A Tribute to the of
"Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible...a...a....a bat! That's it! It's an omen. I shall become a bat!"
Do you recognize those lines? They were first uttered in Detective Comics #33, November 1939 by a young Bruce Wayne as he sat in his den, pondering a proper disguise while laying plans for his career as a crime fighter. Fortuitously, a huge black bat flies into the open window during his late night musing, inspiring the dark, forbidding figure from that point forward known as Batman.
We see from those origins that a potent, yet often overlooked weapon in the arsenal of the Dark Knight Detective is fear. In his purest form, the Batman is a dark avenger, who lives in the shadows, meting out justice to the criminal element that seeks refuge in those same shadows. The psychology of fear is often better than landing the first blow, particularly when your other weapons are physical strength and agility and extremely sharp wits along with a few handy items in your utility belt.
Now, what happens if your nemesis is also a wielder of fear and master of the macabre? How do two dark and sinister figures engage? Let's investigate together as we see Batman do battle, for the first time in the Silver Age, with an old villain from his rogue's gallery known as The Scarecrow. To my amazement, research indicates this was only his third appearance ever, after his debut in World's Finest Comics #3 in the Fall of 1941. He was unceremoniously shelved after a second story in Detective Comics #73 (+ splash page),"The Scarecrow Returns!", (written by Don Cameron) from March of 1943. The issue at hand, containing that third appearance, is Batman #189, dated February of 1967--on sale 12/06/66. The story by the ever prolific Gardner Fox is entitled "Fright of the Scarecrow!" The cover art, by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella sets the stage nicely. Interior art is credited to Bob Kane. However, I discovered in my research that Mr Kane was pretty much out of the creative loop at the time this issue appeared. Sheldon Moldoff was the man who put pencil to paper, Joe Giella applied the ink.
Follow me. It's kind of dark, but it will be okay...
This issue begins with a prologue that reprises the origin of The Scarecrow that was originally related in that first World's Finest appearance I mentioned before. The tale for that debut was entitled "The Riddle of the Human Scarecrow!", written by Bill Finger. The readers are then introduced to Jonathan Crane, who, as a boy, enjoyed scaring birds and later grew to be a Professor of Psychology at the university level. Tall, gangly and bespectacled, he fits the stereotype to a "T." His curriculum includes coverage of the primal nature of human fear. Using a rather unorthodox case study, Crane produces a .45 automatic pistol and blasts a nearby vase, demonstrating that while the weapon itself would cause fear in most people, vividly demonstrating the destructive capabilities of it is even more effective. Lord knows how the other staff or maintenance crew felt about this demonstration, though.
Crane later inadvertently eavesdrops on some of his fellow staffers only to hear that he is being mocked for his eccentricities and shabby wardrobe. It seems he spends the majority of his earnings on books rather than garb, making him look like a scarecrow. The seeds are planted. Crane sits in his study at home, pondering what he's heard. Feeling that the only way he'll gain respect from his peers is through the acquisition of money and calling upon his training in the field of psychology, he makes the fateful decision to follow the example in gangland by extorting money through the use of fear. "If I look like a scarecrow--then that will be my symbol! A symbol of poverty and fear combined! The perfect symbol to represent Jonathan Crane--The Scarecrow!"
Fade now to part one of the story, where we join Dick Grayson in the midst of instructing a Summer youth athletic program. He takes particular interest in one of the boys who is fearful on the jungle gym. Dick counsels him to overcome his fear by confronting it, advising that it will never bother him again if he does so.
Soon, Dick spots a strange sight. A miniature submarine is working it's way up the river by the Gotham Park where the events are taking place. Curious, he calls a lunch break and investigates. Hidden from view by some shrubbery, he is surprised to see none other than The Scarecrow emerging from the sub. Moments later, who should arrive but Bruce Wayne and Alfred driving an ice cream truck. Advising his mentor of what he's just observed, the Dynamic Duo soon change garb in the privacy of the truck and investigate. They soon come upon The Scarecrow and his henchmen who are busily retrieving sacks of buried loot from previous robberies. A vicious fist fight soon ensues. Unfortunately it's peppered with some of the corny sound effects from the then popular Batman television series, so we're subjected to Whapp!, Whukk!, Thud! and Thwokk! All I can say to this is, "Ugh!" [FYI: The episodes broadcast the week this issue went on sale were: #61-"The Penguin's Nest" and #62-"The Bird's Last Jest", based on "The Penguin's Nest" published in Batman #36 dated August-September, 1946. ] As Batman and Robin drop the cohorts of the Scarecrow, Crane is calling upon a device to cause a chemical to deploy from the periscope of his waiting submarine, bathing the crimefighters with it and causing them instantaneous, synthetic fear, paralyzing them from further action. Specifically, it's a fear of falling and the Scarecrow takes advantage, leaving some straws from his costume as a calling card and departing with his bags of money. Awhile later, when the effects of the spray wear off, Batman suggests it must have been a hallucinogenic derivative. Our helpful Editor, Julius Schwartz, offers in a note, "A family of chemicals with unusual hallucinatory and emotional effects on the human brain and body." Nice to know that in the late 60's they still felt that required clarification. ;-) Batman and Robin head for the riverbank, but the sub is long gone. The only remaining evidence of their foe's visit is some cryptic writing in the dirt. The words "Park, Ark and Mark" are left to puzzle the World's Greatest Detective.
Part II has our heroes hard at work in the bat cave, using the resources of the vaunted Bat-Computer and some old fashioned card files to try and deduce where their nemesis will strike next. They soon discover that a replica of the biblical ark is anchored near Gotham Harbor and is owned by a man who once helped put the Scarecrow away with a key testimony. Racing to the faux ark in the Bat-boat, the crimefighters board and find none other than Crane aboard, who lies in wait to spring a trap. Utilizing what he refers to as black light vibrations, he successfully interferes with certain sensory portions of the duo's brains, plunging them into a darkness only they can see. Taunting them as he strides away, the Scarecrow states, "Now I bid you a fearful farewell! Far worse is to follow!" Leaving some straws from his costume yet again, Crane seals them into the room, departing amidst his wicked laughter. Despite their primal fear of the dark, each costumed figure tries to overcome it while searching for the exit. Unfortunately, once they find it, another problem awaits as a panther and leopard emerge from the opened door. Using their wits and other senses, they battle the big cats, keeping them at bay until they scoop up a few of the straws, igniting them with the heat of Robin's laser beam from the utility belt. Pulling some loose wood planking from the wall, a makeshift torch is brought into play as they grope again for the exit door, ending part II on a classic cliffhanger.
Part III, naturally enough, opens with their successful escape, followed by their waiting patiently on deck for the effects of the Scarecrow to wear off as before. Reboarding the Bat-boat, they deduce that the final stop for Crane must be the millionaire philanthropist Jeremy T. Fall, whose habit of keeping large sums of cash around for charitable donations would be an irresistible target for the criminal. Sure enough, the Scarecrow and his men are using chemically treated pipe smoke to cause the millionaire to quake in his boots. Hearing the mansion's alarm, the startled thugs soon see two familiar caped figures lunging toward them and the battle is on again. The next thing the thieves hear is the piercing wail of a police siren, putting them further off balance and allowing our heroes to make short work of them, accompanied to the sounds of Zwakk!, Swokk! and Bwopp! Following the melee, Batman explains to Fall that the police siren was another gimmick activated by a timing device on the Batmobile as he and his partner used some psychological weaponry of their own. The Scarecrow gang is cleaned up and the story ends on that note.
I think one of the things that sets Batman apart is the fascinating array of quirky and well fleshed-out criminals that he faces. Many of them are as well known as the World's Greatest Detective, too. You know the more memorable ones as well as I do. The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin, The Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and of course The Scarecrow. That's far from a complete list, too. Now, try this. Think of 3 villains in the same league for any of the other DC greats and I think you'll find it's very tough to do.
Even the mighty Superman only has Lex Luthor and perhaps Brainiac who hold much status or staying power in his rogue's gallery.
I own a book by Les Daniels titled, "Batman, The Complete History" and it makes mention that in the early days of the Gotham Goliath, Bob Kane was influenced just a bit by the drawing style of Chester Gould's popular Dick Tracy comic strip. It could also be assumed that Tracy's long list of bizarre villains provided some inspiration, too, but the similarities come to an end there. After all, when was the last time anyone heard from Pruneface, The Brow or Flattop?
Anyway, as I've mentioned before, you cannot have a hero without a villain and the better the villain, the more opportunity for a good, engaging story. Maybe it's just my long-held fascination with Halloween, but I find the Scarecrow particularly intriguing, even though prior to this I'd encountered him only once in a story when he took on The Joker in his self-titled magazine, issue #8 from July/August of 1976 to be precise.
I wish they'd fleshed the Scarecrow a little better with this story and resisted the urge to call into play some of the camp from the television series. There was some good potential here that wasn't exploited as well as I'd have liked, so I must dub this story a 5 on my 10 scale. For all the opportunity that came with the reintroduction of what should have been a worthy opponent, it just wasn't handled very well as far as I'm concerned, so the story was mediocre. I found it somewhat disappointing.
Do you have a comment, question or feedback of any kind? My door is always open for it, so write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mark your calendar so that you make your way back here in about two weeks where we'll analyze another offering from our favorite era.
Long live the Silver Age!
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