Batman In Print – Knightfall(1993) – The God of Fear

Batman: Shadow of the Bat # 16, 17 and 18, “The God of Fear”

Written by Alan Grant, with art by Mike Manley, Brett Blevins and Steve George

By John A. Butz

“I’ve been thinking a lot about elites lately.  How they come to power…how to STOP them!”

I can be critical of the sort of stories I don’t like, but I enjoy reading Batman comics, even ones that aren’t that good.  It’s the same way with crime fiction.  Sure, I would rather read a Raymond Chandler classic, but I have no problems with any old paperback to read on the beach or the plane or whatever.  Not everything you like to read has to be brilliant.  And, really, my issue with this three-part story arc is not the quality of the work, so much as the fact that it really feels like an afterthought.

It is not for lack of talent on the part of the writer and artists, either.  Alan Grant is a legend in comics, having written for everyone and anyone in the business.  Mike Manley and Brett Blevins were established artists with several decades of experience between the two of them.  They really tried to make this work, using a somewhat surrealistic art style and a solid story designed to deliver the goods.  The art melds nicely with the hallucinatory methods of the straw-headed master of terror, a strong harmony between words and pictures.

It’s not the fault of the cast of characters.  Scarecrow is our main villain, and his diabolical scheme to drive Gotham to it’s knees and worship him as the literal God of Fear is a solid, if somewhat dated, idea.  Scarecrow’s approach is ultra violent and devious, involving kidnapped and brainwashed college students, fear gas, and holographic projectors.  Some of the minor Gotham criminals make appearances as well, the Hood Brothers and the Anti-Bats.  There is a focus on the present lawlessness of a Gotham without Batman.

Grant adds some Anarky to the mix by having his anti-establishment superhero escape from Gotham’s prison system to resume his war on elites, established society, and all things that oppress the people.  Anarky makes an interesting counterpoint to Batman, and particularly Jean Paul Valley’s Batman.  Kind and compassionate where Valley is hard and cold, Anarky can be just as ruthless and willing to kill someone if he feels that it is for the good of the cause.  Although I find Anarky preachy, he is well used as a foil here.

So, you may be wondering, what exactly is the problem with this arc?  It has good art, solid writing, and an engaging story.  What can go wrong?  The answer is that the story is entirely out of  place in the narrative, and it should be a story about Bruce Wayne.

The Shadow of the Bat books were one of several concurrent titles running separate-but-related stories using the same cast of characters.  This is not unusual – nearly every major character had many titles devoted to them and their extended cast of characters.  However, this creates an editorial nightmare rife for continuity errors.  This story suffers from that.

As a comic book it feels plenty fine, but as part of the collected graphic novel, The God of Fear is a failure.  The title pages don’t appear in my collection at all, and there is no way to distinguish the individual issues from each other.  Additionally, the story has nothing to do with the previous issue.  It feels like it takes a lot of time in the world of the story, but when the next issue continues where Lightning Changes left off this three-issue vignette simply vanishes off the radar never to be mentioned again.  This is one of the few mistakes that the editors made in KnightFall.  This entire storyline just feels out of place.

As for the subject matter, Anarky focuses on how Batman is a criminal elite, a being as old as Gotham, a creature that draws the evils that plague Gotham’s people to the city even while he purports to fight them.  This would be a great story, if Bruce was behind the cowl.  With Jean Paul as the man wearing the mask, the story lacks something.  Had Grant chosen to focus on the differences that Anarky perceives between this new Batman and the old one, or the change in how Batman is operating, that might have felt like it was furthering the story.

So, inspired in and of itself, this manages to be a decent story, but a poor part of KnightFall.  I tend to skim it when I reread the arc, and I am eager to be back to the main story.  This side trip feels long and out of place, and I just don’t care about it.

“He’s a monument in this city–something that was here long before there were streets and buildings and…and criminals.”

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