DCAU #4: Nothing to Fear

IN THIS ONE... Batman meets the Scarecrow for the first time.

CREDITS: Written by Henry Gilroy (a Taz-Mania alumnus who would go on to work on Clone Wars and other action cartoons) and Sean Catherine Derek (who wrote the Smurfs cartoon); directed by Boyd Kirkland, who as a layout artist worked on Thundarr, Spider-Man, Hulk and Mister T.

REVIEW: The Scarecrow makes his debut in the first of two looks, and it's the inferior of the two, I think, but the episode does draw a nice parallel between Jonathan Crane and the Batman, which I don't see exploited nearly enough in the comics. That is to say that both men use fear as a weapon, and so both get a taste of their own medicine (literally, in the case of the Scarecrow, in a sequence reprised in Batman Begins). In Scarecrow's fear gas is usually a good opportunity to show others' greatest fears and delve into their psychology. Sadly, that feels very contrived here. Bruce Wayne just so happens to get his playboy persona insulted by one of his father's old friends, priming him for visions of Thomas Wayne being disappointed with him. Convenient and since playboy Bruce Wayne is just a necessary fiction anyway, why is this Batman's greatest worry? Probably the best use of the Waynes is the final shot of Bruce at their grave, but the story doesn't really earn that moment (nice music and mood though). And then it just so happens Crane's own phobia is bats? That's one detail I always found rather facile and silly.

Batman's relationship with the police continues to be all over the map, which is either a side-effect of the episodes being produced out of broadcast order, or just a case of the production team not knowing what to do with it. He was a vigilante menace in On Leather Wings, but here cops run to him to see if he's okay and Bullock calls him the Commissioner's "pet bat" (hey, Batman WAS stealing evidence). Not a big deal, but that might have been tracked better. Speaking of jumbled continuity, this is the first real introduction of Summer Gleeson (keep wanting to write Summer Glau), as a Vicki Vale-like reporter, though in production/DVD order, she was one of the Joker's Christmas hostages. She makes me wonder why Vicki wasn't used on the series instead, especially if they're going to be physically identical (drawn as Vicki, changed at the recording stage?).

The episode does show Batman powering through psychological torture, and introduces one of his core villains to the series, so complaints aside, it has things going for it. Once again, we get a night watchman with personality - this one laughs his head off reading a Tiny Toons comic - though the Scarecrow's goons are perhaps a bit too archetypal as dumb brutes. And there's a nice action sequence involving a blimp, with those guys firing tommy guns into the airbag and air slowing escaping from the bullet holes.

IN THE COMICS: The Scarecrow first appeared in World's Finest Comics #3 (Fall 1941), but the episode takes a lot of its cues from Batman Annual #19 and the miniseries Scarecrow Year One, in particular his evident fear of bats. Among the chemical companies Batman looks into, we find DC Comics mainstay S.T.A.R. Labs, and Axis Chemicals where Burton's Joker fell into the vat that bleached his skin and drove him crazy.

SOUNDS LIKE: Scarecrow is voiced by Henry Polic II from Webster. That's Richard Moll (Two-Face) as Thomas Wayne's "ghost".

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Good, but not great. The attempt at character development feels too contrived to make a lasting impact.


Anonymous said...

"Convenient and since playboy Bruce Wayne is just a necessary fiction anyway, why is this Batman's greatest worry?"

I'm going to file this under Marvel Envy: this was the early 90s, when DC was still trying to figure out how to apply Marvel style drama to DC. What DC wouldn't discover for some time yet (and still sometimes wrestles with) is, DC is less about soap operatics and much much more about crime-busting, so what works for Marvel characters doesn't necessarily work for DC. Spider-Man might worry about what people think of him in and out of costume; Bruce Wayne doesn't care about that noise because he's got more important things to worry about, such as poverty, street crime, urban renewal, and murder clowns.

It should be noted that I view Batman as the SOLUTION to Bruce Wayne's problem, which is, human mortality is something that the Wayne fortune can't always do anything about. The murder of the Waynes served, more than anything, to reveal to Bruce exactly how fragile we all are, and it's that awareness that drives him. In this way he's very much like Prince Siddhartha who strove to conquer suffering through asceticism, except Bruce instead chose to dress like a bat and kick almighty ass. Who had the better idea? Well whose comics sell better, Buddha's or Batman's? I rest my case.

This is also why I can't much enjoy "Mask of the Phantasm": that whole thing where he's wrestling with Bruce vs. Batman has never rung true to me.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"And then it just so happens Crane's own phobia is bats?"
I just assumed that was because of current circumstances- IE Batman had *given* him that phobia. (unless I am forgetting a pre-Batman encounter where we saw it already established).

And no calling out that amazing "I am the night- I am Batman!" speech? That's worth the price of admission right there. Fantastic moment.

Anonymous, speaking of secret identities... there's only one internet writer I know of that likes to use 'murder clowns'; I don't suppose you happen to be on staff at comicsalliance? ;-)

Anonymous said...

I think I got the term from Chris Sims; I am a regular reader of comicsalliance and I particularly enjoy Chris Sims articles. But nope, I'm a nobody of any consequence, basically a raccoon that skulks around the dumpsters behind comic book blogs looking for half-eaten slices of pizza. I mean that in a good way.

Ironically, I stay anonymous in part because of Chris Sims. Remember that flap with Valerie D'Orazio, where Chris et al more or less bullied her off the Internet? As with most tales it's probably not as simple as that, but the upshot of it is, I was following many of the same comic book blogs at the time, and some of the viciousness persuaded me that I do best not attaching my name to anything I write. I have yet to find myself wishing I had attached my name to something I wrote anonymously.

LiamKav said...

I'm with Andrew... I think that in both Scarecrow and Batman's case it was hightening current anxieties rather than pre-existing phobias. We get a bit more of that in the next Scarecrow episode. Which does highlight a slight problem with the character in that there are only about 3 Scarecrow stories you can tell: He either infects Batman with fear toxin, infects someone else, or turns into a weird Hulk creature that we would all like to forget about thank you very much. "Dreams in Darkness" kinda does this plot again, except it executes it a million times better.

And yeah, "I am vengence, I am the night, I AM BATMAN!" is awesome, and when they reprised it at the end of Arkham Knight I did a little "woo" of excitement.

Regarding Anon's comments... it's very easy to do the whole "Batman is the real person, Bruce is the mask" idea, and certainly this show does it a fair bit. However, I think the truth is more complicated. When people say "wouldn't it be better for Bruce Wayne to use his fortune to build schools and help at a society level rather than running around at night punching individual criminals", they assume it's either/or. I think he quite obviously does both. It means that the "superficial playboy" approach is a bit grating to me. Like "meak and scaredy Clark Kent", it works in the context of a movie, but longer term I don't get why anyone would want to hang out with these people. If Kal-El uses Clark to connect with humans, he should probably be a human that isn't going to piss everyone off, which is why I prefer post-Crisis Clark. Likewise, playboy Bruce Wayne would never be given any control whatsoever of Wayne Enterprises, when he clearly has a lot.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

I remember it all too well, yes. And I have found much the same. I still try to attach my name- 'cause heck, if any of my past internet mistakes catch up with me (and when I was a hotheaded idiot in my early teens, I'm sure I made plenty; diplomacy was not my thing), I want to own up to them and make it right if I can... but man, there are some things I sure wish I could un-say; a lot of feet in mouths.

And hey, if Guardians of the Galaxy showed us anything, it's that being a comics-related Racoon is sometimes an excellent idea. :-)

LiamKav said...

On the episode itself (I watched this one! Couldn't bring myself to do the first two, but I've managed this)

- We're still playing the Danny Elfman Batman theme in the actual episode itself, rather than just the title. The Shirley Walker theme also plays during the blimp sequence. As the show goes on the latter will become completely dominant.

- When the Scarecrow starts with his "I am fear incarnate", I really wanted the next line to be "I am the terror that flaps in the night". Same thing with Batman's line at the end.

- Scarecrow's thugs are named "Nigel" and "Anthony". I'm sure there's a thing with such stupid henchmen being given "clever" names, but I'm not sure what it is. Also, we're still early enough in the series that Batman has (mild) trouble fighting them. By the time Justice League starts, Batman would be taken out guys like this within seconds of entering the room.

- It might just be because I'm more used to Zimbalist, but I find Reville's take to be just a little too snide. He almost does it during the "I'm so proud of you" line, but he doesn't quite have the warmth that Zimbalist brings to every line. His Alfred would do some amazing zinger's on Bruce, but the afection would always be obvious. From Mark of the Phantasm:

"What rot, sir! Why, you're the very model of sanity. Oh, by the way, I pressed your tights and put away your exploding gas balls."

- Bullock calls Batman "Zorro", which is delightful.

- Professor Jonathan Crane is the first of many, many doctors that Batman goes up against. The next appears soon enough. Never mind the clown factories, Batman should get Gotham University shut down as soon as possible.

Green Luthor said...

@LiamKav: I think a big reason why people assume an either/or situation (re: Batman vs. philanthropy) is that we really don't see much evidence of the latter as we probably should. Let's face it: if Bruce were *really* seriously invested in improving Gotham via philanthropy, wouldn't he have financed a new mental institution to replace Arkham by now? (One with, say, guard to make sure the people housed there don't escape on a twice-daily basis. Or doctors to actually attempt to treat their mental illnesses. At the very least, medications, perhaps.)

Basically, while we're frequently told Bruce Wayne does a lot of public good, we never really see any positive effects from it.

(On the other hand, we also never really see too many positive effects from his "dress like a bat and beat up mental patients" plan, either; if anything, Gotham has even *more* crime despite criminals knowing they're likely to get bludgeoned by a guy in a cape. Obviously, this is all because, if Bruce did effect significant positive change in Gotham, there'd be fewer stories for Batman, but it all ends up making both Bruce and Batman look not particularly effective...)

Anyhoo... on to the Vicki Vale question... honestly, I have no idea why they used Summer instead of Vicki, but, if I had to guess, I'd say it might be because Vicki wasn't brought back for Batman Returns, and someone at WB didn't want the character on the show if she wasn't going to be in the movies. (Certainly, the design of the Penguin was inspired by Batman Returns, so it's at least not out of the question.) But I'm just spitballing here...

Anonymous said...

For me, the "real" Bruce is the one who's sitting in the Batcave, his mask off, talking to Alfred or Dick. That's about the only time he's his unguarded self, when he's with his trusted allies. The rest of the time he has to disguise who he is to varying degrees.

But writers have more or less done away with Bruce the playboy and I'm glad for that. As with Clark the investigative journalist, Bruce the businessman and philanthropist helps Gotham too, and is no longer just a flimsy disguise. Which actually makes for a BETTER disguise, because when's a businessman going to find time to dress like a bat and kick muggers in the face?

One of my favorite details of the nu52 is that Batman is keeping entire Gotham neighborhoods functioning, by rerouting electricity from corporations like Wayne Enterprises (wink wink) and patching it into dilapidated electrical grids that would otherwise fail. I imagine much of what Wayne Industries and the Wayne Foundation do is similar, they keep things from falling apart so it's difficult to perceive the not-falling-apart-ness.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

That's the inherent problem with Superhero stories. If they make things better, they eliminate the need for themselves; but their ongoing stories make them look ineffective.

It's the same 'why doesn't he kill the Joker' issue, or problem with most superhero love interests... basically, the hero will not go and kill the villain, and he CERTAINLY won't go and kill the villain's loved ones (which is a good thing!). He also won't permanently incarcerate or stop the villain because writers want to bring them back. AT BEST, this means a stalemate, wherein hero never stops villain, villain never stops hero, and their actions cancel each other out. Which can make the hero look a bit useless, but still works in a 'locked in epic struggle forever, two opposing forces of nature' kind of way.

BUT, writers can't resist shock writing, writing out characters by death, etc... so then the villain kills someone close to the hero- and the hero, being the hero, obviously doesn't retaliate. (Again, this is not something that I am criticizing; he'd hardly be the hero if he did!) At this point, however, the stalemate is broken. The hero has not made positive gains (except in putting away one-shots that weren't big deals to begin with), and he isn't allowed to just keep it a tie (continually averting disaster)- he now has a negative total in his column, and is able, at best, to hold the line there. Until they have him lose someone else.

The Joker is a particularly egregious example of this, while Doctor Who's Daleks are perhaps worst of all. (Though to be fair, the Doctor has gained some of what he's lost back, of late). The perpetual unwillingness to have a foe permanently removed, coupled with a willingness to occasionally shock or 'raise the stakes' by letting the villain strike a major blow, puts every hero in a perpetual losing battle wherein everything he loves and hold dear is being slowly chipped away, piece by piece, and the best he can do is hold the line temporarily in his slowly-eroding life.

It's cruel, but the very nature of the perpetual superhero story means a constant loss of ground, just as the ongoing Star Wars universe necessitates a constant resurgence of evil and loss of all that good was accomplishing (else the Wars would be over).

But it also reaches a point of absolute absurdity where, from a logical perspective, you start asking "Why has Gotham's state not passed a special, majority-landslide referendum to re-enable the death penalty, especially for the NON-insane villains? Why not extradite or somesuch when these guys (fairly frequently) leave town? (If the Joker ever set foot in Texas...) Why has no one said "Look, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. He may be insane and not legally culpable for what he's doing, but he's also killed over 1,000 documented individuals; at this point, we need to at least put him in an induced coma, or something"." And so on. Both the heroes and the legal system start to look a little ridiculous for sticking to compassionate principles, because the very nature of the ongoing story proves those principles ineffective within the fictional setting. But then, going the other way- 'let's execute this insane man, because I don't care how insane he is, he keeps killing people'- doesn't really work either, for sales numbers OR for the appearance of a non-antihero's morality.

So it's kind of an resolvable quandary that is doomed to make every hero look like a failure, slowly losing ground to the repeatedly-victorious evil until death finally claims him and a new generation of heroes take up the same hopeless, losing battle.

Which is why you should never analyze comic tropes TOO closely, or you realize how existentially depressing their implications are. :-)

LiamKav said...

I'm perfectly happy with Batman and Superman not killing people. As much as the reasoning is because "that's how comics work", it also works for their characters. Superman is an all powerful alien god. He could very easily be terrifying. He could kill everyone if he wanted to. Giving him a rule against killing helps stop him being terrifying. It also stops him being judge, jury and executioner. He might catch criminals, but the rest of it is up to us.

Likewise, Batman's rule against killing is one of the small but many things that separate him from the pulp characters and make him truly stand out. Batman is child wish fulfilment, and that wish is "making sure no-one else loses their parents" and "ending crime". It's revenge, but it's not revenge against Joe Chill, it's revenge against crime. But part of that also involves believing in justice (again, like a child), and so like Superman, he catches the criminals, but leaves the rest up to the law.

I'm perfectly happy with him never killing the Joker. However, I really can't buy that at no point a member of the GCPD hasn't wandered into the Joker's cell and put a bullet in his head. Hell, even someone like Two Face or The Riddler has multiple reasons to kill him.

Regarding how effective Bruce Wayne, philanthropist is... there's not just the issue of "he can't do too much without ruining the story". There's also the lack of comparison. You'd need a "It's a Wonderful Life" story to see what Gotham would be like without Batman. It might not have all the colourful villains (if you go with the "Joker exists because Batman exists" idea), but it would certainly be swarming with mobsters, and Dick Greyson would either be dead, living on the streets, or a hardened criminal. Likewise, Jim Gordon would have probably failed to clean up GCPD and would also probably be dead, or at least have transferred to a different city.

I'm with Anon in that I like the bits where Bruce is shown to help Gotham, whether it's building projects, or just small details like how during Morrison's run Batman suggested to a homeless girl that she might be able to get a job at Waynetech. It shows he's thinking long term, and not just about tonight's crime.

"For me, the "real" Bruce is the one who's sitting in the Batcave, his mask off, talking to Alfred or Dick"

I've never thought of it that way, but you're right. Excellent insight!

Andrew Gilbertson said...

And like I said, I don't have a problem with it, either. BUT, it, along with the desire for returning villains, failure of their respective cities' justice systems to do so, and allowing the villains to take lives, does combine into an unfortunate cycle of futility. We don't want our superheroes to kill- but the fact that neither they, nor anyone else, ever does, and the villains do, puts the side of good in a perpetual losing battle since the villains play to win while the heroes play for a stalemate. (And unlike Data playing Kolrami, the villains never quit in frustration).

"However, I really can't buy that at no point a member of the GCPD hasn't wandered into the Joker's cell and put a bullet in his head."
Here, here. Pretty sure SOMEONE at Arkham would have smuggled in a gun- goodness knows the villains have smuggled in worse- and decided to accept lifelong incarcaeration for themselves in exchange for 'solving Gotham's problems.' Heck, they're all in one place; I'm surprised no one's targeted the place with a cruise missile before. (Except to free them).

Gotham's citizens are apparently a very patient, very forgiving bunch.

""For me, the "real" Bruce is the one who's sitting in the Batcave, his mask off, talking to Alfred or Dick"

I've never thought of it that way, but you're right. Excellent insight!"

It's a lot like a number of Superman stories, particularly Superman Returns; Clark Kent of the Daily Planet and Superman are equal masks, while Clark Kent on his parents farm in Smallville (or at home with Lois, in the married continuities) is the only time we see the 'real' him.

Anonymous said...

As far as I'm concerned, Batman doesn't kill the Joker because we have courts to do that. Either Batman believes in the system (imperfect as it is) or he doesn't ... but he does.

There's also the matter of respecting human life and what happens when you become a killer, but mostly it's about letting the legal system do its job.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Again, I don't disagree. But after the Joker reached triple-digit victims, it definitely becomes apparent that the system is NOT working, even at basic incarceration. Not that Batman ought to take it into his own hands, mind you. Just a depressing 'fact of life' in his universe. He trusts the system and remains optimistic about rehabilitation, and events repeatedly prove him to be essentially naive and foolish for doing so, because neither ever works. (But his NOT doing as he does wouldn't work for the character, either. Hence, futility.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think it's a mistake to make the Joker's death tolls so high that it stretches all plausibility.

Speaking of, let's talk "Endgame". I was convinced, 100% convinced, that everything that was happening in "Endgame" was a matter of the Scarecrow toxin that Batman was shaking off in the first issue, you know, the toxin that makes you experience your death over and over. So with the insane scale of what was happening in "Endgame" and how much made no sense -- the Joker managing to mind-control the JLA (which included an alien, a goddess, an Atlantean, and a speedster) and that was just the first issue -- I very much believed the whole thing was going to be revealed as psychodrama that Batman was going through. Only, DC's official stance is that it wasn't psychodrama (as much as I believe that was the original intention). That means DC is stuck with: the Joker knows how to mind control the JLA, a huge chunk of Gotham was poisoned and Jokerized, the Joker has been around for decades and possibly centuries and appears in old Gordon family photos, Commissioner Gordon took an axe to the chest and received no medical attention but is alive and well, Alfred lost a hand and received no medical attention but is alive and well, the Joker has looted the Batcave, Dick took a break from Spyral duties to help Bruce but didn't stick around long enough to see whether Bruce survived. That is screwing with the status quo in ways that don't even begin to add up.

Don't do stuff like that, DC.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

And yet, this is post-Flashpoint, so who even cares? The DCU is as dead (to me, at least) as Spider-man has been post-OMD, so nothing they do really matters until they bring back the real thing. :-)

...But yeah, that is pretty ridiculous. If they'd actually *explained* the whole Joker thing in a satisfactory way, then it might be worth the effort to try and retcon some of the insanity...

Alain Degrace said...

The same story would have worked better for me if Batman's fear would have been his father disapproving his decision to become the Batman. It would have put a focus on the reason he became the Dark Knight early enough in the series and would have been a great way to teach the new fans of his origin, while approaching it with different point of view.


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