Man, Batman's only been around 26 years? Seems longer.
Batman Annual #26: What we have here is a warm-up book, designed to get the reader ready for bigger, related stuff down the road. Sometimes it seems a lot of superhero books do this constantly on a grand scale, but this one’s more specific - it serves to give the reader a quick refresher on the highlights of Ra's al Ghul's origin, since the villain will soon be headlining a two-month Bat-crossover. It's not so much a prologue as the stuff some other author might tell you about in the Forward, but I suppose it wraps itself into an Annual neatly enough.
I suspect it’ll work better the more you already know about the villain; jumping around events and highlights in the character's history, writer Peter Milligan (in straightforward superhero mode) doesn't manage to convey much of the tragic sweep it’s apparently poised to suggest, although enough facts get out to keep things comprehensible. These exploits are being recounted to dear lil' heir Damian by mother Talia, at the behest of the White Ghost, a director of the Demon who has a nasty plan in mind. Meanwhile, Batman wanders around the Australian outback investigating some disappearances, and amusingly fails to grasp much of the larger plot swirling around. David Lopez and Alvaro Lopez provide efficient art. Nothing much is resolved. Hey: crossover coming.
There are some fun details, though. Milligan characterizes the White Ghost as a sort of ultimate Ra's al Ghul fanboy, so determined to carry on his hero’s story that he’s possibly moving into the realm of fanfiction. Combine that with Damian’s near-total disinterest in old grandpa stories -- a life-saving instinct, it turns out -- and you’ve got a strangely conflicted subtext at work. It doesn’t make this more than OKAY, but it adds needed spice to the summary.