Batman: Prey

Batman: Prey is a rather complex trade.  It compiles two five-part miniseries, each with Hugo Strange as a central focus.  A summary of this collection would have to be extremely detailed in order to encapsulate everything that occurs.  There are key plot points involving Strange, Catwoman, Night Scourge, and even Scarecrow.  The central plot focuses on Strange’s obsession with the Batman as he toys with our hero’s head and attempts to push him to the brink of insanity.

Throughout this trade, I found the villains to be the most compelling to read about.  Specifically, Hugo Strange and later Jonathan Crane (aka Scarecrow).  Perhaps it’s my latent interest in psychology, but I found their depictions extremely fascinating.

Hugo Strange, a preeminent psychologist in Gotham, is perhaps one of the most complex villains ever to grace the pages of a Batman comic.  Obsessed with our hero, he spends countless nights trying to unravel Batman’s psyche while at the same time emulating him.

One of the oddest aspects of his behavior occurs when we see his (one-sided) conversation with a mannequin wearing Batman’s cowl:

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This is not your average, everyday sort of crazy.  Strange is completely off the deep end, making his role as well-respected city psychologist all the more disturbing.

Strange’s obsession with Batman was interesting to read about, but I must admit I found Batman’s depiction in this comic somewhat lacking.  While I could easily discern Strange’s mindset throughout the collection, Batman was more of an enigma.  In certain situations this characterization would add to the story, but not so in this case.  Batman’s psyche is at the forefront of the story, but I never really got the feeling that he was deeply affected by Strange’s psychological attacks.  He would vocalize concerns and distress over the situation, but it never really felt natural.  In this way I felt the comic was missing a key piece.

Strange himself was still enough to carry the story, at least as long as he was allowed.  In the second miniseries collected here, Strange (who was presumed dead after being shot and falling into the river) returns and travels to Arkham Asylum in disguise in order to treat one Jonathan Crane.

This second half of the trade was even more interesting than the first, with Strange using hypnosis as a form of mind control on the asylum guards as he works to change Crane’s mindset in order to do his bidding against the Batman:

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These scenes delved deeper into Crane’s emotional state than I thought they would, and it was certainly to the comic’s benefit.  Peering into the criminal’s psyche is always fascinating, and here it was done well enough that it added a new level to the story (one which is quite necessary for the story as a whole).

Strange eventually breaks Crane out of Arkham, but his brainwashing techniques are not what he had hoped (or perhaps Crane is just too strong), for Strange’s plans quickly unravel as Crane returns to his Scarecrow persona.  Enraged that Strange wanted to use him as a puppet, Scarecrow seeks retribution and sets a trap, into which Strange all-too-easily falls:

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Grotesquely impaled on the spike of a weathervane, Strange is out for the count as far as this trade is concerned.

Here the story shifts, with Scarecrow taking over as the primary villain Batman must battle.

This change in villains leads to a change in the overall tone of the comic.  Strange was fixated on Batman and Batman alone; Scarecrow wants to destroy Batman, but also wants to kill all those who were bullies to him in his past.

The culminating scene takes place in a veritable house of horrors, with Crane’s fear gas impacting everyone there, Batman included.  The story is, luckily, far richer than I’m making it out to be, with a sub-plot involving Catwoman being blackmailed into helping Crane.  As the story ends, Crane is in custody, Catwoman is on the loose, and Strange is presumably dead, although I tend to believe he’s alive, because come on. He already came back from the dead once in this comic.  No way he’s gone for good.

Overall I liked the story, but at the same time as I was reading I always felt there was something keeping me from being completely engulfed in the story.  The lack of acute characterization for Batman could have been part of it, but it felt like something else.

When I reached the final page of the trade, I realized what was keeping me from loving this collection:

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It’s the over-stylized nature of the panels.  The above image looks more like a movie poster than an immersive scene in a panel.  I always felt like I was observing the comic, rather than feeling completely drawn into it.  The characters themselves felt over-stylized as well, with Batman and Catwoman being depicted as muscular-beyond-belief, and don’t even get me started on the waaaaay overly-sexualized appearance of Catwoman.

(Okay too late, I’m started.  I could live with Catwoman being sexualized the way she is, in so much as it could be attributed to the costume and her secret identity.  There are scenes of her out of costume though which are unnecessarily sexual, such as a single panel in which Selina Kyle is doing aerobics and is shown sitting on the floor facing the reader, completely spread eagle wearing a skimpy leotard.  This added absolutely nothing to the story and felt completely gratuitous.  Such scenes were distracting and unnecessary.)

This stylistic choice may appeal to certain readers, but it just didn’t fit with the story for me.  I would have preferred such a psychologically-based collection to focus more on overall mood, using subtle changes in the scene to hint at the character’s current mental state.  As it is, the story itself was certainly enjoyable; I just think it could have been even better with a few tweaks.

-Jess

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