Throughout the 80 years that Batman has been around, he has gained immense popularity for his stories, but those stories wouldn’t be anything without his expansive rogues gallery. Famous names such as Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Two Face, and Harley Quinn etc. are all characters that have their own followings in pop culture these days, with most of them having their own series of comics or at least a mini series revolving around them as a focus, but with all these villains to choose from it’s hard to decide who we prefer. Having said that though, everyone has at least one favourite villain in comics, whether it’s Marvel or DC, from Batman’s rogue gallery or from Superman’s or the Flash’s, there are so many great villains to love and of course fear, none more so than my personal favourite, Scarecrow, the master of fear!
I have decided to take a look back and review the history of the character from his very first appearance in comics, to his modern day portrayals in film, TV and videogames! I won’t be able to cover every single portrayal however, especially not for videogames as I do not have access to them all, so these articles will concentrate mostly on Film, TV and more so Comics. So where did it all begin?
The Riddle of the Human Scarecrow
- Writer: Bill Finger
- Pencilers: Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson
- Inker: George Roussos
Back in the fall of 1941 DC Comics released the third issue of World’s Finest, which saw the first appearance of Jonathan Crane a.k.a The Scarecrow created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, the same men who created Batman himself. Crane appeared in a story called ‘The Riddle of the Human Scarecrow’ in which we see a short, fast paced origin of the character as he evolves from University Professor to Master Criminal in a matter of hours (minutes in real time for the reader).
In his classes, Jonathan Crane was teaching the psycology of fear to his students, deciding to give a very practical presentation of the effects of fear by shooting a loaded pistol inside the classroom, to prove the fear that comes with not just seeing a weapon, but with knowing it’s loaded as well. This causes his employer to fire him for using such dangerous methods in a classroom. As he’s leaving the other professors make fun of him and his appearance.
Ever since his childhood Jonathan Crane has had his looks compared to that of a scarecrow, due to his scrawny stature and his shabby clothes, because he spends all of his money on books for his research and study of fear. After years of ridicule, Crane decides to turn his name of torment into a persona to be feared, and thus he became The Scarecrow, and began his life of crime in order to obtain more money for books.
In the early appearances of Crane and his alter ego, whilst he was a master of fear, he did not yet possess his now famous ‘fear toxin’ that has become synonymous with his character in modern era appearances. Instead, in this first story, Crane uses a handgun, and shoots his victims, firstly with a warning shot to strike fear into them, but then if the victim refuses to give in to fear, Scarecrow returns to them and delivers a kill shot, and leaves behind a bit of straw as a calling card. Crane decides that this new life is much better than the one he was living before, as he now had control over people’s fears, but unluckily for him, Batman and his sidekick Robin the Boy Wonder were on his trail.
This being a comic in the 1940’s era of comics, the colours on each page are vibrant and very bright compared to most of todays prints. The story is told in a somewhat comedic manner as modern day readers will find that each caption guides us along the story as though we are being spoon fed, but with somewhat comedic and unecessary phrases such as “Down the fire escape they race in pursuit of the Scarecrow!” which is clearly portrayed in the art, but back then it seems as though the stories had a similar narration to them as the television shows where you would hear things like “Is this the end of Batman? Tune in next week to find out!”. However, despite this the comic is a fun story written by Bill Finger, with plenty of brilliant art to accompany it, drawn by Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, and finally brought to life with the skills of the Inker, George Roussos.
This story was later retold and expanded in Detective Comics #189 back in 1961, but I’ll read and review that later in this history series.
Scarecrow’s story was continued in 1943, in the Detective Comics series #73 in a story title ‘The Scarecrow Returns’ which sees Jonathan Crane escape from prison and hire some henchmen to help him carry out his crimes. (review coming soon).
In his introduction to fans, during the finale of the book, Jonathan Crane proves that he is not just a weak, frail man with no fighting skills, as he even proves a challenge for Batman, with Batman himself stating “He certainly gave me the fight of my career…” which is saying something when you look at Batman’s already growing list of rogues, such as Joker, Catwoman, Clayface, and Dr. Death just to name a few.
Overall, the story told in World’s Finest #3 was a great introduction of a new character that finally had Batman facing off against a villain who used fear, much like Batman himself does, but to differentiate the hero and villain, Crane uses fear for evil, whilt Batman uses it to stop evil doers. I’d give this comic a 3.5/5 for it’s great introduction to a new character and it’s interesting plot. However it loses points because this story should have been told over at least a few issues instead of being cramped into a rushed single issue, as well as the unecessary narration. I know that’s how they did things back then which is why it gets that extra .5 but as a modern era reader, it seems like the comic spoon feeds us too much and concentrates heavily on the text rather than the art.
World’s Finest Comics #3 is available to read on DC Universe for US citizens, or if you live in the UK, you can download the comic digitally on the DC Comics app for just £0.69.