It’s John Layman’s final issue of Detective Comics and the conclusion of the “Gothtopia” saga. Scarecrow concocted a “Contentment Serum” that made everyone in Gotham so happy it was as if they were living in a utopia. Why did he do this? Because the level of fear you get from an individual who knows only serenity is so pure that it can be used to make an even more potent fear toxin and Scarecrow loves making fear toxin almost as much as the Caped Crusader loves making antidote! Of course, the problem is that Batman has woken up from Scarecrow’s spell and is ready to pummel Dr. Crane and his band of doctorate-level villains into submission. That is if The Dark Knight can survive an onslaught from his own brain-washed allies first.
Although the fight with the extended-Bat-family was teased in last month’s cliffhanger, Layman begins issue #29 like he has so many others– out of sequence. The non-linear storytelling begins 4 hours after the fight where we see that Batman has apparently lost and is now wearing an all-new batsuit tailor-made by the Scarecrow himself… which is pretty weird. Umm… I don’t really see the point of Scarecrow doing this to Batman. At all. For one, it doesn’t change Batman’s look a whole lot other than some rope around the wrists, waist, and neck, and there are stitch-lines criss-crossing the material (I’m guessing Layman expected the artist to craft something much more unique looking than what we got). Secondly, doesn’t this mean that Scarecrow now knows who Batman is and wouldn’t that be something worth talking about? It’s an all-new cowl that Batman is wearing and surely Scarecrow would recognize Bruce Wayne. Right? Then again, by the end of the comic we see Batman is actually wearing his original suit as if the Scarecrow-suit was all an illusion… I don’t know! It’s a really dumb idea that added nothing to the comic and left me shaking my head.
Anyway, we do get a flashback to the fight, which isn’t all that exciting. Artist Aaron Lopresti gives us one panel of everyone jumping at each other and then another where Batman is awkwardly swinging his arm in front of an unseen foe and then the fight is over. It’s one of the most boring and poorly executed fight scenes I’ve seen in a while, but we’re only touching upon it briefly as Scarecrow informs the other doctors exactly how Batman lost and was placed under his control. Once that’s settled we jump back even further and are subjected to a great deal of exposition summing up what has happened over the past 2 issues, which is horribly tedious for anyone who has actually read those issues. I really, really wish DC would give these books a forward that sums up what happened in the earlier chapters of an arc. Sure, we’d lose a page of actual content, but at least we wouldn’t have a narrator who repeats himself every 20 pages or less when the book finally goes to TPB.
Once we’re back in the current timeline and all previous issues have been summarized, we can see Batman’s plan to bring down the Scarecrow play out as he accompanies the likes of Merry Maker (one of Layman’s own creations) and Professor Pyg (who, again, isn’t characterized properly– he’s very bland here and not his appropriately unhinged, self-medicating self) who set out to conduct Scarecrow’s various experiments. There are some fun fear-hallucination sequences here and there, but the pace hastens faster and faster so we can reach a conclusion and Scarecrow’s city-wide takeover wraps up in the blink of an eye.
Layman ends his run with a nice send-off that sums up the Batman’s never-ending battle nicely, but I wish it was the finishing touch of a more satisfying story. The artwork on this one was lackluster, there was no real sense of urgency, and it felt like we started out with a really grand idea that gradually got smaller until we ended up going through the motions of a typical Scarecrow story. You can read my complaints about how little sense the overall “Gothtopia” plot makes in the review of Detective Comics #28.
Batman makes a lot of choices in this issue that I found questionable.
- The Poison Ivy of the New 52 kills. I don’t think Batman would just give her a pass and allow her to go free after helping him on this one case
- Batman takes a little too much pride in scarring some career criminals for life when he aids Pyg and MerryMaker on Scarecrow’s experiments. It’s one thing for him to happily put the fear of God into them when they’re actually on the streets and doing wrong, but it felt wrong to see him march around with the bad guys and torment one after another. I’m pretty sure the world’s greatest detective could’ve beaten the bad guys and found out what Scarecrow was up to without resorting to to a night of torture alongside his enemies. I mean, the machine Scarecrow is using is on the property and as big as that giant Arc Reactor from the start/end of “Iron Man” AND it’s glowing green for crying out loud.
- Batman is okay with administering Arkham’s inmates with Scarecrow’s contentment serum? Batman should want to see these individuals get proper treatment and ultimately reform. He shouldn’t want them to just be sedated 24/7. Otherwise, why doesn’t he just freeze them all like the Talons?
- You’ve been a fan of John Layman’s run and want to see his final issue
- Scarecrow is your favorite villain
- You want to see how “Gothtopia” ends
There are a few nice moments (particularly the final pages with Batman and Catwoman), but I wasn’t all that impressed with the conclusion to “Gothtopia.” It’s an okay issue and I think readers who just want a quick arc with lots of cameos will be entertained, but for a story that has Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, and others conquering Gotham it certainly wraps up way too easily and has the Dark Knight making some rather questionable choices.