Keeping Batman’s Villains Fresh (Chapter 4: Scarecrow)

The following is an opinion piece written by our new writer Stephen Doria. Dr. Jonathan Crane is one of the most intelligent villains that Batman faces in his long storied history. I know that there are many times in which I state that a villain is extremely smart, but honestly, if they were not, would they really be that much of a challenge? However, the thing about Crane’s intelligence that makes him so dangerous is that he REALLY, knows how smart he is. And he is one to flaunt it at all times to Batman and his other adversaries. The depiction that I will be using to write about Scarecrow in, will of course be the recent movie edition of the character. I know that this could be a very touchy subject for some, because he does have a great comic book history of villainy, but in terms of “freshness” and pure villainy, this one is the most up to date. And not it is not just because he came out in the last decade. Good writing would ensue that the character is timeless, for example the Joker in The Killing Joke.

So, let’s get to what to what makes the Scarecrow a special villain. Unlike most of Batman’s other villains, Scarecrow tries to avoid physical confrontation as much as he possibly can. This is probably because he is not a very skilled fighter or even muscular in any way. One of my college majors was psychology and I can promise you people in that field generally do not hit the gym very often!

Scarecrow’s first appearance was in World’s Finest Comics #3 in the Fall of 1941. His start of villainy did not appear when he became the Scarecrow though, but rather it started when he began testing a fear toxin on his volunteer patients at the University where he taught at. In his defense, ethics in psychology really did not get a kick-start until after the Howard Zimbardo experiments in the 1970’s, so there was not really set boundaries to what a psychologist could do at the time. Moving on, my apologies for the tangent, Dr. Crane would use his Scarecrow persona to intimidate his volunteers into continuing his experiments until his operation was shut down by Batman and Robin. They gave him a one way ticket to the Gotham State Penitentiary and he was not seen again until the 1960s, making him generally seen as a “one-off” villain at the time of his first publication.

There are actually a couple of origin stories for the Scarecrow including the miniseries Batman/Scarecrow: Year One, but most of these stories only tweek the character’s origins, never straying far from who he really is deep down. I mention that miniseries though because it did state that his own fears were the reason he got into psychology and into the phobia specific genera of the universe. However, it seems a bit too much of a conscience that one of his fears was that of bats, so we are going to jump a bit further into the present. Unfortunately, I am sure Matt would disagree with me on this, comic books have a long standing history of over-tweeking a character into what could be considered nonsensical topics, such as that one. But, again in defense, comic books also have a much longer story arc to write about than television shows or movies do. It works as a double edged sword really. But in all honestly, it is probably why most of these villains’ articles choose a movie, television show, or video-game to focus on.

In Batman Begins, Dr. Jonathan Crane works as a psychologist at Arkham Asylum and is on the payroll of Carmine Falcone. To the frustration of the D.A.’s office and the victims of organized crime in Gotham City, Crane is able to have many of the criminals that would normally be held in the County or State Penitentiaries moved to Arkham Asylum under the defense that the criminal is criminally insane. This would in fact mean that they would be better suited at the Asylum than the Penitentiary so that they could receive the “help that they need.” However, it really would not work because the defense of “Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity” is a defense that can only be used in murder trials AND if that defense happens to be successful I can almost guarantee you that you will be in a mental institution longer than you would have been in jail, finally, said mental institution really is not going to be all that different from jail. However, in the case of Batman Begins, the trial is that of Victor Zsasz, a known serial killer in the Batman universe, so all of this is plausible.

Moving forward, Crane, now with a small army of convicts that Falcone ordered to be moved to Arkham Asylum, is not simply treating these dangerous men, but rather putting them to work. Much like one of the Joker’s first attempts to destroy Gotham, Crane is poisoning the water supply of the City. But unlike the Joker, Crane is not doing this on his own. He, like all of us, has a boss. The first mention of this boss was to a not incarcerated Falcone, when Falcone attempted to push his chest out further than Crane’s. This was also the first time that we truly see the Scarecrow! Who would have ever thought that a burlap sack could be so intimidating?

When I first heard that the Scarecrow was going to be a villain in the movie I sighed, thinking that he could be done so wrong. But, Nolan truly took the ideology of Occam’s Razor to the max. Scarecrow dawned this sack upon his head, pushed a button in his briefcase, and the next thing you know Falcone is screaming at the top of his lungs in pure agonizing fear! Personally, I believe that the outfit in this movie is just perfection. It encompasses both sides to his personality. A suit as his main wardrobe and a mask to show the man that is really underneath. Of course, this mask is a gas mask deep down, which is eventually his downfall, because without it he is no more than a victim to his own toxin. But let’s get into what really makes him great in this movie.

Before Crane shows his Scarecrow mask, that he even admits is not that intimidating at first, he was an extremely intelligent man who knows it. I said this was a huge factor in his villain earlier and now I will really explain why. Crane knew that what he was doing, having the criminals transferred to Arkahm Asylum, could only last for so long without too many people turning their heads. But, Crane also knew that the city was so corrupt that he could get away with it, as long as the right palms were greased, which he did. So, by having the backing of the people who were really in charge of Gotham Crane could get away with almost anything! Think of it like this, what Crane effectively did was walk into his local Gamestop, open the case behind the counter, pull out a copy of Arkham City, look at the store clerk, close the window, and walked out with the game. Even with the security buzzer in the background and a mall security officer right outside the store, and he got away with it! When the A.D.A., one Rachel Dawes first confronted him about it he essentially told the D.A. to watch his attack dog, which he scolded Rachel for even talking to Crane. The second time that Rachel went out after Crane, he, ever so caviler, took her to the basement and attacked her with his toxins, after he showed her his operations. Crane feared no one in this land, not even the man who helped him build his army,

Falcone, as he too was subjected to the toxin for saying the wrong words to him. Crane knew how to manipulate Gotham City to his own will and he did so with the confidence of a man who has women fawning over him!

Crane’s boss, who we eventually find out to be Ra’s al Ghul (Spoiler Alert: Chapter 5), turns out to be the only extraneous variable in this equation. We do not know what type of fear Crane had for Ra’s, because we never get to see them in the same room together. But, his attitude that he has towards his mention, when he was with Falcone, does not seem like a man who worked under him, but rather he was under the assumption that he was working with him. Unfortunately for him, he was just a pawn on Ra’s chessboard, but none-the-less, he did not appear afraid. As the movie progressed we learn that Crane was doing all of this for money, he thought that Ra’s endgame was to use the fear toxin that Crane developed to hold the city for ransom. He was of course wrong, but with most villain’s it all comes down to money.

After Crane turned into the Scarecrow, a development that he himself acknowledges, he turns into a much different man. An overdose of his own fear toxin pushed him away from being the intellectual that did not need to lay a hand on anyone to win, to murderous man that lives in the moment. It was saddening to watch happen, and this de-evolution was probably why the movie did not really have many more scenes with him as the primary feature of the scene. You really only see him on horseback stalking the woman that tore down his castle while Gotham was in disarray. He had killed a mounted police officer and was brutal enough to drag his corpse (hopefully it was a corpse at least) along with him as he went looking for Ms. Dawes. When he found her we are again reminded that Scarecrow is not really a man looking for physical confrontation as a simple taser to the face was enough to be it for him and his appearances in Batman Begins.

In The Dark Knight, Scarecrow has a cameo appearance, now a simple drug dealer in Gotham City, and as he put it, one of the last. He now uses his fear toxin not only as a weapon but as a means for income, lacing his drugs with it, much to the dismay of the Chechen and the other mob bosses of the city. It did not take long in the movie for Batman to catch up with the Scarecrow, and he promptly has him captured after a short chase. But, overall the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, is not only the best incorporation of the villain, but one of the most original villains I have seen in a long time. His focusing sole on his intelligence and not on his strength was beautiful and I want to thank Cillian Murphy for such a perfect depiction of the character.