Scott Peterson started his career as an assistant editor to notable Batman writer and editor Dennis O’Neil and later became a Batman editor himself.
Kelley Jones started working for DC Comics around the same time, working on the original Sandman series. He later went on to draw classic, horror-infused stories like Batman and Dracula: Red Rain and Batman: Bloodstorm.
In Batman: Kings of Fear #1, Peterson and Jones deliver a lot of what makes Batman great – classic villain monologuing; fists now/questions later action and a visual style that emphasizes the darkness within Gotham City.
Peterson’s story gives us some of the classic Batman standards, with an introductory Joker confrontation, chaos at Arkham Asylum, and a psychologist criticizing Batman’s methods. It all feels quite nostalgic for long-time Bat-fans. Peterson also does a great job of capturing the dynamic between Batman and Joker, which leads up to the tense, action-packed ending sequence.
In my eyes, Jones is one of the most iconic Batman artists in a long, storied history of artists. His distinctive, exaggerated, Gothic style brought a unique darkness and strength to the character in the ’90’s. Every panel of this story drips with an energy created by the exaggerated physical forms of Jones’s Gotham. Batman leaps through the air to join a superbly depicted montage of fists, grimaces, and psychotic glaring eyes on legs that are way too muscular to be realistic. In that absurdity, however, the reader can grasp the depth of Batman’s enigma. He has to be larger than life to deal with Gotham’s villains.
There is also a subtlety to Jones’s art in this issue that really adds to the overall mystique of the story. After their showdown, Batman locks Joker up in the back seat of the Batmobile and drives off toward Arkham Asylum. This entire sequence relies more on facial features than dialogue to tell the story. Batman is scowling away in the driver’s seat and it’s a thing of beauty to watch Jones and colorist Michelle Madsen alter lines and shadow to make a simple frown convey a range of emotions within the span of a few panels.
Peterson’s story does everything it should do in this opening issue of Kings of Fear. He allows Jones to create hauntingly absurd images that remind the reader that Batman’s greatest weapon is psychology. It might be easy to take the art in this book at face value and walk away from it, but there is a surprising subtlety at work here. Jones’ hyperbolic art paired with a plot that doesn’t try to be overtly special makes for a fantastic, visual journey that doesn’t have to be great to be fun.