A Tribute to the of

Alan Grant has left the building. He was only 73, but he did a lot of wonderful work on the Batman books and aided me twice on assignments for BACK ISSUE, going clear back to my second published piece in issue #60 when I had the opportunity to profile the Scarecrow.

Now I’d be hard-pressed to tell you exactly when I first encountered Jonathan Crane, alias the Scarecrow, but odds are good it was either in The Joker #8 [Sage #220] or perhaps in the Justice League of America, issue #111 when he is part of the Injustice Gang of the World. In any case, I’d gone on hiatus from comics when Alan Grant was an up and coming writer in the Bat-titles, so I was a bit late to the party, but he graciously gave me some terrific insights to his work, particularly on the Scarecrow (and later, the Penguin, for my profile of the foul fowl in BI #97), so it seemed logical to do a tribute to Alan by reviewing “The God of Fear” from Batman: Shadow of the Bat #17, published in September of 1993 with an on-sale date of August 26th of that year.

Rounding out the credits, we have a Brian Stelfreeze cover, interior art by Bret Blevins and editing by Denny O’Neil with Jordan Gorfinkel as assistant editor. Let’s open the issue, part of the Knightfall series, which is actually titled “The God of Fear, Part Two of Three.”

To put things into a nutshell, along with the reminder that this was just one segment in a very long and complicated story arc, the Scarecrow has more or less abducted, through his fear gas, several minions, who he has gone on to disguise as himself, arm with fear gas containers and dispatched them into Gotham City to bring on a massive panic.

Add in that Jean Paul Valley, the surrogate Batman while Bruce Wayne struggles to recover from a broken back, courtesy of Bane, is a violent, over the top version of the Caped Crusader and Gotham City is in for a wilder ride than usual.

Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow, is particularly delusional in this tale, presenting himself as the self-styled God of Fear, and demanding, through his minions and a sophisticated public address effort that the citizens of Gotham worship him.

There is a short flashback sequence, introducing the unindoctrinated to the origin of the Scarecrow, how he took pleasure in frightening birds and it led to his continuing fascination with the power of fear. How he became a professor of psychology at Gotham University, but was dismissed for his unorthodox methods, culminating in the day he fired a pistol in class to demonstrate his fear theories.

Overhearing fellow members of the staff describing him as a shabbily dressed scarecrow, he takes inspiration from the insults and decides that this is what he will become. A potent combination of poverty and fear, a scarecrow. With this new life of crime, he can use his ill-gotten gains to pursue his greatest passion; books.

Throughout the story, the bibliophile that is Jonathan Crane is often found quoting the masters, such as Shakespeare and Bacon. His megalomania is on full display and his madness equally so.

Among the things I found fascinating about the character while researching for my article is that he has some striking similarities to his arch-foe, the Batman, with his origin being inspired by outside forces (“A bat! It’s an omen! I shall become a bat!”) to his reliance on fear, another of the Batman’s most potent weapons. “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot…

As I wrap up this brief edition of the Sage, allow me to give Alan Grant his full due and hear what he had to say about his work on this fearsome felon, the Scarecrow:

I read the original ‘origin of the Scarecrow’ tale which gave me most of the backstory information I needed for the God of Fear. I’ve always had a great liking for the character of the Scarecrow. I find it fascinating (and grotesque) that any human should gain pleasure from striking fear into the heart of innocents. I always felt that the Scarecrow had got a bit of a rough deal, story-wise, because despite his obvious potential, I don’t think he’d ever been truly recognized as one of the great Batman villains. I certainly much prefer him to the Joker—perhaps because, unlike Joker, his criminal career had a definite starting point, one which grew organically out of his strange boyhood discovery that he liked frightening birds. From that one simple observation, his subsequent development made almost perfect sense.

I did check out a few dictionaries of pagan gods and goddesses, and was quite surprise to find that—at least as far as I could ascertain—no culture, anywhere in the world, had a God of Fear. This seemed to me quite a glaring omission, and the genesis of the story was born from that. Fear is an emotion that every human being, at some time or other, has felt; the only way to conquer one’s fear(s) is to accept it/them as best one can and go ahead and act anyway.

I tried to stick to the very basics that had been laid down—as a boy, Scarecrow liked frightening birds, and grew up into someone who enjoyed frightening everybody—and didn’t realize how much he enjoyed frightening people until he was scorned and mocked so much, the worm finally turned.

His love of books also resonated with me, which is why I used so many quotations from other people in the story. Scarecrow would have read every single one of those books, so it didn’t seem unnatural for him to utilize quotes from those who had great insight into the human condition.

When juxtaposing Batman and the Scarecrow, Alan had some keen insights:

Neither character would even exist had it not been for their bad childhood experiences. Bruce Wayne either got lucky, or had the insight to realize he could channel his feelings into something that would be socially useful. Jonathan Crane, meanwhile, deliberately chose what might be called ‘the left-hand path’ and became the arch-evil epitomized by the Scarecrow. Both characters were born out of negative emotions—fear, anger, a desire for revenge; they both based their costumes and persona on these emotions. But Bruce Wayne chose to fight for the good, while Jonathan Crane chose to fight only for himself.

I always felt that Scarecrow, rather than Joker, was Batman’s perfect antithesis. Scarecrow and Batman have much in common, only their intentions separating them. Joker, however, has always been an enigma and the only facet of his character which has been routinely played up in stories is his madness. I could argue that Scarecrow is not insane, that his love of fear actually led rationally to his criminal career, which makes him the real nemesis for Batman.

So, there you have it in the author’s own words and what fine words they were. Rest in peace, Mr. Alan Grant. You left a lot of great material for those of us who love stories to enjoy.

We’ll be back (aren’t we always?) in about two weeks on the 1st of September with another offering at this very site. Get the word out and feel free to participate with your own comments or feedback. Just sent them here: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until we meet again…

Long live the Silver Age!

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