A Tribute to the of

Stories and the accompanying art are the heart of a comic book, but the cover is often the sales pitch, so the duty of rendering an attractive, attention getting cover cannot be underestimated. Many talented artists have borne that responsibility over the years and I know that when I perused the spinner racks at the local grocery, they worked their magic on me as well. In fact, the first time I was introduced to The Scarecrow was courtesy of the cover of Joker #8 from July/August of 1976 by Ernie Chan, though of course at that time he was still stuck signing his work as "Ernie Chua" thanks to the goof on his immigration papers.

"The Scarecrow's Fearsome Face-Off!" was written by Elliot S! Maggin with interior art by Irv Novick and Tex Blaisdell, all edited by the great Julie Schwartz. As near as I can tell, this was the 8th appearance, ever, of the Scarecrow, going clear back to his introduction in World's Finest #3 in Autumn of 1941. We first visited Jonathan Crane's alter ego in this feature back when I reviewed his third appearance in Batman #189 in 1967.

Let's see what two of Batman's most formidable foes have cooked up for one another, shall we?

The story begins in a less than subtlely decorated RV dubbed the "Ho-Home" operated by The Joker with two of his henchmen, Southpaw and Tooth in the back. Interestingly enough they are on their way to Metropolis. The vehicle begins to shake and shudder and then, The Joker, driving and disguising himself as The Scarecrow, emerges into the passenger compartment, scaring his cohorts with the power of suggestion rather than the chemically induced fear gas used by the genuine Scarecrow. The Joker reveals himself and then explains the plans for the next caper, but we are directed to Star Laboratories where the two security guards have been alerted that the Scarecrow has escaped from prison. Just then they are felled by the dreaded Laughing Death and a figure that looks like the Scarecrow makes his way past them and into the lab with the use of a skeleton key. Once inside the faux Scarecrow manages to send other guards fleeing in terror and grabs hold of an equally terrified lab-coated type to demand where their newly developed fear gas is located. Once he obtains the cylinder, the Joker doffs the mask and leaves one of his cards as he laughingly crashes through a window down to the waiting arms and fireman-style rescue apparatus of his gang.

A mere hour later, a blackbird flies over Star Laboratories, scattering a fear-inducing chemical. Soon the real Scarecrow arrives via a small, one-man helicopter that is somewhat reminiscent of the Whirly-bat. When he lands, the Scarecrow grabs a frightened officer and demands to know what is going on and where the fear gas can be located. He then learns that the Joker has beaten him to the punch. The game is afoot.

In the next page, Sonny November, freshly released from prison and a former member of the Joker's gang, is accosted by the Scarecrow, who offers a substantial sum for the location of the Joker's Ha-Hacienda. Sonny refuses, so the Scarecrow uses stronger tactics, spraying Sonny with fear gas. November reluctantly reveals the location with a whisper, but the laughing death soon overcomes him.

Meanwhile, back at the Ha-Hacienda, the Joker is listening to his radio while he examines some moth specimens, of all things. When he and Southpaw hear about the Joker's caper at Star Laboratories, along with the death of Sonny November, the Joker advises Southpaw that this is the fate of a squealer and his post-hypnotic suggestion worked on Sonny. He knows immediately who must be searching for him and instructs Southpaw to take the moth sample to the crooked entomologist they know to get 2,000 live creatures to match it. He then paints a greeting on the wall for the Scarecrow prior to their departure.

Elsewhere, Jonathan Crane, psychologist and part-time villain is found at a nearby University laboratory where he once taught. He's using a device that ensures no one will go anywhere near him, cowering in fear from a wide radius without even spotting him. Crane mixes some chemicals to create an acid that will effectively dissolve a particular aluminum alloy and a bit later, in his Scarecrow garb he and his raven, Nightmare blow their way into the Ha-Hacienda where he encounters the message inviting him to the Center Park Zoo.

Southpaw and Tooth have just arrived at said zoo in a moving van at cage 37, as instructed. The exhibit is a laughing hyena, but when a police officer questions them, they open the back of the rig and the Joker in his Jokermobile accompanied by a whole lot of moths bursts out. As it happens, the moths have had their wings doused in fear gas and the nearby zoo visitors break into a terrified run. Southpaw and Tooth are busily engaged with cutting torches to free the hyena when the Joker tells them he didn't want the animal as a mascot, but the ceiling mural of the hyena for his wall. Right about then the Scarecrow arrives via his mini-helicopter along with Nightmare and the battle begins. The Joker strikes first with a cake he hurls at the Scarecrow. Nightmare flies to intercept it and it explodes, enraging the Scarecrow, but the Joker points out that the bird is okay, only covered with cake muck. Soon it's down to fisticuffs and the Scarecrow observes that the Joker must be using nose filters since he isn't being affected by his fear gas. In classic Joker fashion, the retort is: "Hey, hey! Two points for the guy with the retarded tailor!" Finally, Nightmare dislodges the filters and the Scarecrow uses his vial of acid on the tank strapped to the Joker's back to release the gas. As the Joker appears to succumb, a triumphant Scarecrow is impressed with the fear gas, but allows as his own is superior. He then chuckles and realizes the joke is on him. Rather than the purloined fear gas it is some of the Joker's laughing gas. The Joker takes the opportunity to commandeer the helicopter and escape ahead of the law and then later reappears in Arkham Asylum, complete with his strait jacket, laughing hysterically at the confused guards and ending the story.

While the wrap up was a little bizarre, particularly with the Joker deciding to go back to the asylum via his hidden sanctuary beneath Arkham as a way to evade the law, it was all in wrapping up these Joker stories which were still under the somewhat stringent guides of the Comics Code, which required the villain to always be captured and dealt with by the end of each story.

I've always liked the Scarecrow. It seems to me that the concept could have really had some legs under the right author's treatment and I think Elliot Maggin did a fine job in this story. He was, of course, a presence in "Batman Begins" along with a brief appearance in "The Dark Knight," so I think there is certainly potential for this character that is being recognized today. I enjoyed this nostalgic look back at one of my favorite comic titles from my own misspent youth.

Time now to hear from our cover artist, Ernie Chan, who graciously took the time to answer some of my questions via e-mail recently:

Prof: It looks like your career at DC began in about 1972, is that correct?

Ernie Chan: You're right. Those were the days.

Prof: What made you decide to go into comic illustration?

EC: That's what I had been doing back in the Philippines, illustrating local comics for 8 years, before migrating to the USA in 1970. I always loved to draw since I was a kid.

Prof: Were you part of Tony DeZuniga's so-called Filipino Invasion?

EC: I apprenticed for Tony back in the Philippines for a couple of years. Tony came to the USA a year ahead of me. So I looked him up and apprenticed for him again for several months, then I went on my own. You can say the 'Filipino Invasion' was initiated by Tony and me.

Prof: Was the language barrier ever a problem?

EC: It's not a problem. We were taught English in school, and it is our second language.

Prof: Please tell me about your art training.

EC: It was mostly self-taught, observing and imitating other artist's styles that appealed to me and a lot of practice and hard work.

Prof: You've got an impressive list of credits and worked on everything from Batman to Swamp Thing with stops in between on westerns, war books and superheroes. Which was most enjoyable?

EC: Actually, I am challenged every time I encounter a new character assignment. But I enjoyed Batman the most.

Prof: Is there a character you feel represents your work best?

EC: I guess Batman represents my work best.

Prof: Do you prefer penciling or inking?

EC: I prefer penciling. But I enjoy inking too.

Prof: Which tools do you favor?

EC: I favor a mechanical pencil with 2B lead for sketching, a flexible pen and fountain brush filled with India ink for inking.

Prof: Did you have a favorite writer to work with?

EC: David V. Reed was my favorite writer at that time.

Prof: How about a favorite editor?

EC: Julius Schwartz. He was easy to work with.

Prof: How did Marvel and DC compare?

EC: For me, it's like comparing apples and oranges. At DC, I am more of a penciller. While at Marvel, I am more of an inker.

Prof: Did you have a preference between full script and Marvel method?

EC: With a full script, the writer dominates the storytelling. With the Marvel method, I have more flexibility in the story breakdowns. I prefer the latter.

Prof: You worked on both Claw the Unconquered and Conan. Was Claw basically a knock-off of Conan?

EC: Yes, I agree that Claw was a knock-off of Conan at the beginning. But if Claw had been given a longer run, I was pretty sure it would have branched off to something all its own.

Prof: You worked on almost the entire run of the Joker book. Was that an interesting assignment?

EC: Yes. The Joker was and still is the best villain character for Batman.

Prof: You became the designated cover artist for DC for awhile and had a particular gift for them. Did you like doing covers over interiors?

EC: I like doing covers way better than working on interiors. In interiors you have to deal with the 6 panels on average and tons of captions and dialog; while in covers I just leave a third top portion of the space for the logo and stuff. And sometimes, if I am lucky, I can overlap my design over a part of the logo.

Prof: Do you paint?

EC: I love to paint. But back then, my opportunity to paint is limited, because I could only paint in between a long span of black and white jobs. Nowadays, I have more time to paint.

Prof: According to your website you did some T.V. and movie animation. Which projects? Was it an interesting change of pace?

EC: I went into TV, movie and video animation for the sole purpose of being able to learn to use the computer tools. But I found it difficult, because I went in at a late age. It would have been a different situation if I had started it earlier in life. But I left with enough knowledge in computer tools for me to utilize the internet, e-mails, Photoshop, etc.

Prof: You do lots of commission work these days (I have one). Are you involved in any other projects?

EC: At present I am not involved in any projects. I do lots of commission work, and I enjoy it.

Prof: Did you ever try writing stories?

EC: I dabbled in writing and creating my own characters. The fun in doing these personal projects is that I am not pressured to finish in any scheduled time. I just do them whenever I feel like it. And I don't have to reveal it till I am good and ready.

Prof: Do you produce work on the computer or is it still all by hand?

EC: I can produce work on the computer but it is very frustrating when I don't have the latest software and a more powerful computer. Besides, fans prefer art that is hand made.

Prof: Do you hit the convention circuit much and if so is it fun for you?

EC: I enjoy very much attending comic conventions. I am a regular at the San Diego Comicon, SF WonderCon and the SJ SuperCon. I never turn down an invitation to any Conventions around the country or overseas, if there is no scheduling conflict.

Interested in an Ernie Chan original for your own enjoyment? Just visit his webpage at www.erniechan.com.

A special thank you goes out to Steve Morger for his invaluable help in setting up this interview.

The next edition of this ongoing feature hits the world wide web in about two weeks, just like clockwork and as always I appreciate hearing from you, dear reader, if you have questions, comments or kudos. I can be reached at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Join us again and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2009 by B.D.S.

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