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

The Story: Aw, is lil’ Bruce scared of some movie violence?

The Review: Even if you’re someone with barely a smidge of a background in psychology, you know how intensely complicated and involved any degree of mental illness can be.  You’re dealing with any combination of genetic and environmental factors, some of which you can only guess the impact of.  That’s what makes the mentally ill such good material for fiction, slimy as it is to say so.  For writers, there is no exercise like getting into the head of the disturbed.

Clearly, this is Hurwitz’s kind of thing.  The difference here is that Scarecrow’s hang-ups come from a much more complex, deep place than Penguin, which requires a much higher degree of attention from both you and Hurwitz.  While I still would’ve preferred we avoid yet another Gotham rogue with major childhood trauma, I admit Hurwitz plays it in a compelling way.

Crane didn’t just grow conditioned to fear by suffering it constantly; he purposely internalized it to live up to his father’s standards.  Thus you see him growing increasingly frustrated with others who can’t—or won’t—do the same.  His attacks on innocents aren’t motivated simply by evil or even by a desire to take his father’s unethical research one twisted step farther.  As someone made to feel “less than” as a child, he now has a chance to assert his superiority where he can.

This ties into another of Hurwitz’s favorite things: defining each villain’s particular relationship to Batman.  Penguin saw Batman not merely as an obstacle to his work, but as a bully, a reflection of his own insecurity, to the point where Batman almost became the villain in that story.  With Crane, he sees Batman as an upstart, a contender for a position he claims as his own.  Once he’s made his opponent vulnerable, he lords, “I’ve mastered fear…and you still run from it.”  He claims he’s already laid all his own fears to rest—proof of his dominance.

And this is where Hurwitz runs onto some shaky ground.  First off, I’m still iffy in regards to this new dimension he’s decided to cast on Bruce’s childhood, one riddled with both intense shame and loneliness, but let’s set that aside for now.  Here’s the question you should be asking: what fear is Batman running away from now?  Confronting his past?  Making a new future for himself?  Is that why Scarecrow emphasizes how no one seems to care Batman’s gone?

Speaking of which, that scene definitely has some gaping holes in its construction.  Presumably, Crane still doesn’t know Batman’s identity (thanks to “[s]ome sort of clever locking contraption” in his mask, conveniently and vaguely enough).  And earlier in the issue he admits he can’t see what Batman sees under the fear gas.  Yet he describes and narrates over Batman’s visions with uncanny perceptiveness.  Also, Batman hasn’t been gone for—what?—a few hours?  So why would anyone miss him in that short amount of time?

This could be ambiguity in the script, but if so, Finch doesn’t show enough concern as an artist in questioning the logic of what he draws.  For that reason, I’m convinced he’s meant to be a purely commercial artist.  There’s a mechanical, literal quality to his art that requires the most straightforward plots to flourish; he doesn’t play to subtlety well.  And that’s okay, so long as he gets the right project to work on; I wouldn’t want Justice League drawn by, say, Eduardo Risso or Francisco Francavilla either.

Conclusion: Fascinating in parts, and definitely thought through, but both Hurwitz and Finch make some dubious creative choices which prevent this title from rising to a higher level.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – A little girl whose sweet temperament just won’t quit, despite a prolonged stay in the torturous grasp of a sadistic, maniacal killer.  Only in fiction.