Spooktoberfest Special: Fear For Sale!

Despite the fact that he doesn’t have the lunatic flash of the Joker or the epic scale of Ra’s al-Ghul, the Scarecrow has always been one of my favorite villains.

At the risk of turning this into another one of those pseudo-intellectual essays, I think it has a lot to do with the way he works as a contrast to Batman. We’ve all seen the scene where he establishes that criminals are superstitious and cowardly, but Jonathan Crane’s a nice reminder that those aren’t qualities limited to those who break the law, and as much as Batman’s cape and devil-horn bat-ears are designed to frighten crooks, the Scarecrow uses the same tactics on the (relatively) innocent.

Plus, he’s got an awesome design. Seriously, say what you want about the lanky stitched-mouth of Scarecrow Classic, but that redesign they did for the latter seasons of the animated series? The one with the tattered coat and the noose around his neck? That thing is tight.

He’s got a good track record, too: SuperFriends notwithstanding, he’s been in a lot of good stories, owing to the fact that for such a deceptively simple concept, there’s a lot you can do with him.

Which brings us to tonight’s spoooooooky selection, from Detective Comics #571, which is without question one of my favorite comics of all time.

Seriously, even with competition from its contemporaries–which included Dark Knight Returns, Year One and Jim Starlin’s run over in the pages of Batman–Mike W. Barr’s Detective is one of the greatest runs of all time, and this is one of its high points.

I mean, just check out this splash page:

 

 

Man. Alan Davis. I have a feeling that kid’s gonna go far in this industry.

Also, it’s my duty as a comics blogger to point out that this is the issue that gives us this:

 

 

“Shoosh” indeed.

Anyway, here’s how it goes down: Following a hunch after two major accidents involving sports figures taking insane chances, Bruce Wayne and young Jason “Jay” Todd hit the racetrack, only to find three time Indy 500 Champion Jack Hogan attempt a reckless pass and end up as a fireball.

Fortunately, one quick change later, Batman and Robin are able to help out by–

 

 

NOW CUT THAT OUT!

Anyway, despite the disastrous wreck and some pretty serious injuries, Hogan doesn’t seem to have any regrets about his actions. Why? Well, as Batman discovers with his handy Science Microscope, he’s been dosed with a psychoactive chemical by the Scarecrow. But rather than the usual tactic of bringing out the subject’s deepest fears, this one works to take them away:

 

 

Before long, of course, Robin gets kidnapped and Batman gets dosed with the chemical, and that’s where this issue gets upgraded from “great” to “totally kickass.”

Because that’s when we start to get Cocky Batman:

 

 

This is what’s so great about this issue: Taking a character that–even in a run as fun and relatively lighthearted as Barr’s–was rooted in dour, methodical purpose and showing the contrast as he gets more and more reckless under the influence of the Scarecrow’s drug and watching him try to force himself to not have fun being Batman.

Plus, Alan Davis does wonders with it:

 

 

Thus, hepped up on fear-removing goofballs, Batman’s faced with a gauntlet of traps at a cement factory with what has to be the worst safety record in Gotham City. Seriously, if your job has spinning blade traps and pitfalls that pop up in the middle of a hallway and you’re not guarding the lost treasure of an ancient wizard or something, contact OSHA before you’re run over by a remote-controlled semi-truck.

 

 

This, incidentally, is exactly how my Batman vs. Optimus Prime fan-fiction went.

Of course, as with all sinister lairs, deathtraps prove no obstacle to Batman, and before long…

 

 

…and it’s revealed that in order to counteract the drug’s influence, Batman conjured up his own worst fear and held it in his mind, using it to focus on getting through the traps, beat the Scarecrow, and rescue Robin.

And that fear? Oh, I think you know where we’re going with this one:

 

 

Man. Good thing that never happened, huh?

In addition to the comic itself, “Fear For Sale” was later adapted into an episode of the Animated Series and handily reprinted–along with a lot of other great stuff–in Batman in the Eighties, and it’s well worth picking up.

I mean, come on:

 

 

Cocky Batman. He’s worth it for the eyebrow alone.

29 thoughts on “Spooktoberfest Special: Fear For Sale!

  1. Nice. Never knew “No Fear” was based on a comic story. And Batman’s uppercut looks like it decapitated Scarecrow, but the guy’s hood kept the head from flying away.

  2. That cocksure grin is actually more terrifying and unsettling than his usual dour expression.

    I mean, I would rather that Batman not look like he was enjoying beating the hell out of me, were I a criminal unlucky enough to cross his path.
    If it’s just something that has to be done, fine. But enjoying it? THAT’S scary.

  3. One of my favourite stories as well, in no small part due to the subtle way in which Alan Davis shows the difference between Batman and Cocky Batman.

  4. I think this taps into a commmon sense that inside every 80s motivational speaker runs a raging torrent of violence and contempt.
    Also, I guess it would be pretty embarrassing to have your sidekick murdered by the Scarecrow. I remember reading a comic he and the Joker fought to see which emotion can be better weaponized. Guess who won.

  5. Man, this is one of my favorite issues. Ever since the Batman Begins movies I’ve developed a sort of…obsession with the Scarecrow and have collected most of his appearances. This is definitely one of the best.

    But, yeah, probably could have done without the hose scenes.

  6. If DC ever decides to have their characters shill Hostess Fruit Pies again, this panel must be used.

    “Mmmmm…. Cherry!”

  7. I remember using this issue to help teach a Greek boy how to read- for real…

    -Citizen Scribbler

  8. One thing that freaks me out, every single time, about this run of Batman is Barr’s insistence in having Batman call Robin ‘chum’.

  9. This is also reprinted in the trade ‘Scarecrow Tales’ that DC released to coincide with Batman Begins, in case anybody who wants this story is more of a Scarecrow fan than an eighties fan. It also has his golden age appearences and a good Denny O’ Neill story where Batman gets scared that Commisioner Gordon will laugh at him if he can’t solve the case he’s working on.

  10. Every time I look at that panel of Batman cocking his eyebrow, I can’t help but think he’s trying to do the People’s Eyebrow. Which makes it even more awesome, especially because Batman’s a decade ahead of the Rock on developing that mannerism. That’s how far ahead of the curve he is!

  11. Also, man: that final panel would be a really eerie and affecting example of unintended foreshadowing if not for that horrible Red Hood business.

  12. That horrible what now? Jason Todd’s still dead in my personal continuity. And also really easy to ignore given my comics reading habits, so it’s worked out really well for me on all fronts there.

  13. One of the earliest Batman comic books I ever owned, and it is truly awesome. The front and back covers came off at some point, so it’s not in the best shape, but still perfectly readable.

  14. The Superfriends Scarecrow episode was actually scary! It had a scythe and stuff!
    This same plot was used in an episode of the late, unlamented Now & Again – my fave Six Million Dollar Man style show

  15. Great. Now I have “Batman must be stopped… no matter the cost.” stuck in my head.

    If anyone ever compiles a list of “Classic Comic Clock Cleaner” panels, that punch needs to be in it.

  16. it shouldn’t be too hard to make fear gas… i’ve gotten anxiety attacks and insane fear from various chemicals before. just isolate them…

  17. John Rozum turned in a good Scarecrow two-parter in Detective Comics earlier this year (or was it last year?) If you’re a Scarecrow fan and haven’t checked it out, do so.

    I think Scarecrow ranks right up there with Captain Marvel in the “cool characters from Marvel and DC who share a name” rankings.

  18. Yeah, this was a great issue. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Mike Barr “borrowing” the death trap from “Two-Way Deathtrap” for this one.