Batman: The Animated Series, “Fear of Victory”

27Mar11

Hey, it’s the Scarecrow! Remember that guy?

Seriously, it has been some time since the Scarecrow’s first appearance in the series-over 2o episodes, in fact. Considering the questionable quality of that first episode, of course, it’s not too surprising that it took him so long to show up again. But fortunately, the absence did him a world of good, and we get both a far more striking scheme for this specific episode, and a welcome redesign for the Scarecrow himself.

There are those that prefer Scarecrow’s redesign with the move to the WB later in the series, and I can’t say I blame them. He is remade to have a far more frightening appearance even without the use of his signature fear toxins. But the design we first see in “Fear of Victory” is probably my favorite, because it bridges the gap. It’s unnerving enough that if confronted with the Scarecrow unexpectedly, his appearance alone would be a fright…but at the same time, it doesn’t forget that Professor Crane himself is a small, spindly man, who wouldn’t frighten anyone if you saw him in the daylight. The WB redesign made him in a bulky, hulking figure, and on a personal level, that bothers me because he was first introduced as a stereotypical academic outside of his costume. Also, the more spherical mask introduced here removes the issue of how he can fit his head into the thing.

This is also the first episode in a while where we see Robin, who’s been gone even longer than the Scarecrow! But it’s also the episode where we get the explicit explanation for this-he’s in college, living in the dorm. So while he’s still in the city to help out Batman, he’s both got his studies to deal with, and he’s in a location where it’s not as easy to sneak out in a costume. The dorm is actually where the episode opens, as Robin’s roommate, the quarterback for the football team, gets a strange telegram. The two of them puzzle over it for a few seconds before dismissing it…until the game the next night, when the roommate has repeated panic attacks on the field, losing the game for his team. Robin is left wondering what’s going on, until he freaks out while on a patrol with Batman, almost getting both of them killed.

To go on a tangent for a bit, this was the one part of the episode that confused me as a kid. I knew what telegrams were, but I also knew no one used them. Similarly, the fact that the TVs in the show were always in black and white threw me too. Obviously, I can see that it’s a conscious emulation of 30s style beyond the actual shape of objects, even though the show isn’t set in the 30s, but rather a nebulous time, of art deco never going out of style. I don’t like to use the term the show creators coined for this, “Dark Deco,” but I have to admit it sums it up pretty well. Of course, the telegram idea is still odd, considering phones are used all the time in the show…but then, a phone call wouldn’t have worked for the Scarecrow’s scheme here.

After Batman investigates (Robin comes along, but is preoccupied with how he almost killed both of them), they discover the source of the problem-a chemical that can be absorbed through the skin, and causes adrenaline to turn into fear. It’s actually a nastier proposition than the original Scarecrow toxin, and far more believable. It’s still comic book science, of course, but considering adrenaline is involved in the fight or flight response, I can believe the idea of a chemical that always pushes it into flight over fight. It’s the fact that it can be conveniently absorbed by skin contact that makes it a little silly for me, combined with the fact that it works in seconds. The two go to confirm the Scarecrow is still in Arkham-he’s not, of course, but you discover this in an arresting scene, as Batman passes by other members of his rogue’s gallery on his way to discover the truth. The Joker himself punctuates the visual of a real scarecrow in Crane’s place with his maniacal laughter.

I mentioned the Scarecrow redesign before, and it actually gets its own introduction at this point, as the episode goes to a bookie paying out big money to the Scarecrow. Of course, he’s not sitting in there in his costume…but it’s obviously the man who delivered the telegram, and if you’ve seen the first Scarecrow episode, one thing they kept (and I’m glad they did) was his voice actor. The bookie sends a thug after the mystery winner to find out why he’s winning so often. But the Scarecrow gets to turn the tables, dosing the man with the fear toxin and turning his own threatened beating into a terrifying ordeal. This also dovetails into Batman’s investigation-Commissioner Gordon somehow contacts Batman about the thug after the Scarecrow is done with him, and Batman uses that information to connect the dots between sports figures having sudden panic attacks and bookies being hit hard by sudden gambling losses.

Batman and Robin head to a stadium to intercept the Scarecrow’s next target, Gotham’s professional football team. Robin is able to stop the Scarecrow from drugging another athlete, and Batman confronts him in the catwalk above the stadium, where Crane confirms the truth-it’s all a scheme for cash, to use for bigger plans. After threatening to dose enough of the stadium to create a massive riot, he and Batman struggle. Well, I say struggle, but it’s actually an unequal contest, and fortunately it’s presented as such; there’s no grand fight between the Scarecrow and Batman. Rather, it’s the Batman trying to grab the vial of toxin before it can fall off the catwalk, and Scarecrow preventing him with a few dirty moves. But Robin, as part of his redemption subplot, manages to catch the falling vial, leaving Batman to apprehend Scarecrow in about 2 seconds.

I’m not sure I’d pick this as the best Scarecrow episode, but it’s a great improvement over his introduction for a number of reasons. First is his redesign, of course, but bringing in Robin as an unintended victim both allows the consequences to strike home without sidelining the main character. And the story also benefits from better animation than his first appearance, making an already strong episode stronger. This is definitely one to watch, and if you dismissed the Scarecrow based on his first appearance, you can treat this as his real introduction.

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