Batman: Kings of Fear #4 review

This series has been great so far. In a time where this so-called “deconstruction” approach seems to be the way to go in DC land, especially when it concerns Batman titles, it is refreshing to see a creative team come in and actually manage to pull this off successfully. So what makes this particular issue of Kings of Fear so good? Well, let’s have a look!

This “deconstruction” approach is not something that I’m fundamentally against. However, I think that creators do run the risk of reducing their character to an uninteresting, needlessly gloomy figure that I—as a reader—am not particularly willing to follow issue after issue. Especially not if said character doesn’t really seem to get out of his “deconstruction” misery. I don’t need my heroes to behave like spoiled kids that don’t get what they want. I need my heroes to keep fighting, even if their lives are going downhill. Enter Scott Peterson and Kelley Jones.

These gentlemen are crafting a fine tale. Instead of taking the aforementioned approach of “deconstruction” that I tend to dislike, the creators have opted to take a more psychedelic approach. And that word is important. “Psychedelic.” It means that we take a look inside Bruce’s mind and see his worries and insecurities and fears made visible by hallucinations. Instead of stripping Bruce of everything he holds dear and making him uncharacteristically angry, we have a psychedelic compound that is coursing through Bruce’s veins. In this comic, Bruce isn’t scared or insecure because he is truly doubting his own abilities as a superhero. On the contrary, Bruce only seems to momentarily believe he is scared and insecure because this is what Scarecrow’s fear gas does. And Bruce knows this, so he fights back. The entire battle with Scarecrow isn’t physical. Instead, it takes place in the mind, which is perhaps the most dangerous battleground that we can imagine. What if Batman loses? This is a literal fight against insanity, and so far it seems that Scarecrow has the upper hand. It will be exciting to see how Batman will manage to defeat him at the end of the series.

More specifically, this issue first and foremost shows how Batman sees himself. Rather than relying on an extensive narration to convey this, Peterson remains silent and gives Jones all the room he needs to show us how Batman sees himself. As such, Jones first presents us with an image of Batman in a suit that resembles Superman’s. He still has his own cowl and cape, but his suit is light-blue and he has a big B on his chest instead of an S. However, in the next panel guns appear and they fire at him, and we see Batman falling to the ground, bleeding. This sequence can be interpreted in various ways, depending on how you look at it. It could, for example, mean that Batman truly does see himself as a hero, but at the same time he knows that without superpowers he is vulnerable, and his fight against crime is an uphill battle because of this. Here, it is presented as an almost defeatist outlook on his life, as if he’s failing as a superhero. But if we take this approach to interpreting the scene we must never forget that he is tripping on Scarecrow’s fear gas, so it makes perfect sense for him to hallucinate such a bitter outcome. That is the point of the fear gas and, in my opinion, the point of this issue. Batman needs to be deconstructed by the fear gas so that Peterson and Jones can build him back up and have him beat Scarecrow at his own game.

The B-plot involves Gordon trying to find out where Scarecrow is. Peterson and Jones write and draw him as a true badass. We see Gordon going up against a group of thugs and he overpowers them fairly easily with punches and kicks, until he’s facing off against his last opponent. Both of them have drawn their guns and are aiming at each other at point-blank range. How exactly this encounter ends, you will have to see for yourself, but I do want to raise a point. I wonder to what extent Gordon should be capable of beating this group of thugs this easily. If it was Batman who was doing it, I would not have questioned the scene, of course, but in this case Gordon suddenly has martial arts skills that go beyond just throwing a good punch. The fight almost seems to be effortless for Gordon. He even grabs one of the thugs by the collar and demands that this thug tells him where Scarecrow is, and in this particular panel he looks so much like Batman—in the way that he is intimidating this thug—that I’m just not sure if this is the right way to portray Gordon. But, despite all of this, it is still a great scene and if we forget about these complaints it is actually fun to see the commissioner be a total badass for a moment.

With regards to the artwork, I think that Kelley Jones is doing a great job here. Yes, his renditions of bodily proportions are still off every so often, and yes, Batman still has his long ears. But it’s clear that the man is having a blast drawing this story. His Scarecrow truly looks scary, with a menacing face and glowing eyes. Jones emphasizes this by making Scarecrow tower over Batman in certain panels. Jones also effectively conveys how much Batman is struggling with the compound in his body as Batman hallucinates walls closing in on him, or when Batman hallucinates a past lover and her face morphs into Scarecrow’s. While the more straight-forward action with Gordon is fun to see unfold, I think it’s definitely the hallucination sequences in this issue where Jones shines, because he is pouring a lot of his imagination into those sections, what with backgrounds constantly changing: from the faces of all the people Batman has not been able to save to jacuzzis and even an image of Gotham City without a Batman.

Recommended if…

  • You are into psychedelic horror comics
  • You want to see Gordon being a total badass
  • You want to see this “deconstruction” stuff done right

Overall: A great issue of a great series. We venture deep into Batman’s psyche, and rather than spelling out everything in captions, Peterson fully trusts Jones to illustrate Batman’s hallucinations and tell the story that way, and Jones is doing a great job. Especially in a time where other Batman titles fail to successfully “deconstruct” our hero, it is a real treat to see it done right in this book. Recommended to all Batman fans!

Score: 8/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.