Batman: Fear Itself By: Michael Reaves and Steven-Elliot Altman
This was a refreshing tale involving not only a desperate horror author but also one of my favorite Batman villains, The Scarecrow. I really loved the analysis of horror writing “going too far” with scaring readers, and whether the potential liability falls on the shoulders of the author. Of course that question gets ramped up since this involves the Scarecrow.
I grew to like Ulysses Cutter, the afflicted henchman that worked with Crane. However I struggled to like Maggie as a character since we ended up having both Bruce Wayne and the Horror Author fighting over her attention. I had some issues with the ending, but if you read enough comics or watch enough comic book movies, it’s not terribly surprising.
I enjoyed the characters and the setup, and I chuckled multiple times at the literary references and classic horror movie references. I may be biased toward this story since I am a horror author myself. 😉
Wow, but it’s been a long time since I’ve done a comic book review! I looked back and I think the last one I did was in 2011 for the Batman: Year One movie (which doesn’t quite count, does it?). Well I’m hoping to remedy that!
Why Comic Books?
I’ve love doing book reviews here on my blog, because as an author, I think it’s important to show some love when you finish a book. It’s tough out there for us authors, and every bit of love you can give back is appreciated.
I also love reading comic books though, and I find again and again that really great comics don’t get the attention they deserve, either because they’re considered juvenile despite the wide acclaim the comic book movies have gotten in the past decade, or because people don’t think it’s worth the money. For me, I think comic books are a perfect mixture of art and story, with both methods adding together for a very unique experience.
I grew up on Batman comic books, and now with the ease of availability of comic books, I can finally get access to read series that I’ve missed out on for too many years. (A big thank you goes out to DC Universe, cause I can already see me reading quite a number of those back issues!)
So since I got a good number of votes over on my Instagram story for it, I’ve decided to do a full review for the Fear of Faith series of comics, that were released back in the early 1990s. They featured my personal favorite Bat-villain, The Scarecrow.
Fear of Faith: Part 1: Fanning the Flames
The first issue of Fear of Faith shows up in Legends of the Dark Knight #116. It takes place during the No Man’s Land series, which is when Gotham City is hit with a huge earthquake. When the city is practically annexed from the United States, most people evacuate, but the ones who are left work to carve the city into territories. Resources are low and Gothamites are forced to work together or battle it out in order to survive. This of course includes some of Gotham’s notorious villains, such as the Scarecrow, who we find horrified on the title page.
Scarecrow is watching a huge bonfire made of burning books, and knowing that he’s an academic, he’s outraged. One of he most wonderful lines in this book is when he states “I have never known a cold so bitter that it must be staved off with books.” And if we take into account the Scarecrow: Year One series (which I hope to review later), we know that he has probably experienced many cold nights. Scarecrow values knowledge above all else, even if it means life and death.
His attention is pulled though when one book is not burned: the Bible. Suddenly the tone is set for how Scarecrow plans to harm these people: through some form of religious manipulation.
We’re introduced to a church that is run by Father Chris. His church accepts anyone who wishes to be part of it, no strings attached, and he also rejects any attempt at police protection.
Across town we see a gang who used to work under Black Mask, but who now travel together. They break into a morgue in order to fish out any bullets from the corpses there. It’s distasteful work and morally repulsive, and one of the members, Mikey, refuses to be part of it and gets ostracized from the group. Batman questions him about it, and we later discover that he drops Mikey off at Father Chris’ church so he an have a safe space separate from the gang.
We find Jim Gordan having to sleep in jail cells since presumably the Gotham Police Department building is no longer livable. From him we learn that he has tried to convince Father Chris to allow the police to protect his area, but he refuses, claiming that he has immigrants who would be intimidated and frightened by their presence. Then Huntress approaches Father Chris, trying to get them to allow her protection. However once again Father Chris refuses.
Then Huntress finds that the Scarecrow is casually reading a book, and she goes into attack mode. Father Chris has to remind her that she has no authority in his church and that everyone, even someone like Scarecrow is welcome. We start to understand the dangers of Father Chris’ decisions, but also understand what it looks like to others taking refuge there when Huntress attacks him.
Another interesting line here is what Huntress says, “I confess that my own morality has at times been questionable, but I do know the good guys from the bad guys.” To which the Scarecrow responds, “Do you? Are you sure?”
And we have setup the moral dilemma here between Huntress and Scarecrow, who turn out to be our main contradictory characters for the storyline. Huntress, unlike Batman, has no trouble killing but she is also a very religious woman. She is more a vigilante than Batman is, and often is far more violent.
There are several pieces that make this story fascinating to me, as a Scarecrow fan. First of all, this is one of the few storylines where Scarecrow must work without his famed toxin. This turns this short 4-book series into a game of politics and persuasion. The series really puts his mind to work, which I rarely see from many comic books.
Another piece I enjoy is that each of these books have Scarecrow’s mental dialogue going throughout. They show as the dark tan speech bbubbles with jagged edges we saw in the first screenshot, but often have him diving deep into philosophical and scientific or even chemical concepts. In this book, he tackles the question of why humans fear other humans.
“Are we truly, as a species, inherently mistrustful and unkind? Or have thousands of years of evolutionary coding left us justifiably competitive and aggressive? Is it truly the unknown nature of our neighbor that terrifies us so… or is it, rather, the secretly known nature of ourselves?”
This runs alongside Huntress attacking Scarecrow and the violence that ensues, almost as a parody of the events taking fold. Inside the Scarecrow’s mind, we see that even when he is being attacked, that he sees himself as winning. This is evidence of his mental instability, and sets the stage for what happens next in the series.
Despite the numerous points of view in this comic, it gives us a really juicy setup for the trouble and danger we know is coming. Despite Scarecrow requesting Father Chris to take him in out of kindness, we see that he only wanted to get closer to start his philosophical battle.
I hope you enjoyed this! I’m looking forward to doing a deep dive into parts 2-4 of Fear of Faith, where we learn the Scarecrow’s plans and see what’s in store for Huntress and Batman!