Villain Spotlight: Scarecrow

Cover of Detective Comics Vol. 2 #23.3, cover art by Jason Fabok
Cover of Detective Comics Vol. 2 #23.3, cover art by Jason Fabok

Name: Jonathan Crane                    Alias: Scarecrow

Profession: Doctor of Psychology/Criminal         Powers: None

Equipment: Hallucinogenic fear gas, gas mask

Weapons: Scythe

First Appearance: Worlds Finest Comics #3

From the results of the poll it has been decided that the first Villain Spotlight will focus on the Batman villain Scarecrow, and his origins both inside and outside of the comics. Despite first appearing in the Golden Age of Comics in Worlds Finest Comics #3, it was not until the Silver Age, and his rebirth in the Batman #189 that the Scarecrow that is commonly known now was fully explored and utilised as a character.

The character of Scarecrow was the brainchild of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, the creative pairing that provided the original stories for Batman and much of his supporting cast.  Not much has been said by either of this creative team on the inspiration behind the character of Scarecrow, but clearly his villainous appearance and powers are strongly linked to the eeriness that is generally perceived of scarecrows, who have also often appeared in horror stories for the same reasons. It is also more than possible he may have been inspired by Ichabod Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, who is similarly a scientist and obsessed with the notion of fear, despite in this case seeking to prove all things that people feared had a rational origin.

In terms of Scarecrow’s origin, he has quite in interesting, and multi-layered backstory. Looking at the character introduced in Batman #189, his origin can be examined right back to his childhood. Abandoned by his father and mother, and raised instead by his religiously-fanatical grandmother, he was often abused by her during his upbringing. Also tormented at school by groups of bullies, he became overrun with fear, he then discovered his potential inspiration, Ichabod Crane, and chose to refuse to be a coward like his namesake, instead aiming to get revenge.

Cover for Batman #189, cover artists Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella
Cover for Batman #189, cover artists Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella

At the age of seventeen, after being humiliated by the high school bully Bo Griggs, and rejected by his crush, Sherry Squires, he donned a makeshift scarecrow costume and attacked the two at the prom, arming himself with a water gun, but intending to terrify the two. Instead, Bo crashed his car, paralysing himself and killing Sherry, and Crane discovered he had a psychopathic delight in scaring people to death, continuing on to murder his grandmother as revenge for her tormenting him as a youth.

Going on to study psychology, and using his employment at Arkham Asylum to perform dangerous experiments on the nature of fear on his patients, he also worked as a professor at Gotham University, though lost his position due to firing a gun in a classroom packed with students. This led him to once again, seek revenge on the professors who helped to remove him from his position at the University by killing them, marking his first true step to becoming a career criminal.

Scarecrow eventually upped his crimes in order to continue to provide himself with a stimulus of fear, later becoming so deadened to the feeling of fear that he could only feel it by coming face to face with Batman. He also developed a form of fear gas he could utilise in his criminal activities, as well as continuing to refine his tactic of “violent dancing”, which is a hybrid of the Crane stance of kung fu, and drunken boxing.

However, I feel that the lasting appeal of Scarecrow, and the reason that he continues to appear in comics today with just as much impact, is that fear is simply a tool that he uses, rather than his ultimate aim. Scarecrow makes people in his way confront their greatest fears, something that never truly loses its ability or shock value, and is permanently a power that can wreak havoc on a society in any time period.

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