It makes sense that we’d eventually get an episode of Batman narrated by Batman. Not only does the style of narration so often used in comics provide ripe opportunity for self-narration, but the idea for Batman is also essentially that of a hard-boiled detective with the volume turned way, way up. It works differently on television, though, and I’m glad that the Animated Series waited this long to have Batman narrate an episode. It’s something to be used sparingly, and it works here.
Batman is in a straitjacket. It’s not a dream, it’s not a hallucination, and he seemingly has no way out. It’s a shocking way to start an episode and opens the door perfectly for the serious version of “I bet you’re wondering how I got here…”
This week on Batman: The Animated Series: Rewatched and Remastered, we’re looking at the final appearance of the Scarecrow as a primary villain in “Dreams in Darkness.”
“Dreams in Darkness”
As I mentioned in the opening, this episode opens with Batman trapped in a straitjacket, locked in a cell at Arkham Asylum, the very place his worst enemies end up after he foils their plots. It’s a shocking start for a Batman episode, especially for a daytime show meant for kids!
It’s no surprise, then, that this episode seems to have been an incredibly influential one.
Batman hasn’t turned himself in. Rather, he’s locked up against his will. A well-meaning doctor stops by to talk to him but dismisses Batman’s protests as delusional. So how did Batman get here?
An easy intervention-gone-wrong kicks this off. Batman stops a guy with a drill and torch in place of his forearm from attaching a device to a spa’s drinking water, but not without causing the device to explode, dousing them both in vibrant red gas.
Soon, Batman is seeing a reflection of the Joker sneaking upon him in the Batcave. In a particularly smart move, Batman goes to a doctor. This actually surprises me; he’s analyzed blood and even made curing serums on his own in previous episodes. It’s unexpected to see him consulting an expert! It humanizes him and even makes Gotham seem a little more alive.
But, he’s still Batman and that means he’s still stubborn as hell. Soon he’s careening off a cliff so that he doesn’t hit a hallucination of Robin, and then he’s being carted to a cell in Arkham, where he crashed. Only a few minutes into the episode, Batman has figured out the plan, but he’s in no condition to do anything about it.
I want to say before I dunk on this episode that I actually really like it. It’s an absolutely gorgeous episode that uses one of my favorite villains. But it all hinges on the Scarecrow knowing that not only would Batman be exposed to his fear toxin – which isn’t so bad on its own – but it’s also heavily implied that he knew Batman would end up in Arkham Asylum, which seems like a huge reach even for a Batman villain.
It also depends on his attending psychologist, Dr. Bartholomew, being so condescending that he wouldn’t contact the police or the registered medical doctor that Batman mentioned by name, despite Batman having a public record of stopping criminals and Crane having a public record of trying to incite mass fear through various means. If the show had shown the Doctor having some ulterior motives, that would’ve helped make his idiotic level of disbelief mesh into the story a bit more.
Though I’ll give them this: the doctor’s decision not to remove Batman’s mask (because it might cause a psychological break from their delusion) explains why he thinks letting all of Batman’s enemies wear their wacky evening wear is a smart idea.
While Batman is rotting away in his cell, Scarecrow is, of course, doing his thing below Arkham. Scarecrow’s costume has once again been tweaked just a little to make him that much spookier, and his voice seems different again.
Here’s where the really great-looking stuff starts, though. As the toxin’s effects intensify, Batman stumbles out of his cell door and into Crime Alley. The world bends around him as they step into a dark tunnel, and then the world disintegrates from beneath him as a giant gun cocks its hammer. It’s a really sensational sequence that reminds us of how intense Batman’s fears are and how they preoccupy him even decades after.
I also can’t help but question how Batman could’ve gotten out of a straitjacket underwater and upside-down in the “Be a Clown” episode and yet had to resort to finding an axeblade here. I find the former more believable for this character. Mastering escape is something he would definitely do.
Stuff starts popping off as Batman finally is in a place to fight back and the Scarecrow’s plans are minutes from fruition. Any time the show holds still for a second, you can see the animation lines with incredible clarity. There are gaps and imperfections that highlight just how perfect the show looks in general.
It’s not long, though, before Batman’s toxin-induced hallucinations kick back in. A Joker (who laughs in a not-Mark-Hamill voice) is supplanted by a gigantic Penguin whose face explodes to reveal Two-Face, who then dissolves into Poison Ivy. Alfred and Robin stand by, with Robin taunting him with a line that feels tailor-made for the ongoing Titans show. “It’s too late for that, Bruce, you’ve lived in Darkness too long.” That definitely sounds like the Dick Grayson trying to heal from the darkness Batman built into him.
Before Batman busts in, we get a great look at Scarecrow’s watch: the “second” hand is a grim reaper waving its scythe around. Where do I get one of those?
The fight here is pretty standard, but it looks great, especially when Batman hallucinates. But overall it’s still a smoothly animated sequence that makes this episode stand out as one of the better-looking in the series.
Things end exactly as you’d expect. Crane is back in Arkham, thoroughly doused in his fear toxin, and Batman makes it back home where Alfred injects him with the medication that Dr. Wu had prescribed.
An inspirational ouroboros
So what all could this episode have inspired? Going backwards first, the episode itself seems to be inspired in part by Alan Grant’s Batman: The Last Arkham storyline from earlier in the year, though the content of that storyline is a little darker than the series can really go; not to mention that the miniseries was just finishing up a couple of months before the episode aired. Also of similar note is the 1989 Grant Morrison tale, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, in which Batman is lured into Arkham to help quell riots by the many inmates.
Looking forward, it’s hard not to see the similarities between this episode and Batman Begins, both of which center around the Scarecrow releasing a fear toxin into Gotham and feature Batman himself being infected by and hallucinating due to the toxin.
Batman being stuck in Arkham is also the central premise of the Arkham Asylum game, while Batman: Arkham Knight is centered around the Scarecrow infecting Batman with fear toxin and using his hallucinations against him while threatening to once again unleash his toxin on the city. There’s even a fear-toxin-fueled sequence in the former that has Batman’s family members taunting him, sending him through Crime Alley, and even the street breaking up under him.
There’s a lot of ouroboros there, so it’s hard to tell where the snake of inspiration begins and ends, but all these stories are clearly drawing from a similar set of ideas.
Despite a few logical leaps, I like this episode because it not only looks great, but it plays with Batman’s weaknesses in an interesting way that we don’t normally get to see. A locked cell and a straitjacket are far more dangerous to Batman than most villains.
Next week on Batman: The Animated Series, it’s time for a vacation as Alfred goes to an “Ivy”-league spa to get youthenized.
If you need more BTAS commentary now, we have every episode of the series ranked from the worst to the best!
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