So far, we’ve looked at episodes of Batman: The Animated Series that have showcased Batman’s rogues gallery more than the Dark Knight himself, be they origin stories or particularly nasty plots or what-have-you. And, while they’ve all been really intriguing, tragic, or disturbing tales, we’ve yet to really have an episode about Batman. That changed with the tenth episode to air and the third produced, “Nothing to Fear,” an episode that introduces the Scarecrow, but more importantly, gives viewers their first true glimpse of how broken this animated version of Bruce Wayne is.
Each of Batman’s villains highlights a different opposing flaw or problem deep inside of the character, whether it be Joker’s chaos, Two-Face’s inability to keep his identities in check, or Clayface’s refusal to not be a giant goop monster. Scarecrow (aka Jonathan Crane) is in many ways a slightly warped mirror image of Batman himself. They both use fear to achieve their goals, and they both do so because they don’t want to deal with their own fears. Not being afraid is not nearly as brave as being able to overcome fear. Batman can do this, while Scarecrow largely cannot. Whenever Scarecrow shows up on the show, which happened several more times, it would be to test Batman’s ability to stop being afraid.
“Nothing to Fear” sees the Scarecrow using an airborne fear toxin to get revenge on the university that fired him. That’s basically it. Crane was a psychology professor who opened Crane Chemicals as a public face for his various mind and behavior-manipulating drugs, perfect for a mad scientist. In their first encounter, Scarecrow gasses Batman, and the crime fighter begins to see horrible hallucinations that play upon his deepest and darkest fears. These almost entirely consist of not doing justice to his slain parents, especially his father, Thomas.
What doesn’t help matters is earlier in the day, Bruce Wayne was ridiculed by the dean of the endangered college for being a playboy and a showoff and essentially sullying the good name and reputation of his father. While he intellectually knows this is just the public face he shows, deep down, he does worry this is what’s happening. His hallucinations depict his father calling him a failure and a waste and these images eventually turn into giant, horrific monsters that engulf Batman in despair.
These scenes are really well done, both narratively and visually. Again, these are physical things they can’t really do live action and themes they wouldn’t normally do in animation put together. The image of Thomas Wayne becoming giant, his eyes glowing, and then eventually turning into a massive, laughing skeleton are chilling by anyone’s standards. You couldn’t see that kind of stark or disturbing imagery in a Bergman film, but you would here on TAS. Eventually, Batman has to fight his own mind, and the toxin coursing through it, to not be afraid any longer. The glorious, if cheesy, moment of triumph comes toward the end when he yells to himself as much as anyone, “I am vengeance… I am the night… I…Am…BATMAN!”
Before this, there’s a really lovely scene in the Batcave in which Bruce tells Alfred that he’s been drugged and is dealing with his own insecurities. He confesses that he IS actually afraid he’s dishonoring his parents, and making a mockery of the good work they’ve done with his nightly gallivanting. Alfred then takes him by the shoulders and tells him that he’s wrong, and that he IS doing good work, and that his parents would of course be proud of him because Alfred is proud of him. This really strengthens the bond we know to exist between Bruce and Alfred and the fatherly way he’s looked after him for all these years. A simple scene of this nature is key to the viewer that Alfred isn’t just a stuffy butler, and that he really does care for Bruce.
Batman, having beaten his own demons, finds Crane and gives him a literal dose of his own medicine, by opening the valve for a canister of fear toxin. Crane begins to see horrible, disfigured and monstrous bat images as Batman approaches. He, himself, is not above fear even though he exploits it in others, and in fact he’s almost more susceptible than anyone because of how insecure he is. Batman doesn’t even need to fight with him to take him down, just be what he already was – Batman.
While this isn’t the best animated or even most action-packed episode we’ve looked at, it’s the first to show us the insecure little boy that’s still inside of Gotham City’s watchful protector. Getting a bit of a look at Batman’s psyche is fascinating, and will continue in the episode we’ll talk about next week, “Appointment in Crime Alley,” which delves even deeper into the tragic event that spawned the vigilante we know today.