A Tribute to the of

It’s Halloween season again, dear readers and it seems only fitting to review a story that suits the occasion. Last year for Sage #444 I spotlighted a Bernie Wrightson House of Mystery tale and I considered several options this time around including Swamp Thing, House of Mystery or House of Secrets selections, Deadman, Spectre, etc. Finally, I was looking on the ol’ bookshelf and spotted one of my reprint books that I used for reference on my history of the Scarecrow for my second BACK ISSUE feature, back in 2012, Issue #60 to be precise. It’s called “Batman Scarecrow Tales” and contains a sampling from several different decades of Scarecrow adventures. Mind you, he went missing in action for a number of years after his Golden Age debut, but if you’d like further details, BI #60 can still be had, hardcopy or digitally from TwoMorrows publishing.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Crane, alias the Scarecrow, is always a good bet to send a chill up the spine, so let’s meander into the Bronze Age and Batman #262 from April of 1975. It was actually a 100-page issue with the usual reprints and the lead feature, Denny O’Neil’s “The Scarecrow’s Trail of Fear!” was a new story. Art was provided by Ernie Chua (Chan) on pencils with the marvelous Dick Giordano providing inks and Julie Schwartz was our editor.

The action starts with the dread Batman in pursuit of a criminal on foot on the darkened streets of Gotham City. The man’s name is Robert Toomey and he’s concealed himself in an alleyway, but that was no challenge for the World’s Greatest Detective. Batman wants to know what Toomey did with the hundred grand he’d stolen from a charity ball the prior month. In desperation, he takes a swing at our hero that is less than effective. Batman gives tit for tat and the crumpled figure chokes out, “A-a-amusement park…” But before he can elaborate further, he says he can’t talk as he’s too scared. The Batman begins to feel it too, but not to the degree Robert Toomey does as he soon dies, of fright.

Just then, a sports car comes roaring up on the Batman, obviously modeled on a Corvette and he quickly swings up to a fire escape landing before he can be run down. The driver is wearing a familiar shabby hat. In the next moment, Commissioner Gordon arrives with a few of Gotham City’s finest. They’d been pursuing Toomey, too, but soon discover their quarry has passed away. Batman explains that he is all but certain that it’s the work of the Scarecrow, briefly recapping the origin of the villain when Jonathan Crane, former professor of psychology found himself shunned and mocked for his shabby dress, dubbing him scarecrow. Crane decided to become just that and began to use fear to attain his ends of getting money. Now the Dark Knight must not only deal with the fact that the Scarecrow is at large, but he also seems to have come up with a way to strike fear at a distance in his victims and apparently Crane is also after the hidden loot.

Because Toomey had been hiding out for a month near Grand Globe Fun Park, Batman decides it’s a good starting point. Once he and Gordon and his men arrive, Batman notes the tire tracks in the snow appear to be a match for those of the Scarecrow’s car. Gordon is about to order a police blitz, but Batman advises against it, reminding the Commissioner about the power of the Scarecrow’s fear gimmick. They agree to give the Batman an hour on his own before storming the park.

Inside, the Scarecrow lies in wait with criminal associates and demonstrates his latest gadget. It may look like a walkie-talkie, but it emits vibrations that affect the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls involuntary emotions and causes paralyzing fear.

In moments, the door to the park creaks open and one of the thugs uses more conventional methods, firing multiple rounds from a machine gun. Upon entering the doorway, however, a familiar figure knocks the man senseless before entering the park. Relying on Toomey’s last words about “whir” or “wirl,” the caped crusader heads for the Whirligig ride, reasoning it could be the hiding place for the money.

Behind him, however, more of the gang lie in wait and strike, as Batman slips into one of the ride’s chairs after the ride is activated. To put the final touches on, they throw a grenade into the enclosure and blow it to pieces. Upon investigation, however, they can find no trace of the Batman.

Fortunately, our hero has honed his reflexes to a razor’s edge and he had instinctively dived out of the car and into the center of the platform. Now above the malefactors in the structure, he leaps down and trounces them.

A quick search reveals no stash of cash, but he begins to fret about failing. Batman then realizes that he’s reacting to the Scarecrow’s device and begins to follow a trail of his own artificially induced fear.

Growing shakier with each footstep, the Dark Knight proceeds to the Whirlwind rollercoaster as another potential spot for the loot. Once again, he is being observed, however, and soon armed men in the rollercoaster cars are pursuing our hero. Once again, however, the athleticism and cunning of the Batman allow him to turn the tables and defeat this latest challenge.

Soon, he finds himself getting more nervous as he approaches a giant slide. Calling out the Scarecrow, Batman advances up the slide with the aid of a rope as the Scarecrow deploys his device and taunts the Masked Manhunter. Batman, however, remains cucumber cool and advances until he can grab the device from the Scarecrow’s hands and demolish it. By way of explanation, he tells Crane that he came to the realization that the Scarecrow was unaffected, so he must be using the logic that there is nothing to fear. Using simple mind over matter, the Batman achieved the same. Completely cowed and crumbling to the fear that the Batman is capable of triggering, the Scarecrow cowers down and slides to the bottom of the ride, straight into the arms of the boys in blue. Gordon and company had arrived at the end of the hour, but are simply helping to mop up.

Three is but one loose end and the World’s Greatest Detective is on the case. The loot wasn’t in the Whirligig or the Whirlwind, but “wirl” could have also been “world,” indicating the huge Globe that is the namesake of the Grand Globe Fun Park. Sure enough, the money had been stashed up at the “North Pole” which was the logical place for some “cold cash.” The story ends on that rather Robin-like pun and once again a member in good standing of Batman’s rogue’s gallery is brought to justice.

For obvious reasons I have a soft spot in my heart for the Scarecrow. I always go back to that explanation that Jerry Robinson gave me about the importance of a strong villain. The stronger the villain, the stronger the hero and few have such a varied and dangerous group as the Batman.

Do join us again on the 1st of November when All Hallows Eve will be freshly behind us. If you’ve got a question, comment or feedback of any sort, feel free to drop a line any time to my handy and frequently checked e-mail: professor_the@hotmail.com.

May all your fears be the thrilling kind and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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