SPOTLIGHT ON

DETECTIVE COMICS #836

(NOVEMBER 2007)

"Absolute Terror"
(Part 2 of 2; 22 pages)

Cover pencils & inks - Simone Bianchi
Story - John Rozum
Art - Tom Mandrake
Inks - Tom Mandrake
Colours - Nathan Eyring
Lettering - Phil Balsman
Editor - Mike Marts

 

 

SYNOPSIS
! SPOILER , ALERT !

Continued from Detective Comics #835 - in which Jonathan Crane a.k.a. the Scarecrow escapes from Arkham but doesn't follow his usual routine of gathering ingredients for his fear gas; this time, it seems, he relies more on the psychological roots of fear, accompanied by random violence...

As a growing number of bloody murder victims made to look like scarecrows are discovered, Gotham descends ever deeper into the grip of fear. People are starting to avoid the streets, and businesses are closing amidst a slowly collapsing economy.

 


Detective Comics #835
(October 2007)

 
  With no real clues to be found at the crime scenes, Batman is left to ponder Crane's next move as he realizes that everything is different this time. The Scarecrow, usually a creature of habit, is not relying on his infamous hallucinogenic gas at all - this time, he is bringing out fear for real in people.

Once the Darknight Detective starts to see this more clearly, he does have a few hunches, and in order to cover more ground in less time, he and Robin split up - only for the latter to come face to face with the Scarecrow and almost succumb to the villain's fear and torture trappings.

In the end, Batman arrives at the scene just in time, and having understood Crane's completely changed modus operandi he is able to take the Scarecrow out - after all, it is he who uses the menace of the bat to strike terror in the hearts of evildoers...

REVIEW & ANALYSIS

Detective Comics #836 (together with the preceding issue) is one of those rare cases where a very traditional portrayal of the Batman meets a rather unconventional portrayal of one of his classic villains.

Because the Scarecrow completely changes his tactics and drops all of his habitual traits in his activities, the Darknight Detective has to resolve to his qualities of being just that - an accomplished sleuth - in order to actually solve this case by deduction and by outsmarting a smart opponent.

 
It is all set in what feels very much like a classic tale from the 1970s, but then John Rozum zooms in on the villain and it doesn't feel like the 1970s any more at all. And while the past fifteen years or so have, of course, seen more than just their fair share of attempts by numerous writers to a make "changes" to characters within the Batman Universe, this one here - from 2007 - not only works but is actually also interesting. In fact, very much so.

Dr Jonathan Crane aka "The Scarecrow" was an early Golden Age introduction to the ranks of Batman villains, created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, making his first appearance in World's Finest Comics #3 in the Fall of 1941 - and displaying a decidedly different modus operandi than what we come to expect from the Scarecrow today. The association with and extensive use of "fear gas" only reaches back to February 1967 and Batman #189, when Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff (both DC Golden Age veterans) reintroduced the "Master of Fear" after an absence of 24 years and felt they needed to provide him with an update.

 


Detective Comics #73 (March 1943)

  The Scarecrow of the 1940s, however, relied entirely on his expertise in the psychology of fear. And while a gas that induces fear is certainly imaginable, the raw usage of knowing how to induce fear by psychological means made Jonathan Crane seem very close to the real world - making the Scarecrow one of the most dangerous and, in spite of his appearance, possibly most plausible and credible villains the Batman could possibly face.

And even though writer Don Cameron portrayed a markedly less sinister villain in Detective Comics #73 (March 1943) than Finger did in his original introduction of the character, the splash page still conveyed that very credible threat that the Scarecrow played upon.

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!

Although Crane acts like a mad scientist, he actually might just be sane enough to pose a real and terrifying threat to society as the Scarecrow.

 

It is this Scarecrow that John Rozum and Tom Mandrake return to in Detective Comics #835/836. Crane doesn't need chemical or technological means to weave his net of fear - he simply plays the mind games he has studied for so long, and his expertise and mastery make him something akin to a hypnotist. This way, he is actually far more powerful, and he also throws Batman off to start with, who was fully expecting Crane to gather the components and seek the hideout needed for the production of another batch of fear gas. It's an entirely different game for the Darknight Detective.

Rozum is really on top of this story, which becomes more complex as it unfolds with Batman and Robin having to do some detective thinking and footwork. Naturally, they get tangled up in the Scarecrow's psychological web of fear too, but the power of Crane's manipulations of the mind are such that they can be turned against him, and that is what the Batman ultimately does in order to bring the Scarecrow down - after all, the Batman's appearance was conceived to "strike terror into the heart" of criminals.

It ends up being scary all around, and Tom Mandrake does more than an excellent job here - his shadowy and dark artwork really generates and sustains an atmosphere which just makes the story pop and the menace of fear become tangible in every panel.

 

Printed page and original artwork by Tom Mandrake for page 19 of Detective Comics #836 (scanned from the original)

 
 


Batman #69 (August 2008)
(Panini Brazil)

 

FACTS & TRIVIA

Detective Comics #836 went on sale 5 September 2007.

To date, it has not been reprinted in a collected edition, but was published outside the US by Panini for the German language market of Germany, Switzerland and Austria in Batman #15 (April 2008) and, also by Panini, in Brazil in Batman #69 (August 2008).

 
  There's more on the background and the history of the Scarecrow here.
 

 

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(c) 2021

 

uploaded to the web 12 September 2021