Review by Karl Verhoven
Fear State concludes James Tynion IV’s impressive run on Batman, and does so in buttock-clenchingly terrifying style. Batman has run up against the Scarecrow many times over the years, but never has the villain been as convincingly frightening as here.
A number of reasons combine to create the fear. Firstly, all through The Cowardly Lot artist Jorge Jiménez actually only showed the Scarecrow viewed through some hallucinogenic cocktail scrambling the brain, so building the fear. Many ideas are only obvious when someone actually comes up with them, and this is an example. There’s not much that’s scary about the skinny man in the scarecrow costume, so why show him at all? Secondly, it’s the desperate situation Tynion builds around Gotham, the city having been manipulated into such a state of fear that the mayor has sanctioned armoured police whose technology is manufactured by a man with his own agenda. What readers of The Cowardly Lot know is that the agenda has moved beyond Simon Saint’s ability to control it. The solution is becoming worse than the problem. Additionally, the Scarecrow’s plan is the culmination of a lifetime of planning, the means and opportunity at last provided, and the most prominent menace suddenly and surprisingly shifts.
Much of what Tynion’s introduced over four earlier volumes feeds into Fear State, with clever inclusions coming together for a credible masterplan and Gotham threatened on several fronts. Beyond Batman’s inevitable survival everything is up in the air. Jiménez’s new design for the Scarecrow costume is amazing, and his art for the story tops even earlier peaks. It’s expansive, powerful and plain thrilling, drawing the best from the script, and the icing on the cake is Tomeu Morey’s colours, as before bold and bright bringing a real change to areas of Gotham. Bengal is also a very good artist, but the simpler approach clashes with Jiménez when the two are awkwardly fused over a single chapter.
Tynion’s legacy will be five volumes of thrilling Batman, of which this is the best, and the several new viable characters he’s introduced to Batman’s world, many of whom will be around for a long time, which is quite the generous bequest. However, perhaps others may pick up his throwaway lines. “You could be one of the greatest heroes in the world” Miracle Molly tells Poison Ivy, and it’s another blindingly obvious statement when made. The circle has turned and Ivy’s ecological agenda is now attuned with the times. Tynion also nails his point that Gotham’s problems have become too big for Batman alone, who couldn’t have coped with the threats on several fronts during Fear State. Indeed, only one of those threats is actually concluded by Batman himself, so continuing Tynion’s preference for Batman as the leading member of an ensemble cast. Whether that’s a theme Joshua Williamson will follow when he takes over with Abyss remains to be seen.
As with The Joker War, there’s also an expanded version of Fear State titled Fear State Saga, incorporating one-shots and tie-ins from other series. Although it’s not necessary to know, this is also a clever subversion of events that came to pass in Future State.