By: Gregg Hurwitz (story), David Finch (art), Sonia Oback (colors)

The Story: Kids, beware the disfigured, masked man stalking you from the bushes.

The Review: This goes without saying, but if you’re going to have a whole gaggle of titles all under the same brand, the ideal would be for each of them to have a reason for being there; each should have a voice distinctive from the others.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  This applies especially to the Bat-family of titles, since all told, they include about a dozen different ongoing series, and four of them have the man himself in the starring role.

To be perfectly frank, some thinning may be in order here.  While Scott Snyder has pretty much immortalized the post-relaunch Batman with some epic storylines, and Batman and Robin delves into the always-volatile relationship between the titular characters, you can’t escape the fact that Detective Comics and Batman: The Dark Knight haven’t really set themselves apart.  They both seem to drill from the same well of filler material, the fun and forgettable answer to Batman.

I have my hopes that Hurwitz can possibly change that, though his debut on The Dark Knight cast some serious doubt on that prospect.  Things look a little bit brighter in this issue.  The genius he displayed in Penguin: Pride and Prejudice was how he took a laughable, gimmicky crook, psychologically deconstructed him, then reassembled him into an intense, vicious villain who actually deserves his spot in Batman’s rogues gallery, next to the likes of Bane and Joker.  Clearly, he wants to repeat the same feat with Scarecrow.

The problem is he falls back on the old crutch of blaming every ill on some childhood trauma.  He already used that excuse, albeit very convincingly, in his revision of Penguin, and using it again for Scarecrow (especially since James Tynion IV did the same with Mr. Freeze in Batman Annual #1) seems uninspired, at the very least.

Another problem is Scarecrow doesn’t have the same clarity of purpose as Penguin, who developed his chilling reputation by the extremes of his vengeance for even the pettiest slights, should they touch upon one of his well-concealed sensitive areas.  In contrast, Jonathan Crane’s actions seem vaguely motivated, playing more for shock value (i.e. collecting the tears of children after getting them hyped on Fear Gas) than anything else.

In a weird way, the most realized character Hurwitz has written so far is Natalya, Bruce’s Ukrainian flame.  She has the most self-awareness of all the cast, her boyfriend included, enough to perceive Bruce’s deeper issues and to recognize the futility of coping with them.  After a brief outburst when Bruce forgets about her New Year’s concert, the one she’d been sweating to him about all along, she realizes, “This is ridiculous. I’m ridiculous.  There’s no point in my being with you if I’m gonna try to change you.  I’m not nineteen.”  She may not be Batman’s soulmate, but she’s certainly earning her way to becoming one of his more distinguished paramours.

I have always hated Finch’s habit of repeating panels.  It’s a common trick for comic book artists, but Finch uses them to the point of distraction.  Instead of focusing on the pathos of the scene where Batman makes another visit to Clair, Scarecrow’s victim from last issue, you can’t help staring at the multiple images of her downcast face, one exact copy placed right below the other.  Can’t say I care for the overly enlarged head of Crane’s latest victim on her little girl body, either; it seems she’d be tipping over all the time with all that top weight.  Also, it seems a tad unusual that Batman uses night vision in the final scene, but the lighting (courtesy of Oback) is that of a late afternoon.  Unusual, to say the least.

Conclusion: Enough of an improvement to give you reason to hope that last issue was just a case of debut nerves, but not enough improvement to make you believe it’ll all go up from here.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – What is up with Bruce’s dad staring stoically at his frightened son from the stairwell.  If he wants to comfort his boy, it’s best if he didn’t look like a threatening creeper, right?

– What mother in her right mind would leave her child unmonitored in Gotham?