Sean Murphy is an accomplished artist and is generally considered a rock star in the community. He is not shy about getting paid large sums of money for his work because it is beautiful and he is proud of it. And so it should be. His work on Joe The Barbarian was jaw dropping, awe inspiring, magic (for lack of a better word). He is truly a top-tier artist. What might surprise you is that his work was nearly as rich and detailed on the front end of his career. I’m speaking of Batman/Scarecrow: Year One, one of his earliest mainstream contributions to comic book art, which was created in 2005. Bruce Jones writes the script for Batman/Scarecrow: Year One, but Murphy tells the story.
Bruce Jones, famous for his very popular work on The Incredible Hulk, weaves a complex tale of a man getting vengeance on all of those who have hurt him. Jonathan Crane, The Scarecrow, is brought to life as a particularly sadistic and broken individual. He has to take those who have shaped his life poorly and scare them to death (literally) through the use of powerful chemicals that he has created. With slight suggestion and the power of science, Crane is able to manipulate those around him and bring terror home to his dysfunctional and un-connected family group. This is nothing shocking or new. The Scarecrow has always used gas or toxins in water to strike fear into the hearts of men, but there is something about this portrayal that is a bit more disturbing. There is a personal touch to Scarecrow’s murders. In the way that each scene is set up and the intense monologuing surrounding each murder, we find a mechanical man of science deriving intense pleasure from very un-scientific applications of his chemicals.
The story is chilling and unsettling, but occasionally confusing. In all of the plot development and character mining, sometimes it feels like Scarecrow’s actions get lost in Jonathan Crane’s story. I’m not particularly dim, but I could have used a bit of separation and a little more “spelling it out for me” in the writing style to really stay riveted. It felt odd and kind of embarrassing to be getting lost in a two issue (albeit double-sized) story, but nevertheless it was hard to not get slightly confused with all of the flashbacks. Also, the application of Scarecrow’s fear toxins never felt fully realized and so we wound up with moments like the birds killing the woman on the yacht scene, where I’m not sure how or even what happened. She was hallucinating to death, but everyone else on the boat was hallucinating too, but not to death because it’s convenient to the plot, I guess. Again, I was confused.
Whatever confuses with the story, the art makes up for handily. Sean Murphy’s color pallet and heavy use of shadow and just generally creepy imagery provides for an excellent experience that could have no word balloons and still convey the emotions of the story. He draws a beefy Batman and I can appreciate that. He draws a tall, lanky, Scarecrow with one of the best costume designs that I have seen for the character in modern age comic books. The way that things are laid out and all of the illustration that breaks out of the panel lends itself to the fact that the artistic design of the book is vibrant and alive. It’s very well done.
Even though I was a little confused with the story, Batman/Scarecrow: Year One left me fully entertained. It is an innovative origin story for a beloved villain. It paints a dark picture of child abuse, domestic violence, and fear into the life of a young Jonathan Crane. Through flashbacks, we see his life drastically altered and his mind shaped into that of the villain known as The Scarecrow. The book is successful, even if it rides mostly on the back of Sean Murphy’s art, and should be checked out by any Batman fan. It is currently available as half of a collected trade for only $11.99 at Instocktrades.com.
~ Scott Deaux