This is a tough one to judge because it’s without a doubt one of the most important villain books you can buy, but it’s not exactly a well put-together comic in my eyes. It’s a real mixed bag of a tale that perhaps tries to do and say too much in too few pages.
Scarecrow #1 isn’t about Jonathan Crane’s origin, heck it’s not even really about him. It’s about Gotham. This is an Arkham War prologue through-and-through and Scarecrow is just giving us a tour of what’s to come. What’s coming? No Man’s Land minus Batman… “No Batman’s Land.” Writer Peter J. Tomasi digs deep into the goings-on of Forever Evil here, folks. We’re in the worst of it, far beyond what we’ve seen in most of the other Villains Month titles. The sun has been blotted out by Ultraman, the city is in ruin, Penguin is somehow the mayor (and no it’s not touched on in Penguin #1), and territory has been divided up between the rogues just like it was after the earthquake only now there are no good guys getting in the way. Throughout these pages we follow Scarecrow as he says hello to his neighbors and explains in detail where the battle lines are drawn. I’m sure it’ll all be explained again when Arkham War #1 comes out, but this issue is definitely going to give you a leg-up.
All of the voices of these characters are captured really well (except for Mr. Freeze who says “meh.” and “heh.” in this comic) and it makes me excited to see what Tomasi brings to the table next month. He’s mostly been writing all new villains throughout his run on Batman and Robin but he’s definitely proving that he excels at writing for the classic baddies. Riddler and Mr. Freeze’s moments with Scarecrow were probably my favorite of the comic. However, the character moment that affected me negatively was one that actually involved Scarecrow, but since it doesn’t come until the end I’ll place that in spoiler tags.
On the final pages we see Scarecrow using only one arm to hold another grown man over a ledge and then finally dropping the man to his death. This is wrong. Scarecrow should never be portrayed as being strong enough to do this. Gripping a man by the necktie and dangling him off a roof? That’s a Batman pose, not a Scarecrow one. Scarecrow is a wimp. That’s why he was called Scarecrow, he’s scrawny as hell. Had the creators just shown Scarecrow walking to the ledge and then pushing the other man off, that would’ve been fine. But actually raising up 200+ pounds with one hand? That’s not what this character is capable of.
Also, I felt that the murder of that man was quite unnecessary. I get that it drives the point home that Scarecrow is evil, but it seems like he should really try and get as many henchmen as he can what with war brewing. And it’s not like the audience ever started to care about the guy who was killed. Notice how I don’t even remember his name and just keep calling him “that man” or “that guy.” I was never attached to that character so his death was met with a shrug. But take today’s Penguin #1? There I actually started to have reason to care for the man who was killed and I actually was stunned by his death– and the kicker is that he was in fewer pages than Scarecrow’s henchman AND I still remember the name of Penguin’s victim.
Now what’s really going to ruin the enjoyment of this comic for some is that it’s very, very wordy. This isn’t like a Geoff Johns book that you’ll finish in just a couple of minutes. There are big speech bubbles full of pertinent information crowding every panel. This will be tedious for some but others will love that they finally spent $3-4 bucks on a comic that takes longer than trip to the toilet to read from cover to cover. Hell, you’re probably going to need to read it twice because there’s so much exposition regarding what Bane is doing, where the Owls are, who owns what, who is neutral, and who is siding with Blackgate, etc. etc. It can be overwhelming if you’re not ready for it. Most of these Villains Month comics have been throw-away entertainment but when Professor Tomasi teaches class he slaps a ruler on his desk and says that everything will be on the exam.
The biggest negative overall for the comic is definitely Szymon Kudranski’s artwork. I have a love/hate relationship with the work of Kudranski and colorist John Kalisz. Their illustrations live and die by the script. With Penguin: Pain & Prejudice, they were perfect. That was a psychological story (for the most part) that needed a dark atmosphere and intensely emotional panels and these two artists can absolutely create an atmosphere that’s distinctive from any other team in comics. Their use of shadows is amazing and Kudranski is awesome at closeups. But when it comes to action? Backgrounds? Female characters? Things get a little ugly. My list of grievances include:
- Riddler’s colors are wrong. He is shown with a purple mask when in Riddler #1 he had a green mask– is he going to wear a purple mask in Arkham War?
- Nygma is called “Nigma” — this isn’t the art team’s fault, but it bugs me and I needed a place to complain about this. I thought we were done going back and forth on how to spell Riddler’s name
- During his introduction scene, Riddler’s hand looks deformed
- Look at the candles on that same page. Why are they all paper thin? Every candle on that page is flat
- It’s okay for Poison Ivy to look like Charlize Theron in “2 Days in the Valley,” but it’s not okay for Poison Ivy to look like Charlize Theron in “Monster.” This is the fugliest Poison Ivy I’ve ever seen
- During the brief action scene at the end of the book, there isn’t a good sense of movement. Everything is very static or it’s difficult to even make out what is happening due to the lack of light and detail. SpoilerI had to flip back because I didn’t even notice the manhole cover popping up on the previous page. There should be better use of motion lines rather than this odd, grey-flame outline around the cover
- Scarecrow’s clothes don’t look baggy, he just looks big. He looks like a big or average sized guy. I don’t get the sense that this is a skinny Jonathan Crane
- The tour of the city is visually boring when almost every setting regresses to a background of flat color
- Scarecrow describes Ivy Town as smelling delightful and stresses how many flowers are there, but Kudranski doesn’t draw any flowers. There’s a fire, a crashed train, and what I assume is a colorless shrub
- The final page. SpoilerIt’s a cool idea, but it doesn’t look good. What’s with the gigantic rope strapping giant decorations to the skyscrapers?
Of course, it’s not all bad but the things that are bad I found very annoying. The opening page is great. I loved the visual of having the camera pull out of the screaming man’s mouth and then reverting to the reflection in Scarecrow’s eye. And when Riddler and Scarecrow’s discussion was only lit by a few candles? That’s the perfect setup for Kudranski and Kalisz. That was a very moody scene that had terrific atmosphere but in the end I feel like the cons outweighed the pros when it came to this comic’s illustrations.
- You plan to read Arkham War. This issue is essentially a prologue
- You want to see a bunch of villains, not just Scarecrow
- You like Szymon Kudranski’s artwork
- You enjoyed No Man’s Land
- You’re cool with a wordy comic
There seem to be as many good moments as there were bad. If some of the visuals were more well-defined then it would have definitely been a much better comic, but in the grand scheme of things Scarecrow #1 is still must-reading for those interested in picking up the Arkham War mini-series.