EXCLUSIVE: Kelley Jones Returns to Batman, Unleashes Fear with Scarecrow

Kelley Jones illustrated some of the most celebrated and recognizable Batman images of the 1990s, including the "Batman & Dracula trilogy" which started with 1991's Red Rain, and much of the covers for the pivotal "Knightfall" storyline. Now the artist is set to make a major return to the Dark Knight with the Batman: Kings of Fear miniseries, and CBR has the first details.

Kings of Fear is a six-issue miniseries set to debut in August from DC, illustrated by Jones and written by Scott Peterson, who worked as an editor on the Batman books during "Knightfall" and other major '90s Bat-stories. As you may have guessed from the title, the story features Scarecrow, who aims to make Batman confront his greatest fear -- something that, according to the creative team, will explore the fundamentals of what makes the pop culture icon tick.

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Here's the official description from DC: "Batman’s been overseeing Gotham City for years now and isn’t sure how much of a difference he’s making. Doubt, fear and insecurity are starting to take over. And as all of those negative feelings set in the Scarecrow orchestrates a riot in Arkham Asylum to give the Dark Knight one of his greatest challenges yet!"

"His greatest fears, from the origin stories, there's the falling, there's the bat in the cave, there's obviously the fear that a loved one will die," Peterson told CBR of how the story developed. "But I thought, what's underneath all that? I suddenly thought, 'Oh, that's his greatest fear' -- which I'm not going to tell you right now."

Kings of Fear is not connected to current mainline Batman storylines, and it's vaguely described in solicitation copy to take place after Bruce Wayne has been active as Batman "for years" -- but Jones and Peterson say the story could take place at any point in the Batman timeline, with a focus on asking existential questions cutting to the core of the Caped Crusader, formed from their years of work on the character.

"Why does Gordon go along with this? He's basically breaking the Fourth Amendment dealing with Batman," Jones said."He's this law and order guy, and there has to be an explanation more than friendship. There has to be an explanation of why does [Batman] keep grabbing all these crazies, putting them back in Arkham? They get out and he does it again. There has to be a bigger picture to this, and it can't just be, 'My mom and dad were shot.' There's a real solid reason that makes it all work."

Years following their work together on the Batman books, Jones and Peterson got back into contact when a journalist reached both of them for a retrospective article on "Knightfall," the multi-part story that famously depicted Bane breaking Bruce Wayne's back. The two soon discovered that their creative visions were still very much in sync, and discussed collaborating on a project -- which evolved into a Batman story. Not surprisingly, much of Peterson's motivation was seeing what Jones could do next in his moody, distinct and frequently horror-tinged style.

"When trying to figure out what villain I wanted to see Kelly draw, the answer was 'all of them,'" Peterson said. Yet the Scarecrow not only invites lurid visuals -- think of the fear toxin-induced hallucinations -- but also represents comparatively fresh territory within Batman's famed rogues gallery, at least by the standards of a 75-year-old villain created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson.

"By this point, there have been so many great stories done with all the villains," Peterson said. "It did feel like, given how integral to Batman as a character both in the real world and in the comic book world fear is, that there was still more yet to be said with the Scarecrow, or at least a take that I hadn't quite seen."

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Yet it's not the spooky mask and the chemical weapons that make Scarecrow scary to Jones -- it's his day job.

"He's such a great gothic character with a great gothic hero and a great gothic city," Jones said to CBR. "But the stuff that made him interesting really wasn't gothic. It was, he's a psychiatrist. His real power in this is being a psychiatrist -- but in a really creepy way."

Batman: Kings of Fear #1 cover by Kelly Jones

Jones' latest projects have included completing IDW Publishing's Frankenstein Alive, Alive! following the death of Bernie Wrightson, and a story in this year's Swamp Thing Winter Special. His previous most recent full-length Batman story was 2009's Batman: Unseen, written by his Batman & Dracula collaborator Doug Moench, but it doesn't sound like his artistic perspective on the character has shifted much.

"I always think of him as a shape rather than as this person standing there with a cape on," Jones said. "I always think of him from the perspective of who he's dealing with. I blend him in and out of shadow -- I don't do that with other characters. I make him someone who, if he says stop it, you stop it."

"I always approach him from that mindset, that he's the most terrifying thing in a terrifying place," Jones continued. "And that kind of draws itself, y'know?"

Batman: Kings of Fear #1 is scheduled for release on Aug. 22. On the following page, CBR has a five-page lettered preview of the issue, by Scott Peterson, Kelley Jones, colorist Michelle Madsen and letterer Rob Leigh.

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