Scarecrow, in theory, should be one of Batman’s top five adversaries. Maybe even top three! If Batman’s best villains are all twisted reflections of Batman himself, then the villain who turns his greatest weapon, fear, back on him ought to be one of the best. Unfortunately Scarecrow has rarely lived up to his promise — he’s usually depicted as a bit of a b-grade villain, and the rare times he’s written to a major threat, the stories usually just aren’t that good.
Well, it seems as though Scarecrow may finally get his day Batman: Arkham Knight. Early trailers peg Scarecrow as one of the, if not the main villain of Arkham Knight, so before Rocksteady’s next big Batman game comes out, let’s delve through the Bat-back catalogue for some Scarecrow stories actually worth your time…
World’s Finest #3 “The Riddle of the Human Scarecrow” (1941)
The first-ever Scarecrow story comes from that all too brief era where most of Batman’s “fun” elements were in place (Batmobile, Robin and so on) but his villains were still allowed to be stone-cold evil murderers. For a Golden Age story, “The Riddle of the Human Scarecrow” delves surprisingly deeply into Jonathan Crane’s psychology and backstory, and the art (credited to Bob Kane, but probably mostly the work of Jerry Robinson) is surprisingly effective. The Scarecrow is legit creepy in this story — moreso than most of the more over-the-top versions we see these days.
Oh, and at this point Scarecrow doesn’t have any fancy-pants fear gas. How does he instill fear in people? By shooting them. Simple, but effective.
Detective Comics #503 “The Six Days of the Scarecrow” (1981)
This one’s a fun twist on the usual Scarecrow formula — rather than scaring folks himself, Scarecrow causes everyone to be afraid of Batman. But Batman likes being scary, right? Well, not to his friends and allies or the people he’s helping. It’s all a little melodramatic, but it underscores the often forgotten fact that Batman is more than just an agent of fear.
Detective Comics #571 “Fear for Sale” (1987)
This is pretty much the definitive Scarecrow story, which is ironic, since Scarecrow’s plot in this one involves taking away people’s fear. Basically, Scarecrow sells pro-athletes a drug that eliminates their fear, but when they discover a lack of fear makes them reckless and prone to injury, Scarecrow charges them even more for the cure. I love not only the reversal of Scarecrow’s usual modus operandi, but just the fact that he even has a plot here. Far too many Scarecrow stories take the lazy “He’s just spreading fear because he looooves fear!” approach. The Scarecrow isn’t a poor-man’s Joker who’s just out to watch the world burn, he’s a smart, calculating schemer.
The book, drawn by Alan Davis, is also absolutely gorgeous. This is basically the first story where the effects of Scarecrow’s fear gas are shown in all their trippy glory, something that would be a cornerstone of ever increasingly formulaic Scarecrow story to come. Also, as far as I know, this was pretty much the first Batman comic where they started teasing pretty heavily that Jason Todd was going to bite the bullet (or rather crowbar) pretty soon.
Year One: Batman/Scarecrow (2005)
This two-part mini-series, designed to tap into interest in Scarecrow around the release of Batman Begins essentially retells and greatly expands Scarecrow’s 1941 origin story. The story adds a southern gothic element to Scarecrow’s origin, introducing us to the bitter, insane grandmother who raised him. Scarecrow himself is reimagined as more of a Hannibal Lecter-type serial killer, who talks his victims to death before methodically putting them down for real. It’s not a perfect story, but it’s probably the best semi-recent Scarecrow tale, and it features some top notch early art from Sean Murphy.
The New Batman Adventures “Never Fear”
Okay, I’ve run out of good Scarecrow comic book stories, so let’s move on to cartoons! Batman: The Animated Series really nailed a lot of Batman villains, but they mostly flubbed Scarecrow. WB Animation didn’t really nail it until The New Batman Adventures, but boy did they ever nail it.
Essentially a loose adaptation of Fear for Sale, this episode finds Scarecrow trying to sell anti-fear gas. Eventually Batman is dosed and essentially becomes Frank Miller Batman, beating goons within an inch of their lives and killing crocodiles with his bare hands. The episode delves deep into some dark territory, essentially implying that Batman’s ban on killing is based on fear, not some sort of noble moral code.
Oh, and Jesus, I can’t even imagine how many kiddie nightmares this episode’s redesign of Scarecrow caused.
Kartoons for kids everybody!
Well, those are my favorite Scarecrow stories. Got any good ones I missed?
Oh, and if you’re wanting to read most of these stories, probably the best source is Batman: Scarecrow Tales, a collection of his best/most important stories released a few years back. It’s where I read some of these for the first time.