The New Batman Adventures – “Never Fear”

never fearEpisode Number:  6 (91)

Original Air Date:  November 1, 1997

Directed by:  Kenji Hachizaki

Written by:  Stan Berkowitz

First Appearance:  None

If you’re at all familiar with Batman: The Animated Series then one look at the title of this episode will tip you off to who the villain of the day is. The Scarecrow is back with a new look and a new voice actor. Pretty much every villain from the prior series received a redesign for this one, but The Scarecrow’s is one of the most extreme and memorable. It’s interesting because he was also the villain to receive the most severe redesign during the original series, moving from a tear-drop shaped mask in his debut to a much more hideous and frightening one in his subsequent appearances. For The New Batman Adventures, his redesign reads like a change in philosophy. He now resembles an undead preacher and the noose around his neck implies the manner of execution was a hanging. He wears a duster jacket and hat and wields a stick to complete the ensemble. We’re left to assume that underneath the new costume is still Dr. Jonathan Crane, though since he’s now voiced by Jeffrey Combs (replacing Henry Polic II) I suppose that could lead some to question if this is an all new villain. Combs portrays Scarecrow with a much softer and quiet voice, a lethal whisper, so to speak. It makes this version of the character similar to The Phantasm, minus the smoke effects.

new scarecrow

Behold the new Scarecrow!

Also returning is Scarecrow’s fear-based methods aided by his various serums and toxins. Both Batman and Robin have had to deal with Scarecrow’s fear-inducing methods previously and have overcome them, so how can the show change things up this time? The answer is by swinging in the total opposite direction. Where Scarecrow’s old gas once induced a debilitating terror in his victims, his new weapon now removes all traces of fear making the victims reckless and uncaring about consequences. It’s an interesting approach, but does it work?

The episode opens at night with a crowd of onlookers watching a man swinging around the buildings of Gotham. Only this man isn’t Batman, it’s just some paunchy guy (voiced by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) awkwardly swinging around. Batman and Robin spot him and make the determination that this activity appears quite unsafe. They swing after the guy, who just seems to keep going almost like the end of his rope is attached to a helicopter or something. The guy is having a good time, until he smashes into a neon sign causing him to lose his grip. The man apparently possesses great upper body strength, as well as finger strength, as he grabs a ledge on the way down saving himself. Batman and Robin have to take care of the debris from the sign so it doesn’t injure any of the onlookers, but soon turn their attention to their odd thrill-seeker.

acrophobic man

Just some guy out for an evening swing.

They eventually get to him and Batman asks him what he’s doing and advises against it. The man seems almost euphoric. He explains he has no fear, and apparently he sees no reason for the crime-fighting duo to put an end to his fun. He playfully shoulder tackles Batman off the ledge, forcing Batman to use his grapple-gun to save himself and grab ahold of the lunatic, who also had fallen. The crowd cheers as this little episode comes to a close.

Nearby, a man in a white suit looks on and seems a touch displeased. He heads inside to an auditorium and there we’re introduced to this new version of The Scarecrow. Scarecrow is angry with this gentleman, who goes by the name of Guru (Charles Rocket), for losing control over the crazy man we just saw swinging around Gotham. Apparently this guy was a test subject for Scarecrow’s new drug and he was supposed to be guarded closely.

The next day, Bruce Wayne is heading to his office. His secretary informs him that someone has been trying to get ahold of him all morning, while another person waits in his office for him. With a “Let me guess,” Bruce enters his spacious office to find Tim playing in his office chair. When he questions why the boy isn’t at school he points out it’s summer vacation. Tim wants to know if Bruce has any more info on the guy from last night. Bruce tells him he does, as the police learned an interesting fact about he him – he has acrophobia, a fear of heights. Before their conversation can continue, they’re interrupted by Seymour Grey (Ken Berry), a dissatisfied employee of Wayne’s and likely the one who has been calling all morning. He rants about being ignored for 18 years and claims to have a bunch of wonderful ideas, but he’s not here to share them. He just wants to yell finally tossing a bunch of papers in Wayne’s direction before declaring that he quits. On the way out, he takes a rather lurid peek at Wayne’s secretary and then grabs her and places a kiss on her. She does not take that well, and Bruce surprisingly doesn’t deck the jerk as security comes in to remove him. As Mr. Grey is taken away, Bruce notices he dropped his wallet and inside it is a business card for a company called Never Fear.

bruces bad disguise

He just doesn’t put the same effort into his disguises as he used to.

Bruce finds an address on the business card and heads to the location in perhaps his worst disguise yet. He just looks like Bruce Wayne, but with a really thin, fake mustache which is even less convincing than Superman’s alter ego. Nonetheless, no one appears to recognize him as he attends what turns out to be a self-help seminar hosted by the Guru. Not surprisingly, the seminar is all about letting go of fear and as Guru goes on and on Bruce slips away. He ducks into an office and starts nosing around. He picks the lock on a drawer and finds a bunch of canisters inside. Before he can figure out what it is, a shadowy figure emerges behind him and blasts him in the back of the head with a club. As Bruce crumbles to the floor, the camera pans up to reveal the Scarecrow as the assailant.

Bruce wakes up to find himself in a zoo. He’s just outside a crocodile exhibit and as he looks around he’s soon alerted by the presence of The Scarecrow. He wants to know what Bruce was doing in the office, and he too is apparently unaware of who Bruce is. Wayne plays dumb and says he was just scrounging around for cash which Scarecrow seems to buy. That doesn’t mean he’s going to let him off the hook though. He shoots Wayne with a gas gun and then dares him to approach. Scarecrow is positioned behind the crocodile enclosure, so Bruce opts to go through it. In a bit of a confusing scene, Wayne hops the fence and is in ankle deep water, but the crocs emerge from underneath it. They’re massive, and they drag Bruce under water, which is now apparently several feet deep. As the water turns cloudy with blood, a satisfied Scarecrow departs with a rather amusing taunt of “Welcome to the food chain.” We’ve seen Batman tangle with massive reptiles before though, and soon just the back of a croc breeches the surface limply as Bruce emerges, seemingly unscathed.

scarecrow meets wayne

This Scarecrow is surprisingly playful.

Alfred and Tim are just hanging around Wayne Manor when Bruce comes storming in soaking wet. Before they can even ask what happened he orders Tim to suit up and get in the plane. The Dynamic Duo then take off and Batman fills Robin in on what he saw. He explains that Scarecrow is behind a new gas that removes people’s sense of fear. Robin takes note of how recklessly Batman is operating the Batwing prompting him to ask if he was exposed to this new toxin. Batman confirms that he was, but curtly informs his young sidekick that he can handle it. Robin seems unconvinced of that as Batman continues to fly in an irresponsible manner.

guru

Nice chin, Guru.

The two return to Scarecrow’s hideout. They return to the office where Batman found the canisters as Bruce Wayne only to find they’re gone. The Guru then shows up with some armed men in tow. Batman charges at them and is more than fortunate to not get shot. Robin’s approach is more professional as he uses batarangs to disarm the thugs allowing Batman to bash them into oblivion. He sets his sights on Guru, but the sharply dressed man isn’t talking. Batman ropes him up and tosses him over a balcony. Guru is now frightened, but it isn’t until Batman starts slicing the rope and musing about how little he cares if Guru falls does he start talking. He tells them that Scarecrow took the gas to the subway where he plans to unleash it on the city. Batman, having received what he wanted, remarks that his plan is just in time for rush hour (I guess he’s referring to the morning rush hour) and simply turns his back on the man and heads for the Batwing. The rope snaps, forcing Robin to make the save as Guru screams and passes out from the experience. Robin, despite being about a third of the size of Guru, manages to haul him up.

On the rooftop, Batman is heading for the Batwing when his own rope is used against him. He falls to the ground in a bind with Robin standing over him. He’s incensed and demands to be untied, but Robin tells him he’s in no condition for this. He once again insists that he can handle the toxin, but Robin tells him to sit this one out and removes his utility belt. As Robin walks away, Batman softens his tone and tells him he’s right. Telling Robin that he’ll be in charge on this mission, he once again asks him to untie him. Robin approaches, but stops short, telling Batman he almost fooled him. Batman then again returns to a state of heightened agitation with a “Why you little…!” but he at least stops short of swearing at the kid who leaves him on the roof top.

robins stand

Robin does what must be done.

Robin enters the subway system to confront Scarecrow and whatever help he brought with him. He enters a train that Scarecrow has apparently commandeered. There he finds Scarecrow in the midst of recording a ransom video intended for the mayor. When he flashes an inhaler indicating it’s the antidote, Robin nails it with a batarang and barges in. As he prepares to handcuff the Scarecrow, one of his men creeps up behind Robin and clubs him with both hands knocking him out. They cuff him, and apparently they’re content to just let him hang around until the job is done.

Meanwhile, Batman has escaped from his restraints and made his way to the same subway train. He boards it, apparently retrieving his belt at some point (or Tim just left it on the rooftop), and thunders through the cars. He grabs Scarecrow’s men and tosses them from the moving train. He moves right past Robin and takes Scarecrow from behind in the control room. He manages to get his hands around Scarecrow’s neck and he looks intent on finishing the job. During the fracas, the controls are damaged and the car is now out of control. This also seems like a good time to point out that this is by far the weirdest subway tunnel I’ve ever seen, resembling more of a mine train setting than a subway.

batman v scarecrow

Batman in full-blown murder mode.

Robin is able to free himself of his own bonds and jumps on Batman’s back. He tries to talk Batman down, but he has no success. He then spies the inhaler on the ground that contains the antidote to Scarecrow’s gas. He gives Batman a good blast in the face with it, and he quickly snaps back into sanity. Batman recognizes the dire situation, and orders Robin to evacuate. Robin hesitates, but Batman insists he’s fine now and that he’ll get he and Scarecrow out of there. Robin does as he’s told, and Batman grabs Scarecrow and bails before the subway train plunges into a ravine.

As Batman, dragging Scarecrow, and Robin walk out of the tunnel, Robin tries to apologize for what he did, but Batman tells him it was the right thing to do adding that a little fear is a good thing. The only thing missing from this ending is a sweet hug.

“Never Fear” is an episode that quickly abandons its premise. We’re shown how removing someone’s sense of fear could change him through the acrophobic individual at the beginning and the Wayne employee Mr. Grey. It’s easy to understand why someone who had a fear of heights would want to do something daring after suddenly having the fear removed. Similarly, Mr. Grey was likely a meek employee afraid to speak up for himself for years and now finally has the courage to do so which explains his actions in Wayne’s office.

robins bravery

Batman is pretty awful in this one, so much so that it almost seems implausible that Robin could just brush it off as the effects of some drug.

For Batman though, this new drug goes well beyond removing fear. Batman is a murderous psychopath when on this drug. Not only is he no longer afraid of consequences, the drug has seemingly removed any sense of value he once placed on the lives of Gotham’s criminals. Is the episode implying that it’s simply the law that prevents Batman from murdering his foes? Essentially, I feel like the episode began with a premise, and then the staff realized that a fearless Batman just wasn’t enough so they needed the drug to just turn him into a rampaging beast. For that reason, I’m not sure if they intend for us to draw any further conclusions from Batman’s actions. Even so, this Batman is very unlikable and as a viewer I can’t just forgive and forget, which makes the ending feel unearned because that’s exactly what Robin does. I feel like that drug peeled back some layers on Batman’s character, and what has been seen cannot be unseen.

This episode is one of the few not animated by the tandem of Dong Yang and Koko Ltd. It’s the work of the much acclaimed Tokyo Movie Shinsha, or simply TMS, and was directed in-house by Kenji Hachizaki. This marks a new turn as TMS previously animated episodes back in season one, but directing responsibilities were still performed onshore. Of course, with animation arrangements like this sometimes the credited director isn’t always the one doing the most directing so the real credit should almost always go to multiple parties. Still, it’s a nice honor for Hachizaki which reflects the standing of TMS in 1997. The studio will animate a handful of other episodes in this run and most of them are among the show’s most memorable. TMS is perhaps the best 2D animators on the planet during the 90s, and the quality is easy to spot in anything the studio works on. Though with this more streamlined design, the differences in animation quality are far less obvious than they were before. Or maybe that’s just a complement to the likes of Dong Yang which really improved noticeably during the life of BTAS.

This is also the Batman debut for writer Stan Berkowitz. He had previously worked on Fox’s Spider-Man as well as a bunch of live-action stuff before joining the staff of Batman. Berkowitz will contribute to more episodes in this season as well as many episodes of Superman. He’ll transition to Batman Beyond where he wrote a number of episodes, including the pilot. He’s basically hung around the DCAU ever since and should be a familiar name if you’ve kept up with those properties.

shadowy scarecrow

One thing seemingly not up for debate is that this version of The Scarecrow is superior to the previous one.

As for The Scarecrow, this new take on the character is easily the greatest success in terms of character design for The New Batman Adventures. No other redesign works as well as this one to improve what came before. It’s also nice to see the character returned to a more prominent role as he had been reduced to comedic relief in the final episodes of BTAS. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get much exposure in this new series making that neat design feel almost wasted. He will return one more time in a role that features minimal screen time, but the effects of which result in what is probably the show’s finest episode. As for “Never Fear,” it’s a good debut for this new twist on the villain even if I have some issues with the tone and direction the episode took. I suppose if you’re more willing to forgive and forget the actions of Batman in this episode then you may feel it’s a great deal better than I think it is, and maybe one of the best. For me, it’s almost too uncomfortable and it’s hard for me to at least partially not associate The New Batman Adventures version of Batman with the character we saw here.


One response to “The New Batman Adventures – “Never Fear”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: