He’s the Pharaoh of Phobias, the Duke of Dread, striking fear in the hearts of Gotham’s citizens. Ostracized as a boy for being bookish and shabby, Jonathan Crane grew up determined never to be victimized again. As the Scarecrow, he is one of Batman’s oldest and most dangerous foes, a brilliant mind ever eager to cook up new methods of terrorizing Gotham and those who would protect it. Batman: Arkham: Scarecrow is Crane’s entry in DC’s archive of prominent Bat-villains, and compared to its siblings, it has a substantial advantage in quality.
First up, we have what I can only assume is the Scarecrow’s debut, in a World’s Finest story from the original Bat-team:
- “Riddle of the Human Scarecrow”, from World’s Finest #3, originally published in 1941; written by Bill Finger, with pencils by Bob Kane, inks by Jerry Robinson and George Roussos, and cover art by Fred Ray
The Scarecrow—and Bob Kane!—returns a few years later:
- “The Return of the Scarecrow”, from Detective Comcis #73, originally published in 1943; written by Don Cameron, with pencils by Bob Kane, inks by Jerry Robinson, and cover art by Kane and Robinson
A mixed bag of two stories from the 60’s are up next:
- “Fright of the Scarecrow!!”, from Batman #189, originally published in 1967; written by Gardner Fox, with pencils by Sheldon Moldoff, inks by Joe Giella, and cover art by Carmine Infantino and Giella
- “Batman’s Evil Eye”, from Detective Comics #389, originally published in 1969; written by Frank Robbins, with pencils by Bob Brown, inks by Joe Giella, and cover art by Neal Adams
The next three tales come from the late 70’s and 80’s, and while the trio is a bit weak in the middle, the bookends more than make up for that weakness:
- “The Sinister Straws of the Scarecrow”, from Batman #296, originally published in 1978; written by David V. Reed, with art by Sal Amendola, colors by Jerry Serpe, letters by Milt Snapinn, and cover art by Amendola and Al Migrom
- “The 6 Days of the Scarecrow”, from Detective Comics #503, originally published in 1981; written by Gerry Conway, with pencils by Don Newton, inks by Dan Adkins, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by Ben Oda, and cover art by Jim Starlin
- “Fear For Sale”, from Detective Comics #571, originally published in 1987; written by Mike W. Barr, with pencils by Alan Davis, inks by Paul Neary, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by John Workman, and cover art by Davis
A suite of strong, interconnected Doug Moench stories is next, adding a bit more depth to the villain’s backstory:
- “Year One: Scarecrow Masters of Fear”, from Batman Annual #19, originally published in 1995; written by Doug Moench, with pencils by Bret Blevins, inks by Mike Manley, colors by Stu Chaifetz, letters by Albert De Guzman, and cover art by Bret Blevins
- “Scarecrow Part One: Dark Wings Fly Away in Fear”, from Batman #523, originally published in 1995; written by Doug Moench, with pencils by Kelley Jones, inks by John Beatty, colors by Greg Wright, letters by Todd Klein, separation by Android Images, and cover art by Jones
- “Scarecrow Part Two: Haunted House of the Head”, from Batman #524, originally published in 1995; written by Doug Moench, with pencils by Kelley Jones, inks by John Beatty, colors by Greg Wright, letters by Todd Klein [this is my assumption—not credited in the collection or the credits page of the issue], separations by Android Images, and cover art by Jones and Beatty
As is typical in these Batman: Arkham collections, the final two stories come from the Joker’s Asylum and “Villains Month” books:
- “Dark Knight of the Scarecrow”, from Joker’s Asylum: Scarecrow, originally published in 2008; written by Joe Harris, with art by Juan Doe, letters by Rob Leigh, and cover art by Doe
- “Double Jeopardy”, from Detective Comics #23.3, originally published in 2013; written by Peter J. Tomasi, art by Szymon Kudranski, colors by John Kalisz, letterrs by Dezi Sienty, and cover art by Jason Fabok and Nathan Fairbairn
Riddle of the Human Scarecrow
A nice text intro by Finger gives way to a fairly zany game of cat and mouse, in this, the first appearance of Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. Scarecrow. Crane’s transition from college professor to criminal is fairly ridiculous, but the silly fun that follows makes it easy to cast off the shackles of reason. Kane’s figures are frequently in odd proportion, and his faces are just as often goofy-looking, but he has some exciting layouts and a few striking panels. Overall, this is a great introductory story for the Scarecrow, in spite of—and sometimes because of—its flaws.
The Return of the Scarecrow
Full of quips and cheap word gags, our second tale once again finds our heroes a few steps behind Scarecrow. This time, however, he’s leaving clues on a small slate, and they all happen to end in “-at”. Unfortunately, Cameron tries to milk as much humor out of the rhyming clues as he can (spoiler: this heifer is dry), and it gets pretty old after a few attempts. Kane’s action is once again well-executed, but he’s going for more detail than he did in the first story, and his panels were easier to scan when they weren’t so crowded. Better inks and colors might have produced a better outcome. “The Return of the Scarecrow” is entertaining once, but it leans too heavily on easy gags and thus doesn’t fare quite as well on subsequent reads.
Fright of the Scarecrow!!
A redrawn interpretation of Scarecrow’s first appearance serves as a prologue to this three-part tale. It doesn’t really add anything, but I suspect it was a useful reference for new readers. The story itself is simple, but entertaining, and it marks the first time we see Crane using chemical agents to inflict fear. He’s still after money, and he still leaves his awful rhyming clues, but he at least feels like a formidable villain, beating Batman and Robin not with his fists, but with fear. The artwork does its job well, though without any distinctive qualities. For me, the real star is the letterer (uncredited), whose kooky, hand-drawn effects are both functional and humorous. This is just a fun story that I’d happily revisit in the future. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than seeing the Dynamic Duo duke it out with a super criminal and then hand out ice cream in the park.
Batman’s Evil Eye
“Batman’s Evil Eye” explores some interesting conceptual ground, but it gets bogged down in psychological discussions and dated, pseudoscientific dialogue. Making matters worse, Batman commits some boneheaded gaffs in the final showdown. I do like the artwork, which feature some creative uses of color and darkness, but it can’t save what is an otherwise bland story.
The Sinister Straws of the Scarecrow
While the finishes in “Sinister Straws” look like a poor man’s Neal Adams, the layouts are actually quite good, and a fine interpretation of David Reed’s script. This story feels like a corner has been turned, and its quality stands above what’s come before in this collection. As Scarecrow uses his latest fear scheme to extort valuable loot from high-class criminals, Batman works the case and closes in. This is a very satisfying one-and-done with lots of reread value.
The 6 Days of the Scarecrow
Overdramatic, but without any levity, “Six Days of the Scarecrow” once again sees Batman fall victim to a Scarecrow scheme that makes the Dark Knight unbearably scary to others. Serviceable artwork from Newton does its job well enough, but can’t carry the weight of a story that feels a whole lot longer than it is.
Fear for Sale
That is a savage decking, right there.
“Fear for Sale” is not memorable in and of itself, but it is a testament to what has made Batman such an icon over the years. When the Scarecrow develops a drug that removes fears, Batman and Robin try to track him down. But young Master Jason finds himself abducted, and Batman gets injected with Crane’s formula. The story is told with all sorts of great Batman tropes: death traps, massive punches (with delightfully drawn sound effects courtesy of the great John Workman), highly improbable survival techniques, and a young ward in peril. Davis and Neary tell their own great story with the pictures, and Barr’s pacing is perfect for a one-issue tale.
Year One: Scarecrow Masters of Fear
A strong flashback halfway through can’t save this painfully-slow read. The writing is never bad, and the artwork is decent, but most of the script is expressed in narration, and most of that narration is lettered with a difficult-to-read imitation handwriting style. I was glad when this one ended.
Scarecrow Parts One and Two
Doug Moench and Kelley Jones deliver one of the volume’s best stories. Building on some of the elements from his Year One story, Moench unleashes Scarecrow on a dual quest of revenge against his childhood tormentors and his present-day terror, the Batman. Jones’ artwork is his usual collage of hilarious and profound, an acquired taste that becomes more enjoyable with each experience of it. Scenes pertaining to Gotham’s mayoral race distract somewhat from the main plot, but it helps to remember that these stories were part of the larger fabric of the Batman line. All-in-all, this might be the best that this very good volume has to offer.
How can you not love Kelley Jones?
Dark Knight of the Scarecrow
Stylish, abstract artwork serves the introduction of this Joker’s Asylum story well, but undermines the subject matter later on. Things that ought to look scary don’t, and the darkness Harris attempts to build through the plot doesn’t have the impact it otherwise could. That said, the script is very strong through the first half, and Harris’ longer, extended dialogue and narration make for very rich reading. In the context of this collection, I also enjoyed parallels between this story’s oppressed teenager and Doug Moench’s depiction of Scarecrow’s early days in the Year One story. While “Dark Knight of the Scarecrow” is not as good as it might have been with some tweaks, it is nevertheless worth reading and revisiting in the future.
A Forever Evil “Villains Month” tie-in, “Double Jeopardy” is without question my least favorite story in the collection. Tomasi writes the dialogue fairly well, and the characters are interesting, but the narrative has too many lines pointing outward toward the larger Forever Evil story. Kudranski’s creepy, shadowy artwork is just right for a Scarecrow tale, but it’s wasted here, because when you get down to it, “Double Jeopardy” commits the worst sin any story can: being boring.
Like the other books in this series, there are some old bio pages and a pinup in the back.
Amazon is only asking twelve bucks and change for this right now, and that’s an excellent price for a book full of good stories with very few stinkers. This one’s worth more than what’s being asked.
The Batman: Arkham line has a great goal, but the individual collections have not been universally satisfying. Thankfully, Scarecrow is chock full of good stories, ranging from quick, shallow fun to deeper explorations of who Crane is and why he presents a challenge to the Dark Knight. If you need a primer on the Scarecrow, or you just want to have a good collection of his stories in your library, you can’t go wrong with this one.