The Man Of Straw - The Master Of Fear

SPOTLIGHT ON THE SCARECROW

 
 
 

WHAT DO MEN FEAR MOST?
THINGS THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND ---
CUNNING TRICKS THAT SEEMINGLY DO NOT "MAKE SENSE"
AND SO CANNOT BE WARDED OFF BY ORDINARY INTELLIGENCE! AND IN ALL THE WORLD
NONE KNOWS THIS BETTER THAN
THE SCARECROW,
RENEGADE COLLEGE PROFESSOR AND AUTHORITY ON THE
PSYCHOLOGY OF TERROR!

(from the splash page of Detective Comics #73, March 1943)

 

Although an early Golden Age introduction to the ranks of Batman villains, Dr Jonathan Crane aka "The Scarecrow" spent the first 30 years of his existence as a highly marginal character with as few as only five appearances between 1942 and 1972. His characterization throughout this period only scratched the surface of what the Scarecrow is known to be today, and even appeared contradictory to some extent. It was only midway through the Bronze Age that the Scarecrow was truly defined and turned into one of the most dangerous and, in spite of his appearance, possibly most plausible and credible villains the Batman could possibly face.

ORIGIN STORY

In World's Finest Comics #3 (Fall 1941) Bill Finger and Bob Kane introduced readers to Dr Jonathan Crane who, in a story entitled "Riddle of the Human Scarecrow", is no longer able to ignore the fact of just how much his colleagues amongst university staff are laughing about his shabby clothes behind his back and even likening his appareance to that of a scarecrow. Finally, Crane decides to have no more of this mockery and show them all by applying his expertise in the psychology of fear for criminal means.

 
Taking up the remarks made by his colleagues and given the fact that as a small boy Crane liked to frighten birds, he decides to make the scarecrow his symbol.

Dressed up accordingly - wearing a ragged black hat, a trench coat, a mask, and wielding a Tommy gun - Crane decides to turn the subject of one of his former lectures into reality by setting up a protection racket and extortion scheme, applying his expertise to exploit the fears and phobias of his victims for his personal financial profit as well as his personal satisfaction. Now, at long last, people will tremble before him rather than mocking him.

When a businessman who has sued his former partner refuses to cooperate with the Scarecrow and meet his demands (i.e. drop the case against his partner, who is paying the Scarecrow to that effect), he is killed by the nightmarish villain, who instantly becomes a media sensation.

Bruce Wayne, who is both a patron and a trustee of the university, investigates the matter as Batman and discovers Crane's disturbing topic of research and that he was forced to resign due to his dangerous experiments in class.

Batman suspects Crane to be the Scarecrow, who repeats his hired gun protection racket scheme, this time with a store owner, by offering to rob other establishments in order to increase his sales. When Batman and Robin learn of the plan and question the store owner, the Scarecrow attempts to kill him but the Dynamic Duo capture him just in time, and Crane is sent to Gotham State Penitentiary.


Detective Comics #73 (March 1943) - the Dynamic Duo again "MATCH WITS WITH THIS NIGHTMARE FIGURE OF BURLAP AND STRAW WHOM PRISON COULD NOT HOLD!"

 


World's Finest Comics #3 (Fall 1941)


World's Finest Comics
#3 (Fall 1941)


World's Finest Comics
#3 (Fall 1941)

 

EVOLUTION OF THE CHARACTER & APPEARANCES

Having escaped from prison, the Scarecrow is aided in Detective Comics #73 (March 1943) by a gang of henchmen and begins a new campaign of crime by launching a series of spectacular crimes, all centering around three letter words. At the scene of each crime Crane leaves a clue in the form of words which rhyme with hat. Batman and Robin decipher the clues and turn up to stop the crook, but only narrowly escape a death trap set for them before finally trailing the Scarecrow to the scene of another robbery where they apprehend and stop the "Man of Straw".

As can easily be deduced from the short synopsis of Detective Comics #73, writer Don Cameron portrayed a markedly less sinister villain than Finger in his original introduction of the character. Whereas Finger's Dr Crane draws from his experience and knowledge of the psychology of fear and ultimately suggests that he acts like a mad scientist but actually might just be sane enough to pose an even greater threat to society, Cameron's characterization of the Scarecrow as a gimmick villain tones down Crane from University level to an elementary school teacher as he leaves three letter words on blackboards for the Dynamic Duo to decipher in what looks and feels much more like a classroom "now who's got the right answer" setting than a scientific experiment in fear and terror.

 
Although still framed by Crane's reflections on the applied psychology of fear to some extent, the Scarecrow's threat potential is greatly reduced by this simplistic three letter words gimmicky characterization.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Scarecrow vanished from the ranks of Batman foes following his appearance in Detective Comics #73, and he remained in limbo for no less than twenty four years until DC Golden Age veterans Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff reintroduced the "Master of Fear" in Batman #189 (February 1967). Since his last foray into the world of the Darknight Detective had taken place so long ago in real time, Fox decided to make sure he would be on the safe side, and began his story by giving a detailed account of the Scarecrow's origin from World's Finest Comics #3.

The 1960s Batman TV show was at the peak of its popularity at the time Batman #189 was published, and the campiness it instilled into Batman comics is very much in evidence as Fox portrays the Scarecrow - almost in contradiction to Carmine Infantino's eerie and menacing cover artwork - as a villain who perhaps is more gimmicked than ever as he actually leaves clues in the form of pieces of straw, spelling out words such as Park, Ark, and Mark which the Dynamic Duo plus Bat-Computer need to decipher in order to catch the Scarecrow in flagranti.

 


Batman #189 (February 1967)

 
There is, however, one important element which would become a central prop to the characterization the Scarecrow would ultimately receive, and once again, Gardner Fox proved his quality (just as he did in some of the earliest Batman stories of 1939) not so much as a storyteller but as an innovator - just as he had supplied the Batman with his utility belt, Batrope, Batarang and Batgyro, he provided the Scarecrow with his ultimate weapon: a gaseous state of matter compound with the quality of inducing fear - or, put more poignantly: fear gas!

"Gardner Fox was (...) not the greatest writer, but very capable and reliable, a good plot man." (Schwartz, 2000)

 


Batman #189
(February 1967)

  Although simply described as "a chemical spray" and featured in one single panel of Batman #189 only (emitted, by the way and for clarification of the artwork, through a periscope-like fixture on top of a submarine floating in the lake of Gotham Park...), and it resurfaces later on in the story for yet another single panel, although this time depicted as a whiff of smoke coming from a pipe which the Scarecrow seems to be smoking.

Fox thus created the nucleus for what would eventually become the Scarecrow's principal modus operandi for creating a rush of fear in his victims as Dr Jonathan Crane no longer solely relied on psychology (and his appareance) as such.

 


Batman #189
(February 1967)

 
Of course the idea of having a villain use some kind of fear gas was far from being original or new - Bill Finger had provided Professor Hugo Strange with "fear dust" in Detective Comics #46 (December 1940), and Stan Lee had supplied Marvel's Mister Fear with "fear gas" in Daredevil #6 (February 1965) - but Fox was the first writer to associate the Scarecrow with what has since become his foremost and best known weapon.

Scarecrow next had the honour of being the villain featured in the anniversary 200th issue of Batman (March, 1968), where writer Mike Friedrich and artists Chic Stone and Joe Giella had the Scarecrow perfect a fear-radiated pill which makes Batman and Robin fear Crane when they swallow it. Once again, however, the gimmicky aspect of the Scarecrow prevails and dominates as he leaves a trail of clues for the Dynamic Duo to follow. This time, Batman and Robin capture Joker, Killer Moth and Penguin only to discover clues on each captured crook which lead them to the Scarecrow.

 


Detective Comics #389
(June 1974)

  The Scarecrow next appeared in Detective Comics #389 (June 1974) in a story entitled "Batman's Evil Eye!", where writer Frank Robbins and artist Bob Brown tell the story of how the Scarecrow is - once again - released from prison only to spring a fear-trap on Batman, who initially seems to have regained his ability to strike terror into the hearts of criminals through his mere presence - and Batman realizes that he needs to confront the Scarecrow once again. Possibly best known for its gorgeous Neal Adams cover depicting a Batman who is scared of himself in a mirror maze, the story itself had far less thrills to offer, even though it moved the Scarecrow somewhat away from the simplistic gimmicked villain he had previously been.

In addition, the Scarecrow enjoyed an appearance that same month in Justice League of America #111 (May/June 1974) as a member of the Injustice Gang.

 


Justice League of America #111
(April 1975)

 
It wasn't until April 1975 and Batman #262, however, that writer Denny O'Neil, artist Ernie Chan (credited as Chua) and inker Dick Giordano gave readers the first incarnation of what would eventually make the Scarecrow one of the most popular recuring Batman villains.
 
  In "The Scarecrow's Trail Of Fear!" O'Neil follows the path set out by Fox by recapping the origin of the Scarecrow, but then quickly leaves the beaten path and depicts Crane as the socially deranged yet scientifically brilliant - and hence ultra dangerous - man as which he is seen in the Batman universe today.

O'Neil also confirms Crane's use of technological aids (in this case radio waves which send out vibrations to the parasympathetic nervous system) in order to cause and induce a state of excessive fear in his victims.

O'Neil and Chan recap the story of why and how Stephen Crane became the Scarecrow nicely in Batman #262

 
From here on, O'Neil takes the reader on a thrilling and action packed adventure, with well-paced and fast moving plotting and storytelling which is complemented by excellent artwork from Chan. Depicted in such a way, the Scarecrow made an impact and was back again fairly soon - if somewhat surprisingly - in Joker #8 (July/August 1976), the Prince of Crime's short-lived solo series.
 


Batman #262
(April 1975)

  Scripted by Elliot S. Maggin and pencilled by Irv Novick, the twist of the story was contained in the fact that this time it was actually the Joker impersonating the Scarecrow in a number of criminal escapades until being confronted by Crane.

The encounter offered interesting possibilities as both the Joker and the Scarecrow share similarities in the setup of their psychotic personalities, but Maggin opted for the lighter side of the two characters rather than shining a light into those dark corners of their souls.

The Scarecrow then appeared in June 1977 in Justice League of America #143, again as member of the Injustice Gang, before featuring in the multi-issue story arc "Where were you on the Night Batman was killed?" in Batman #291-294 (September through to December 1977).

 


Joker #8
(April 1975)

         


Batman #296
(February 1978)

  Back again in February 1978 for Batman #296, the Scarecrow develops a chemical that produces phobophobia, i.e. the fear of one's own fears. Crane plans to use this agent with individuals suspected of unsolved crimes, forcing them to want to return their loot at a specific place and time set up the Scarecrow - who then picks up the goods for himself.

As Batman discovers Crane's latest scheme he confronts the "Man of Straw" and, for the first time, proves himself able to resist the Scarecrow's fear chemical and send Crane back to prison. David Vern (credited as David V. Reed) provided the script, with artwork from Sal Amendola (who also drew the dynamic cover).

The Scarecrow's next appearance was again as a member of the Injustice Gang in Justice League of America #158 (September 1978), followed by Detective Comics #486 (October/November 1979) in which Robin got to fight the Scarecrow in a story by Jack C. Harris illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger and Jack Abel.

The Scarecrow was then seen again in May 1980 in Super Friends #32 before appearing in Untold Legend of the Batman #2 (August 1980).

 
O'Neil's basic concept of portraying and understanding the Scarecrow to be a highly ambiguous and therefore extremely dangerous sociopath was revisited by Gerry Conway in "The 6 Days Of The Scarecrow" from Detective Comics #503 (June 1981), and he put the finishing touches to the raw diamond presented by O'Neil.
 


Detective Comics #503
(June 1981)

  Pencilled by Don Newton and inked by veteran Marvel bullpenner Dan Adkins, this portrayal is the first to fully dive into the disturbingly twisted yet brilliant mind of Stephen Crane as he literally infects the Batman with a toxin that causes extreme fear reactions in all individuals which Batman or Bruce Wayne meet. The Scarecrow's main criminal activity is revealed to lie in the manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs through a chemical corporation which Crane has aquired.

The Scarecrow made an appearance in DC Special Series #27 (Fall 1981) and was next seen in Brave and the Bold #197 (April 1983), when writer Alan Brennert and artists Joe Staton and George Freeman showed Batman being unable to summon his usual allies such as Robin, Batwoman or Alfred and hence turning to an old enemy (and love interest) - i.e. Catwoman - for help.

 


Brave and the Bold #197
(April 1983)

 
Just how much the Scarecrow had by now taken center stage in the Batman universe can be seen from the fact that Crane and the "Man of Straw" appeared in Detective Comics #526 (May 1983), which celebrated the 500th appearance of Batman in that title. Now an established mainstay villain, DC's "Master of Fear" clocked up no less than ten appearances between 1984 and 1986: Batman #368 (February 1984), Batman #373 (July 1984), Detective Comics #540 (July 1984), Batman #380 (February 1985), Red Tornado #1 (July 1985), World's Finest Comics #321 (November 1985), Crisis on Infinte Earths #9 (December 1985), Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #11 (January 1986), Batman #400 (October 1986), and Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #20 (October 1986).
 

 
Detective Comics #571
(March 1987)

  The Scarecrow was back again in Detective Comics #571 (March 1987) in the by now classic tale "Fear For Sale" by Mike W. Barr, illustrated by Alan Davis and Paul Neary who depicted an extremely loose limbed Crane going back to his criminal roots as an extortionist and murderer. Barr reverts the Scarecrow's usual modus operandi by having Crane actually remove all instincts of fear in a number of athletes who engage in dangerous sports - causing them to take enormous risks. As Batman, who is investigating various mysterious sport accidents, is infected himself the Darknight Detective needs to make sure that he does not actually kill himself in a reckless move to save Jason Todd in one of his earlier outings as Robin.

Further appearances of the Scarecrow in the 1980s took place in Batman #415 (January 1988), Secret Origins #23 (February 1988), Arkham Asylum (1989, Original Graphic Novel), Detective Comics #600 (May 1989), Sandman #5 (May 1989), Sandman #7 (July 1989), Captain Atom #33 (September 1989), Detective Comics #606 (October 1989) and Detective Comics Annual #2 (1989).

 
As of the 1990s, the Scarecrow has appeared so often that a complete listing of all his appearances throughout publications of the DC Universe would defeat the scope of this portrayal. Alongside being featured in a large variety of different DC titles he appeared in numerous issues of the two core Batman Universe titles:
 
Batman #456 (November 1990), Batman #457 (December 1990), Batman Annual #15 (1991), Batman #491 (April 1993), Batman #494 (June 1993), Batman #495 (June 1993), Detective Comics #661 (June 1993), Batman #496 (July 1993), Batman #497 (July 1993), Detective Comics #664 (July 1993), Batman #0 (October 1994), Detective Comics #0 (October 1994), Batman #523 (October 1995), Batman #523 (November 1995), Batman Annual #19 (1995), Batman #561 (January 1999), Batman #562 (February 1999), Batman #564 (April 1999), Detective Comics #731 (April 1999), Batman #584 (December 2000), Detective Comics #778 (March 2003), Detective Comics #779 (April 2003), Detective Comics #780 (May 2003), Detective Comics #781 (June 2003), Detective Comics #782 (July 2003), Batman #617 (September 2003), Batman #626 (June 2004), Batman #627 (July 2004), Batman #628 (July 2004), Batman #629 (August 2004), Batman #630 (September 2004), Batman #633 (December 2004), Detective Comics #799 (December 2004), Detective Comics #820 (August 2006), Detective Comics #835 (October 2007), Detective Comics #836 (November 2007), Detective Comics #847 (October 2008), Detective Comics #848 (November 2008), Detective Comics #849 (December 2008), Batman #683 (January 2009), Detective Comics #851 (February 2009), Batman #686 (April 2009) and Detective Comics Annual #11 (2009).  


Batman: Fear
(January 2006)

 
In 2005, DC issued a collected edition Batman: Scarecrow Tales which reprinted eight stories spanning more than 60 years from World's Finest #3 (1941) to Batman: Gotham Knights #23 (2002), and in 2006 this was followed by a 28-pages reprint of "Fear for $ale" from Detective Comics #571 as Batman: Fear, which borrowed its cover from Batman #296 (February 1978) and also reprinted a character file page on the Scraecrow from Batman Villains Secret Files #1 (October 1998).

The Scarecrow has swiftly made it into the "New 52" DC Universe and featured in a number of issues of Batman Dark Knight since the relaunch of all of DC's titles in September 2011.

Finally, the Scarecrow was also featured in the Marvel/DC company crossover Batman/Daredevil: King of New York (2000) where he attempts to use the Kingpin's crime empire to disperse his fear gas all over Gotham but is defeated by Daredevil who lives up to his 'Man Without Fear' title by proving immune to the gas.

 

MODUS OPERANDI

Scarecrow's chief weapon is a toxin he himself created and which is commonly depicted as being a fear gas which causes his victims to visualize their worst fears as though they were real. With his profound knowledge in the field of psychology, Crane can also cause an individual to develop a fear of something they never had before. The volatile form of his toxin allows the Scarecrow to store and use it in all kinds of containers, such as pellets, darts, capsules, etc.

Crane's outfit is a direct result of his colleagues likening him to a scarecrow, but it naturally also serves to enhance the scary effects of the hallucinogen whilst acting as a gas mask, even though he himself has become immune to it over time - something the Batman tries to achieve too by subjecting himself to small doses of Crane's toxin over time (though invariably the Scarecrow will return with an "improved" version of his fear gas the next time the two adversaries meet).


An iconic hero and his iconic villain The Scarecrow - from Detective Comics #836
(pencils and inks by Tom Mandrake, scanned from the original artwork page [personal collection])

Although generally avoiding direct contact with his victims, the Scarecrow is fairly skilled in hand-to-hand combat and has developed his own style of martial arts which Crane calls "violent dancing" and which relies heavily on the range of his long arms and legs. If turning to weapons, the Scarecrow tends to stick to his character and uses agricultural tools such as pitchforks, sickles and scythes.

 

SCARECROW IN OTHER MEDIA

The Scarecrow appeared in the 1968 Filmation TV cartoon series Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder (actually half of The Batman/Superman Hour) in an episode entitled "The Great Scarecrow Scare". Voiced by Ted Knight, the character was toned down for its primarily pre-teen audience by having him use simple knockout gas instead of fear gas and using eggs as containers.

In Batman: The Animated Series the Scarecrow was voiced by Henry Polic II and appeared in the episode "Nothing to Fear" (actually the third episode of the first season, it was the tenth episode to air due to schedule changes). Here Crane is plotting to use his fear gas to take revenge on the Gotham University Board Members that fired him for his fear experiments. In bringing Scarecrow to justice, Batman is shown to actually use Crane's own toxin against him after Scarecrow retreats to his own chemical plant.

In the later New Batman Adventures the Scarecrow had several episode appearances and could also be seen in episodes of various other cartoon superhero TV shows.

On the silver screen, the Scarecrow was planned to star as the main antagonist in Batman Triumphant, the fifth film in the 1990s movie franchise, with Nicolas Cage and Steve Buscemi rumoured as having been the most likely candidates for the role. However, following the negative impact of Batman & Robin (1997) the franchise was put on hiatus until Batman Begins (2005), which did feature The Scarecrow (played by Cillian Murphy) as one of the main villains.

Murphy was back for his role in The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), where Crane is still shown as wearing only a simple mask instead of the full Scarecrow costume. He is the only villain to appear in all three parts of the Nolan Batman trilogy.

 


The Scarecrow in Batman The Animated Series and Batman The Dark Knight

 

THE "OTHER" SCARECROWS

None of the individuals involved in the creation of the Scarecrow seems to ever have talked about the circumstances involved, but given the character's very limited profile and success for the first 30+ years of his existence, this may hardly be called a surprise as neither Bill Finger nor Bob Kane had any specific reason to remember anything in conjunction with the Scarecrow.

 



Tales of Suspense #51
(March 1964)

  Competitor Marvel Comics also has its Scarecrow character (even if DC had had any interest in doing so, it would have been almost impossible to trademark the name and character) - in fact the House of Ideas even has two of them.

The first Scarecrow was a one-off Iron Man villain introduced in Tales of Suspense #51 (March 1964), whereas the better known Marvel Scarecrow is a mysterious character who has the ability to leave a painting and spread terror. Appearing for the first time in Dead of Night #11 (August 1975) - one of Marvel's many horror anthology titles from the 1970s - Scott Edelmann (plot) and Rico Rival (pencils) conceived their Scarecrow to be a Dorian Gray like figure. Albeit an interesting concept it wa short lived, and in spite of plans for its own series, the appearances of the Scarecrow thereafter were limited to one-off stints in Marvel Spotlight #26 (February 1976) and Marvel Two-In-One #18 (August 1976).

 



Dead of Night #11
(August 1975)

 
In 2009, DC's Scarecrow was ranked as the 58th greatest comic book villain of all time by IGN, who felt that "few villains have done more with less." [1]

* * * * *

NOTES
[1] comics.ign.com/top-100-villains/58.html, accessed 13 June 2012

 

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

SCHWARTZ Julius & Brian M. Thomsen (2000) Man of Two Worlds, Harper

 

 
 

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Text is copyright 2012-2014 Adrian Wymann
originally posted 20 June 2012
reposted 20 April 2014