to Black Mask's previous appearance in DETECTIVE COMICS but this issue can be enjoyed on its own. It also serves to set the groundwork for Black Mask and another Batman villain so there isn't a sense that this is just a story that won't have any impact on the series or character. Batman does give up the spotlight as the focus lies on Black Mask. Let's hope this leads to him having a bigger presence in the New 52. If he survives this annual, that is.