Kings of Fear #2 picks up where the first issue left off. Right from page one we’re privy to Batman’s psychedelic experience on Scarecrow’s fear gas. During this experience, some of Batman’s anxieties, insecurities and nightmares are exposed to us, and I’m seeing a lot of potential for an in-depth exploration of Batman’s mind. But does the creative team manage to fulfill that potential? Well, let’s have a look.
There are a couple things that I find rather striking about this book. The first thing has to do with something the creative team stated in an interview. They said that this book can pretty much take place anywhere on Batman’s timeline; except, this issue more or less proves that that isn’t entirely true. During Batman’s bad trip in the opening pages, we see visions of both Jason Todd’s death and Bane breaking Batman’s back. So, with those elements in place this story is obviously set after these events, and this story cannot take place during Batman’s earlier days as a crimefighter. Now, this is not necessarily something that affects my judgment of the book, but it does lead me to another point about the psychedelic passage.
Before I get into that, I just want to say that I realize this is only the second issue and that we have four more to go. So there’s still time for Peterson and Jones to further develop the themes of fear and nightmares. However, I find what I am presented with here a little bit disappointing. This is because the visions presented in Batman’s trip are the same standard things that I’ve seen over and over in many other stories that deal with Batman’s psyche. Of course the death of Bruce’s parents is the main traumatic experience that drives him. And showing off Jason Todd’s death and Bane’s back-breaking illustrate moments where Bruce truly failed as Batman and was defeated. But if these are the deepest, darkest, greatest fears that lie at the core of Bruce’s psyche, then what exactly is the point in devoting an entire series to showing that if these exact same fears have already been explored in a number of other stories? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’m against any of this. On the contrary, this is me expressing some concern. I want this book to succeed instead of falling into the trap of ending up being a recap of Batman’s greatest fears rather than an examination of what really drives those fears. What I’m hoping Peterson and Jones will do is take everything they’ve shown in these first two issues a few steps further, and then fully commit to the concept. What I mean by committing to the concept is that I feel like the book is still a little bit split between two ideas, as if it isn’t entirely sure what it wants to be. I’ll explain:
After the psychedelic opening, the book regains a much more grounded feeling where we see Batman doing detective work as well as rounding up a couple goons. And this is actually really fun stuff. We at Batman News have commented on this on many occasions: the detective side of the character has been neglected for a long time, with many creators focusing more on the character’s superheroics. Peterson and Jones, however, manage to juggle both the detective aspect and the superheroics really well. Batman’s adventure seamlessly flows from detective work to running into crooks and beating the crap out of them. Moreover, even though some of these fights against crooks seem random in relation to the plot, in my opinion they do contribute to the theme. In fact, I think they show yet another aspect of the character that has been neglected as of late: the urban legend battling common criminals.
As Batman moves around the city on his way to a specific location to do some detecting, it makes perfect sense for him to make a quick stop to beat the snot out of a few criminals, because this is what Batman does. And it is at this point where I think Peterson and Jones touch on a very interesting concept that hints at a unification of both the theme of Batman’s greatest fear and Batman as the monster that is feared by all criminals. During the trip we see Batman as a helpless man, whereas he’s certainly in full control during his fights with the crooks. He’s one with the shadows; he’s a master urban ninja; he’s an expert martial artist; he has a tactical mind—he’s Batman and he’s amazing.
But even though these parallels and contradictions are interesting to think about, I feel like they still only exist on a surface level. Yes, it is refreshing to see a victorious Batman in the streets of Gotham, and yes, the trippier aspects of the book have a lot of potential. But that potential is not yet realized in my opinion. In other words, while I think the grounded, crime-fighter and detective elements are solid, the psychedelic aspect is still lacking behind, and therefore this book—as of yet—fails to find a balance. It is because of this imbalance that I argue that the narrative is not yet committed to showing us Batman’s greatest fear. And even though there are more issues to come, I think putting more focus on the psychological aspect is desirable if the main idea is to really examine the core of Batman’s fear mechanism.
Moving on to the artwork, I have some mixed feelings about it. There are sections in the book that I really love, such as Batman’s tour through Gotham City where he encounters crooks as he chases after a lead. The alleyways have a claustrophobic vibe to them, and any time criminals go up against Batman, you can really see the hesitation and fear in their eyes versus Batman’s perfect confidence and fearlessness which is reflected in his body language. These are visual qualities that I think Kelley Jones absolutely nails down. Yes, sometimes bodily proportions are off, backgrounds are lacking from time to time, and every now and then it’s somewhat unclear where exactly Batman is or where he is going. But Jones manages to capture the core of what Batman represents to criminals—and many a reader—really well.
But as much as I enjoy those things, I can’t say that the double page spread early on in the book, along with the rest of the psychedelic panels, really wow me. Some readers out there might know that I’m usually a sucker for psychedelic stories, but in this issue I’m missing the psychedelic vibes. I’m just not yet convinced that Batman is truly afraid and no longer in control during his trip, and that specifically is what I’d like to see more of, because then we’re able go deep into Batman’s mind. Right now it just looks like a collage of some of Batman’s most well-known tragedies (such as A Death in the Family and Knightfall) and the most famous members of his Rogues Gallery. But there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen countless times before, and so I don’t think the creative team really managed to add anything new to this particular concept.
- You want to see Batman stalking the streets of Gotham and kicking the crap out of criminals, like in the good old days
- You like watching Batman doing detective work
- You enjoy Kelley Jones’ artwork
Overall: It’s certainly an entertaining comic, and I think the creative team is doing a great job of showing both the crime-fighter and the detective side of the character. The art works well during these sequences, too, and this more classical approach is greatly appreciated in a time where this so-called “deconstruction” approach is being forced onto the character. It’s refreshing to see a version of Batman who knows what he’s doing and who goes about his business with full confidence in his abilities. However, I think there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to exploring Batman’s greatest fears, because right now the creative team isn’t bringing anything new to the table in that regard. But despite this, definitely pick up this comic if you have missed the street-level, more classic take on Batman.