The third episode of The Animated Series introduces Scarecrow to proceedings. Jonathan Crane is a professor of phobias who gets kicked out of his position after it’s revealed that he went ‘too far’ with his students – a sequence of events which leads to a growing obsession he has with getting revenge on the University. He’s a very simple character here, although that’s how it tends to go for the Scarecrow. He’s got a single agenda, and he can’t achieve it because of Batman, so next time he ramps things up even further.
As a result, Scarecrow is someone who becomes more potent after we’ve seen him several times, and he comes off as more than a little amateur in this episode. His agenda here is to steal money from the university that fired him so they’ll struggle to continue operating – but by the end of the episode, his attention skips from the university to Batman. As in all classic Scarecrow appearances, that focus on Batman will be what starts to really create Scarecrow as a villain, and boost him to higher heights.
As the makers of Arkham Knight learned too late, Scarecrow’s hard to make into anything more than a ‘featured player’ amongst Batman’s enemies. He’s barely had any definitive stories within the comics, usually showing up as part of a group, to provide a brief challenge Batman has to overcome before turning attention to the real enemy – Riddler, Joker, etc. His two biggest roles were in the aforementioned Arkham Knight, where he failed to make a lasting impact as a villain due to a very weak narrative; and Batman Begins, where he was played gleefully by Cillian Murphy.
In the two stories, he comes across in somewhat similar ways to the Scarecrow we find here. He’s always camp – always. Along with Riddler, he’s Batman’s most over-zealous foes, incredibly talkative and keen to let people know what he’s doing. In this episode he off-handedly passes across his entire backstory to his two minions without even a real second though – of course this is interesting for them to learn, so of course he’s going to spout it all out in one go. And the final ‘reveal’ of the episode is also one which was mirrored by the game and the movie: when it’s time for Scarecrow to get a dose of his own medicine, it’s Batman he sees manifested into a monster.
In the movie, seeing this monstrous version of Batman drives Scarecrow insane, as Batman is his greatest actual, real fear. In the TV show and arguably the game, Batman represents a little more. He is the expression of Scarecrow’s failures – his inability to get revenge on the university, or the man who fired him. When he accidentally takes in some of his own fear gas at the end of this episode, the monstrous version of Batman he sees drives him away from his original goals and onto what’ll likely be his newest obsession: proving himself greater than the Bat.
Which is to say, this episode races through the ‘origin’ for Crane to create Scarecrow; but in doing so provides us with the time needed to create ‘The Scarecrow’. He starts the episode as a crook with a mask and a gimmick, but leaves it with a motive and intent. The more doses he gets of Batman’s justice, the more he needs, and the further he’ll go to get more. Scarecrow’s arc is a grasping one, which he’ll never reach up to. All the posturing, schemes, and chemical upgrades all cover up for a man who has an obsession with providing himself against an untouchable foe. That’s what makes Scarecrow an interesting part of Batman’s rogues gallery, and something which has been co-opted by Riddler and Joker as time has gone on and Batman has become more and more undefeated.
In the attempt to build up Riddler, he’s become a mass-murderer. In the attempt to get the biggest and worst laugh of all, Joker’s become a mass-murderer. But really, the character it makes most sense to raise the stakes with isn’t either of them – it’s Scarecrow. His first ever loss, and the one which sets him on a downwards path, isn’t the one he suffers to Batman in this episode. It’s losing his job because of his experiments with students. Batman’s powerless to ever stop the cycle of increasing grandeur for Scarecrow, because (unlike with Joker and Riddler) he wasn’t the one to start the cycle. He came in and distracted Scarecrow away towards grander schemes.
A common thread in Batman stories is that he is somewhat responsible for the rise of supervillains in the world. In “Nothing to Fear”, you get to see the first steps of the Scarecrow into becoming someone truly worthy of fear – and it’s because Batman exacerbates the problem. He has to in order to save lives and keep Gotham safe, but it is demonstrably Batman’s appearance which pushes Scarecrow from being a goon with a gimmick to becoming a real player in Gotham.
The appearance of Scarecrow invites the series to start offering Batman’s backstory for the first time, as the fear toxins push Batman to hallucinate his father. This is the first time I think it ever happened, but this is an idea which is now all over the comics, films, and games – that Scarecrow can reopen this wound for Bruce Wayne. It’s humanising, but there’s an interesting contrast at play in the way the episode sets things up. Just as Batman stepped in and was the second body blow for Scarecrow; so Scarecrow is only the second body blow to Bruce in the episode.
Right at the start, Bruce speaks to one of the other professors at the university, who says that Bruce is dishonouring the Wayne family name. Scarecrow steps in and his fear toxin exacerbates that fear for Bruce, but it’s something which was always there. Just as Scarecrow can never overcome that original firing from the university; so Batman will never overcome the night in the alley which changed his life forever. They’ll both dance around one another, picking at the wounds, but their scars will never heal because neither want to rest. They have too much they need to do.