Review: Batman Vol. 5: Fear State hardcover/paperback (DC Comic)

November 30, 2022

 ·  6 comments

James Tynion’s foreshortened Batman run — which was never supposed to be very long, then was, then wasn’t again — will ultimately be remembered for its bookend events — Joker War at the start, and Batman Vol. 5: Fear State at the end. Each is a large-scale piece spotlighting the peculiarities of one of Batman’s key villains, each has as a significant backdrop a Gotham City in chaos.

Where they differ is in where they fall in the alpha and omega of Tynion’s run — Batman Vol. 2: The Joker War, at the beginning, a mostly traditional story of Batman and his Bat-family facing off against the Joker, and Fear State, at the end, which absents the Bat-family almost entirely and for which almost every set player is either new or in a new role. As such, it’s hard to choose the better — Joker War offers the delicious, personal rivalry between Batman and the Joker, while if Fear State’s villains lack the heft of shared history, they’re fascinating in their newness.

Fear State, I’ll venture, also bolsters Joker War a bit. In places where Joker War was too slow or cerebral, Fear State is the exact same way. That argues for those peculiarities to be read as Tynion’s stylistic choices rather than gaffes, and reshapes how one might have read Tynion’s Batman run altogether.

[Review contains spoilers]

If I had a gripe about the big swings in Tynion’s Batman, it would be they’re far-fetched (at risk of revealing myself a curmudgeon when we’re talking a story where a man dressed as a bat swings from rooftops). How, in Joker War, can the Designer’s nanobots reanimate dead flesh and give it personality? Really hard to say. In Batman Vol. 4: The Cowardly Lot, I had chalked up the mind-erasing “Mind Machine” to comic book sci-fi, but at the point in Fear State in which Scarecrow is somehow going to train this mythic single-user machine on the whole city at once and have it work, that seemed a stretch. The threats in these books seem too easily whatever Tynion needs them to be.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

I might say the same thing about when it emerges, in the second chapter, that Batman and Cyborg have built essentially a technological version of telepathy. But I was reminded of the second and fourth chapters of Joker War, where problematically Batman floats around a dreamscape not once but twice. It was weird that Batman spends so much time within his own head in Joker War; that Tynion has him do it again in Fear State suggests a pattern.

There are themes in Tynion’s Batman run, to be sure. Most prominently, as Tynion drags DC’s flagship title into the post-pandemic era, that Gotham’s heroes no longer look, sound, or believe like their rapidly aging predecessors (a reckoning happening across DC’s Infinite Frontier landscape). I’m not sure that “Batman sure works things out in his dreams a lot” necessarily rises to the level of a statement Tynion’s making, but — if we charitably look at all these instances as meditation — it jibes with the overall aesthetic. Tynion’s Batman talks out his problems, but he also thinks out his problems too, vividly, whether a sit-down with a vision of Alfred or bumming around his mindscape with pal Ghost-Maker.

As mentioned, an item in Joker War’s favor was the personal rivalry between Batman and the Joker, but I also rather enjoyed Fear State’s addition to Batman’s rogues, Simon Saint. Tynion writes him wonderfully multi-faceted, and again I think it’s stronger because we haven’t seen a hundred writers interpret Saint previously.

Saint’s a bad guy, to be sure, not above blowing up city hall to get Gotham to hire his mercenaries, but also vomiting all over his own sandals when he realizes Scarecrow has double-crossed him. Saint is a child of Gotham, battling Batman not for money or fame but because he genuinely believes Batman is bad for Gotham, but he’s not so altruistic not to order the murder of one of his own men run amok. Saint endangers his assistant (and possibly more), but when Ricardo is a casualty, Saint seems genuinely upset.

Saint reminds, indeed, of a kind of Hugo Strange, perhaps the Hugo Strange I’d like to see — more the mad scientist manipulating Batman behind the scenes, less the one who sometimes goes to fisticuffs in a rented Bat-suit against Batman. In Fear State, such base fighting is left to Peacemaker-01, and I was reminded favorably of the Court of Owls saga — that Batman has a villain to defeat and also a physical threat to battle, and those are not the same thing, lending lots of levels to the climax.

As I’ll discuss more in my review of Batman: Fear State Saga, there’s lot of subplots here with various degrees of transparency to the Batman Vol. 5 reader getting only the Batman issues. Harley Quinn comes and goes (to her own book, presumably), saving the day in a way that may seem unearned from this title’s perspective. Even more jarring is the very sudden appearance of the Bat-family at the end (one of whom in a brand-new costume) with barely a hint of foreshadowing. For better or worse, the Fear State tie-ins are largely separate from Batman Vol. 5 proper.

Readers of Batman Vol. 5 may also find the story ends swiftly, without relaying the fates of a couple prominent characters. Tynion does this surely because the real wrap-up comes in his Batman: Fear State: Omega special, but that’s only collected in Fear State Saga and not here, and Batman Vol. 5 is lesser for it. In brief, Fear State Saga is the better way to read the “Batman: Fear State” story, though most tie-ins still also have to be found in their own individual volumes.

2.25

Rating

At the end of Batman Vol. 5: Fear State, the Bat-signal shines in the skies of Gotham again (drawn evocatively by Jorge Jimenez, who’s flawless wherever he appears in the book). That’s auspicious, to be sure, a deserved win for our hero, but it also felt a bit like James Tynion putting the pieces back in place as he left — a Gotham that trusts Batman again, Jim Gordon inevitably back in the commissioner’s chair, so on and so forth. Tynion’s run has been about newness, but newness takes time to take root — if it seems we will see Ghost-Maker again, I’ve less faith in the return of Miracle Molly without Tynion at the helm. Obviously DC can no more keep Bruce Wayne living in a Gotham brownstone without Alfred forever any more than Clark Kent’s secret identity will always be public, but here at the end of Tynion’s run, I did wish this brave new Gotham might last a little longer.

[Includes variant covers, character sketches]

Comments ( 6 )

  1. Once it became apparent that 5G wasn’t happening (and Joker War was the beginning, not the end), Tynion said that his mission statement was to treat the Bat-books like the X-Men office - really embrace embrace the shared universe to tell a giant story across the tapestry. You wouldn’t need to collect every book, but every book would add something.

    It was a beautiful dream, but it seems that Tynion could never escape the shadow of Future State. And once Fear State was over (indeed, once Tynion announced his departure), the shared universe conceit faded away, the books started to do their own things again, and I lost interest in about half the line. I’m dropping more Bat-titles than I’m adding these days, and I’m razor-close to dropping one of the flagship titles (I won’t say which one just yet).

    All this is to say, Tynion was doing something weird and new, and it didn’t always feel like /my/ Batman; at times it felt like Tynion was overpopulating Gotham with his own OCs in a way that didn’t seem lucrative for a guy who has a robust creator-owned presence. But looking back, I wish he’d stuck around a little longer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "...at times it felt like Tynion was overpopulating Gotham with his own OCs in a way that didn’t seem lucrative for a guy who has a robust creator-owned presence. But looking back, I wish he’d stuck around a little longer."

      Tynion addressed this in his newsletter. Basically, while everybody on the Bat books is always introducing their own pet characters and hoping they'll stick around (ex. Greg Rucka and Sasha Boredeaux), it was also a necessary evil for his run.

      Due to COVID and 5G, the Gotham status quo and availability of certain characters was in constant flux. Tynion HAD to create his own characters because he didn't know which pre-established Gothmmites he'd be able to use.

      Anyway, yeah, Fear State was a weak capstone to Tynion's run for me. I do like the basic concept of trying to give Jonathan Crane (one of the oldest, yet underutilized Bat villains) a major, defining story. But the execution was lackluster and Fear State's now basically been forgotten by all the Bat books within a year.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, it would make sense that outside forces such as COVID and 5G put a dampner on this run. I know Tynion can write bat books (I really enjoyed his Detective run at the start of rebirth), so there's no reason this should have fallen as flat as it did with two 'meh' events with a bunch of filler in between.

      As it stands, for me, its a real shame DC pulled Tom King off his batman run for him to take over.

      Delete
    3. Same. I really enjoyed his Detective run, too. And while I was unhappy about King's run prematurely ending, I was at least interested in seeing Scott Snyder's protegee working the big room, so to speak, rather than the ancillary title,

      And there *were* some good ideas throughout the run. I did like Dark Designs. I liked the concept of the Designer and his super-villain incubator program. I also liked the Unsanity Collective (felt like an evolution of the Victims Syndicate from Detective) and Sean Mahoney (the long-term, unexpected repercussions of Gordon uprooting the GCPD corruption in the Year One era).

      But between COVID, the industry upheaveal, and the stress and expectations of manning the flagship Batman (especially in comparison to Detective)...yeah, it just never really came to together the way I'd hoped.

      Delete
  2. Why no paperback for volume 4, only hardcover?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not entirely unusual for DC to only publish collections in one or the other format. In this case, given James Tynion leaving the title and etc., it looks like only the event collections (i.e., Fear State) get two versions, and the interstitial volumes will only have the one version.

      Delete

To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.