Review by Karl Verhoven
James Tynion IV’s run on Batman has been event-oriented, with the entirety of Gotham threatened as a continuing theme. As with The Joker War, Fear State generated several other comics beyond the main story, and Fear State Saga collects them all in hardcover. The essential events can be bought separately as Fear State, and it’s the stronger publication for being largely the vision of a single creative team, but unlike The Joker War Saga, this doesn’t lag far behind.
Two stories by Tynion largely drawn by Riccardo Federici bookend the main event. The first is a prologue showing how ambitiously manipulative technocrat Simon Saint and the Scarecrow orchestrate events while taking a skim around the supporting cast who’ll play a part (sample art left). It explains the nuts and bolts of what’s referred to in passing during the main story, but is surprisingly dry and the page length is certainly padded out.
The main story is essentially a plan by Saint subverted by the Scarecrow to his own ends, wanting to test on Gotham a theory formulated during his youth. “Human beings are special creatures. We are confronted by fear, and then we endeavor to overcome it”, he explains, “Our bodies and minds change to overcome that fear. We evolve past it and become more than what we are otherwise capable of”. Tynion cleverly leaves it open whether the Scarecrow’s plans could be seen as beneficial in some twisted way, but leaves no doubt as to his stance on Poison Ivy’s ecological agenda being for the greater good.
Federici is a tidy artist whose figures are a little static, and this is a collection of fine art. Jorge Jiménez on the main story is phenomenal (sample spread right), while Dani, Joshua Hixon and Christian Ward are all very different, but all deliver their pages well, with Ward especially decorative on the Gardener interlude.
That’s one of three interludes focussing on supporting characters slotted between chapters of the main story. The sense of that is apparent, as they concern backgrounds specifically influencing ‘Fear State’, most prominently Ed Brisson’s Peacekeeper spotlight explaining his rage, but they also put the brakes on the escalating tension of the main story. It’s an awkward reading experience, and these extras would on balance have been better back-ended. At times as well, Miracle Molly’s outing lacks subtlety.
Fear State is the best of Tynion’s admirable run on Batman. Follow the link for greater specifics on the core, but it’s a thriller from start to finish. The ending, though, is a little abrupt, so Tynion saying farewell via an epilogue tour around the ensemble cast is welcome. He brings a few stories to a firmer close, but several artists with greatly varied styles working on different characters makes for a messy look, with Federici’s art here not as composed.
The extra material is both relevant, and largely good, meaning this expanded version of Fear State is worthwhile, but the uninterrupted chapters by Tynion and Jiménez remain stronger on their own.