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

The Story: So Batman’s afraid of commitment and children.  Hey, he’s still a man, right?

The Review: I hate to continually bring up comparisons to Hurwitz’s Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, but I don’t think anything works as a better contrast to the writer’s work than his other work.  Looking at his earlier mini, Penguin made for a compelling protagonist because beneath his villainous cruelty he had a poisonous insecurity many of us understood, even shared.  Even better, Hurwitz explored this part of Penguin’s psyche without much direct commentary on it.

Crane’s own hang-ups don’t resonate nearly as well, and Hurwitz doesn’t write them quite as effectively.  Whatever bad parenting any of us lived through, I’m pretty sure it didn’t involve science experiments where we got thrown into a basement of horrors, our pleas to be let out ignored.  While Hurwitz pulls off the premise well enough, you don’t have any real connection to it.  You can see the tragedy, feel the trauma, but you don’t relate to it.

Hurwitz tries to make the case that Scarecrow should be a more sympathetic character to us by exploiting the innocent pity of a child.  It’s almost as if Hurwitz hopes we’ll start thinking, Hey, I should feel sorry for this sadist.  This seven-year-old girl feels sorry for him, and he’s basically torturing her.  Maybe she’s onto something, here.  I’m afraid, however, that sappy lines like “…if you let me go, you won’t be alone,” only stretch her credibility to the breaking point.  The crude drawing of her and Scarecrow holding hands takes it well over the top.

If Hurwitz puts too much effort into highlighting the emotions you should be feeling at any given moment, he takes even more pains to just tell you the exact conflict going on in the story.  I don’t understand why he couldn’t just leave Batman’s toxin-dream to its own devices without any extra textual baggage.  The way Batman imagines himself escaping only to miserably fail is fictional sleight-of-hand of very good caliber, not requiring any comment.  Had Hurwitz kept this kind of thing up through the second and third acts, this would’ve been a better issue.

Instead, we get Scarecrow’s unusual “monologue” (there’s some doubt as to whether he’s actually saying anything during Batman’s delusions or not), which drags in one Braxton Winthrop, a character who exists mainly as an intellectual exercise.  He has absolutely no role in the story other than to serve as a contrast to Bruce’s darkness.  You tire of the reverse-analogy quickly, because you catch on to it so quickly: one B.W. is light, the other is dark.  One revels in family, love, charity (and sunshine and rainbows, too, probably); the other just wishes he had a wrist armor laser to cut his chains so he can lay the smackdown on a man with a burlap face.

If Hurwitz uses all this to discover what Batman really fears, I’m not sure he succeeds, nor whether he can succeed.  Bruce has long embraced the value not only of friendly alliances, but of family; has Hurwitz not read Pete Tomasi’s Batman and Robin lately?  Both Batgirl and Batman Inc. depict a Bruce Wayne who has shown no shortage of generosity to Gotham (granted, he doesn’t ladle out soup to the homeless, but he does have a fairly busy night job saving the city).  Batman may fear something, but it’s not love and light.

Finch again delivers art that is much more attractive than smart, which is not to say that it lacks thought and care.  That title splash has a macabre beauty, even if it’s intended to be horrifying, and the progression of panels after Crane, Sr.’s heart attack does have a grim tragedy to it.  By now, I think the only real criticism that can be made about Finch’s art is the way all faces, whether young or old, male or female, tends to look the same.  Shout-out to Oback for some wonderfully eerie lighting throughout, whether ghostly pales in Crane’s childhood basement or flickering yellows across Batman’s face as he gets tortured.

Conclusion: If this was Batman being written for the first time around, maybe Hurwitz’s take would work a lot better, but instead it flies against precedent and fails to achieve the sympathies it means to invoke.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I just kept laughing at the halcyon visions we get of Braxton Winthrop’s life.  While the Rockwellian scene of him cutting into a turkey for his wife and nine kids (“Four of them are adopted.”) is pretty rich, I think my favorite has to be him feeding the swans on the river.  It is, to say the least, a bit much.