Episode Number: 3
Original Air Date: September 15, 1992
Directed by: Boyd Kirkland
Written by: Henry T. Gilroy and Sean Catherine Derek
First Appearance (s): The Scarecrow, Thomas Wayne
Episode 3 of Batman: The Animated Series introduces us to what is probably the standard episode template. A physically unimposing villain with a gimmick shows up to cause some sort of havoc while leading a gang of incompetent muscle who mostly exist just to get pummeled by Batman. That’s not necessarily a criticism as its a format that works just fine so long as the main villain is interesting enough.
Enter The Scarecrow (Henry Polic II), a costumed villain armed with a fear-inducing toxin and a grudge. The Scarecrow will see a redesign later this season, but for his first appearance he’s uniquely toon-like with a tear-drop shaped masked head that’s not at all indicative of the shape of the skull beneath it. His eyes, like Batman’s, are void of pupils and his head will curve in natural ways. He’s rail-thin with claw-tipped fingers with a rather ordinary looking attire to go with it. He’s fairly creepy looking, probably because of the unique shape of his model. His future version will add pupils and a more natural shaped head as well as teeth to the hideous moth and some straw hair. This original version is basically the under-stated version, though I like it, despite the simplicity.
This episode also introduces us to the Bruce Wayne character by showing us how some in the public view him. The episode opens with Gotham University head Dr. Long (Kevin McCarthy) fretting over a recent crime wave impacting the school and being chased down by Summer Gleason for comment. A chance encounter with Wayne, in which Long refuses to shake his hand before admonishing him, shows us that some view Bruce as just some billionaire play boy not living up to the Wayne name. It’s an aspect of the character that’s really not going to be explored much outside of this episode, but I’m glad it’s at least touched upon here. The comments naturally sting Bruce, even if his actions as Bruce are just an intentional cover for his Batman persona.
Batman soon has his first encounter with The Scarecrow, who appears to be robbing a vault on university grounds but may in fact just be looking to harm the university by any means. He’s able to show off his toxin, first on a hapless guard and then on Batman himself. Dr. Long’s words come back in a big way by unveiling to the viewer that Batman’s greatest fear is that he’s letting his parents down. The Scarecrow escapes, but the effects of the toxin linger throughout the episode. It’s not until the climax, where Batman being confronted by a vision of his dead father as a giant skeleton, utters his most famous line from this show: “I am vengeance! I am the night! I. Am. Batman!” It’s a bit corny, but I know at the time I thought it was awesome and it’s a still a fun little catch-phrase for Batman.
Batman naturally figures out The Scarecrow’s identity as that of Johnathon Crane, a former university employee specializing in fear. I should say, Batman’s computer figures out who Scarecrow is in what is easily my biggest pet peeve with this show. Batman’s computer basically knows everything and responds to voice commands in 1992 better than Siri does in 2017. The computer is often the detective with Batman taking all of the credit.
There are some fun little easter eggs in this episode. When Batman is confronted by Bullock after Scarecrow escapes, Bullock refers to him as Zorro with a mocking tone. Zorro is often cited as the real-life inspiration for the Batman character, although the in-universe inspiration will be established later. Also, when Batman is looking at a list of possible sources of The Scarecrow’s mask, Axis Chemicals pops up which is the same name as the chemical plant from the Batman movie that gave birth to The Joker. The vault guard from early in the episode is also seen reading an issue of Tiny Toon Adventures, and enjoying it immensely.
Plot wise, this is the best episode so far and The Scarecrow is an interesting villain in his own right. Unfortunately, it’s a low point for the animation quality of the program. I already covered the minimalist approach taken in designing The Scarecrow, but also the character just animates unnaturally. Bruce looks especially off-model in his appearance early in the episode and we get a really bad shot of the Batmobile at one point, as well as the first instance of bendy Batmobile. The vault guard who is the first affected by The Scarecrow’s fear toxin hallucinates spiders all over his body, which strangely only appear to have four legs apiece. On the plus side, I like the added stubble on Bruce when he’s in the Batcave essentially withdrawing from The Scarecrow’s fear toxin. His hands are shaky as he tries to pick up a picture of his parents and he looks appropriately disheveled. There’s also a nice bit of artistic licensing in the closing shot of the episode where Bruce’s shadow is cast as Batman.
This is a good episode, and for a lot of kids this was probably their first look at The Scarecrow. He’s a unique villain who has a good look that gets better and his fear toxin is a fun weapon for the writers to play with. He’ll actually be one of the most used villains by the show which is a bit surprising on the surface, but his episodes tend to deliver which is why the show runners kept returning to him. Also of note, we get to see Batman actually driven to strike Bullock over his mocking, heightening their rivalry. We also get to see one of The Scarecrow’s henchmen, after being exposed to the toxin and revealing his fear as returning to prison, basically kill himself by jumping out of a zeppelin rather than risk capture by Batman. He lands on some trees with a nice leafy canopy. The censors probably intended for us to think those leaves cushioned his fall, but I’m not buying it. That guy is dead. This is also the last episode for Clive Revill as Alfred who will be recast. We hardly knew ye, Clive.
January 17th, 2020 at 1:29 am
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