A blast from Batman’s past.
Kelley Jones’ rendition of Batman may not be everyone’s cup of tea, what with the exaggerated ears and flat-out ridiculous physique. However, there’s no denying that Jones is one of the most distinctive and influential artists ever to work on the franchise. Who could forget this hulking, brooding take on the Dark Knight or Jones’ vision of an emaciated, vampiric Batman in books like Batman & Dracula: Red Rain? The main selling point with Batman: Kings of Fear is that this miniseries allows Jones to dive back into Gotham City and bring some much-needed ’90s flavor to the Batman line. It’s very much a comic where the visuals trump the story.
Not there’s anything particularly wrong with the plot of Kings of Fear. Writer Scott Peterson crafts a pretty straightforward first issue that deals in a number of Batman tropes, beginning with an early clash between Batman and Joker and a long drive back to Arkham Asylum. Peterson’s take on the Batman/Joker dynamic is solid, if not especially unusual or noteworthy. Peterson’s script here stands out mainly for his knack for writing Joker as both sides of a conversation. As for the many other Bat rogues in this issue, they’re mainly present for visual impact and have little bearing on the story.
It is somewhat disappointing that this issue doesn’t do more to lean into Batman’s self-doubt. One of the goals with this book is to explore Batman’s growing realization that his years of fighting crime haven’t actually made Gotham a better place. That’s always fruitful ground to explore. Unfortunately, most of that process is handled via a shrill, obnoxious Arkham attendant who seems content to yell at Batman while he busies himself battling a massive prison break. With five issues yet remaining, hopefully this series can find a better, more effective angle in which to explore Batman’s current psychological dilemma.
Again, Jones’ artwork is the clear selling point. His work has lost none of its impact over the years. Batman is still a distorted, even grotesque hero who manage to look more imposing than even his villains. The book has atmosphere to spare. Jones frequently makes terrific use of lighting and shadow to boost the impact of his work. The standout sequence in this first issue involves a poorly lit battle between Batman and a group of escaping Arkhamites. In general, Jones; inspired approach to page design helps bring energy to the story and ensure that even the dialogue-driven sequences sparkle.
And while a more minor touch, it’s great to see DC allowing Jones to render Batman in his classic ’90s costume, trunks and all. Apart from the more crisp colors, this series looks like it could easily have been published in 1994. That makes it a welcome blast from the Caped Crusader’s past.