Review: Batman: Fear State Saga hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Batman: Fear State Saga has learned some lessons from James Tynion’s Bat-crossover previous, but I wonder if they were quite the right lessons.

That is, inasmuch as I enjoyed Batman Vol. 2: The Joker War and some of its sundry event items, my own two chief complaints would be this: During a rebuilding time for the Bat-family titles, the tie-ins from books like Nightwing and Batgirl were pretty rough, and the Batman: The Joker War Zone special was only collected in the The Joker War Saga collection and nowhere else. As someone who read all the tie-in series in their own individual trades, I didn’t need Saga, but then had to swing back around to find Joker War Zone as a single issue (perish the thought!) to read its stories.

[Review contains spoilers]

In terms of crossover structure, there’s a lot happening in James Tynion’s “Fear State.” There is, on one level, Batman’s main action. Below that is the subplot action that dips in and out of Tynion’s Batman book — Tynion’s been featuring Harley Quinn, so Harley’s side-quest to resurrect Poison Ivy starts here, peels off into Harley Quinn for a while (invisible to the Batman reader), then ends in Batman again. Similarly Batgirls' “anti-Oracle” plot starts here but then disappears altogether (perhaps into the Batgirls backup stories running alongside Tynion’s Batman, though they’re neither reprinted in Batman Vol. 5: Fear State nor Fear State Saga).

The third level, then, are the tie-in issues that neither really start nor resolve in Batman proper — I couldn’t tell you what Nightwing was up to, for instance, aside from a nebulous panel halfway through; in the same way the Next Batman Jace Fox’s entire introduction takes place off-screen. Joker War had, among its big set pieces, a big Bat-family round-up and Nightwing formally taking back his mantle; with Fear State, we suddenly have the Bat-family showing up in the villains' Peacekeeper outfits, out of nowhere and with no foreshadowing, and then they disappear again just as quickly. Parts of this “crossover” are a total black box to the Batman-only reader.

That’s not wholly unexpected or “wrong,” necessarily. Batman Vol. 2: Joker War was much the same way, in that the Batman reader wouldn’t have reason to know why Nightwing and Punchline seem to know each other sans the tie-in isuses; the lack of extraneous information is often a feature for the casual reader, not a bug. If one wanted the whole “Fear State” story, they’d read Batman: Fear State Saga, not Batman Vol. 5: Fear State.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

That’s where it gets unusual.

Batman Vol. 5: Fear State collects Batman #112–117. Batman: Fear State Saga collects those same issues, plus Fear State: Alpha and Omega, and then the Secret Files issues for Miracle Molly, the Gardner, and Peacekeeper-01, two of which are set before the main action1. There are no Bat-family tie-in issues to be found here at all. So ordinarily where one would see the blank spots in the Batman issues and figure those would be filled in with tie-in issues in the Saga book, that’s not the case at all. Saga contains as many holes as the related Batman book itself.

If the powers that be heard any grumbling about one single issue being collected in Joker War Saga that wasn’t collected anywhere else (while all the rest appeared in multiple trades), clearly it wasn’t a deterrent, since Fear State Saga contains just two issues not collected elsewhere, out of 11. And if subpar tie-in issues brought down the Joker War Saga overall, replacing those with not-immediately-related Secret Files issues seems suspect at best, padding out the Fear State Saga volume without actually adding more “Fear State” content. Given, for instance, a Secret Files: Gardner issue and a Harley Quinn issue involving Poison Ivy, both also collected elsewhere, the Harley issue seems the better choice.

Regarding, then, Batman: Fear State: Alpha and Omega, the two issues endemic to Fear State Saga, I’d generally say each are worth a passing read. For Alpha, it’s all about “anti-Oracle”; no idea how that story will turn out, but in terms of the anti-Oracle actually plaguing Barbara Gordon and pals, the place to see that (instead of just being told about it) is in Alpha. The rest of Alpha is something of a feint, as these crossover tie-in books go — we see Batman and Peacekeeper-01 in the space between Batman #111 and Batman #112, but neither is there specific difference reading those books without the middle step.

Omega is perhaps more integral. Batman #117 ends suddenly, without resolution given to important “Fear State” figures like Simon Saint and Scarecrow Jonathan Crane, a surprising choice. Fortunately Omega provides that missing epilogue; I’d probably have a lower opinion of Fear State were the extra epilogue not included in my first read.

That issue is a wonderful issue-long conversation between Batman and Scarecrow; frankly I find Tynion’s Scarecrow at least as vivid as his Joker, if not more so. And within, we see many of the themes of Tynion’s Batman run come to fruition — that the ultimate sin of the Scarecrow is that he’s remained stagnant, afraid to change even as the world evolved around him.

Batman, on the other hand — in some respects an old man, in some respects the establishment — is able to recognize the changing face of Gotham (as metaphor for the here-and-now), with “a whole generation rising up, wary of authority … they need heroes too, even if those heroes don’t look the way I would choose for them to.” Dylan sings, “Please get out of the new [road] if you can’t lend your hand”; Tynion’s Batman gets it, even if the establishment in the real world struggles to.



You could read James Tynion’s Batman: Fear State Saga for the fullest version of the “Fear State” story, but it’s still not “full.” Whereas Joker War Saga brought you the most relevant parts of the tie-ins alongside the main story, you’ll still need other collections — from closely aligned Harley Quinn to barely there Nightwing — for the whole-whole story. Better or worse? What will they think of next?

[Includes variant cover thumbnails]

  1. As well, those three Secret Files issues make up a full half of the Batman: Secret Files trade, not to mention the one that's collected in Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 2: Fear State. I'll talk about them in the Secret Files review.  ↩

Comments ( 1 )

  1. "Similarly Batgirls' “anti-Oracle” plot starts here but then disappears altogether (perhaps into the Batgirls backup stories running alongside Tynion’s Batman, though they’re neither reprinted in Batman Vol. 5: Fear State nor Fear State Saga)."

    Yes. That storyline directly continues into the Batman #115-117 backup stories (which are the Backdoor Pilot for Batgirls) before interweaving with Tom Taylor's NIGHTWING.

    Those stories are reprinted in the recent BATGIRLS tpb -- though, yeah, it's weird they were omitted from this complete Fear State Saga collection.


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