When I read a Batman story that features The Scarecrow there are two common plot lines the story usually follows. First, is the psychological journey where Batman is often forced to defeat enemies of his own making. In some way Crane will succeed in drugging Batman. As The Dark Knight lapses in and out of the surreal landscape that Scarecrow’s drugs have crafted, he is forced to deal with real or imagined threats that often take the form of horror archetypes or Freudian nightmares. The second plot line is that story in which Batman is forced to stop Scarecrow from inflicting a pharmacological disaster on some populace, usually the long-suffering people of Gotham City. (I’m sure many of you have pondered this before but what kind of lunatic would live in Gotham City?) This issue of Batman combines elements of both types of plots. This hybrid style is interesting and mostly successful though I’ll address some of the problems with the writing later in the review.
The book follows a night in the life of Batman as he traverses Gotham City on his routine patrol. In the first twist of the book, we find that Scarecrow has taken a hostage and forced The Dark Knight to let him accompany him on his patrol. He does this so that he might analyze Batman and his mental state. To Scarecrow’s surprise, Batman is not constantly obsessed with his infamous rogues gallery. Instead, Crane is shocked to find that Batman spends much of his night patrolling the city and caring for the common folk; protecting them from danger or anonymous criminal elements as the situation warrants. He is a “gratis babysitter” in the words of Johnathan Crane. Throughout the night, Crane continues his observations, trying to pinpoint what drives Batman. Additionally, Crane hopes to diagnose Batman’s psychosis by spending time with him. True to form, Batman manages to plan for Scarecrow’s eventual betrayal and the ever faithful Alfred Pennyworth is there to assist should the need arise. As the night draws to a close, Batman finds a little girl walking alone and approaches her, hoping to ease her fears and take her to safety. As the two talk, the little girl asks Batman a most poignant question which leaves him stunned, “Do you break the law?” As Batman chews on this question Scarecrow springs his inevitable betrayal and the issue ends with Batman in peril.
As the book progresses you are never quite certain if Batman is under the influence of Scarecrow’s fear toxin though he has been dosed in a previous issue. Batman, himself, isn’t certain. For most of the book, Batman is in no real danger, but is instead in an extended psychoanalysis session minus the couch. I wanted to enjoy this twist. However, for some reason I never could quite put my finger on, it never felt right to me. Scarecrow’s tone when dealing with Batman and the lack of menace in his words took something undefinable away from the story. Additionally, the artwork itself seemed odd and “off”. Often the proportions of Batman’s features seem stretched or contorted in grotesque or even comical ways. Some supporting characters take on a stylized anime appearance while others are almost devoid of detail in a minimalist approach. Going from panel to panel it appeared that two or more artists were drawing each panel as characters would have different appearances with the art style changing multiple times; sometimes on the same page. Meanwhile, the backgrounds seem to have a completely different style with Gotham resembling a setting one might find in a Hellboy book. The colors also seem to be “off” with odd choices used for shading and contrast; neon green used to highlight a dark blue cape as an example when there is no green light source on or off panel.
On my first reading of the book, I was convinced that I did not care for it. As I stated previously I had some quibbling issues with the writing and I had major problems with the artwork. On my second and third readings of the book, I found myself wondering if the “problems” I was having were deliberate choices by the creators that reflect the insidious and unknown influence of fear toxin on Batman and by extension, on the reader. If this is indeed the case then it is genius and my opinion of the book would therefore by drastically different. Ironically, I still can not make up mind which of those two opinions is true. Because of this I feel I have to go with my gut feeling. I don’t feel this book lives up to the standards I have for DC and Batman and that is reflected in the rating below.
Writing 3 of 5 Stars
Pencils 1 of 5 Stars
Ink – 4 of 5 Stars
Color 1 0f 5 Stars
Writing and Art – Scott Peterson, Kelley Jones
Color – Michelle Madsen