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Following my recent Scarecrow posting, I mentioned this story, and was asked to post if I could. And I can, so I will.

It's from Detective Comics 835 and 836, the post OYL era, in the midst of the Paul Dini run on Detective. This story isn't by him though, it's a fill in two-parter by John Rozum, with art by the legendary Tom Mandrake and some seriously creative used of colour by Nathan Eyring.

It's also VERY cinematic, this was written and drawn like a damn good horror movie IMHO (Or possibly a "terror movie", I believe Boris Karloff used to distinguish the difference between the two; A "horror movie" may make you sick to your stomach, a "terror movie" makes you scared to go upstairs to your bedroom in the dark after watching it. I know what he means)

So draw the curtains, turn down the lights and welcome to the Scarecrow in a whole new light... the light of....

Before I begin let me, as ever, encourage you to get a hold of this story in full, trimming the scans was particularly cruel because the page layout is impressive as hell, each page has a black border and the borders instead of being in the usual white, are in a striking shade of toxic green. The effect is subtly unsettling.

We start in Arkham Asylum (where else), where one of the regulars is unhappy...

His major fear is that they are RIGHT. That's he's a nothing, a loser with a weak gimmick (his dependence on his fear gas). That the truth is that he's a lost cause that no one will ever take seriously...

We then cut away to Bruce going on a date with his latest ladyfriend.

And in the meantime, Crane has been bust two... even by Arkham standards the screams and shrieking from the inmates has been excessive....

But when he couldn't find anywhere to hang the rope, he started trying to swallow the rope instead, and choked himself to death that way. The man in the next cell is alive, but more on him later...

The guards on shift corner Crane in his cell. He's made himself a makeshift Scarecrow outfit from stitched together blankets, and is spinning a little disc in his hands, one of those kids things which has a cage on one side and a bird on the other and creates the illusion the bird is in the cage when spun.

He then calmly announces he's leaving, and when the guards point out that Crane is still a weedy little bookworm, he, just as calmly tells them that he's going to turn into a flock of crows and fly away, and sure enough... HE DOES! (A great page that)

Bruce's date is, not surprisingly cut short by Robin calling him to Arkham Arkham...

We now find the fate of the second target of Crane's little chat/

I have to say I do like the idea that Crane knows exactly what buttons to push, what words to say, what hints to give to drive someone mad with fear. I always hear it in a soft, polite, almost affectionate tone, with the skill of a good storyteller. Something completely at odds with what he's saying of course,,,

We also find out that Crane might well be due some sort of commendation for his choice of targets..

Again, most of what we hear in this story is bare bones, like all good terror stories leaving our own imaginations to fill in the gaps in a way tailor made to make our own skin crawl. If the guy who mutilates children ISN'T the worst, what the hell can the OTHER guy have been like?

Zsasz cutting himself is also another creepy little moment. Crane is GOOD at what he does.

We also find that Poison Ivy numbly noting that she thought SHE was inhuman until she heard Crane's monologue, and the Great White Shark (the wannabe mob boss successor to Black Mask that never quite took off the way the writers clearly wanted him too) begs, BEGS Batman not to bring Scarecrow back to Arkham.

We also ascertain that Crane put the guards into a hypnotic state with his spinning disc and tone of voice, so believed him when he said he could turn himself into birds. He then convinced them to put on straw filled Scarecrow suits and set themselves alight.

He's good, but that doesn't mean he's not a sick bastard.

Batman immediately sets up observation at the various chemical plants that Crane would need to create his fear toxins.

But Crane, as we saw, has other plans, and they are his nastiest ones in a long, long time. He has no desire for riches, or wealth, no master plan that can be foiled. He "just" wants to spread fear throughout the entire city of Gotham by himself, he wants to show that he can be a complete master of fear without relying on his chemicals. So his plans are small in scale to start with, but perfectly targetted to maximise fear.

He plays on everyday fears, amping up the tension. Ask yourself, if YOU knew that just about anyone in a cinema might be the one to stab you to death, would you chance going out for the night, could you be comfortable knowing that ANYONE could be sitting behind you.

And the old fear of the dark is always a winner, after what happens to the woman above, no one can even feel safe in their own homes.

Batman is frustrated by this, there's no pattern he can predict, no robberies to foil, just random acts of, literal, terrorism. And in seeking the Scarecrow he finds himself going further and further down the path of abusing his own abilities to instil fear in criminals, like this...

Robin is concerned, he doesn't like seeing Batman get like this. He's frustrated by Scarecrows success and his own failure and he's lashing out at anyone who gets in his way, almost overeager to prove that he can manipulate fear. In short, Batman is rattled, and that's not easy.

Then the Scarecrow is spotted at a construction site. The Police, Batman and Robin all race to stop him, only to discover that it's only a fake (Well, as Robin points out, it's not a fake, it's actually a REAL scarecrow, but not THE Scarecrow)

And it's not alone...

A constant, creepy reminder that the Scarecrow can BE anywhere, anytime he wants (planting them INSIDE people's hoises is a particularly horrible touch) and there's nothing anyone can do to stop him. Even during the daytime (as an unfortunate waitress at a restaurant Bruce's girlfriend is eating at finds. The discovery of her body, dangling from ropes and in a Scarecrow hood, ends the issue in suitably grim fashion)

It's a fascinating idea in concept. What would create more terror, one enormous event which kills hundreds all in one go, or an ongoing series of random killings of completely random people at any time, anywhere within the city?

Something to ponder as we head into part two.

Gordon summons Batman and Robin for a sitrep. The campaign is still in progress and the effects on Gothams economy have been surprisingly effective.

Can't say I blame them myself....

In any event another 22 scarecrows have been found around the city, and no one seems to have any clue how he's doing it.

Can you guess what that lead might be?

But the Scarecrow is busy again, and this is one of the creepiest scenes I can recall from him EVER.

I will draw a veil over this next bit as it doesn't end happily for the poor girl, and worse yet, we can see that Scarecrow arranged it so that his other prisoners (Who we haven't even been aware he had before, were they even missed?) can see what he does to her. It's a scene which I think goes too far. Apart from yet more violence to an innocent woman (This is the third example we've seen in the story, versus that one fella in the cinema) it's too visceral for my preferences.

Yup, it's a good concept in any detective story when the detective asks a seemingly obvious question that no one else has. Good quality straw isn't common in uber-urban Gotham City.

Robin is sent to the Zoo to search there (but NOT to approach Scarecrow or try to stop him alone. Crane is an unknown quantity now, someone unlike they Scarecrow they've met before, so take no chances). Batman heads off to the other likely candidates; the few stables that Gotham has and the like.

Robin can't find any obvious traces at first, but SOMETHING has the animals spooked so he goes of to check.

Batman soon realises that he's onto a loser here, and so that means he's just sent his partner off to the Scarecrows lair...

And sure enough, Robin soon finds one of the pens laid out like this...

The floor is lined with dozens of tripwires, and they close in behind him when he moves forward, with scythes swinging all over the place. Tim has time to notice that a couple of them have dried blood on them, before he presses on...

There's only one way to find out... he finds an open expanse in the animal enclosure with another few dozen scarecrows lolling around, propped against poles, sitting on the ground, dangling from ropes, and so, in good horror movie fashion and armed only with a torch, walks amongst them..

Yeah, guess who Timbo...

"I don't NEED the gas. I command fear, I AM FEAR!!!"

And here the Scarecrow shows the other side of his skills we've seen, his calming hypnotic voice, which even the Boy Wonder can't quite resist, the smooth, lulling tones which even the pain in his hand and the predicament he's in can overcome.

And here Batman pulls an out an old favourite trick, he uses (presumably, his little sonic device seen first in Year one, to summon bats... hundreds of bats, THOUSANDS of bats... and there's a splash page image of Batman with the shadows of his cloak merging with the streams fo dark batshapes around him which is poster-worthy, but alas would ruin the page-count. (When I suggest you get hold of a story in full, trust me, DO IT!)

Crane is in the presence of a master of fear, and he knows it...

"...the same sad little coward you always were"

Scarecrow pulls out a flare (Really? IS that REMOTELY a good idea) and sets fire to the scarecrows and the enclosure. Knowing that Batman and Robin will hurry to save the hostages, Crane flees, but in his panic and haste, runs straight into the room full of scythe wielding spring-loaded scarecrow traps that Robin barely got through in once piece, and isn't as lucky himself.

The triage nurse in the hospital speaks for the city when, whilst outlining Crane's near-disembowellment, notes that it wouldn't be that much of a loss if he didn't make it.

The barely conscious Crane though is surprisingly content. This wasn't a defeat for him, rather....

And so the Scarecrow is left at the end of the story with an enhanced reputation, and more lethal approach which actually fits him, since the deaths aren't meaningless to him, they are, for wont of a better term, research, which makes him all the more ghastly. So after all that, what I can I say but;

Sweet dreams everyone, and try not to let the shadows in the dark cause you to lose sleep, I'm sure that IS just a jacket on that chair, not a small shapeless creature with long arms, and that noise, was just a couple of books, sliding off the table on the floor, no more than that I'm sure... aren't you? :)

Date: 2011-09-06 08:12 am (UTC)
daggerpen: It's a dagger-pen! (Default)
From: [personal profile] daggerpen
Be that as it may, I would still like to know. :P


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