(W) Scott Peterson (I) Kelley Jones (C) Michelle Madsen
Batman asks a crucial question of the Joker in this inaugural issue —
Does there really need to be more?
I found myself asking the same question as I initially approached this new mini-series from DC Comics. Do we really need another Batman right now? I was still exhausted by the recent Batman #50 debacle and wondering if DC was really aware of how many in their audience feel about the character lately. Batman tends to sludge around and bring up the same existential crises in a never ending cycle every few years now. Gone are the days of Batman simply kicking ass. I don’t sound very much like a fan, I guess, but I promise that I am. I’m one of the good guys, and despite all that’s going against Batman: Kings of Fear in the current comics climate, I see it as a smashing success. This book doesn’t seem to want to retread that well worn philosophical territory too much. Scott Peterson (Batgirl) and Kelley Jones (Detective Comics, Sandman) present a Batman tale that feels like a fun romp through the rogues gallery, with a nod to the bombastic Bat-plots of old. It’s not quite a breath of fresh air, but it’s a solid and much appreciated return to a form that works.
Kelley Jones’ Batman is a unique blend of Lewis Wilson‘s goofy-yet-somehow-creepy proto-portrayal and Jim Lee’s severely ripped uber-human. Jones clearly embraces the campy grimaces with a sense of humor. The action feels effortless, as does the panel flow and pacing. Most enticing is Jones’ Joker — the deep lines and detailing in the brow and mouth stir up something uncomfortable in my gut that reminds me of real danger. Dr. Crane’s brief appearance is a tease of the rich insanity to come. The other villains who appear feel quick and dirty in a good way; together Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen give us true pulp from a bygone age of comic books. This book is visual candy — colorful and saccharine and sticky with potential. Snappy dialogue from Peterson completes the gritty picture in a way that always seems to pay deference to the strength of the artwork. A wise choice, I think.
It feels like this book would have been the most successful in the 1980’s, when we first began asking the tough questions about the Caped Crusader. How does Batman inform the psychosis of his adversaries, and vice versa? What are the ethics of vigilante justice? Batman’s psychological relationships with his villains is ground that’s been covered time and again for the last thirty years, though I’m willing to see where #2 takes us based almost solely on the strength of the art team and the vague promise of an exciting narrative. Peterson has the opportunity to break new ground here. The chance to tell a compelling Scarecrow tale is rare, and Peterson has a loaded weapon in Kelley Jones’ uncanny ability to highlight the details in our darkest nightmares. There’s room to go wild with such a cool concept, so judging by the next few covers we’re in for a hell of a time. Long live the kings.