Batman: Kings of Fear #4 preview

Is the fourth issue of Batman: Kings of Fear out this week? You bet it is. Am I excited? You bet I am.

One of the things Kelley and I really tried to do with this series was make sure each issue built from beginning to end and that each issue built upon the previous issue, ramping up the tension...but not necessarily in an expected way.

I know some readers were a bit confused with where the story was going initially, and that was very much by design. We're hoping they've stuck around to see it become quite clear this issue—or as clear as things can be when one is under the influence of the Scarecrow's fear gas, that is.


Ooh, cliffhanger! What's going to happen next? What's going to happen next?!

I have to admit, that first page always cracks me up. If others like it even half as much as I do, I'll be pleased.

to fear or not to fear

So the reviews for Batman: Kings of Fear #3 have been pretty great, by and large. (Although there have been a few pans of each of the issues so far, something which delights one Kelley Jones no end, especially since the pans and the raves both say more or less the same thing.)

But the scene that's been called out more than any other—possibly than all the others combined—is the scene with the little girl.

I had already sent Kelley the first draft of the script, which had the beginning, the ending and the middle...but I had deliberately left the script several pages short, as I did all the scripts in the series, so Kelley could say where he thought we could expand a scene, or perhaps add a scene.

I was pacing around the backyard in San Diego talking about this issue. "It's fine," Kelley assured me. "I really like it."

I wasn't sure. I thought it was missing something. He accused me of never being satisfied with my work, which isn't untrue. He then pointed out that when it came to stories, my focus was often on the structure, making things were air-tight, that everything had been properly set up, and anything set up had been properly paid off, all of which was, again, true. Whereas he tended to care about the moments, that handful of bits that you immediately thought of when you recalled a story.

We got to talking about someone out on the street at night, late, who sees the Batman and maybe the Dark Knight doesn't even see them, much less interact with them; it's somewhere between nothing and virtually nothing to the Batman and yet to that other person it's a life-changing moment. Like those two drunken idiots fighting after closing time who stop what they're doing, frozen, terrified, merely by the Batman's presence.
I have the feeling Kelley said something about how terrifying the Batman is, how he can't help but be, because he's so physically imposing but, just as vital, he's so powerful on an emotional and (if you do actually interact with him) an intellectual level as well. Obviously, his costume has a tremendous amount to do with that, and intentionally so, but so does...well, basically everything about him, from his towering size to his ominous bearing to his generally threatening aura; as I said, pretty much everything about him. And we talked about despite the fact that the Batman had cultivated all that for years, how sometimes he perhaps has to deliberately try to turn it off, and how hard that might be for him, especially on this one night of all nights.

I said, "I gotta go" and hung up and ran inside and about half an hour later I sent Kelley the script for this scene and he said, "yeah, that's pretty much what I meant."


jacked

So yesterday I was (gently) chided by Kelley Jones for exercising too much creativity and not being traditional enough.

Allow me to explain. Kelley and I were talking about household duties, as we so often do, both being stay-at-home dads. And we were talking about how we were both overdue for the annual pumpkin carving, and exchanged some basic pumpkin-carving tips. I mentioned that I try to bounce back and forth between (poorly carved) scary jack o' lanterns and (poorly carved) funny jack o' lanterns.

Kelley averred that jack o' lantern faces should consist of triangle shapes, and that to go too far afield from the basic design was to lose the essential jackness o' lantern.

The guy who took this character:


and turned it into this:


thought I wasn't hewing closely enough to tradition.

I took it under advisement. Then I grabbed a pumpkin, closed my eyes, and allowed my id to take over.

I feel it might be expressing some sort of opinion on the matter.


(Also, I realize this is a bit on the nose but, hey, I've never done one like this before, and Kings of Fear did just come out last week.)


upshot

It's a magical thing, being a writer–especially a writer of comic books. Because you get to think up these incredible scenarios, these impossible situations, and then someone goes and draws them.

For example. I wrote a page where the Batman stalks through the streets of Gotham, as he's trying to find the Scarecrow. He's already been dosed by the Scarecrow's fear gas and he knows his body well enough to know it's had some effect, but he can't tell how much it's had. As he walks, he's talking to Commissioner Gordon, and without even noticing—or, not overly consciously, as he subconsciously notices pretty much everything at all times—he stops a fight between drunken idiots outside a bar...just by walking by. He doesn't say anything to them, he certainly doesn't do anything to them, he doesn't even look at them. He just walks by and they freeze.

Here's what the first three panels look like:


And here's my script for the final panel:
Not sure how you want to shoot this. I see the dark knight walking right towards us and we see the former pugilists in the background, but maybe you want to reverse that? Anyhoo, it’s clear that even with the Batman gone and still ignoring (while not ignoring) them, all the fight’s gone right the hell out of them. Are they shaking hands? Are they shrugging at each other? Are they simply walking away from each other, in opposite directions? Who, other than the artist, can possibly say?
So that's what I wrote. And here's what I got:


Come on. That upshot through a sewer grate, the shadow showing us what the reversed letters reveal (Kelley's subtle reference to Plato's Cave, without question), underscoring the importance of Gotham to the Dark Knight in general and this story in particular, the upshot accentuating the Batman's inherently heroic stature, the location of the camera emphasizing the nature of the city.

Yeah, I get paid to write this stuff and have the brilliant Kelley Jones turn it into that. 

Batman: Kings of Fear #3 reviews

You want reviews? We got reviews:

Scott Peterson delivers an amazing script here, as we really delve into Bruce’s psyche.
***
Batman and Scarecrow bounce around Gotham City together. The former is a block, powerful and reassuring, while the latter is a collection of diagonal limbs, creating chaos and action. Together they make for a fascinating contrast and deliver plenty of memorable panels. After a couple of issues featuring overly familiar Batman plotting, this one dials up the fun as the central duo take on an odd couple dynamic. The result is some genuinely funny moments all touched with a bit of madness.
***
[W]hile following Batman, Scarecrow realizes how his rival is as bizarre as the villains he fights. This is a great issue to show off Scarecrow for the outstanding villain he is. Batman is putty in his hands the entire time.
***
O.K. I get it now, Scott Peterson… I salute you. 
In my previous reviews for this series I mentioned that I wasn’t sure where this story was going. Yes, as a means of showcasing the incredible art of the incomparable Kelley Jones it was succeeding admirably, but what was it actually about? Batman and Scarecrow have tussled countless times over the years and, until this issue, little of it has been outstanding. Previous writers have tried to have the two main protagonists battle it out as masters of fear, with Batman – obviously – always coming out on top. When this series was announced and the title revealed, I was honestly expecting more of the same.
Yes, I was wrong. I’m happy about that.
We sometimes forget that Jonathan Crane was once a psychiatrist and psychologist, so this issue was a revelation. The story was funny, shocking, surprising and pretty darned great. The dialogue between Batman and Scarecrow was terrific throughout. Honestly, I can’t believe nobody thought of this sooner! Kudos to Mr. Peterson, once again.
***
Scott Peterson and Kelley Jones’ “Evaluation” is both humorous and frightening when it comes to the current state of the Batman and what his crusade for Justice actually entails. While this continues to be a tale of Scarecrow trying to crack the ultimate fear code of the Dark Knight’s, Part Three of this series leaves the reader to figure out not what frightens Batman, but what drives him to protect Gotham.
Scarecrow makes a deal with the Dark Avenger: he will provide information about his hostage if he is able to give Batman the ultimate psyche evaluation. Personally, I’ve never seen Crane’s Scarecrow as funny as Peterson pens him to be in this issue alone. Even if it isn’t meant to make me laugh, Scarecrow’s surprised demeanor brings up an important point about why Batman IS Batman. Bruce isn’t just going out night after night fighting the major players in his classic rogues gallery like Joker or Two-Face. Some nights Bats just patrols star lit rooftops to assure that families get back to their house safely as they cross dim lit alleyways, something that is very familiar to this vigilante. Some nights being the Batman is as simple as making sure the city is calm, even if a colorful villain isn’t causing chaos. Peterson gave an eye opening look into Batman, both his crusade and his current problematic psyche, which always makes for a solid story when involving the God of Fear.
***
Scott Peterson’s script is smart and well-crafted and makes for an exciting reading experience. Scarecrow has thus far had the upper-hand on Batman and it appears as though there is no end in sight for his manipulation as he continues his examination. At points throughout the issue, Scarecrow points out the triviality of Batman’s nightly routine and pokes fun, calling him a Pro Bono Bodyguard and a Babysitter.
Kelley Jones continues to produce unique, stylized artwork that realizes the nightmare that is Gotham City after dark and personifies the fear that surrounds both the Dark Knight and his villains. 
 

Batman: Kings of Fear #3 preview

Halloween is rapidly on its way so what better time for a horrific Batman tale featuring the Scarecrow?


I was thrilled when the pencils to these pages came in from Kelley, as they feature the kind of pure action, almost Frank Milleresque storytelling at which Kelley is so good and which he doesn't seem to get called upon to do as often as would be ideal. Those tall thin panels—so so so good!

Batman: Kings of Fear #2 preview

The preview for the second issue of Batman: Kings of Fear just hit, which is fine way to start one's day. (Unless you're the Batman.)

I was pretty pleased with that transition from Scarecrow's fear gas-induced hallucination to reality when I wrote it, but I didn't expect it to come out quite as great as did—you'd think by now I'd know better than to ever doubt the great Kelley Jones. And Michelle Madsen's colors are beyond gorgeous—the painterly backgrounds are just superb.

Batman: Kings of Fear #2 will be in stores on September 26, 2018.

Batman: Kings of Fear #5 cover

I will never get tired of watching a piece of art as it progresses. How it goes from this:


to this:


to this:

to this:


still blows my mind, even after all these years.

It's always amazing. But, of course, it's even better when it's by artists as spectacular as Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen.

Cataclysm: "A Bird with a Hand"

This article reminded me of one of my favorite Batman stories I ever worked on. It was from the Cataclysm storyline—an earthquake has hit Gotham and the city is in utter chaos.

The original idea for the story was Chris Renauld's—at the time a newish penciller, now the award-winning director of Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets. He mentioned to Darren Vincenzo an article from (I think) The Atlantic Monthly which discussed what would happen if even a relatively small earthquake hit New York City, the place most of us lived and we all worked at the time...and the outlook for such a scenario was not pretty, to put it mildly.

Darren mentioned Chris's idea to me, Jordan Gorfinkel and, of course, Dennis O'Neil and we all agreed it was worth kicking around. We loved the potential in a story of the Dark Knight finding out (and showing the readers) just how different and frustrating it is to fight the after-affects of a natural disaster as opposed to inmates from Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

Our writers and artists did spectacular jobs—this was the exact kind of story that Alan Grant, for instance, really teed off on. And in those early CGI days, comic book artists were able to demonstrate visually the hellscape far more effectively than films.

But the other thing I loved about a story like this was that it gave us the opportunity to look at so many different characters and see how they were affected and how they would react. Supporting characters, villains, even regular citizens: each and every person in and around Gotham would have a tale.

So we did several specials and oneshots, in addition to devoting several issues of the regular monthlies. This enable not only our core creative teams to do their thing, but gave a shot to new creators and writers of other books, like Devin Grayson and Kelley Puckett, to play around. Chris himself wrote several stories and pencilled one (a fantastic story, inked by the great Bob McLeod, showing Ra's al Ghul observing the devastation from half a world away). And Kelley Puckett and Rick Burchett delivered an absolutely gut-wrenching portrait of a small child who's lost absolutely everything and the amazing woman who tries to help him by finding at least one small thing from the past he can hold onto.



But my favorite was "A Bird with a Hand," the vignette (always one of my favorite forms) wherein we discover how the Penguin is cold-bloodedly turning this horrific situation to his long-term financial advantage.

 
 
The amazing team of Rick Burchett and Bill Sienkiewicz (with gorgeous colors by Grant Goleash) perfectly illustrated the very dark side of this sometimes goofily-portrayed villain.

My favorite Batman stories still tend towards the one-and-done. But these character portraits are really only possible in the kind of huge storylines that Cataclysm was.

And of course I later moved into the San Andreas Fault's neighborhood. Fortunately, we moved away from that about a year ago...and into the Cascadia subduction zone.

Batman: Kings of Fear — That 25 Panel Page

When Kelley Jones and I first starting talking about Batman: Kings of Fear, one of the many things we discussed was our mutual love for pages with a lot of panels on them. The earliest comics had 8 panels on the average page. By the 1970s, the average seems to have been more like 7 panels per page. By the 1990s, for a variety of reasons, the average comic page probably had 5 panels. (Except for the Kelley Puckett/Mike Parobeck/Rick Burchett/Rick Taylor run on The Batman Adventures, which I insisted never have more than four panels per page at the very most...but that's another story.)

But, of course, in the 1980s, the 9-panel-grid became quite popular, thanks to its prominent use in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, one of the two most influential comics of that (and maybe any) decade.


(For example.)


Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns (the other most influential comic of the 1980s) used the 16-panel-grid to devastating effect.


Not to be outdone, Matt Wagner decided to up the ante in Grendel, going for a 25-panel-grid.


Kelley and I talked about all this. Feeling perhaps just the tiniest bit vexatious, I wrote this into the script:
Page Six 
Panels One to Whatever 
Kelley! This is one of those pages we talked about, going for something crazy, like a 12- or 16-panel grid or something insane like that, the kind of thing that, let’s be honest, no one would willingly attempt these days. No one sane that is. In other words, go nuts! Have fun! Remember to keep well hydrated!
So. I think what we’ve got on this page are ECUs on the Batman taking out every badguy in the place. His elbow connecting with a nose, his boot with a knee, his hand grabbing a weapon, a palm strike to a chin, teeth flying, blood spatter, cape whirling, a terrified eye peering around a razor-sharp bat-ear, that kind of thing. As many as you want. They could be all the same size or they could get smaller as the page goes along and he goes faster and faster? They could start out tight and keep getting tighter until the final ones are almost just shadows? Your call—you’re the master.
Kelley read that panel description, said "hold my beer," and delivered...this.

My jaw hit the ground when I saw it and neither my jaw nor the ground have fully recovered yet.

(And Kelley sent me the pencils to that page over three years ago and I couldn't tell anyone. Job looks at me and is, like, "damn, sam, you're patient.")

Impossibly, brilliant colorist Michelle Madsen did the impossible and actually made the black and white art look even better, which is just...impossible.

I think Kelley thought the way he took my idea and ran with it to Proxima Centauri and back would shut me up. Little did he know it simply encouraged me to throw more and more unreasonable demands his way...which brings us to the fifth issue, which he happens to be drawing today...

Batman: Kings of Fear #1 reviews!

A very wise man once told me, when I first entered the business, never to read your own reviews. He was right, of course. Fortunately, I have a review pixie who reads them for me and swears she doesn't cherrypick at all...

***
The debut issue of Batman: Kings Of Fear is absolutely brilliant! Edgy and smart, it's far from afraid to peel back the layers and take a look inside the inner workings of The Batman and those whom he calls his foes! It's gripping and beautifully intelligent, with page upon page of slick art that call to mind some of the Caped Crusader's greatest tales from the 80's and 90's. 
One issue in, and both Peterson and Jones have proven to be a well oiled machine capable of kicking off a white knuckle thriller set to send its readers deep into the darkest corners of fear and uncertainty like never before! 
Batman: Kings Of Fear #1 has hooked us in, and we can't recommend this debut issue enough!
You won't want to miss this one!

Rating: 5/5 - "Peterson and Jones have kicked off a white knuckle thriller set to send its readers deep into the darkest corners of fear and uncertainty like never before!"
***
As Batman drives Joker back to Arkham in the Batmobile, writer Scott Peterson gives such a layered discussion (well, almost one sided thanks to chatty Joker) between the Clown Prince of Crime and a more sullen than usual Caped Crusader that already attempts to understand the inner workings of Batman’s purpose as a vigilante. Joker and Batman have done this good vs evil dance enough times to know there are dark corners in Bruce’s mind that even a demented soul like Joker has difficulties comprehending.
Batman’s hardships with the villains he faces comes to a head when some of his greatest rogues faces him. While the action sequences are phenomenal courtesy of Jones and Madsen, the dialogue between Batman and the Asylum doctor is significant; the talk amplifies whether or not Batman’s role as hero of Gotham really is for the greater good or if his crusade leads to actual rehabilitation.
One of the first comic book covers I ever saw was a Kelley Jones cover to the early 1990s ‘Batman: Knightfall’ series. As a horror genre fanatic, seeing Jones’ elongated cowls, exaggerated capes and distorted movements surrounded by gothic architecture and morbid shadows made me love not just Kelley Jones’ art, but the comic book medium in general.
Jones brings this same intensity to “Kings of Fear” in every panel. You can feel the crushing blows of each punch and kick, whether it’s on a low level crooks in a warehouse or a nice uppercut to Two-Face in the Asylum. What is most enjoyable about Jones and Madsen’s work is how extra every facet of the story is presented. Joker’s ghoulish grin is a little bit more wide sinister when speaking to Bats. The soft glow of a lit match illuminates a huddled rogues gallery against the shadow of the Bat defines their fearful faces more than usual. The sickening green hue enveloping the Batman as he is sucked into the nightmarish world of the Scarecrow is a bit more terrifying.
I have been excited about this Peterson and Jones series since it was announced and so far the story has exceeded expectations. Very much a fan of Scarecrow / Batman tales that focus on Bruce’s psyche, so I cannot wait for Part Two to see how far we go into the depths of the Dark Knight.

***
Scott Peterson moved this story along quickly, fluently, and effortlessly. Readers may find themselves reading the issue in under 10 minutes flat. To anyone interested in checking this out, it honestly will take no time at all. That said, the issue ironically excels through its dialogue. Peterson knows exactly what to say, how to say it, and doesn’t saturate a page with words. Every word is used well and appears to have a purpose. Additionally, Rob Leigh did an excellent job strategically placing the lettering throughout the pages to make the transitions appear polished.
Furthermore, Peterson slyly implies that the Joker may know that Batman is Bruce Wayne. He says things throughout the issue like ”between the cushions of Bruce Wayne’s couch” or ”mansion of a psyche.” Later, Joker also conjectures that he knows what it’s like to wake up and not know ”who you’ll be that day.” These words very well may just be Peterson showing irony, or maybe it’s something more.
Peterson also gets readers to think about their thoughts on Batman, what he stands for, the Dark Knights purpose, and his effects on the criminals he brings in. The Doctor at Arkham references the fact that Batman can just walk right into the Asylum, but she needed background checks to get in. This was an excellent point.
Furthermore, the Doctor follows it up with a statement many fans have had for years;” maybe you aren’t responsible for the Jokers action… but you have to know you bear more than a little culpability.” These statements are profound arguments that fans, artists, and writers have probably gotten into vicious disagreements over throughout the years and bring up thought-provoking questions that I hope Peterson weighs in on during his run.
I have personally seen individuals get heated over their opinions of the Dark Knight and if he is doing more harm than good for these villains. Heck, after Joker releases almost all of the Batman Rogues and the Caped Crusader beats them all up again, the Arkham Doctor spits out another valid point. She states how Batman continues to prove to these insane villains that violence is legitimate. Peterson is stirring the pot of Batman opinions and beliefs to kick off his story. He’s hitting on touchy topics that will genrate a wide spectrum of opinions. Where do you land on the spectrum? 
***
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.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.Rating: 5/5.