Bless those Sweet, Elongated Ears – Art Elevates Story
Every muscle and sinew relaxes into a fleshy heap as the hero crashes into the comfort of his bed. With weary eyelids drooping, doubt subtly latches onto his psyche and spreads with virulent intensity. Although his body has been pushed beyond the point of exhaustion, the hero’s mind seeks the necessary vindication for the contentious and oftentimes brutal strategies he has implemented over the years. Tightening its grasp on the hero’s thoughts, doubt opens the floodgates for fear to drown his confidence. Tossing and turning in restless frustration, this direct examination of his modus operandi leads to the pointed question, “Am I making things worse?”
“What are you Afraid of?”
Fear has been inextricably linked to The Dark Knight and certain members of his Rogues Galley since the first utterance of the phrase, “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot.” As a result, many creative teams have sought to thematically explore the concept of fear as it relates to Batman. With Batman: Kings of Fear #1, Scott Peterson and Kelley Jones seek to spin their own twist on this theme through careful examination of fear’s relationship with doubt and insecurity. Additionally, the creative team promises to explore what makes the Caped Crusader tick as he must confront his greatest fear. These themes are instantly solidified through the use Joker’s opening dialogue, “What are you afraid of?”
Batman: Kings of Fear #1 deftly sets the stage for an existential examination of the titular character. Scott Peterson and Kelley Jones find a near perfect balance of dialogue and action as Batman thwarts the Joker’s warehouse robbery plans. As the Joker goads Batman into attacking him and his henchmen, Jones’ panel work and images perfectly add a frenetic feeling to the situation in a manner that positively evokes the shaky camera work present in many modern blockbusters.
However, as insanely stylistic as the action sequences are within this comic, it is a combination of Peterson’s dialogue between The Joker and Batman and Jones’ stylistic depictions of these characters which truly make the issue stand out. Jones’ pencil work in combination with the darker colors and shading adeptly convey Batman’s sense of introspective brooding and insecurity without the need for exposition. Similarly, Jones’ portrayal of the Joker in these darker scenes convey the character’s menace as his dialogue playfully incites doubt and insecurity within The Dark Knight on their path back to Arkham Asylum.
Peterson and Jones continue to prey on this doubt and insecurity as one of the Aslyum’s doctors intensely questions the viability and effectiveness of Batman’s methods on Arkham’s inmates. It is during this sequence that the art truly shines as Jones’ pencil work truly stands out when Batman defeats an asylum riot filled with his most dangerous enemies. Jones’ art truly benefits from darker colors and shading as his stylistic figures pose even more threatening imagery from the shadows. Ultimately, Jones’ art expertly conveys that Batman is a King of Fear within the issue. Despite the fact that Batman views his methods as necessary, and often effective, the doctor continues to chide Batman over his tactics until The Dark Knight must leave to rescue a prisoner and apprehend the Scarecrow.
“…What Was the Point of All That?
Unfortunately, after nearly 80 years, a great deal of this narrative almost feels as though the audience has been there and done that. Much of the opening to this issue is reminiscent of the Batman video game, Arkham Asylum. Essentially, Batman apprehends the Joker and is ambushed in the Asylum. That is not to say that the narrative is bad, it is actually quite enjoyable, only that elements feel overly familiar. To their credit, Peterson and Jones do their best to make these scenes their own by adding dialogue that derides the titular character while also inspiring doubt and insecurity. Ultimately, this plot point sometimes feels rehashed, as Batman’s violent methods are often questioned by those within the circle of trust. Peterson and Jones make an excellent storytelling choice in the pages with the Joker by allowing Jones’ art to convey Batman’s emotion without exposition. This allows the issue to feel timeless by not tying this level of brooding to any events in current books. Certainly all of the events in this issue will play a part in furthering the effects of Scarecrow’s fear toxin now that Batman has been doused with the chemicals. However, it is unfortunate that some of the connections between these events are not clear by the end of the issue.
Ultimately, Jones’ art elevates the narrative within Batman: Kings of Fear #1. The stylistic figures when combined with dark coloring and shading add to the creepiness factor of Batman’s scare tactics and the menace hidden within Joker’s twisted smile. Additionally, Jones’ panel work provides the necessary energy for propelling action sequences and dialogue forward even when some thematic points feel rehashed. The promise of learning Peterson and Jones’ interpretation of Batman’s greatest fear, as well as the art, are perfect reasons for readers to check out this series. Additionally, this book is easier to enjoy due to the fact that this story is not tied to any current continuity, so readers don’t need to be acquainted with any backstory.