Graphic Novel Reviews: Batman – The Dark Knight 012

The Story

Scarecrow experiments on Batman, revealing another take on the murder of Bruce’s parents, with more of a focus on the topic of fear. Scarecrow’s own backstory is revealed, showing his growth from a damaged child to a psychotic adult. With the exception of another visit from Scarecrow’s morality pet, the majority of the issue is fear hallucinations, or backstory.

The Review
I liked the parallel this issue draws between Batman and the Scarecrow. I’ve been thinking for a bit that as far as foils go, Scarecrow makes perhaps more sense than the Joker. That’s not to say I don’t like the Batman and Joker dynamic, but there’s a certain logic to Scarecrow being Batman’s foil.

Both character deal with fear, Batman uses fear to fight crime, while Scarecrow studies it clinically. As Scarecrow says, “Because I’ve mastered fear…and you still run from it.” They both play in each other’s ballpark, and I think there’s a lot of potential material here. The issue delves into the concept of fear, but it doesn’t really go far enough I think. Here we have two character, both of which use fear as a motif, and yet we don’t get much more than a backstory for both of them. One which we have heard many, many, many times, and the other which is so generic and rote that it feels more like a cop-out than anything else.
I think the drive is to show Scarecrow as a sympathetic character. Generally the abusive parent past is used to excuse the present actions of villains and anti-heroes. Add on the presence of a possible morality pet in the little girl, and you can find several clues as to where this story is going.

The self mutilation, sewing his lips together, adds to this interpretation. Scarecrow is presented as a broken, feeble character, at war with himself and his own obsessions. The sewing together of the lips symbolizes the depth to which this obsession with fear is rooted in his character. Take for example Cillian Murphy’s rendition of the Scarecrow. For the majority of the movie he is Doctor Jonathan Crane, Scarecrow is just the mask, and it is easily removed. By sewing his lips together in this issue, Crane is making his own body a part of the costume. He’s not Jonathan Crane, he’s the Scarecrow, mind and body. It’s a fun bit of symbolism, if a bit on the nose.

Even though I like his characterization in this version, I have to say that Scarecrow isn’t used effectively. He uses Batman as a guinea pig for his experiment, but his “experiment” doesn’t extend beyond spraying Batman with his fear toxin. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe we’ve seen this before. And even the fear hallucinations are nothing to write home about. We know Bruce’s backstory. Why do we need to see it again? If you play the “I lost my parents” card every time Scarecrow shows up, then Scarecrow will soon be going the way of the Riddler, and nothing you do will bring him back.

And while I understand that the focus on young Bruce being scared is supposed to show his growth into what he became, I can’t possibly be the only one to think that this version of Bruce is a pussy. In Batman Begins, Bruce being scared during the opera made sense. It was intense, and the effects were reminding him of his trauma with the bats. Here…Bruce is just scared. No specific reason, he’s just a wuss. What makes it worse is that this rendition is faithful to the true origin story. Bruce and his parents didn’t go to an opera with freaky bat effects. They were watching Zorro. ZORRO!!! How could anyone, even the most timid of young children, be scared of that movie!?

The characterization of Thomas Wayne, which admittedly has been all over the place these past several decades, didn’t work for me. I can’t remember what the official version of his character is, but I have to say I prefer the Batman Begins version. In the movie Thomas was a kind father, someone whose death was regretable. With this version he’s kind of a jerk, and while any child would mourn the death of their father, as a reader I’m not really seeing the tragedy of his murder. He really wasn’t sympathetic in the little bit we got of him here. And unless I feel the character deserves my sorrow, I’m not going to freely give it.

Where the fear toxin induced hallucinations do work, sort of, are when the story switches from the past to the present. I like the idea of exploring what fears Bruce has besides his past. But the execution of this scene doesn’t quite work. For one, Scarecrow doesn’t know what Batman is seeing. So how come he’s telling Batman what he’s seeing? While it is stated that Scarecrow controls what you see, such as either the past or the present, he doesn’t know what you’re seeing. So even though he knows Batman is facing his past, Scarecrow can’t see that past. So how does he know what Batman is seeing during the present?

Not only that, but I don’t buy the idea that Batman is afraid of Gotham without him. This may just be Scarecrow’s interpretation, but I don’t buy that. While my opinion may be colored by the movies, I was under the impression that Gotham without Batman was Bruce’s dream. This nitpick is more based on my ignorance of a large chunk of Batman lore, so if anyone has a clarification of this for me I’d be most appreciative if you explained why, or why not, this fear makes sense.

And while I know that Scarecrow is insane, it takes a special kind of stupid to think that the guy who sewed his lips closed would qualify for government funding.

The Grade
Artwise the book looks nice, and while I do like the parallel between young Bruce and Young Jonathan, there were just too many nits to pick in this issue. I give Batman – The Dark Knight Issue 012


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