Batman: Kings of Fear #3 review

Welcome back to another episode of Kings of Fear. Last time we saw Scarecrow pushing Batman off a roof, and this month we pick up right where we left off. While the plot so far has had psychedelic elements, it is in this issue that Peterson and Jones add fuel to the fire. What’s real? What’s hallucination? And, last but not least, do I recommend this comic? Well, ladies, gentlemen, citizens of Gotham—let’s have a look.

So, I think I’m starting to see a pattern. While I still have some points of critique, it’s really nice to see that the creative team has such a good grasp on Batman’s character. Not only does the comic feature a Batman who is physically powerful, a strategist, a detective, and someone who’s devoted his life to justice, as we’ve seen in the first two issues of this miniseries, but this month another layer of the character is highlighted. Before I get into specifics, I want to say upfront that I truly appreciate the way that Peterson writes the Caped Crusader. And, of course, none of these facets of the character are necessarily new, but they are definitely core character traits that we, perhaps, don’t get to see enough of in recent runs. To see that the creative team behind Kings of Fear manages to nail these things in just three issues really is a treat.

This issue in particular highlights Batman’s endless drive to protect the innocent people of Gotham City. We see him watching over a couple and their son as they walk down the street. In my opinion, Batman’s most important mission is to make sure that what happened to him won’t happen to anyone else. While in most recent mainstream Batman comics we see our hero going toe to toe with New Gods, interdimensional demons and preventing Gotham from getting wiped from the face of the earth, it’s nice that this book takes a grounded, street-level approach, thereby bringing Batman back to his roots. Another scene that beautifully illustrates this aspect is when Batman finds a lone, little girl outside. Where Batman brutally punishes criminals in the previous two issues, we see a whole different side of him here. Batman stays with the girl, who isn’t afraid of him, and he is kind, caring and concerned. While Batman these days tends to come across as a kind of self-centered grumpy old dad to his sons, I personally have always preferred this softer take. Batman can smile, Batman can be nice, Batman doesn’t always retreat to mope in the shadows. This comic shows that.

What’s more, the scene with the little girl also serves a more plot-orientated purpose. Throughout the series, Scarecrow has been mentally challenging Batman. He has been dosing Batman with fear gas multiple times. While I’ve certainly enjoyed these psychedelic elements of the comic so far, I think that this is dialed up a notch when Scarecrow implies that Batman’s encounter with the girl was but a hallucination. At this point Batman begins to doubt whether or not it was. Now the lines between reality and dreams are blurred, and it’s up to Batman to overcome this mental struggle and defeat the Scarecrow. However, at this stage, it truly seems that Scarecrow has the upper hand. Of course, let’s be real, we all know that Batman will win in the end, but how? That’s where it gets interesting, because I feel like we’re about to dive deep into psychological warfare.

But as much as I dig these developments, I can’t ignore a few things that bugged me. My biggest complaint has to do with Batman and Scarecrow standing on a rooftop. Scarecrow insists that he wants to observe Batman in his natural habitat. Batman then sees the family walking down the street, and he goes off to watch over them, while Scarecrow remains on the rooftop. While Batman does later on lock up Scarecrow, I really don’t get why Batman didn’t just knock the villain out right then and there. It’s been stated throughout the series multiple times that Batman is everyone’s physical superior. In my opinion, Batman should’ve knocked out Scarecrow and taken him into custody. But at the same time I understand that this might also kill the plot, because the story could end there with Scarecrow’s defeat and Batman’s victory. My point is that I think the creative team should’ve found a different way to handle this scene, which would not have me question Batman’s actions—even if he is under the influence of fear gas.

Another (minor) complaint is when Batman and Scarecrow are standing on a roof, but have to go to the batmobile. In the one panel, they are still on the roof. In the next, they are beside the car and Scarecrow literally says, “Well that was fast and legitimately cool.” I don’t necessarily have a problem with that line in and of itself, but I do think that it does not at all fit the tone of the story, and that’s why I find it very jarring. But more importantly, what was so cool about how they got to the car? How did they get to the car? This is such a weird transition that just does not work for me, and I’m not entirely sure why/how this made the final cut.

Moving on to the artwork, I get why some people wouldn’t enjoy it. I have my issues with it as well. But this time the art really works for me. For example, the opening scene is very dynamic, and it’s sequential. The way it’s rendered also reminds me of the way action scenes were set up in Batman: The Animated Series, what with Batman and Scarecrow swinging through Gotham on the grappling hook and smashing through a window. I think it’s the coloring, the shadows and the overall vibe that I get from the art that remind of me the cartoon. One problem that I have with the scene, however, is that there’s a continuity error. On page 4, Batman and Scarecrow are plunging into the depths, and Batman reached out with his right hand to grasp Scarecrow by his shirt. In the next panel, Batman is grasping Scarecrow with his left hand while casting out a grappling hook with his right. On page 5, we see a panel where Batman is grasping Scarecrow with his right hand again, while holding onto his rope with his left hand. If you pay attention to this, it gets really confusing.

But besides this, and the iconic distorted bodily proportions that are always a part of Jones’s artwork, I think the visuals are awesome. There is a lot of Gothic architectural imagery in the background; screaming faces and grinning gargoyles—all images that represent struggle, horror and madness. Befitting of this theme, both Batman and Scarecrow are rendered as unhinged figures, and when put side by side, they both look like scary villains. In Scarecrow’s case this is obvious, but in Batman’s case it’s interesting to see that, with Jones’s heavy use of shadows, Batman looks like a monster, what with his animalistic poses and dark features. It’s a visual reminder of the questions asked earlier in the series: to what extent is Batman really a force for good? To what extent is Batman breaking the law? Is Batman truly a hero?

Recommended if:

  • You are into psychedelic horror stories
  • Scarecrow is your favorite Batman villain
  • You like Gothic imagery that reflects the struggle and horror of the plot

Overall: I really enjoyed this issue. We see nice Gothic imagery that adds to the horror elements; the lines between reality and hallucinations are blurred and thereby the stakes have been raised; and we get to see Batman’s more caring, soft side when he finds a little girl all by herself in the streets. To all Batman fans: by all means, pick up this issue. Even if you dislike the artwork, I’m sure you’ll find plenty to enjoy in the writing. Recommended!

Score: 7.5/10