We’re getting closer to the end of this series, kids. Scarecrow is the last of the lengthy character reports in the show bible for Batman: The Animated Series. However, there are a few short synopsis of some other villains for the Dark Knight to spar with, and we’ll look at those as well.
Scarecrow is interesting to me because he had a strong presence the Super Powers Team episode “The Fear” that I bring up so often. In the show he uses one of Batman’s own weapons, the ability to create fear, to commit his crimes. But what did they originally intend?
Ex-college professor Johnathan Crane was obsessed with the use of fear to trigger obedience in test subjects. When one of his subjects died as a result of “fear overdose”, Crane was barred from ever holding another teaching position. Embittered and seeking revenge on the world at large, Crane dressed his loose-limbed form in the macabre rags of a scarecrow and used his fear-inducing chemicals to force innocent people to bow to his will.
From what little I know of the Scarecrow’s backstory it seems pretty accurate with minor changes. When we first see Scarecrow in the show he’s trying to get revenge on the man who fired him. It was also under Scarecrow’s toxin that Batman uttered his now-famous catch-phrase.
That line ended up in ads for the show and became so popular that it ended up in ads for the toys and then you couldn’t escape “I am vengeance, I am the night, I am Batman”.
True to his name, the Scarecrow has a scrawny, loose-limbed body, and poses no physical threat to anyone. His real power is in his brain, and he’s a master manipulator. Scarecrow’s modus operandi is to discover what his victims’ greatest fears are–then to use those fears against them. While never resorting to outright murder, the Scarecrow has incited riots and driven people to suicide. Once under his fear control, helpless victims will promise him anything, money, possessions, land, or total, blind obedience.
And here I thought he hired his goons like everyone else, even the Joker. Yes, the Joker actually hires his goons. Surprised me to learn that as well. Of all the characters, Scarecrow has undergone the most changes between the three Batman cartoons, even before the New Batman/Superman Adventures altered everybody’s look.
Personally I prefer the one in the middle. The first one is too on the mark to a scarecrow and makes him look silly as a result. The middle one looks scary enough while…why did they put a noose around him for the Kids WB version? He also looks more on the mystical side rather than the scientific. It just doesn’t fit him.
The rest of the character profiles are short, just brief descriptions with no backstory like the others. They ignored Mr. Freeze’s in favor of an almost completely different one from their intent but the others were either close or filled in a few gaps. These guys are open playbooks for the writers to mess with.
These are by no means the only villains in Batman’s Rogues Gallery. We encourage prospective writers to consult the Batman comic book for other colorful criminals that might trigger an interesting story.
Sadly nobody brought us Kite-Man. But here are the suggestions they made.
The Ventriloquist: A seemingly mild-mannered criminal who gives orders through his ruthless, tough-talking dummy, Scarface.
Oddly they didn’t give Scarface a capital S in his name and this entry sounds like he’s an evil Jeff Dunham. I know, some of you think he is blah blah blah, but he doesn’t rob banks by giving orders through a jalapeno on a stick. That what this entry makes him sound like.
Calendar Man: A thief who stages his crimes around calendar gimmicks; days of the week, zodiac signs, holidays, etc.
Instead we had to wait until The New Batman/Superman Adventures to meet the gender-flipped version, Calendar GIRL. Not to be confused with the Neil Sedaka song.
Dr. Hugo Strange: A brilliant but warped scientist who mutates his patients into brutish, simple-minded giants.
We got nothing like that until Bruce Timm’s anniversary animation for Batman’s 75th, and then never since. Otherwise we got a scientist of the mind, similar to Scarecrow, only instead of creating fear Strange’s shtick was trying to understand the human mind, specifically the criminal mind, to the point that he became a criminal himself and when we last saw him in the tie-in comics he went mad. For good reason, mind you. However, even the later The Batman and the video game Arkham City used the mad psychiatrist over the mad scientist. (Although a few mutation happy scientists would pop up during this series.)
Clayface: A former small-time criminal who, thanks to a secret elixir, can duplicate anyone’s face.
Try a failing actor talked into trying out a new face-changing makeup that learns his benefactor is an evil businessman named Rowland Daggett. When Matt Haygen tries to steal the stuff Daggett has his boys cover him with the stuff, and he even appears to ingest some (we only see shadows, which may be more terrifying than actually seeing it–Scarecrow and Strange would find it interesting to see the mind filling in the picture), which alters his own body and turning him into a shapeshifting, walking pile of glop. Like Mr. Freeze, I think this is the more interesting origin, but also silly if you think about it too much.
The Mad Hatter: A psychotic genius who commits crimes based on a Lewis Carroll “Wonderland” theme and controls people’s minds via mechanisms built into hats.
The first time we see him he’s a scientist in love with a girl named Alice and creates his mind-control tech to attempt to woo her from her boyfriend. And yes, he does escape with her into “Story Book Land”, a theme park because of course there’s a storybook theme park in Gotham just as a guy dresses like the Mad Hatter. However, none of his subsequent crimes have an Alice In Wonderland theme. He occasionally quotes from the Lewis Carroll books because they were his favorite but not much else.
Killer Croc: An incredibly strong “reptile man” complete with bullet-proof, alligator-like skin, razor-sharp teeth and claws. He is the ruler of the Gotham City sewers.
I don’t recall him ruling the sewers but he did hide there a lot. Otherwise, pretty close.
Man-Bat: Originally a dedicated zoologist, Karl Langstrom tested an experimental serum made from bats’ blood on himself and transformed into a rampaging half-man, half-bat monster. Though Batman found a temporary antidote, Langstrom can never be sure when he might become the vicious Man-Bat again.
The answer was oddly never. At least until the tie-in comic and I’ll be complaining up a storm when we get to that issue. Fair warning, it pissed me off because it ruins the happy ending. Kurt (not Karl) only becomes the Man-Bat once. His partner then decides it’s the next stage of man and starts becoming Man-Bat himself. Finally, Kurt’s wife Francine is accidentally turned into…I’m calling her Girl-Bat to follow the pattern. (Batwoman wouldn’t show up until a later made-for-video animated movie, Mystery Of The Batwwoman, in this continuity.) It should have been a happy ending. Then the tie-in comic wants to play close to the comic universe instead of the DCAU again and tosses it all aside because there’s a Man-Bat in the regular DC Comics.
The Gentleman Ghost: No one, even Batman, is sure if this semi-invisible, elegantly-dressed wraith is a real ghost or not. Still, the being known as the Gentleman Ghost has used his powers of dematerialization and levitation to confound the Gotham police on several occasions.
Interestingly, while the Gentleman Ghost appeared in Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, he has never fought Batman in the DCAU, and never appeared in the three Batman cartoons of the DCAU. Maybe nobody found a way to use him in the tone the show ultimately took? They did have magic thanks to Etrigan and Jason Blood popping up in the Kids WB series, where the style moved closer to Superman’s show, but otherwise I don’t think he would have fit in.
Writers should keep in mind that while we can use any of Batman’s fantastic array of villains, our series should not be limited to the “Freak Of The Day”. The classic villains can trigger some great ideas, but don’t rule out gangsters, crooked politicians, locked-door mysteries, or the occasional technological threat to spark a story.
Look up HARDAC on that last one. The show did a good job with mobsters, slave-labor stories, evil businessmen, industrial espionage, spying, terrorists, mad scientists, and the like. Not a lot with crooked politicians but they snuck in now and then. It’s that variety of criminals and threats that made the show so good. And in our next installment we’ll begin the last section of the book with the first in a series of looks of episode premises. How many parts this will take will depend on how long the synopsis and my comments go. See you for that next time.