Batman: Kings of Fear #3
Writer: Scott Peterson
Artist: Kelley Jones
The steel-trap of Batman’s mind is something readers have come to rely on, and it’s something they can often find solace in when Gotham truly gets gritty. It’s the stories that tinker with Batman’s cold resolve and finely crafted intellect that are truly unsettling. The Court of Owls arc did this to great effect, while bits of Long Halloween and the current Batman: Damned also call the wisdom and sanity of Gotham’s knight into question. The Scarecrow doesn’t often feature heavily in a lot of Batman storylines, but there’s no one better prepared to try and get the dark knight onto the psychiatrist’s couch than Dr. Crane. Scott Peterson continues to give the reader dizzy spells with plot loops and seemingly dead ends. Add in the hallucinatory twists of Kelley Jones’ illustration, and you have the world of Gotham as Batman knows it- slowly dissolving.
What makes this story so compelling is that rather than holding all the cards, Scarecrow has the tiger by the tail. While he may have a hostage, he’s still dealing with an increasingly frustrated Batman. Batman may not be smiling as he chucks his tormentor from rooftop to rooftop or locks him in his car as you would a noisome child, but it’s not lost on the reader. Behind the annoyances of C-lister Scarecrow, however, is the fact that he’s managed to get one over on Batman, and he’s determined. As always, Batman has his eye beating the bad guy at his own game and keeping the collateral damage off the table. With at least some of his wits unaccounted for, the odds on Batman are more than a little scary, which makes this story stand out from countless others in the Caped Crusader’s long career.
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Ricardo Burchielli
The Punisher is always one of the first to pick a side, and almost always the first to pull the trigger. Frank Castle’s new crusade against Hydra is especially compelling because it makes the heroes of the world somewhat complicit as they struggle to take Castle off the board in favor of the glacial pace of the justice of the courts and world opinion. The Punisher’s war on Hydra is some of the best writing for the character to date, precisely because it shows how far Castle is truly willing to go. The whole world is increasingly unsettled and angry, and Castle maintains a professional calm as he literally dismembers Hydra (and its members). He’s certainly taken just about everyone in the Marvel Universe on, and he never shies away from a fight, even when he’s way out of his weight class. Matthew Rosenberg has taken Castle to the world stage; the whispered gangland legend, now taking out international figures and causing Hydra itself to turn tail and go underground.
Ricardo Burchielli’s illustration is amazing- the close-ups are tense and cold, the action is spattered across the pages, and the heavy shade work makes the pages look and feel as if they were sprinkled with gunpowder and ashes. In the case of the Punisher, it’s clearly both. His brief dalliance with Daredevil in this issue (don’t call it a team-up) is chock full of humor, bullets and smart writing that does great justice to the shared history of the two characters. If the Marvel Universe were a party, Frank Castle is the guest everyone knows, and most avoid. Rosenberg’s Castle has a laser-like focus on his quarry, and he’s body-checking party guests along the way. While the appearance of Fury is sure to throw some water on the situation, it’s more likely it’ll just be that much more steam for Castle to hide in, rather than cooling the situation.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Terra Incognita #4
Writer: Scott Tipton
Artist: Angel Hernandez
With the teasers for season two of Discovery bouncing around the internet and the whispers of the new branch of the franchise fronted by a returning Sir Patrick Stewart himself, it’s a good time to be a trekkie. While the original run of The Next Generation concluded years ago, Scott Tipton’s handling of the world of TNG has been masterful, and the latest installment of Terra Incognita is one of the best episodes never made. Heavily featuring Wesley Crusher, rather than the antagonistic protagonist of Reginald Barclay’s Mirror Universe counterpart, trek devotees are a wonderful one-shot story with a great cover.
While the larger storyline of the evil version of milquetoast Barclay is the big pull for this series, it was a happy surprise that Tipton gave the spotlight to Wesley and Riker. Evil Barclay’s there, to be sure, with his Machiavellian panache to help drive the plot along, but at its heart, this is a feel-good episode you might have imagined you saw when the legendary show first aired. Angel Hernandez’s lines are crisp and fluid, and there’s a couple of very cool layout tricks snuck into an otherwise very straight-forward read. While the larger story may be on pause for a month, Terra Incognita #4 is a great nostalgia trip.