It’s a spooky summer in the DC Universe with the arrival of Knight Terrors, a phantasmagorical delight that reveals the nightmares of our greatest heroes and villains. But even when your own fears are turned against you, one thing remains true: Batman is always prepared. After all, one of Batman’s most persistent villains is all about making your terrors come to life. Batman and the Scarecrow have clashed many times since 1941, but one of their most intense psychological showdowns was in a series you may have missed in 2018—one which showcases the work of a legendary Batman artist in a story which truly takes advantage of his gothic talents. This Weekend Escape, steel your nerves for Batman: Kings of Fear.
Kings of Fear is fairly straightforward, in summary. A notorious super-villain escapes Arkham Asylum, and it’s up to Batman to bring him back. Nothing the Dark Knight hasn’t done a thousand times before. But this time, Batman is being forced to do something he rarely ever likes to do: to make it through the night, he must look inward.
When Batman catches up to an escaped Jonathan Crane, Scarecrow quickly doses him with a potent fear gas. As the city warps around him to take the form of his own greatest fears, Batman must allow Scarecrow to accompany him before returning to Arkham in order to save a hostage the mad villain has hidden away. To what end? So that Scarecrow might have the time to gift his nemesis with a free therapy session. Hurtling over rooftops of a city he fears may be worse for his presence, Batman must race against time and his own psyche to save a life without losing his mind.
Let’s Talk Talent:
Batman: Kings of Fear is very much an art-forward book, and possibly the best showcase we’ve ever seen of the unique approach to Batman and his world crafted and perfected by the inimitable Kelley Jones. As half of a superstar team with writer Doug Moench in the 1990s, Jones’ exaggerated style of deep blacks and long-eared cowls granted Batman a look worthy of the mythic symbol of terror he represented to all Gotham’s enemies of justice. You take one look at Jones’ work and you’ll know there’s nobody else who could have brought the vampire Batman of Red Rain to life. With Kings of Fear framed as a toxin-powered waking nightmare, there’s never been a better excuse for Jones to really cut loose with his style—a challenge to which he admirably rises.
Our story’s author, Scott Peterson, was an editor of Batman comics for twenty years through the ’90s and ’00s, which puts him in an exclusive club of people who have spent a lot of professional time getting inside Batman’s head. All of that experience comes to bear in Kings of Fear as Scarecrow asks Batman the questions about himself we always wanted to know, but may have been afraid to ask. As one of the architects of the unimpeachable Batman Adventures line of tie-in comics to Batman: The Animated Series, you can be certain that Peterson is equipped to understand Batman’s character on a totemic level—exactly the sort of writer you want driving this twisted therapy session.
A Few Reasons to Read:
- An Iconic Clash: Of all the times Batman has matched wits and nerves with the Scarecrow, Kings of Fear is the encounter which truly tests each other’s mettle on a philosophical level. After all, both Scarecrow and Batman have always utilized fear as their greatest weapon. But which of them is its true master?
- Breathtaking Spreads: Kelley Jones’ cover game has always been the pick of the pack, but his rich interiors presenting tableaus of distorted horror truly take you into Batman’s toxic mind as he faces his own greatest fears. The art in every issue is suitable for framing in any haunted manor.
- The Hard Questions: When discussing the philosophical implications of Batman, the same crop of questions always tend to come up. Wouldn’t it be more effective if Batman just used his money to fix Gotham’s infrastructure? Is he ultimately responsible for creating his villains? Is he as mentally unstable as his own enemies? Would Gotham be a safer, better place if he wasn’t there at all? As we learn in Kings of Fear, these are the same questions, the same fears, that Batman has about himself. And only in answering them can Batman overcome the Scarecrow’s inquisition.
- Frighteningly Funny: One of the most overlooked, but essential elements of any horror story is that the genre is a close cousin of comedy. If a horror story isn’t at least a little funny, it’s missing an important ingredient. Even when things are looking their worst for Batman, the psychiatric interplay between ersatz doctor and patient provides a levity throughout the series that keeps you laughing in the dark.
Why It’s Worth Your Time:
The pluralization of the title Batman: Kings of Fear is very much intentional: this isn’t a Batman story or a Scarecrow story, but one which showcases the interplay between them both like no other encounter has before. While both are masters of their craft, it’s only in facing each other that each brings out their most frightening aspects. With the disturbing thrill of Knight Terrors tantalizing our minds each week for the next two months, Batman: Kings of Fear is the perfect companion miniseries to keep yourself in the horror headspace. There is no escape from the nightmare, weekend or otherwise.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.