Another Elseworlds Annual, another Mignola cover. I'm starting to think that's the actual reason I bought these things. I certainly didn't get it for the Doug Moench story or the Frederico Cueva pencils. Maybe it was just a Batman thing in this instance. He's always been my favorite DC superhero. Like the Founding Fathers, he overcame his own limitations to produce something bigger and better than himself. How's that for reaching?
Anyway, Batman Annual 18 was one of many Elseworlds annuals in 1994, but only 1 of 2 that I bought. So, if nothing else you are safe from any more Elseworlds annuals reviews.
The thing is, this isn't actually an Elseworlds tale. At least, I don't think so, but you be the judge.
Here's the short version. Our ever hard working Bruce Wayne Batman is tracking the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Gotham Museum, where it was on loan. Naturally, the ring leader is a curator at the museum, because the police would never, ever suspect someone from the museum. Sheesh. Moench must have really like the history around the Mona Lisa, or at least art critics pontifications on it, as he has his ring leader make speeches about the Mona Lisa that actually quote various art historians. At some length, too. Length for a comic, anyway. The tracking of this band of theives is a fairly pedestrian Batman story.
Told parallel to this modern day art theft bit is the story of Thomas Medici and Leonardo da Vinci. Medici is orphaned as a boy, much the same way Wayne was, except the killing of Medici's parents was a political assassination. Thomas ends up the inheritor of his father's wealth and becomes both patron of da Vinci and pupil. Jumping forward about 10 years or so, da Vinci is painting the Mona Lisa. He's also having an affair with the woman, much his junior and much dissatisfied with her philandering husband. The husband doesn't think what's good for the goose is good for the gander, so he allies with the Pazzi family, who were behind the assassination of Thomas Medici's parents.
What passes for an Elseworlds tale, then, is that Thomas Medici dresses up like a bat, in a Renaissance version of the Batman we all know and love. Less technologically advanced and not so much of a skilled fighter. 'Course his opponents are bunch of knife weilding thugs with no fighting skills of their own, so it doesn't much matter. Medici saves Mona Lisa and da Vinci from death, which also somehow saves his fortune, though I can't recall why or how.
Meanwhile, our theiving curator figures out that the Mona Lisa was painted on top of another painting and is about to apply a chemical to reveal the underlying painting. Flashing back to the Renaissance, though, we learn that it wasn't that da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa on top of another painting. Rather, it was that da Vinci had painted Thomas Medici as Batman into the background, which Medici then painted over with the well known background. Bruce Wayne Batman stops the curator before the chemical is applied and all remains as it was in the world, no one the wiser for the secret previous Batman.
So, is it just me, or is this not an Elseworlds tale? The others I've read involved placing the known superhero in a different situation, such as the Action Comics Annual from 1994 that made Clark Kent a decendant of another Kryptonian who'd come to Earth in the 1760s and altered Earth's history to create a present day world ruled by the British Empire. Other stories have put Green Lanterns in a Victorian setting, but they were Hal, Kyle, John and Guy. Most famously, Gotham by Gaslight put Bruce Wayne in a Victorian setting, even though it's not technically an Elseworlds story.
Here we have our usual Batman in his usual setting with a secret different guy having been sort of like our Batman a few hundred years previously. That's not really an Elseworlds story to me. It's just another Batman story, and not a very good one at that, with a little historical parallel thrown in for filler.
I neglected to mention that the hired assassin who kills Medici's parents and who is later hired to kill da Vinci and Mona Lisa is a sort of Joker wannabe. He has a scarred face, crazed eyes and a maniacal grin. I think it's supposed to be maniacal. With all the grimacing going on, it's not too different from almost everyone else's mouth.
Which leads me to the art in this story. It's bad. Aside from da Vinci and Mona Lisa, almost everyone grimaces their way through this book. It's all told through clenched teeth, whether a character is sad, angry, perturbed, threatening or puzzled. White teeth locked together doesn't adequately express the range of human emotion that can be read on the face. Beyond that, the art seems to be going for a sort of Renaissance feel, but it feels more unfinished than anything else. It also seems like the inking and colors are trying to hide some of the shortcomings of the art but are only serving to further muddle the thing.
In the end, I'll keep the issue, almost solely for the Mignola cover art. What can I say? Every now and then the art wins out, and with Mignola, I'm certainly willing to make exceptions to my usual preference for a good story. If he'd written it and done the interior art, I'd probably have both good writing and good art.