Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Scott Peterson
Artist: Kelley Jones
Colours: Michelle Madsen
Lettering: Rob Leigh
Release Date: 22nd August 2018
There’s been lots of great runs on Batman over the last 30 years or so, but few have been as unique or as definitive as the Moench/Jones/Beatty era.
The trio, known as Da Boyz, emphasised the gothic horror elements of Gotham and its inhabitants to the Nth degree, delivering a nightmarish vision where the hero was every bit as terrifying as his repulsive figure gallery.
Kelley Jones has made periodic returns to Batman over the years, but sadly they’re few and far between, making any appearance of those fabulously long ears a real event… like this. Kings Of Fear in many ways looks like being yet another perfect match for Jones’ immense, singular talents; being a straight-up horror masquerading as a superhero comic.
Writer and former Batman editor Scott Peterson knows exactly what he’s doing here, writing a taut and dynamic scripture that plays directly to his artist’s strengths giving us a hellish take on The Joker, Arkham Asylum and the rest of its inmates.
It’s very much an introductory issue, merely setting the scene for its cliffhanger ending, but man does it do it well. We see Batman dealing with a marauding Joker in an almost perfunctory way, as if he’s done it a hundred times already, his sadistic, random violence merely to be expected and dealt with, just as his incessant, unrepentant yammering in the Batmobile on the way back is par for the course.
Similarly, when Joker immediately escapes within minutes of being returned into the care of the Asylum, this Batman almost goes through the motions of putting him back down. The fact that he’s backed up by Bane, Mr Freeze, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Penguin and Killer Croc makes no difference. They’re going down. It’s a stunning scene, really emphasising who the real terror in Gotham is, with Batman killing the lights before knocking seven shades of hell out of his enemies, culminating with Ivy sparking a match just in time to see the Dark Knight b bearing down on them: “Oh. Oh no.” It’s brilliantly atmospheric stuff and exactly what you want to see from a Kelley Jones Batman comic.
They’re some luridly-styled takes on the rogue’s gallery, as you’d expect, their most demonic aspects brought beautifully to the fore as usual by an artist who makes that his speciality, but he brings an even more kinetic approach to action than we’ve seen before from him that’s refreshing to see. One page alone has 24 close up panels of Batman’s fists, feet and fingers connecting in the most painful ways with the faces, bodies and eyeballs of Joker’s hired thugs, giving an almost Shaw Brothers feel to the violence, while despatching a lengthy mass brawl in the shortest (and most amusing) of ways. It’s smart too, as right from the off it’s emphasising just how mundane and repetitive this kind of thing is for Batman.
It’s only at the end where The Scarecrow aka the real villain appears, (Jones’ finest and most disturbing rendition yet, by the way) and judging from the solicitations, what this mini is really about properly kicks in, but the foundations have already been set in this first issue. Batman has being doing his dance with these maniacs for years, but has he made any difference at all? Deep down, what’s his greatest fears? It looks like we’re about to find out and you’d be insane yourself if you aren’t along for the ride. Essential.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy