In Review: Batman: Kings of Fear #4

This is a book that every Batman fan should read.

The cover: The “Enemy of the People!” has struck terror in the hearts of the citizens of Gotham who have taken to the streets to flee the gigantic monster’s wrath. No, it’s not Godzilla. It’s a giant sized Batman that’s raging through the city, raising its fists high to smash buildings and people. I like the lightning striking behind the former hero and the Batsignal hitting him on the chest is also a nice touch. Having the man in the foreground pointing and screaming at the reader calls back to classic Jack Kirby covers. Great work by Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen. Overall grade: A

The story: This is the strongest issue yet of this miniseries from writer Scott Peterson. I have to stand and applaud the title of this story, which I’ll do without spoiling. There’s no action for the title character as his portion of the story deals with his answers to questions from the Scarecrow. The book begins with the villain asking the hero about his childhood. There’s no text on the next two pages, but images of Batman falling into the Batcave, playing with his father, and watching his parents get shot communicate to the reader his nightmarish origin. Scarecrow then asks his reluctant patient to remember the first time they met. A frightening image appears but stops as soon as it begins with the hero saying, “No.” How the Scarecrow has been able to create his fear gas is addressed and it’s clever. The story then moves to James Gordon who’s combing the city, busting down doors and taking names to find out who knows where the Scarecrow is. It’s nice to see Gordon getting some action as he’s often stuck on the sidelines watching the Dark Knight leap into action. What really made these Gordon pages neat was the inclusion of what the citizens of Gotham think when the Batsignal is lit. WOW! This was intense to read, with the guilty and the innocent having practically the same reaction. I’ve not seen this before in a Batman book and it impressed me. When the story returns to Batman and the Scarecrow, Batman reveals how he sees himself, what motivates him, and who he loves. His answers surprised me. The ending is a terrific cliffhanger. This finally got into Batman’s soul and it was a riveting read. Overall grade: A+

The art: Kelley Jones is one of my favorite Batman artists and he’s absolutely crushing the visuals on this book. The first page opens with the hero on a sofa with his face in pain from fear gas. Jones pulls back to show the Scarecrow comically sitting in a plush chair, pad and pencil in hands, taking notes on his client. The two pages that follow are textless full-paged splashes showing the origin of the Dark Knight. I was extremely grateful that there was no text given; his origin has been told and stated so often as to become a tired parody. By allowing the visuals to tell it, the reader can place their words into this tale. The fourth panel on Page 4 is exceptional, with it being beautifully neutered by the close-up in the panel that follows it. The object that’s the focus in Page 7 is fantastic, as is the text that accompanies it. The close-up at the bottom of Page 9 is killer — that is one powerful expression on that individual’s face. The transformation at the end of 11 is initially humorous, but is key to showing how Batman would like to be, even if he would never admit this to others. 12 is another textless page, requiring Kelley to tell the story to the reader with his illustrations and it’s great. The last two panels on 16 are fantastic — this is Batman laid open to the villain and the reader and it’s unquestionably powerful imagery that summarizes this character’s existence. WOW! I laughed out loud at the second panel on Page 18, shook my head in agreement at the third panel, and was, wonderfully, taken aback by the fourth panel. This was a fantastic job by the visuals to manipulate the reader’s response. I love this book’s art. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Michelle Madsen also excels on the visuals. The colors are off in the profile introduction of Batman and they immediately tell the reader that all is not well with our hero. Using a blood red for the color of the couch the Dark Knight is on heightens the sinister tone of the situation. I love the use of eerie greens for the space where young Bruce Wayne is shown falling. The colors become a warm orange as he remembers his father, but turn dark when Joe Chill’s face is shown. The yellows and oranges in that fourth panel on Page 4 are fantastic. The change of colors in the last two panels on 11 is brilliant. I love how those new colors return to their more familiar hues, shown changing in the third panel on 12. My favorite colored panels are on 16, with the reds in the third panel and the greens and orange in the fourth staggering with their impact. The red highlights in the third panel on 20 are a really close second place. The clean, bright colors on the final page are a neat change after all that’s gone before. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Dialogue, the story’s title, the book’s credits, a sound repeated three times, and the tease for next issue are created by Rob Leigh. This is a text heavy book and Leigh is able to place his dialogue so it never overpowers a panel nor covers any important element of the art. There’s only one sound in the book, there could have been more, but this noise needed to be seen by the reader to stress the action’s importance. The opening title and credits are epic, reminding me of a 1930’s crime novel. The tease for next issue is done in a font that nicely mimics the frantic nature of the villain. Though his work is good, there’s not much opportunity for Leigh to do anything stunning in this issue. Overall grade: A

The final line: The journey into what drives the Batman is a beautiful and sad telling. The story finally gets into the Dark Knight’s soul and answers some important questions. James Gordon gets some neat action sequences and the citizens and criminals get some space to react to an iconic item. The visuals are exceptional in this issue, with them showing a lot of humor and a lot of horrors, including personal failings. If you haven’t read the first three issues, you could pick this up and not be lost. Seriously, this is a book that every Batman fan should read. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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