Thursday, October 16, 2008

Batman: TAS - Episode 3 - Nothing to Fear

Before we get into this episode I've posted a short addendum on the previous episode, Christmas with the Joker. It has a short video, go watch it, then come back for this episode.

Nothing To Fear tells the story of Scarecrow, aka Dr Jonathan Crane (you can never trust anyone named Jonathan), as he attempts to get revenge on Gotham University, and a Dr Long in particular.

We are told that there have been many incidents recently, robberies, vandalism, etc, at the University, and that people are concerned the students will leave and the University will be shut down. We are introduced to Dr Long, a bald old man with a heavy moustache. He's grouchy and crotchety and rude to Summer Gleason, the resident report of the show. His behaviour is understandable of course, I hate reporters and the press, bunch of lying bastards. But that's not the point. The point is he's a jerk and we're not supposed to like him, and Summer Gleason is a pretty woman and we probably are supposed to like him.

Anyway, Dr Long and Summer are at a benefit for the University trying to raise money, so naturally Bruce Wayne is present. Bruce is introduced to Dr Long, who's a short tempered old man, who grumps "Your father and I attended the University together, he had big plans for you." Bruce takes it as a compliment and mentions how successful Wayne Enterprises is, but Dr Long isn't impressed. "When your father was alive 'Wayne' was a name that commanded great respect. Now all it stands for is a self-centered, jet-setting playboy. It's lucky your father didn't live to see what you've done to his name. He'd have died of shame." Now, I've convinced a lot of people I'm a nice guy, but I really want to punch this old man in the face. Bruce looks a little sheepish but gets over it as soon as the Dr Long leaves the elevator, even showing a little smirk.

Moving along, because we don't want to be here all night, Scarecrow attacks, blasting a hole in the roof and breaking into the University's vault, which looks just like a bank vault. There is only one guard on duty there, and he's quite out-matched, being a rather scrawny guy, kinda like me or Evil Cousin Rish. Scarecrow of course brought backup in the form of two hulk mobsters. The guard pulls his gun on them and we are introduced to Scarecrow's trademarked Fear Toxin gas which he sprays on the guard. He coughs and suddenly starts yelling about spiders, "Get them off of me!"

Scarecrow explains to his lackies that his gas made the guard experience his worst fear. Scarecrow exposits that the robbery isn't about money but revenge and tells his lacky to grab what they can and burn the rest. Batman arrives (wearing a gas mask, how'd he know about that?) and during a tussle Scarecrow pulls a dart gun and shoots Bats in the back of the neck. Crane and his boys escape after setting the vault on fire, leaving Batman overwhelmed by the Fear Toxin, and we see what it is that Batman fears.

In the flames Batman sees an apparition of his father, Thomas Wayne, and he hears his voice say "Bruce, you have failed me. You have disgraced the family name. Then the sprinklers come on and put out the fires and the vision is gone. The police bust in then as Batman crawls coughing out of the vault. The guard is explaining what happened and how Batman stopped Scarecrow when Bullock arrives, not impressed by the absence of the Scarecrow. I really like Harvey Bullock, but he's much more of a jerk in these earlier episodes than in the later ones, where he's more usually just a slob who doesn't like Bats, but isn't quite so antagonistic. Gordon arrives and Bullock complains about Batman trying to take evidence, a piece of Scarecrow's costume, but when he turns around to talk to Batman again he's gone.

Okay, gotta move this along faster. There's a scene where Dr Crane explains to his lackies how he was a leading professor of psychology, and from a child he'd been fascinated by fear and its effects on people. In a flashback we see a scrawny kid with a big head and red hair chasing girls with snakes and laughing. He says that when he got a job with the University and began further experimenting with fear, locking people in rooms with rats or snakes or in the dark. The University was not pleased by it, and Dr Long called him a lunatic and fired him. So now he's doing what any well adjusted, mature adult would do, and is trying to shut the University down.

At the Bat Cave Bruce instructs the computer to analyse the piece of cloth he obtained from Scarecrow. He continues to hallucinate about his parents and how he has failed them. Bruce picks up a picture he has of his parents next to the Bat Computer and hears his father's voice again saying that he has failed them. On the screen next to him Summer Gleason reporting the news repeats over and over that Batman Failed, FAILED! FAILED! to catch Scarecrow. He's upset and shaking, and then we get a nice little moment between Alfred and Bruce.

It's a little boring to me sometimes, touchy-feely moments like these, probably because my heart shriveled up and turned to stone long ago, but it's still nice that the movies and the animated series let us see that Alfred and Bruce have a very close relationship. Bruce tells Alfred about the visions he's having, but Alfred dismisses them saying, "I know he'd be proud of you, sir, because I'm so proud of you."

The University holds another fundraiser which is spoiled by Scarecrow and his goons, he gasses the entire crowd, so when Batman (predictably) shows up he is attacked by the crowd who has gone nuts and freaks out over the giant bat in their presence. Now, from what I've read Batman is always willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goal (except kill anybody), so I don't think he would have hesitated much before taking a swing at the people attacking him. Although, perhaps I'm wrong and he cares more about innocents than I think he does, and he wouldn't want to harm them. I think back to Batman Begins, he doesn't fight the crowd then really does he? But he escapes in a similar manner here, using his grappling hook to get about and away from the crowd.

Scarecrow has escaped the building with Dr Long in custody, and is flying away in a zeppelin. Batman, of course, is able to bet aboard the zeppelin and defeat the goons, who seem extra less intelligent than the lackies usually are. We get a nice shot of Batman disarming one with a batarang, and it seems slightly graphic. In my memory the batarangs always hit the guns in the cartoon, in contrast to the comics where they tend to become embedded in the arm or hand of the gun wielder, and here we get the latter. Perhaps they softened it up in the subsequent episodes, or perhaps my memory isn't as clear as I think it is.

Anyway, in the ensuing fights the zeppelin controls are destroyed, the passenger area is started on fire, and the blimp bumps into two different buildings. Batman and one of the goons are knocked off the zeppelin and, in what seemed an uncharacteristic move, Batman doesn't catch the goon who falls what was obviously over 30 stories and bounces off an awning to safety. Scarecrow is confident that the Fear Toxin will defeat Batman, and as he tries to climb to safety back aboard the blimp the demons of his past again assault him.

In this final confrontation of his fears, his father appears to him again, large and unpleasant looking with evil glowing red eyes (rather like Evil Cousin Rish), and as he tells Bruce that he's a disgrace he morphs into an evil skeleton. But Bruce faces and defeats his fears, and utters a very quotable line.

After defeating his inner fears defeating the Scarecrow is a trivial matter, simply regain entrance to the blimp, beat up the last goon (who gets Fear Toxin-ed and sees prison bars closing in on him and jumps out of the zeppelin, again landing safely in a tree), rescue Dr Long before the zeppelin makes a head-long collision into one of Gotham's giant skyscrapers and bursts into fiery death (Scarecrow escaped on a glider), get the data analysis from the scrap of Scarecrow's mask he had, which leads him to a company called Crane Chemicals, slap Crane around a little bit, and expose him to his own Toxin. Crane sees terrifying visions of monstrous bat-creatures chasing him, and he is defeated by his own medicine.

In the penultimate scene Detective Bullock again making his case to Commissioner Gordon that Batman is a menace to them, he's withholding evidence, hindering the Scarecrow investigation, helped Scarecrow escape, "I'd bet my badge he and Scarecrow are in cohoots!" "Your badge, eh?" Says Gordon, pointing to the ceiling fan, from which Scarecrow is hanging with a note pinned to his chest from Batman. "About that badge..." he quips.

The final scene shows Bruce laying flowers at his parents grave, paying his respects, as he often does in the show, particularly if something or someone reminds him of his parents.

As I write this I wonder if David Goyer and Christopher Nolan (story and screenplay, Batman Begins) were fans of this episode, or if this episode is based at all on a particular comic that they might be fans of. There were a couple of interesting similarities, such as Batman becoming a hideous monster in Crane's eyes and exposing a crowd to the toxin to have them fight Batman, that make me think they probably have a similar inspiration.

Nothing to Fear was written by Henry T. Gilroy and Sean Catherine Derek. Gilroy appears to have also worked on one episode of Justice League Unlimited, and is also co-wrote the new Clone Wars CGI Movie and worked as a writer and story editor for season one of the show. I haven't seen the new Clone Wars stuff at all, so I can't really comment of it that's a good thing or not. But I thought it was interesting. has an interview with Gilroy that I haven't read, but might be good reading.

Sean Catherine Derek worked on several episode of Batman: TAS, as well as possibly interesting things like Mortal Kombat: the Animated Series, Spider-Man: the Animated Series, and some not so interesting things, such as The SMurfs and Captain Planet (I pity her). It appears she's also a writer on an upcoming Mortal Kombat movie.

Boyd Kirkland directed this episode, and he's got a nice long list of work I should mention. He was a producer and writer on X-Men: Evolution (and animated series), as well as directing quite a number of Batman: TAS Episodes. He worked on the feature length animated film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (according to Dragonlance Movie Site (another animated film he worked on) he co-directed Mask of the Phantasm), and co-wrote, directed, and produced Batman & MR Freeze: Sub-Zero, the second feature length film from this series. I've never heard of him before tonight, but I really like him now. He's worked in animation for 30 years, also having been involved in Spiderman and GI Joe animated shows in the '80s.

And now I realize I haven't really talked about my feelings for this episode. It was mostly good. It didn't feel as bland to me as Christmas with the Joker, but I didn't find myself as intrigued with it as I did On Leather Wings, but I wonder how much of that is my unfamilarity with Man-Bat, versus feeling more or less familiar with Scarecrow. I think it was a good introduction to Scarecrow and his fascination with fear and its effects. In the scene where he gassed a large crowd, while he was making his getaway he paused and looked around with an interested look on his face. I could tell that he wanted to see how people were reacting, he wanted to enjoy their terror. Scarecrow's design gets better in the final incarnation of the show (where he looks more like a corpse than a cartoony scarecrow), but the shape of his eyes and mouth, and his low-ish voice helped keep him from being completely un-scary.

We also are show a bit of Bruce's character, what's he afraid of. It's not spiders, or death, or physical harm (as we saw with other people who were Fear Toxin-ed), but he's afraid of not making his parents proud, of not living up to the vow he made to clean Gotham of its crime.

So, yes, it was a good, enjoyable episode. And that's probably enough about this particular episode. Coming up next, another Joker episode that fell kinda flat for me, and Poison Ivy's first appearance in the series. Tune in Tuesday morning.

Remember kids, There's Nothing to Fear, only Fear Itself.

Episode Listing


Marissa said...

I'll have to watch these now, and see if I feel the same about them as you do.

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