The dissonance between concept and execution is one of the most frustrating things to witness. Fantastic ideas rife with possibilities explored in the most mundane and unoriginal fashions are more disappointing than tripe that never aspires to anything more. “Batman: The Dark Knight” #5 has some genuinely intriguing variations on the Scarecrow’s usual fear toxin and conceptions of fear, but does nothing with them. This is a comic more interested in reliving the same dull fight that we’ve seen far too many times before: Batman vs. Superman, round 713. If anything, this comic is one held back, seemingly, by two heroes fighting for the sake of it. And that’s a shame.
Paul Jenkins and David Finch introduce two clever twists on the Scarecrow’s usual routine. The first is him arguing that Batman’s acts of heroism are motivated by fear: fear of people dying, of criminals getting away with it, and, though unsaid, fear that anyone else will suffer the pain he suffered as a child. Within that statement is room for exploration of the effect of the Scarecrow’s fear gas on Batman with that new knowledge/take on the fear that Batman suffers. Instead, it’s page after page of Batman suffering the same hallucinations he’s always suffered while the Scarecrow rants the same rant he’s always ranted.
From there, it leads to another clever twist on the Scarecrow: a serum that takes fear away. This is a concept that has a lot of possibilities and expands the methodology of this tired, one-note villain. The result is the arrival of Superman where Batman attacks him, because the absence of fear is the same as xenophobia apparently. If you eliminate Batman’s fear, he turns into a paranoid man who hates Superman for being an uninvited alien. Their fight is uninspired and a simple retread of the many fights the two have had before — maybe not in the ‘New 52’ world of the DCU, but that hardly matters.
Since this story is obviously art-driven, it’s disheartening to see what little Finch does with what’s here. The Scarecrow is a melon-headed comedy act and Batman cowers most of the issue until he becomes a mass of muscles attacking Superman awkwardly. For Batman’s hallucinations, Finch draws simple montages of villains and allies, nothing that seems particularly scary, even knowing the inner workings of Batman. Like or dislike Finch’s art, it’s rarely boring to look at it, and that’s what it is here. It seems like someone going through the motions of both a Scarecrow story and a Superman/Batman fight. There’s nothing new or exciting.