A History of Fear Part 3 – Silver Age – Batman #189

  • Writers: Henry Boltinoff, Gardner Fox, Jack Schiff
  • Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff, Henry Boltinoff
  • Inks: Henry Boltinoff, Joe Giella
  • Cover: Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella

After his second appearance in Detective Comics #73, released during the Golden Age of comics, Jonathan Crane wasn’t seen again in comics until 1967, a whole 24 years after that second and final appearance. So, when the time came to re-introduce him to the world, the writers of Batman #189 decided that it would be best to give the readers a little recap of the Scarecrows origins, as seen in World’s Finest #3 published back in 1941.

This comic begins with the story of Jonathan Crane as a teacher in a university, showing us once more his extreme demonstrations in class, using a live gun to shoot a vase to prove his point of fear. However, this time around we do not get the part of the story where he is fired for this. Instead we skip straight to the other teachers mocking him for his clothes, and calling him a scarecrow, to then seeing him use this mockery as his new symbol. One thing this comic does add however, is a small panel in which we get a quick tidbit about Jonathan Crane as a boy, claiming that he loved to scare birds, clearly foreshadowing his villainous alter ego.

After the prologue, our new story begins with none other than Bruce Wayne’s ward, Dick Grayson, who in this story, is a playground instructor at a local park, helping young men with their athletic ability, using a climbing frame. During his lesson however, Dick notices something is off about the river, and goes to investigate, soon discovering that the disturbance is due to the Scarecrow, who has escaped prison once again. This new story continues somewhat from where we left off back in 1943, as it is well established in the narrative captions of the panels, that Batman and Robin have faced off against this foe before hand, and there are references to his previous crimes, including the revival of his strange riddles using three words that are all comprised of the same three letter ending. In Detective Comics #73, the words Scarecrow used were; Hat, Mat and Vat. Each word, once deciphered, led the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder to the next location where Scarecrow was going to be, and this time in Batman #189, the result was no different.

Clues left at the park by Scarecrow, for Batman and Robin to follow.

This element of leaving clues, seems very off when used by the Scarecrow, especially after what we know of the modern age adaptations of the character, but in the earlier stories, it seems this characteristic was used for nothing more than to move the plot along and add a little drama to the story, as these clues would often lead to the Dynamic Duo, falling into a trap.

Nowadays, the famous Batman villain known as Joker has been known by his nickname of ‘The Clown Prince of Crime’. Well as it turns out he wasn’t the only villain to receive that nickname treatment back in the day, as this comic gives the Scarecrow a few nicknames of his own, including;

  • Prince of Panic
  • Straw-man Scoundrel
  • Tyrant of Terror

These names, whilst nowadays may seem a little silly, definitely suit the character of Scarecrow in a way that you know exactly who it is referring to without the aid of the pictures.

Fear Gas

This comic marks the first time that the character of Scarecrow, uses a hallucinogenic fear inducing toxin. However, it is only used twice throughout the story, once on the Dynamic Duo in the park, which is administered as a spray, from a submarine as seen below. This causes the Heroes to gain a false sense of falling, despite their feet being on solid ground.

Whilst the Hallucination isn’t portrayed from Batman and Robin’s perspective, we do get to see just how odd it may look to anyone who sees a victim of Scarecrows fear chemical, as we see Batman and Robin scared out of their minds, in the middle of a naturally calm park.

The second use of the fear chemical comes in the form of smoke, from a pipe that Scarecrow himself seems to be puffing. Using his fear chemical this time, to extort money from a millionaire philanthropist, this seems like an odd way to use it, but since this is the first comic which uses the chemical, I suppose they were merely testing different methods to find a suitable fit for how he would induce the chemical into others.

This comic is part of the silver age, meaning that the art in this book is crisp and clear, still with vibrant like the golden age, which makes every panel stand out. Each character is assigned a particular colour palette which distinguishes them from any other character in the same panel, making it easy to identify them and follow the story smoothly.

The writers of this comic continued the previous stories of the Scarecrow from the golden age, which to me seems like a better decision than completely rebranding the character after only two previous appearances, so instead of a new version of Scarecrow, we have one that is evolving, by adapting his study of fear into a chemical, but one issue I have, is that we do not get to see how this came about, as the re-telling of the original origin, is merely a three page recap of the original with almost no new content to it. Having said that though, I understand why they would want to use as few pages as possible to recap the origin, in order to get to their new story quicker, and keep the readers entertained and enthralled in their story.

The silver age of comics doesn’t differ entirely from the golden age in it’s style of writing however, as the Dynamic Duo are less serious in this story than what we know today. Back in this age of comics, heroes loved to laugh, smile and make jokes, and that includes Batman, who we now know as the dark, brooding detective who takes everything seriously and refuses to laugh or smile, unless he’s doing it to be creepy. Some panels of this comics really do make you smile at the absurdity of a silly Batman though, such as when he’s in the middle of a conflict, but decides it’s a good time to make jokes about ‘flying Scarecrows’.

Overall, this new story, being a revival and continuation of the character, manages to stay true to the original characteristics of Scarecrow from the golden age, including his habit of leaving clues and calling card at the scene of a crime, which as a modern age reader, seems strange for the character but very interesting as a piece of history on the character, allowing us to realise how much he has changed over the years.

This comic gets a 4/5 from me, as we start to see Scarecrow involve fear into his plots more, as well as keeping his original characteristics, which means that instead of an alternate form of character, we are merely seeing him evolve into a closer representation of what we know him as today.

Batman #189 is available to read on DC Universe for US citizens, or on the DC Comics and Comixology app for £1.49.

Batman #189 – Fright of the Scarecrow (First appearance in the Silver Age)

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Keith R.A. DeCandido's mad ramblings

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DCs Earth-9

Travelling the Multiverse

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