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

The Story: Batman proves it takes blood to counter the work of sweat and tears.

The Review: To my own surprise, I’ve spent a great deal of time wringing my hands and going back and forth on whether to Drop this title or keep on keeping on.  Though mostly diminished, Hurwitz still retains a grain of trust with me from the lingering memory of Penguin: Pain and Prejudice.  That alone hardly breaks even with the largely bland first arc he’s given us, but with the amazing Ethan Van Sciver set for art duties next month, do I really want to skip out now?

Ultimately, my decision boiled down to a matter of economics, which tends to make every choice simpler.  I’m willing to keep an eye on the title and see if Sciver can push Hurwitz back to greater heights, but not on a dedicated basis.  So here’s the deal.  If you see a review of #16 next month, you’ll know things have turned around promisingly; if you don’t, then that just confirms what I’ve always maintained: even great art can’t fully compensate weak storytelling.

Weak, but not altogether terrible.  Hurwitz has enough chops to deliver a credible story, even if he botches certain points and the whole thing ends up kind of formulaic.  The lengths Batman will go to save his city are pretty damn respectable.  I don’t know, does it get any more extreme than draining his own blood to infuse his Scarecrow gas-fighting antibodies into a gas which can be used to “cure” the crazed Gothamites?  Hard to argue with that, right?

This issue once again shows that Hurwitz may have a much better handle on the villains than the heroes in the Batman mythos.  His take on Bruce has been spotty in places, and his version of Damian lacks the condescending boldness of every other portrayal of the lad in other series.  Hurwitz’s depiction of Alfred is no less questionable.  The butler can be sarcastic and indirect, but I find it hard to believe that at this point, he’d throw a silent hissy-fit over one of Bruce’s unorthodox (read: harebrained) schemes to save the day, even if he nearly dies in the doing.

On a similar note, the resolution between Bruce and Natalya feels false and completely unearned.  The idea that all it takes to fix the issues between them is for him to show up to her concert minimizes the inherent problems in their relationship.  Instead of addressing her legitimate accusations that he doesn’t share a deeper part of himself with her, the scene makes it seem like their whole conflict was he didn’t pay enough attention to her.  His encouragement and offer to order some takeout and watch a dumb movie thus seems like mere indulgence on his part, a more dedicated effort to play his “Bruce” persona rather than a sincere attempt to connect with her.

Scarecrow’s ending is simultaneously predictable, anticlimactic, and cheesy.  Predictable because once his gas is neutralized, he basically rolls over in defeat.  Anticlimactic for the same reasons.  Cheesy because it really doesn’t get any more forced than having him fall victim to his own weapon while attempting to use it to escape.  The buffoonery in that moment is so thick that it verges on slapstick, and it reduces Scarecrow to a bit of a joke villain once again.

I wonder, though, if a lot of my hang-ups with this arc don’t actually stem from Finch’s attractive, but unsubtle and uninspired art.  The man can undoubtedly draw a good-looking Batman, Scarecrow, or vision of death, but he lacks real feeling in his work.  He draws the story straight from the script, without imposing much emotional dimension to any of it.  Certainly, he takes no risks in his paneling or POV to add pizzazz to the story.  Oback’s gritty, somber colors help, but she can’t make up for Finch’s shortcomings.

Conclusion: Shoddy character work, a fairly straightforward plot, and insipid art combine to produce an unimpressive conclusion to an unimpressive arc.  Most likely Dropped.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I love that Finch’s cover tries to convince you that Scarecrow and Batman play some mind games with each other in this issue, when really it’s just Scarecrow gassing some folks and Batman inoculating them.  Seems more like Go Fish than chess.