The Scarecrow attacks the university that fired him.
Written by Henry T. Gilroy & Sean Catherine Derek
Directed by Boyd Kirkland
Music by Shirley Walker
Animation by Dong Yang
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Clive Revill as Alfred
Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon
Robert Constanzo as Bullock
Richard Moll as Computer
Mari Devon as Summer Gleeson
Henry Polic II as The Scarecrow
Kevin McCarthy as Dr. Long
"Nothing to Fear" is a title to put joy into the sour and shriveled heart of the pun-hunting critic. You can practically write the review on your way to the show: 'Nothing to Fear' amply lives down to its promise. Devoid of tension, suspense, or scares, it at least has the honesty to declare its lack of success at the very front and may collect karmic points as a kind of reward. Discerning viewers will take it at its word and are invited to add a few other epithets: Nothing to Like, Nothing to Remember, and Nothing to Take Home to Mother. Nor is such a critic likely to be disappointed when this piece of rubbish actually hauls itself onto the screen. Empty of promise it may be, but it is certainly not devoid of inviting targets.
So we've got the Scarecrow, a rather silly looking goon with stick figure arms and jutting elbows, stalking around Gotham with a feedbag over his head. (Problem #1: If it is a bag, how come it is able to register his expressions?) Some villains are born, others are made, others have villainy thrust upon them. The Scarecrow falls into some fourth class, that of vaguely conceived bullies who have a schtick and an attitude but no time to show themselves being overwhelmed by their own evil desires. (Problem #2: If you're going to show us the villain's backstory, make that backstory the spine of the episode, as in "Mad as a Hatter" or "Two Face," and don't just lump it into a narrated flashback.) The Scarecrow starts squirting his fear gas around, and before you know it everyone is screaming and beating the invisible spiders off themselves; shot with a dart of the stuff, Batman starts suffering risible hallucinations of his father rebuking him. (Problem #3: This is not the kind of phobia to cripple the hero physically, which is what is wanted in an action show. It's the kind of anxiety that will, at worst, put him in the office of a doctor who will stretch him out on a couch, show him some funny looking inkblots, and ask him if he ever dreams about his mother's vagina.) It also has a Touching Moment with Alfred, the famous "I AM BATMAN!" speech, and Bullock throwing his hat on the ground in disgust. (Although, sadly, Bullock does not also jump up and down on it, fling any custard pies, or do a spit take when Lucy Ricardo walks in dressed as Harpo Marx.)
In short, it's a clattering pile of junk and no mistake. Every twist of direction is preannounced with a loud squeak, dramatized with a clanging literalness, and punctuated with a juddering crash. Fire engines have more subtlety.
And yet it is strangely hard to dislike; the thing jumbles so many discordant elements together and makes such a racket about it that it is almost charming. It's like a compendium of all the worst comic book cliches. You've got the hero with his ineptly dramatized internal conflict, the computer that does all the detective work, the supporting characters who declaim their lines instead of speaking them, a passing reference to the healing qualities of chicken soup, a couple of dumb-ass henchmen who drive the villain bonkers with their idiocy, a giant skeleton ghost with glowing red eyes, and a police commissioner who (bless his heart) actually charges into a scene shouting "What the blazes is going on here!" It's all strung out in a series of incidents with neither arc nor shape, and it climaxes on a giant zeppelin with a break away glider. (Okay, I confess to really liking the zeppelin. Roger Ebert claims that no good movie has ever had a hot air ballon in it, but I don't think there's a cartoon action show that can't be improved by giving the bad guy a dirigible as an escape vehicle.) It's the kind of thing that would make for the damn fine object of a drinking game, except the players would be courting alcohol poisoning by the time it was over.
There's nothing to fear here but nothing to hate either; and if you go in with no aspirations you will find nothing to disappoint. Just be warned that nothing kills terror like the good laughs this episode (unintentionally, I'm sure) provides. Maybe that's why Jonathan Crane has that stupid bag over his head: He's mortified with embarrassment by his premiere ep.
Bruce Timm on the episode's origins: "It was written by Henry Giilroy, who had never written cartoons before. He was a film editor here and always wanted to get into writing. At the time we didn't have a story editor, so we gave it a go. When he turned in his first draft, which wasn't bad, we had hired our first story editor, Sean Derek. We immediately came to loggerheads over this show. Some of the dialogue she changed wasn't changed for the better."
Timm on the Scarecrow's original design: "We drew him as if his body was all busted up, giving him this really weird scarecrow posture all very bent and twisted. However, when Dong Yang animated him they straightened his posture."
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