This is it! Fear State starts here! When this event was announced, none of us knew that it would be James Tynion’s final story on Batman, but, as fate would have it, that is our reality. If anything, the fact that this is Tynion’s swan song has only increased interest in Fear State. So, how is this debut issue? Well, that really depends on if you’ve been reading all of the Bat-books or not.
I’m known for being brutally honest, right? Well, if you’ve been reading the various Batman books, then there is no reason for you to pick up Batman: Fear State Alpha. This book is nothing more than a prologue or recap of what we already know – most likely for the people who haven’t been reading the Bat-books. But seriously, if you’ve been reading Batman, Catwoman, and the various adventures of Jace Fox, then there’s no real reason to pick up this issue unless you want to the introduction to Anti-Oracle. I’m using the word “introduction” lightly though.
Now, if you haven’t been reading the Bat-books, then I absolutely recommend that you go pick up this issue! There have been so many different plot threads in the books listed above, and they’re all converging here. This issue sets up everything you need to know for Fear State, and sometimes manages to even execute it/ cover it better than it did in the original titles. Though I will warn you, even if this is technically written better from a dialogue standpoint, and even if the motivations are better explained here, this is a slog to read. Why? Well, it’s an oversized issue with no action.
This is a comic book and all it features are people talking. Thankfully, the book is beautifully illustrated by Ricardo Federici. I think this issue is a waste of his talent, but it still looks incredible.
The first scene in the book showcases Simon Saint’s recruitment of Scarecrow. This is one of my favorite scenes in the issue because we finally get to learn the motivations behind both men, and why they choose to embark on their individual missions leading up to Fear State. This is easily the best that each of these characters have been written, and the fact that all of this is tied to a theory Crane had that’s tied to the psychology of society and its desperation for safety and protection is quite interesting. In fact, this may be one of the best set-ups for Scarecrow that’s ever been written. Yes, I said it.
What I find interesting here – and I’ve commented on this before – is that there are no fear toxins or hallucinogens at play here. Instead, Saint and Crane are building on the general fear that’s pre-existing from City of Bane and Joker War. Rather than turn to chemical influences, they’re just going to play into fear-mongering to try and manipulate personal success for both of them.
There are additional scenes featuring news reports to showcase public opinion – not only of the state of the city, but also of the Magistrate, the Unsanity Collective, and Batman. Sean Mahoney is praised by the media as a hero and new, legal champion for Gotham. These scenes are draped around Mahoney’s descent into madness after being dosed with a lethal amount of fear toxin – which will undoubtedly make him go crazy and run rampant on Gotham. None of this is really new or interesting, but these pages probably provide the best commentary on society’s view of Gotham since Tynion took over.
There’s also a quick page or two to remind readers of the political relationship between Renee Montoya – who is currently the commissioner of the GCPD – and Mayor Nakano. Montoya opposes the use and backing of the Magistrate, but Nakano is looking to save his reputation in any way possible. We also get a brief look at Jace, who will undoubtedly play a role in Fear State, and will most likely be Batman following the event when Bruce leaves the city… Because, you know… That’s what everybody is asking for. It’s not like fans have pushed against this for more than a year…
Anyway, the only “new” aspects that really come into play here are the introduction of Anti-Oracle and Queen Ivy.
With the state of the city, Oracle reaches out to the Bat-family for their support and uses the Magistrates “back door” to take over the city’s airwaves to warn citizens of the coming doom, but also invoke some peace by reminding them that their heroes are on it. Unfortunately, her feed is hacked, and a damning message is sent by Anti-Oracle instead, claiming that Batman is dead and that nobody should trust any of the “Bats.” Look, it is what it is. I understand the reason for this plot thread, but I hate the idea of Anti-Oracle. This is going to be DC’s third attempt at creating an evil Oracle since Rebirth, and none of them have worked.
As for Queen Ivy, we get our first real glimpse of her as Harley, Ghost Maker, and Gardner takes Miracle Molly and the Unsanity Collective to safety. There’s really not much here in the way of story, but I do find the idea that when Poison Ivy creates different versions of herself, those versions take different aspects of her personality. It kind of reminds me of what Gail Simone did with Pamela in the Batgirl Annual from the New 52, where the seasons alter Ivy’s state of mind. I wouldn’t consider this a groundbreaking story, but it will definitely be an interesting element.
There’s not much in the way of featuring Catwoman in the issue, but we know that the big conflict will take place in Alleytown. As I stated earlier, this issue is nothing more than a prologue for new readers, and a reminder of what’s taking place for those who have been tuning in monthly. You’ll have to decide whether the book is worth your time and money based on that.
If I can make one final argument that works in this book’s favor, it’s worth picking up for Ricardo Federici’s art alone! The man is an incredible artist, and I’m so happy to see him on a Bat book… That being said, I wish he had more to do. If you compare his work on The Last God where he’s drawing epic battles, dragons, etc, this just doesn’t live up to that. And that isn’t a knock on his work here, it’s just that every single page of this book is just people talking. He makes it work – I’d hate to see this issue with a lesser artist – but he deserves much better.
- You’re interested in Fear State but haven’t been reading the Bat-books.
- Ricardo Federici
Considering this is an oversized issue with no action and just multiple scenes of characters talking, I can’t recommend this with the highest of praise – especially if you’ve been keeping up with the Bat-books. Now, if you haven’t been reading the Bat-books, then this is the perfect issue to prepare you for what’s to come! You also get the pleasure of some of Tynion’s best execution concerning dialogue, and incredible art by the talented Ricardo Federici – even if they are kind of wasting his talent here.