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

The Story: In a contest between urban spooks, who will psyche each other out first?

The Review: So apparently, in southern California, all it takes is a flash of rain (and I use the term loosely, as yesterday’s weather could only be called a heavy sprinkle) to mess up my home internet service.  Lord help us all if anything like Hurricane Sandy or Japan’s tsunami strike our part of the country.  We’d probably be living in apocalyptic conditions for about seven years.

Anyway, I say that only to explain the delay in reviews.  Not that there was any burning rush to get this one out, since overall, Hurwitz’s opening run on The Dark Knight has been generally shallow and contradictory.  Last month, I really took issue with the premise of Hurwitz’s big, emotional storyline, that Bruce purposely isolates himself from love and good things.  I dismiss that idea entirely; you need look no further than current issues of Batman and Robin, Batman Inc., even Justice League,to see this doesn’t groove with the character Bruce has long become.

Even ignoring that major misstep, the Scarecrow plot has exemplified a lot of what I think Dean Stell would consider overdone in superhero comics.  The ongoing theme of Batman rogues, especially post-relaunch, is most of their craziness comes from some childhood trauma, which is a pretty cliché explanation for villainy.  I suspect writers think this kind of background somehow gives their criminals some sympathetic weight—and it sort of does, but it does lump them all into one big, formulaic character type.

Maybe that’s why Hurwitz brings two of these villains together in this issue: to show some contrast and maybe as an attempt to recapture some of that magic he brought in his mini.  Sadly, Penguin this time around isn’t quite as impressive as before.  His out-of-proportion revenge on a man who apparently misplaced his mother’s painting doesn’t have the slow, methodical build-up that made previous deconstructions so compelling.  Ultimately, he serves only as a means for Scarecrow, though his obvious delight in doing so does capture his own sadistic tendencies.

Hurwitz does succeed in putting Scarecrow on more equal footing with Batman.  Usually, he gains his advantage by pumping tons of drugs into Batman’s system in some semi-cowardly way.  This time around, he drugs his enemy up after a respectably direct, though surprise attack, and even faced with a physical confrontation, he doesn’t shy away and provide a pretty brutal fight.  There’s a lot of blood gushing from their mouths is all I’m saying.

One last bright point.  Even though I’m still not really convinced, given the incredibly obvious, cloying way Hurwitz has made use of the nameless little girl Crane kidnaps for his fear experiments, that their relationship has been well-earned in this story, I am touched by his protectiveness of her in the end.  That moment is the one that really separates him from the other rogues; you wouldn’t see Penguin do that, I don’t think.

I don’t get how an artist like Finch can devote so much attention to making his work look detailed and attractive, and yet render panels that make little sense.  For example, I’m pretty sure that Scarecrow’s scythe impales Batman in his right shoulder.  That’s the way it looks for half the issue.  And yet, once he shows up again in bed, all the bandages are wrapped around his left shoulder.  Oback lends some good dramatic depth to Finch’s art by using some very credible lighting; no matter what setting you’re in, the color and vividness of the light is true to the scene.

Conclusion: I don’t know if the last issue of this arc has what it’ll take to keep me attached to this series.  There are a lot of series to read out there, and I’m happy to Drop a mostly mediocre one to fish for something better.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I’d also like to point out that Finch can only draw women the one way; there’s only the tiniest bit of cheek fat to separate the little girl from her mom.