Batman: The Animated Series, “Nothing To Fear”

12Dec10

This episode is the first introduction for one of Batman’s classic enemies. It’s not the first introduction of a villain for the series, but I think calling Man-bat a “classic” enemy is a stretch. The Scarecrow, on the other hand….well, he’s pretty firmly established for Batman now, even if “Nothing to Fear” is his first appearance.

In my mind, the Scarecrow is in the odd position of being a villain whose MO is all about fear…and yet he’s firmly in the shadow of the Joker for causing fear. Everyone is afraid of the clown, but the person who has managed to create a gas that causes instant and severe terror? Not so much. It’s a strange position to be in, but in both the comics and the animated series, it’s not inexplicable. After all, without his fear gas, the Scarecrow is a thin, spindly guy who can’t do much in a fight. And when a villain focuses on causing one thing, it’s a lot easier to predict both their general strategy and their specific tactics.

The opening of the episode is a decent use of exposition, establishing that a university (not yet named here) is in dire straits thanks to frequent robberies and attacked. We also get the first formal introduction of Summer Gleason…and a rather nasty dressing down of Bruce Wayne by one Doctor Long, who provides much of that initial exposition about the attacks. Intercut with this are some hints of another attack about to happen, until the Scarecrow arrives at one of Gotham’s innumerable banks, and we get a demonstration of the fear gas on an unfortunate security guard.

It’s worth stopping here to note that this initial design for the Scarecrow will be changed the next time we see him here. It’s a serviceable costume, and most of the basic elements will remain the same. But the mask is a problem, because it’s just a physical impossibility. Unmasked, the Scarecrow’s head is larger than when he has the mask on. And when he does have it on, he resembles a Q-tip. The menace of the character isn’t completely negated, but it is hurt by this.

Of course, Batman arrives on the scene to stop him, but Scarecrow is able to dose him with the fear toxin as well. And that’s where the previously mentioned dressing down comes back, because it turns out Batman’s fear is to disappoint his parents. After escaping from the police (though most of them are concerned for Batman, not about capturing him), we get to hear the details for the Scarecrow’s origin, and why he’s targeting the university. It’s actually rather ridiculous that they would hire him in the first place, considering how overtly evil his experiments as a professor are-but then, this is Gotham.

We get a nice little scene with Batman talking to Alfred about the effects of the Scarecrow’s toxin on him, before we go to the next attack from the Scarecrow on the university. It’s a scene that has some wonderful moments-the entire crowd of donors at the event is dosed with the fear gas, and they end up trying to tear Batman apart because of how crazed they are. Then there’s a wonderfully crazy moment, as the Scarecrow escapes with both a prisoner and the proceeds in a blimp. He has been robbing the university along with just attacking them, but you still have to wonder where he got a spare blimp for this purpose. Unlike the Joker, the Scarecrow at least attempts to present himself as a man with a purpose to his madness, so it’s hard to believe he would grab a blimp, just in case. But the best moment of the episode probably comes from that blimp as well, when we see Batman yelling his fear down, with the memorable ending of “I am vengeance. I am the night! I-AM-BATMAN!” And damn if Kevin Conroy doesn’t sell that line like a champ.

As for what actually happens in the blimp, Batman manages to get rid of Scarecrow’s thugs, with both of them surviving falls that should have been amazingly fatal, the most visible examples so far of the kid show restrictions the show operated under. Scarecrow escapes while the blimp explodes, but Batman is able to track him down afterwards, and puts the fear of God into the man. The episode ends first with a funny scene between Bullock and Gordon, and then with Bruce Wayne laying flowers at his parent’s graves.

Something I haven’t touched on yet is the difference in animation for this episode compared to the last two. Like “Christmas with the Joker,” the episode has a very different style from “On Leather Wings.” But unlike “Christmas,” it’s far more consistent in quality, and feels more like a choice than a problem with the animators. It’s not to my personal liking, since there’s a bit of a cartoony element to it that hurts the underlying psychological drama. But it’s not enough to be a serious drag on the episode.

The series never used the Scarecrow as much as it did other villains, but he’s not an easy character, thanks to his one obsession. Fortunately, when he does appear again, he’ll be used to better effect. He still gets a decent introduction in “Nothing to Fear,” but it’s not an episode to return to often.

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