One of the hallmarks of Batman as a hero is that, unlike Superman, Wonder Woman, or almost any other hero, fear is integral to his persona. He has the ability to overcome fear in himself (he was a Green Lantern briefly in comic form) but he also has the ability to instill great fear in his enemies, sticking to the shadows, being the thing that goes bump in the night for all of Gotham City’s many evildoers. In The New Adventures of Batman episode “Never Fear,” we get to see what happens when he truly has no fear…and it’s not a pretty sight.
The Scarecrow was one of the most frequent villains on Batman: The Animated Series and he gave us some of the show’s best and most troubling episodes (“Nothing to Fear” being possibly the best). The series played up that Batman was scare-able, even if he was the figure of fear most of the time. By time the revamp came around, they needed to something a little different. Why not go t’other way with it?
The episode opens with some jag jumping around and swinging on rooftops. When Batman gets up there to bring him down — a kind of a waste of his talents, to be honest — the man is zero percent afraid and dives off, forcing Batman to dive after him. The following day at Wayne Enterprises, as Bruce and Tim discuss the weird guy, one of the company’s lowly clerks barges in, demanding to have his ideas heard, and then kisses Bruce Wayne’s secretary when he’s asked to leave. A clue in the man’s wallet reveals he took part in a seminar called “Never Fear,” which we find out is a plot by Scarecrow to do the opposite of his usual bag by making people fearless and therefore reckless and chaotic.
While investigating, Bruce gets doused with the new concoction and is now totally devoid of fear, which makes him kind of an a-hole, putting his and Tim Drake’s life in danger while coming very close to killing several of Scarecrow’s goons. (In truth, this is depicted just about as violently as the normal-ass way Batfleck or Batbale dealt with thugs.) Robin has to both incapacitate Batman AND stop Scarecrow, which is easier said than done.
The episode is quite good, and is one of the most memorable for me from this series. It’s strange, looking back, that Batman’s lack of fear would make him more violent, as if it’s not just his moral code keeping him from doing so, but the fear of becoming the thing he hates. That’s subtly deep, and something writer Stan Berkowitz did with delightful regularity. As before, Robin felt like the weak link in the episode; any time a little kid is involved in life-or-death situations, I get uncomfortable and it makes me long for the college-age version of Robin from the earlier show.
The main takeaway from “Never Fear” is the Scarecrow himself. Of any of the Batman villains, Scarecrow had the most drastic redesign from TAS to NBA. But he’s also the only character that was redesigned during The Animated Series, and pretty distinctively too. However, he’s nearly unrecognizable in the newer show, taller, broader, with a face like a zombie and a noose around his neck. Much more frightening, truth be told, but not much like the character as most of us know him. They even changed voice actors, replacing Henry Polic II with horror icon Jeffrey Combs, who gives Scarecrow a much more chilling, otherworldly sound. There’s also no real mention of Dr. Jonathan Crane; he’s simply Scarecrow.
Seeing Batman lose control in this episode is strange, but seeing him at odds with his oldest ally is even stranger; next week, we’ll look at “You Scratch My Back,” an episode with Batman and Batgirl trying desperately to reconnect with Dick Grayson/Nightwing, and convince him that maybe Catwoman isn’t someone to be trusted. I feel like anyone could tell him that!
Let me know your thoughts on “Never Fear” in the comments below!
Images: WB Animation/DC Comics