I Love Annuals
I really love what DC is doing with its Annuals these days.
If you read comics much back in the 90's then you know that the Annuals usually served a very specific purpose. Mostly they were the method by which every monthly would tie into whatever ridiculous or contrived summer event was going on (such as Eclipso: The Darkness Within and Bloodlines). So the creative team of the book had to find some way of making it work. And sometimes it didn't work at all.
But in recent years DC has really shifted gears on their Annuals. Now they're using them smart. Annuals in this day and age serve as "one-shots" that fill in missing pieces in an ongoing story, tell a side story, or kick off something new. They can do it with the annual without interrupting the flow of the main story.
The recent Action Comics Annual was a good example. It told us the origin of the current Nightwing and Flamebird. It was the sort of story that you couldn't tell in one issue of a regular series -- there wouldn't be enough pages. And if you did manage to squeeze it in it would completely sidetrack the main story.
But in the Annual it can work. They've got the pages for a self-contained story that's still connected to the larger tale. And if you don't want to pay the money you don't have to read it to enjoy or understand what's going on in Action. It's really a win/win situation.
DC is trying something a little different with October's Batman Annual #27 and Detective Comics Annual #11.
Here they are using a pair of Annuals to both tell a self-contained story and kick off the Azrael series that begins the following week.
It makes good sense; if you're a Batman fan then chances are you'll pick up the Annuals anyway. If DC is lucky you'll like the story and be tempted to try Azrael #1. I'm still on the fence, but things like this have a way of pulling me in...