“Crown of Fear” is a done-in-one comic that’s devoted to wrapping up a storyline that’s been featured in the background of Detective Comics since April. It’s a Man-Bat feature that’s loaded with enough exposition and editor’s notes that a new reader could conceivably jump on, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It would simply be too much homework for a newcomer. No, this is a comic for the folks who already know and care about the Man-Bat subplot that began with the 900th issue spectacular and continued on through the backup stories by John Layman and Andy Clarke over the past 9 months worth of comics. But after a period of time that would be sufficient for the full gestation of a human fetus, does issue #26 actually pay-off all that build up in a satisfying way? Not really.

What we have here is best described as “mildly entertaining.” Several pages are lost to recap of what happened in the better part of a year’s worth of back-up stories and then we rush along to a conclusion as quickly as possible. There are some pleasant scenes expounding on Batman’s detective skills and even a few moments that show off the latest bat-gadgets, but while it’s all “mildly entertaining” there is a prevailing sense that we’re just going through the motions with this finale. In the end it’s a decidedly average Man-Bat story, and if you haven’t read one of those in a long time then by all means pick this one up, but I found myself growing disinterested in the final pages. I had hoped that writer John Layman was building up to something bigger and better with the subplot involving Kirk Langstrom’s New 52 origin and a deceptive wife who has turned herself into the “She-Bat,” but instead it’s all tied up neatly in a single issue that really lacked passion. It felt as though the creators realized that they didn’t have as much to say about these characters as they originally thought.

And I must say that it actually left me feeling grateful that we are finished with back-up stories in these comics (though still upset that readers must continue to pay $1 more). Originally I believed that Layman’s approach to the backup was a superior one that allowed him to plant the seeds for future storylines while the current plot continued to play out unimpeded, but if 9 months of back-ups only leads to a single issue that’s mostly made up of predictable action and a recap of the 9 back-up stories we’ve already seen? Well, that’s just not very rewarding. Especially when you consider that we’re not even getting the same visual presentation we’ve grown accustomed to.

While artist Aaron Lopresti does a decent job (although not as impressive as his work on Catwoman #25) with the material it’s not quite to the same level of grotesque horror we saw from the likes of Jason Fabok or Andy Clarke, who drew most of the Man-Bat storyline. His monsters simply aren’t scary enough for me. That nitpick aside, it’s an overall average looking comic that could have really used more emphasis on atmosphere. The backgrounds are really lacking in many scenes, which were often made up of a single color, had panels angled toward the floor so a greater background wasn’t required, or made up of the boring lines of a rock wall. Lopresti’s work on Catwoman blew me away, but this was merely passable and that could be due to the fact that he was working on both projects at the same time and this is the one that received less attention. That’s entirely conjecture on my part.

As for my opinions on the final pages of this book, I’ll place those in spoiler tags:

Spoiler

Like many of you, I’ve known about “Catbird” for some time because I saw the solicited covers for the month of January and, as always, I looked at the cover and synopsis of Ann Nocenti’s Catwoman because… I don’t know, I guess I just like to test to see how angry I can get. Anyway, I don’t really know what to make of it. “Gothtopia” will be John Layman’s final Detective Comics arc and it won’t begin until next month so I don’t really know how to feel about “Catbird” because I don’t know how it relates to what’s going on in the story. “Catbird” certainly looks stupid, but that doesn’t mean it won’t all be for a perfectly good reason once that story finally unfolds.

Recommended If…

  • You have followed every Man-Bat backup story since issue #19
  • Man-Bat is your #1 villain
  • It’s been a while since you’ve seen Batman doing some detective work
  • You’re just looking for a quick done-in-one story and don’t mind paying an extra buck for the pleasure (there’s no 8-page backup, yet it costs a buck more. And yes, I think we should all hold these $3.99 books to a higher standard if all that extra dollar gets us is a glossier cover)

Overall

It’s just okay. Unless you were heavily invested in those Man-Bat backups over the past few months, this comic can be skipped.

SCORE: 6/10