Tuesday, November 06, 2007

QUICK FIX DOUBLE FEATURE: Nothing but fear itself!
As The Crow Flies Part Three: Scary Monsters (DC)
Where: Batman #628 When: Late July 2004
Why: Judd Winick How: Dustin Nguyen

Quick Fix...
Well, at this point we can deduce several things:
Clearly daily posting has been completely derailed; apparently freeing up Mondays has left me completely lost; and this is clearly another belated opportunity for an exciting dose of Halloween hangover!
Let's be honest, it wouldn't be a comic site Halloween without a solid appearance clocked by the Scarecrow!

If zeitgeist is the theme of the website right now, it's fair to say season 04/05 was Scarecrow's time! The good Dr. Crane received a mainstream shot in the arm when he made his overdue big screen debut in 2005's, Batman Begins. The feature film not only reinvigorated his stock in the comic books, but also introduced the character to the uninitiated, creating a whole new fanbase out of fans of horror, and fan-fiction sub-culture.

Joining Golden Age alumnists like the Joker and Catwoman; for my money, Scarecrow ranks amongst the quintesential Batman villains.

Working in the character's favour are many attributes found in the most successful villains to endure the decades of the Bat-franchise. Crane, a former psychologist, possesses the necessary degree of intelligence to properly combat the dark knight detective, and much like Joker or the Riddler, marries it to a special brand of crazy.

For the most part Scarecrow connects to the underlying theme of mental illness in Batman, which in an obscure way stems directly from the character himself. Though usually only by implication, the theory that Batman is as damaged as the crooks he brings in, has been well explored with projects like Arkham Asylum, Dark Knight Returns, and various other stories.

A majority of Scarecrow's earliest appearances typified the character as a more standard career criminal. Despite his flair for theatrical gimmickery, Scarecrow did not regularly utilize his trademark fear gas until decades after his first 1941 appearance. This came after the character endured one of the most noteworthy disappearances of a villain spanning from the mid-fifties to the sixties.

Though the lead-up to Begins saw a wave of refresher and introductory appearances of Scarecrow in comics, an unlikely change was about to occur in the character as the high-flying Batman experienced it's own period of transition.

In the past we've touched upon a boom period of Batman that propelled the title back to the top of the sales charts with the blockbuster teaming of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, for Hush. After such a success the follow-up task went to the unlikely team of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso (of 100 Bullets fame), before a concerned hand over to Eisner-nominee, Judd Winick [and Dustin Nguyen].

With Hush having moved such substantial quantities, any team was going to have a struggle on DC's renewed flagship title, but after the culture shock of Broken City, Winick's credentials were quickly characterized as few and removed. The only thing worse than a perceived untested writer was the prospect of a major change in franchise characters, which probably wasn't as publicized as it might have otherwise been...

In an effort to expand his criminal interests, the Penguin employs Jonathan Crane with a mandate to develop a new generation of fear toxin.
Working under the thumb of the mob proves uncomfortable for Crane, who lives at the mercy of Penguin and his funding. Finding solace in his supplied laboratory assistant, disgraced physician, Linda Friitawa, Crane conducts secret experiments which make him the prime suspect in a spate of underworld murders perpetrated by a monstrous Scarebeast. Crane swears his innocence.

With many of his associates already murdered by the Scarebeast, Penguin moves Crane to a new location and calls a meeting for his generals. During the heated debate he has the misfortune of spying the monster coming for them.

As the Scarebeast smashes through the massive windows of Cobblepot's mansion, he screams the order to fly to his flat-footed associates. The squat gangster runs for his life while his fellows kiss theirs goodbye, opening fire on a monster that seems as invulnerable as it is unfeeling.

Marching a bloody path through Penguin's mansion, the Scarebeast runs afoul Batman, perched behind the balustrade of a higher level. He tosses a batarang and line around the beast's maw, but it is for naught.
Foregoing stairs, the Scarebeast bursts through the second-floor balcony, surviving broken teeth and the burying of a taser in it's motley hide.

Batman moves into close quarters, tossing a grenade down the monster's gullet. Though the explosion does some damage, it fails to topple the Scarebeast.

Batman, hoping to restrain the creature, draws his grapple gun, but finds he has under estimated his opponent's resilience. In the grip of the terrible Scarebeast, Batman struggles for another explosive, only to cop a face full of gas breathed from the Scarebeast's toothy maw.

With his lung filled with gas, Batman soon recognises the concoction of the fright gas.

Falling into the abyss of terror, the issue closes with Batman's head engulfed in green fear gas, the Scarebeast speaking a soft request, "Scream. Scream for me."

By the end of As the Crow Flies we would learn that much like Hush, the presumption of the obvious being a diversion was inaccurate. Despite his claims of innocence, Jonathan Crane is indeed revealed to be the terrifying Scarebeast, though totally unaware of it.
The transformation proves to be part of a much larger plot, but that is a discussion and reveal for another day of Infinite Wars!

I'm told the Scarebeast eventually appeared again during War Games, but I can't vouch for that, having endeavoured to skip the multi-title crossover. War Games followed this story immediately, dividing it from Winick's induction as regular writer on the series -- a period we have discussed many times in the past.

I don't know what general fan reception was for the concept, but I kinda like the Jekyll & Hyde aspect of the Scarebeast. Though there have been variations, I generally prefer to think of Scarecrow as one of the least effective combatants in Batman's rogues gallery, making this a useful twist for inventing a physical threat of the Scarecrow.

I wouldn't want to see it overwhelm the heart of the character, but as an underlying potential in any situation, it's a bit of fun. Of course, there are much more interesting takes on the character, which leads us to the next issue in our double feature...

The Fix: 5.5 The Issue: 4.5
Winner: Scarecrow

Though the conclusion of the issue spills over into the next, for the sake of book keeping, the Infinite Wars regard issue-end as a point of conclusion. Thus, this is considered a victory for Scarecrow, irrespective of the following events in Batman #629.

Fear is the Key (DC)
Where: Batman: Gotham Knights #49 When: March 2004 Why: Geoff Johns How: Tommy Castillo

Quick Fix...
... It seems just about every major Bat-character has at least a few shades of characterization. Certainly the seventies shift to grim darkness recast characters in steady contrast to their fifties counterparts, but even then, it's in the minutia that we find many alterations.

Depth of origins and motivations tend to vary, but I think it's safe to say a definitive Scarecrow is intent on invoking fear in his victims. His methodoloy may as well be as specific to a story as the circumstances of his involvement.
In this black and white back-up story, written by Geoff Johns, we get a fresh perspective on the character and his relationship with fear. Essentially a vignette; Crane narrates as he tortures a trio of GCPD officers, noting each of their fears as he sends them to brutal deaths. This narrative culminates in the reveal that Jonathan Crane himself has ceased to feel fear.

Spinning out of the defense of Bendis' references to real-world scenarios [Daredevil #75], I like the potential application of fact in the Scarecrow's methodology. It's this grounded logic and relative humanity to the Bat-villains that makes them among the very best, and beloved.

It's reasonable to assume that prolonged and repeated exposure to his fear inducing toxins would leave Scarecrow immune to their effects, in fact, in more cartoony terms, that's been explicitly stated, perhaps along with some form of innoculation. Likewise, cognitive therapies practise repeated exposing events in an effort to desensitize a patient from obsession or anxiety. Scarecrow's repeated exposures to fear and the results of fear could, in a comic book super-logic, also contribute to his total disassociation with horror and phobia.

I love the idea of characterizing the Scarecrow as desiring the experience to feel fear. We can imagine this as the numb desire of the disassociated desperately seeking to engage and experience the visceral quality that we might all associate with excitement or eroticism -- likewise, there's the intellectual quality of Dr. Jonathan Crane, who may desire the pursuit of this seemingly unattainable goal. He becomes a type of adreneline junky, desperate to push the boundaries to find what finally sets him off.

I'm a big fan of Jeph Loeb's eerie depiction of the character as a silent and disengaged individual whose motives are somewhat disguised. I feel the marriage of these ideas can root an erratic agenda in the logic of Scarecrow as a volatile character willing to take unexpected risks and turns in an effort to experience fear.

Johns takes us through an implied history of a sociopath who has commited a variety of crimes over a lifetime, and has been unafraid to stare down the barrel of a loaded gun; all of which logically culminate in the Scarecrow. "I wanted to share my fears. Share them with the world. So I did what everyone with an idea does in Gotham City -- I put on a costume."

The conclusion is the obvious solve to the Scarecrow as a riddle.
Emerging through the downpour of the Gotham gloom, Batman descends like a dark angel of death. Too late to save the policemen, he pursues the lithe Scarecrow across the smock stacks and rooftops of industrial-suburban Gotham.

The Dark Knight is there waiting, cutting the Scarecrow's path off with his bulky visage and a black glove that moves like a predator's sting. It pounds Crane's already malformed face, before snatching the safety of his ragetty mask away.
Jonathan Crane loves every bone chilling minute of it.

Here, we peel away everything that makes the Batman crucial to Scarecrow's life as a costumed villain. The argument that Batman fuels the fire inevitably creeps up here, but is arguably quashed by the promise that Crane would have continued to seek the fear he desires, perhaps killing hundreds of thousands on a rampage that had no logical end. Instead, Batman is the beacon that attracts him, like the moth to the flame, delighted by the light that will burn him.

For Crane, the Batman represents fear.
Batman is every bit the brawny bully that taunted him through the high school years of shame. Every bit the disapproving surrogate guardian that slapped him for his many mistakes. Every bit the pretty person that laughed at his crooked frame, and stooped shoulders.

Perhaps worst of all, Batman is the intellect that can challenge this rarely opposed, criminally brilliant man. The mind who can undermine his every thought, and reduce him to the terror of redundancy, just as the disapproving board of his college work did. Batman controls fear without toxin. For Crane, Batman is toxin, and for that he is ever grateful.

And boy shouldn't we have talked about this one on Halloween?
Friends, this is Criminal Intent calibre stuff. You have just been inside the mind of a killer. I highly recommend you rinse your psyche off with a healthy dose of wide-eyed manga style multi-colour Street Fighter treatment! Me? I'm going to go down some fruit juice, step into the warmth of the sun, and maybe have a shower to wash away the insane... Remember kids, I'm a trained writer schooled in comics-crazy. Don't try this at home!

The Fix: 3 The Story: 6
Winner: Batman

If you don't feel like scouring the back issues or online stores for Gotham Knights back-up stories, why not click your way to Amazon, where you can pick up the collected Black and White stories? Some of comics' biggest names feature, doing what Alex Maleev has often described as a goal!

No comments: