Gotham’s children are going missing and Scarecrow is the one to blame. In Gregg Hurwitz and David Finch’s Batman: The Dark Knight: Cycle of Violence Batman must confront his own worst fears in order to bring down a more gruesome interpretation of Jonathan Crane who drips blood from stitched-together lips and wields a new fear toxin formula.
The previous volume of Batman: The Dark Knight is a fine example of production upstaging story. David Finch both wrote and illustrated those chapters and he basically fit the story around whatever he would have the most fun drawing. In that book we saw almost the entire rogues gallery, the Justice League, a busty playboy bunny, a hulked-out Two-Face, and Deathstroke even chopped the batwing in half! The over-the-top imagery was fun to look at but the story was absolute nonsense so when it was announced that David Finch would stick to art duties alone and the the writer of the dark and deeply psychological (at least until the final chapter) Penguin: Pain & Prejudice would be taking the reins I was ecstatic.
However, what new author Gregg Hurwitz brings to the series in Cycle of Violence is overlong and follows the formula of his Penguin: Pain & Prejudice a bit too closely. It is, again, a very intimate story that mostly takes place within a single set piece that’s broken up by frequent flashbacks of childhood trauma that detail the origin of our villain, but then there is a giant blockbuster of a climax that comes totally out of left field.
The grittier tone will please some, as will the emphasis on gore, but I think longtime Batman fans will grow bored with this one because it doesn’t present anything all that fresh to the Batman vs. Scarecrow dynamic. As always there’s a new toxin and we get to see Batman’s hallucinations which always involve falling down the well or seeing the pearls tumble into the street as his parents are gunned down before him. It’s very “been there, done that” and what few elements are new I actually view as somewhat of a negative. These aspects would be the disturbing sewing-up of Jonathan Crane’s lips. It’s indeed creepy but seeing him drooling blood throughout the entire comic is a bit much and it’s not a look I’d want to see Scarecrow stick with much like how I don’t want to see Joker forever remain faceless. Let’s keep the “doesn’t that get infected?” look to Two-Face, shall we? The other negative would be the very origin of Scarecrow which is really the heart of this entire collection. I found the new backstory only pushed the question of Scarecrow’s fascination with fear back a generation. Here we see that his father was also obsessed with fear and testing people’s phobias in horrifyingly extreme manner and it was the constant abuse from numerous experiments on him that made Jonathan repeat the cycle (“The Cycle of Violence”). But now we have to ask, what the heck was up with Crane’s crazy father? How did HE get like that? Are we to believe that the cycle keeps going back and grandfather Crane was obsessed with scaring people too? How did the first Crane grow to love analyzing terrors?
But it’s not all bad. The atmosphere is relentlessly creepy and tense, there is a nice subplot with Bruce and his son Damian, the action scenes (except for the big climax) really hit hard and are well-drawn, and Bruce also finds a new love interest who you may or may not like (if you don’t then you’ll find yourself skimming over those scenes). I will say that she’s one of the only girls he’s dated so far in the New 52 to actually show some signs of a personality, that’s for sure.
Unfortunately, while the story has improved under Gregg Hurwitz the artwork is still the main attraction by a wide margin both in Cycle of Violence and the accompanying Zero Month special that closes this collection. You’ll quickly notice that things aren’t quite as clean this time around. It’s as if the style of inking has changed and the book has a sketchier, grittier look that better fits the unsettling atmosphere of the tale. Scarecrow’s new look will certainly be divisive, but Batman himself looks great, and Finch made terrific use of shadows throughout this story.
Besides Scarecrow’s origin and the overall Cycle of Violence story seen in issues #10-15, this book also collects the special #0 issue that dealt with a young Bruce Wayne confronting Joe Chill. It’s a nice idea, but it’s really poorly executed. I’ll explain in spoiler tags what upset me about that chapter.
Bruce, as a child goes back to the alley where his parents were shot. There’s no explanation as to how he got there and to me I would think that Bruce would be under constant guard after the death of his parents and he’d not get to sneak away to that spot again. When he’s there he finds a homeless man who claims to know who killed his parents, but he refuses to tell and attacks Bruce. There’s no followup of Alfred asking Bruce where he’s been or how he got the bruises, and Bruce never tells the police or Alfred that there’s an eye witness to his parent’s murder. That really bugged me! He kept is to himself for years! I know you could explain it away as, he’s just a scared kid OR that he wants to handle this personally, but that doesn’t sit well with me at all. I think his desire for some kind of justice and need for the bad guy to not vanish from the city would outweigh any of that.
And at the end of the story when Bruce finally tracks down Joe Chill and confronts him, he just lets him go. Sure, he could pity Joe Chill and the horrible conditions he’s living in, but that’s not enough. I, as a reader, should not want to see the Wayne’s avenged MORE than Batman does. Chill should’ve gone to jail. Who knows how many other people he’s hurt besides the Waynes!
5 pages of David Finch’s pencils from issue #10 without commentary.
Value: Sale Price
The quality has increased dramatically from the first volume but it’s still not enough to make it worth full price in my opinion. Wait for it get marked down quite a bit because I don’t think this is something you’ll come back to for repeat reading.
It’s the same-old-same-old Batman vs. Scarecrow story, but with much more blood and childhood trauma than usual. This is a gorier Batman book that’s not recommended for younger readers, but if you’re looking for something creepy and violent then you’ll certainly be impressed by David Finch’s lively and grotesque imagery.