Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 2: Cycle of Violence mainly because I continue to enjoy David Finch's art, and I thought I'd give this somewhat aimless title another shot while Finch was still part of the team. Finch doesn't disappoint here, but there's a marked difference between his art in Golden Dawn and Knight Terrors and his art here; for me, Finch's work in this particular volume isn't worth the price of entry.
But, new Dark Knight writer Gregg Hurwitz does offer a genuinely scary Scarecrow story, and Finch, to his credit, buffets it with genuinely disturbing art. The Dark Knight title has struggled to find its place within the franchise, but if Hurwitz intends to continue with these long-form villain profile stories (following from his Penguin: Pain and Prejudice miniseries), that's a potentially winning combination. It's not for me necessarily, but Hurwitz has convinced me he's the right person for the job.
[Review contains spoilers]
Hurwitz's story begins with the bloody image of the Scarecrow sewing his own lips together, and that pretty well sets the tone for what follows. Hurwitz succeed in blending fairly classic Batman tropes -- the Scarecrow has kidnapped a bunch of children; Batman is aided just by Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, and Robin -- with both gore and psychological horror. This is far from the first time a Batman story has been told in the horror genre, but Hurwitz does especially well in keeping the horror based in reality. Fear toxins aside, there's plenty in the story, especially threats of physical pain and the abuse of children, that's cringe-inducing for the reader.
In keeping with the precedent set in Hurwitz's Penguin story, by the second chapter of Cycle of Violence he is delving into the Scarecrow's childhood. Though I have mixed feelings about how and whether the Scarecrow needs a new origin, I thought Hurwitz effectively demonstrated how the young, abused Jonathan Crane becomes the abusing Scarecrow, inflicting his hurts upon others. Hurwitz gives both Scarecrow and Batman moments of unexpected gentleness as they relate to the children in this book, and it's interesting to watch Scarecrow empathize with the abused children even as he himself causes their harm.
Cycle of Violence's conclusion again mixes the classic -- a gas attack in downtown Gotham that could be ripped straight from Tim Burton's Batman -- with the horrific. Batman literally bleeds out over the streets of Gotham, draining his veins to provide the antidote percolating in his system; Batman dying for his city in this was is so poignant it's amazing no writer has used it previously. A large part of this story simply involves Batman and the Scarecrow together in a room, and the widescreen ending is unexpected and welcome.
And yet, while Violence is well done, I can't garner much enthusiasm for a continuing series of this type. This may be the first Scarecrow origin of the New 52, but certainly we've seen this kind of thing before, in the Batman Year One annual event and the Batman/Scarecrow miniseries, among others. Not every story must matter to continuity, but solely that I can name these two other Scarecrow origins underlies the impermanence of such a story. I'd as soon see Hurwitz's stories as graphic novels than as something presented as in continuity when we know it won't be.
Hurwitz also revisits and alters some aspects of Batman's origins as established in Frank Miller's Year One; that's fine, being the New 52 and all, but it further marks this as a futile exercise when we know Scott Snyder's Zero Year is coming up the pike to undoubtedly change again what Hurwitz has just changed.
Even if we take this as only a "proposed" origin of the Scarecrow, I question whether Batman's villains need such detailed backgrounds. That Sinestro used to be Green Lantern's partner is important to his appearances; that the Scarecrow's father conducted fear experiments on him or that the Penguin had a bad childhood humanizes for me villains that aren't meant to be so deep. That Scarecrow looks like Ichabod Crane and takes a liking to scaring people is enough for me; profiling every villain like this isn't my cup of tea, especially not in an ongoing series. If anything, what I'd prefer is a title like the old Gotham Knights that details Batman's villain's wheeling and dealing in the present, rather than examining their pasts.
I have enjoyed David Finch's art for much the same reason I like Jim Lee's -- it's details, it's action-packed, it's bright (or clear) even when drawing a character like Batman. Finch and Lee, among others, are what I imagine when I imagine superhero comics art. Perhaps in keeping with the tone of this book, however, Finch's art is sketchier, darker, and more heavily inked in these pages. That's not bad -- it is fitting -- but it's not what I was expecting based on the last two Dark Knight books; it's not as appealing to me as what came before. Further, there are enough children in this story that it becomes too apparent when Finch gives them all the same doe-eyed expression, the same that also appears on Bruce Wayne's romantic foil in the story.
With just one volume, I "get" now what Gregg Hurwitz wants to do with Dark Knight, and I think Hurwitz can do it well. If you're looking for a Batman book that'll put a scare in you ('tis the season), Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 2: Cycle of Violence fits the bill. But as with Detective Comics, there are enough books out there competing for my money that a title "just telling stories" about Batman or his villains is going to have a hard time rising to the top; I'd sooner pick up Batman or Batman and Robin than Dark Knight.
[Includes original covers, pencilled pages by Finch, "Zero Month" issue]
More reviews on the way!