Monday, October 29, 2007

Some of my Favorite Scarecrows #4: Kelley Jones'

I’ve mentioned my love of artist Kelley Jones’ work here many times before, and it should therefore come as no surprise that his is one of my favorite visual interpretations of The Scarecrow.

Jones’ specialty is drawing scary shit, so a character whose whole deal is to dress up scary and try to scare people? That’s pretty much right up his alley.

The first Jones-drawn Scarecrow I came across was the one on the cover of Batman #494, part of the 1993“Knightfall” storyline in which Batman had to face each and every one of his rouges’ gallery, working his way up to Bane, who freed them all simultaneously from Arkham Asylum and armed them.

The Scarecrow and the Joker teamed up to terrorize Gotham in tandem, and they were the last foes Batman faced before he returned to the Batcave to face Bane, still tripping pretty hardcore on some Scarecrow gas.

The fight didn’t go well for our boy Batman.

At this point, Jones was just the cover artist for Batman, and his designs were more or less the standard character designs, with his own interpretation shading them slightly (His Batman, for example, was the same Batman Jim Aparo was drawing inside; Jones’ just happened to have ears that were three times as long).

His Scarecrow, therefore, was pretty much your standard Scarecrow, not looking any different from Norm Breyfogle’s from a few years before.

But a year and two other storylines beginning with the prefix "Knight-" later, Jones would move inside, to become the regular penciler on Batman, working with writer Doug Moench and inker John Beatty.

I loved this creative team, and though their stint was relatively short-ish (#515-#552), they remain my second favorite Batman creative team of all time, beaten out only by the incomparable Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle team, who served together far longer, and added more new characters to the Batman stable than Moench and Jones.

Jones is most certainly the greater partner in their collaboration, at least in terms of why I like it so much, but if Moench’s stories lacked either verisimilitude or great characterization, they had a neat sort of cartoon artificiality about them. Moench’s scripts seem quite aware that they’re to be comic books, and the characters act like characters in a dark superhero drama, rather than, like, real people, or characters in a novel or TV show, if that makes sense. The stories all tended to be short, and focused sharply and cleverly to define Batman and the characters in Batman’s world, often by contrasting them against one another.

Looking back on their run, it was almost like a Brave and the Bold run, as just about every issue featured Batman either combating one of his major rogues (Black Mask, Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, Man-Bat, The Joker, The Penguin, Clayface, the new Black Spider) and/or teaming up with one of DC’s creepier, more Kelley Jones-ready antiheroes (Swamp Thing, Deadman, The Spectre, Etrigan the Demon, Ragman).

It was almost as if Moench was writing the series specifically to give Jones the things he wanted to draw, which, come to think of it, wasn’t a bad way to write Batman at the time, since, as a reader, I really wanted to see Jones draw all those characters.

The Scarecrow, obviously, was on the list:

Here’s how Moench, Jones and Beatty introduce us to the Scarecrow on the first two pages of part one:

Jones had clearly refined his Scarecrow design since that “Knightfall” cover a few years previously, although it’s essentially the same—The Scarecrow looks more or less like he would have in an old Who’s Who or Batman comic from anywhere in the previous 20 years or so. But under Jones’ pencil, his body takes on a weird shape and nervous energy (check out his descent from the pole in panel 3 up there, or his twisted posture in panel 4).

Jones, like Breyfogle, allows Scarecrow’s expression to show through the mask to varying degrees, depending on how expressive he wants him in a particular panel. Except when he wants a full expression to show through, rather than a subtle, jack o' lantern like expression, it’s something wholly fucking horrifying—The Scarecrow’s face seemingly rotting into a mummified skull in the last panel for his close-up.

As Batman vs. Scarecrow stories go, it’s a pretty standard affair, but Jones’ art elevates it into something special. My favorite parts include a scene in part one where he literally sneaks up on a hobo and says “boo,” scaring the guy away, and the showdown in part two, which is set in an amusement park haunted house type ride. Usually, that’s the kind of place a Joker showdown would be set, but it makes sense for the Scarecrow in certain contexts too, so it was kind of refreshing to see them fight there instead of, I don’t know, Gotham University or a cornfield or barn for the ten thousandth time.

Jones would draw The Scarecrow again in the third part of the Vampire Batman trilogy, Batman: Bloodstorm, in which the vampire Batman rises from the dead to slaughter all his surviving foes. In that, the Scarecrow looks pretty much the same as he does in the DCU comics that Jones drew, except he wields a handheld sickle, and has decorated his costume with severed fingers.

1 comment:

James Figueiredo said...

That's a great review - I loved Moench/Jones's run on Batman so much I had the issues hardbounded, they made such a neat package.

Upon learning DC is going to release a TP with the Vampire Batman trilogy in december, I immediately pre-ordered it.

And yes, like 75% of taht love stems from Kelly Jones marvelous artwork.