If you have been buying and reading comics in the last five or six years, you would be well-aware that there is an excessive amount of Batman books coming out and is quickly becoming very worrisome of how dependent DC is of their Caped Crusader. Sure, Batman is guaranteed to sell and gain the media’s attention, but it also shows that the company is not showing a lot of confident in their wide selection of IP's and that they don’t have a sustainable plan to withstand the darkest hour of the industry as a whole.
Be that as it may, another consequence of having so many Batman books flooding the market is that potential readers are not aware of which of those comics are worth investing their time and money. An excess of merchandise by the same brand can lead to some good stories being lost in the mix and that approach is counterproductive.
Let’s take this 2018-2019 miniseries, Kings of Fear, written by Scott Peterson and drawn by Kelley Jones: it flew under the radar while it was published and it has not gained any major hindsight from critics in the last couple of months, which is a shame given that this book provides us with some very fascinating insight on Batman as a character and delivers a conclusion that is actually quite refreshing for those of us that perhaps are not very thrilled with the direction the character over the last few years.
What is Kings of Fear?
The story begins with Batman doing his usual patrolling and beating the Joker to send him once again to Arkham. There he has to handle a riot where he faces many of his most iconic criminals and captures them all. He is criticized later on by a doctor who claims that he is responsible for their conditions and that his approach only makes things worse.
By the time that he goes back to his Batmobile, Scarecrow shows up and uses his drugs to unbalance Batman and to submit him to a therapy session of sorts where he assesses Bruce’s method of crime-fighting. This makes Bruce question his motivation and leaves him wondering if he has done more harm than good throughout the years.
How was it?
Image by DC Comics
I’m a huge Batman fan, but I have to say that one aspect that I haven’t enjoyed about his character, since the New 52 reboot back in 2011, is the fact that writers seem hell bent on assessing Bruce’s motivations and character to undermine him as nothing more than the cause of Gotham’s problems and suffering, basically stating that he creates his own villains and that his years fighting crime have basically been pointless, with writers like Tom King taking this approach to the extreme by completely misunderstanding the character (but that’s a subject for another article).
Kings of Fear tackles this subject head on and the Scarecrow, using his knowledge as a doctor, his super-villain motif and genuine scientific curiosity, is the perfect medium to allow us to look at Bruce’s assessment of his own crusade, which is something that I’m very happy with–Batman has a tremendous rogues gallery and characters like the Scarecrow deserve their time to shine.
This miniseries seems to head in the direction that I mentioned before, showing Bruce having regrets of his life choices and even hallucinating with the possible (and denied) futures of his villains if they had been handled in a different way. This is not only reinforced by our hero’s main insecurities, but also because of the fact that in this particular story, which happens in just one night, he is completely ran to the ground and mentally exhausted, becoming the perfect target for Scarecrow’s manipulations. Add the doctor and the Joker’s comments at the beginning of the miniseries and even you may begin to wonder if Batman was actually useful to Gotham.
What sets Scott Peterson apart from the rest of the current Batman writers (with a notorious exception being Peter J. Tomasi and his exceptional Detective Comics run) is the fact that he acknowledges these criticisms of Bruce’s war on crime, but he also offers us the chance of viewing the other side of the coin, as if this were a debate of sorts. This results in great scenes like Batman helping a little girl and her showing that his motivation is to prevent kids from going through what he went through, that his villains don’t keep coming back because he creates them or prompts them but rather that they are just insane and a scene with a professional in Arkham that tells him that his husband actually did time in jail and never committed another crime again because he was still terrified of the Batman, becoming a family man and a honest worker.
You also get Gordon’s take on the matter, which seemed like a callback to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, in my view, and, most importantly, Alfred’s take, which to me defines the whole argument: that Batman might not be the most pleasant solution, but is one that has given a lot of possibilities and help to Gotham as a whole, often hidden beneath Bruce’s obsession to do more and never-ending quest to push himself even further.
This is what I find the most appealing about Kings of Fear: it tackles a topic that has been discussed for years among comic book fans and it delivers an answer that is actually counter-cultural in these modern times, showing Batman as a force that has provided good to the city that he has sworn to protect. All through the Scarecrow’s classic psychedelic lens.
What about the art?
Image by DC Comics
Kelley Jones’ art is weird, creative and even unconventional in some panels, but I think it truly fits the story’s mood and narrative, especially during the Scarecrow’s hallucinations, providing the kind of psychedelic vibe that it should have. It gives Crane the kind of dark and sinister design that a character of his ilk should have, which is something that I find very appealing in that regard.
On the other hand, Batman is a bit of a mixed bag when you consider the exaggerated muscularity and the way some of his limbs move in a few scenes, but overall I think is a good job. I personally find some of his most shocking expressions are a nice callback to the Neal Adams days of the character (not saying that they were based on that, but it reminds me of that period).
What it represents?
Image by DC Comics
In a market that is filled with Batman titles, Kings of Fear is short and yet entertaining book that also offers a major insight into the Dark Knight’s motivation and place as a hero. It’s a refreshing take on a matter that has been done to death for the last couple of years and it’s delivered in a professional and entertaining way, without trying to stretch the character way beyond his mold.
We would like to know your thoughts. Have you read this series or any other Batman series recently? How do you feel about how the character has been handled in recent years? Feel free to leave a comment below, and share this post with your friends on social media.