Batman: The Animated Series – Episode 03 – nothing to FEAR
Writer: Henry T. Gilroy and Sean Catherine Derek
Director: Boyd Kirkland
Theme Score: Shirley Walker
Episode Score: Shirley Walker
Animation Studio: Dong Yang Animation
Story Editors: Sean Catherine Derek
Right away, the title card showcases a pretty eerie looking scarecrow back lit in a brown hue. Sean Catherine Derek transitions from helping edit last week’s story to co-writing this one. She’d been a longtime writer for The Smurfs and contributes several characters to the BTAS mythology including Officer Renee Montoya. Henry T. Gilroy had been writing for the show Taz-Mania and this episode is very early in his career. Gilroy and Derek weave a very tight episode with a lot of great little character touches over a solid enough plot that helps set up an intriguing villain who could be built upon further down the line in the series’ run.
Whilst later in his film career, Boyd Kirkland would end up directing 14 episodes during the BTAS run after working as a layout artist for shows such as G.I. Joe, Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends, and The Incredible Hulk. Kirkland does a great job with this episode, showing off several unique angles including a great pan up from the feet to the head of Scarecrow’s lithe, skinny frame furthering adding an aura of weirdness. It could have been very easy for the scriptwriters to get away with telling and not showing several of the fear related scenes but to their credit, they don’t take the easy route.
Kirkland does a great job directing the episode, getting a great pacing without anything feeling overly fast or hurried. A highlight are the flash backs to Scarecrow’s background and his enjoyment/desire to learn about psychology through studying the reactions of others to their phobias even going back to childhood. Nearly every scene is different with a variety of angles, long shots, and close ups taken. Even pans are done differently from scene to scene, showcasing Kirkland’s effectiveness in never miring the episode in a monotonous mediocrity. A great shot is when Batman has tied up Scarecrow’s leg with the Batarang and there’s a long shot from behind Batman at the base of the stairs upwards. Another highlight is the screen shaking as the blimp strikes the building at the end of the episode, a great little effect.
Almost immediately, the score is much more brooding and foreboding than last week’s marginal effort. For an episode inspired by fear, the score doesn’t attract much punch and pomp but it works because the darkness of the score helps add to the seriousness of the episode. The score is best towards the end, seamlessly transitioning from a grim tone as Batman gets assaulted by the crowd to a heroic uplifting as he scales up the blimp’s hose. Little flourishes and playing with the script occurs throughout, including a bit of a humorous note when the goon asks Scarecrow, “Who, me?” about taking care of Batman outside the blimp. Good proof that the score can accentuate the story of the episode as well. The final piece in the episode is a great little string bit as Bruce overlooks the grave of his parents, aided by a fantastic shot from Kirkland of Batman’s silhouette against the ground tying into the fact that neither are quite separate identities.
Dr. Long (Kevin McCarthy) of Gotham State University gets interviewed by Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon) whom notes she writes for the Gotham Insider television show. From the get go, the writing is very tight with a lot of little references to the background of Bruce Wayne including his knowing Summer by first name as well as Dr. Long mentioning that he attended university with Bruce’s father. McCarthy delivers a pretty forceful and memorable performance for just a few lines, bringing a bit of seething resentment at Bruce which helps add to the underlying perception that Dr. Long and Bruce’s father were pretty close despite it never being verbally stated.
It’s clear this episode was given better care than last week. There’s a nice little gag with the guard reading an issue of Tiny Toon Adventures, a cartoon that many of the art staff had worked on previously or were still working on alongside this show. The Scarecrow (Henry Polic II) has a good aura about him, made even better by Polic’s voice work. He managed to inflect differently, accentuating various words and phrases, while keeping everything veiled with a hint of darkness and malevolence. His phrasing, “What hidden terror keeps the Batman awake at night?” is a particularly great reading wherein Polic displays a hint of intrigue and curiosity before immediately reverting back to a snide, cutting tone when he tells his goons to get out with him.
The episode also helps continue to weave in character motivations. Bullock shows up and immediately acts antagonistic when Batman is involved, despite the dazed guard confirming Batman’s remark that it was a guy dressed up as a scarecrow whom tried to torch the bank. We also get our first take of Batman disappearing from the vicinity as the person he’s with glances away, in this case Bullock when Commissioner Gordon shows up to find out what’s going on. Even Scarecrow has motivation and character depth beyond just simply being a villain as he vows revenge on Dr. Long for what Scarecrow perceived as an unfair termination. After Scarecrow gets induced with his own fear toxin, showcasing a fear of a giant bat aka Batman, the story expertly comes back to Bullock ranting to Commissioner Gordon about withholding evidence. An excellent way to have the opening scene be foreshadowing while further pushing the Bullock/Gordon relationship connecting to Batman as a character.
Ending the episode, Batman (Kevin Conroy) scales into the blimp and takes out Scarecrow. Conroy also delivers his iconic line of, “I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!” while confronting the fear of failing his father. What really aids the plot is Batman’s characterization, where even as he’s taking out Scarecrow, he still has some physical struggles from the fear toxin while rescuing Dr. Long from the blimp. In a fun little hidden detail, Star Labs (notoriously featured on CW’s The Flash) is mentioned as one of the companies that have materials the mask was made from.
The artwork for the episode is very solid. The characters are great, especially Scarecrow’s get up, and details such as Bruce’s father being slightly hazy and unfocused due to the heat of the fire helps keep realism within the episode without making it come off as overly intentional. Bullock’s disgust and throwing down his hat is a great little character touch, adding to his character how much he wants Batman to get busted yet showing off that Bullock’s constantly been foiled. This is later re-touched upon when Bullock merely shrugs his shoulders as Commissioner Gordon jokingly asks about Bullock’s badge after Bullock said he’d bet it that Batman and Scarecrow were in cahoots.
Other great touches by the art studio include Bruce’s unshaven face and trembling hand as he picks up the photo of his parents. This is a perfect way for a cartoon to show that Bruce is still suffering from the hallucinatory effects without necessarily having to tell the audience. A surprisingly dark moment comes when Dr. Long gets fear toxin sprayed at him by Scarecrow and Dr. Long looks at his hands which dissolved into skeletal bone. Made even better to see the bony hands shake too, making the reaction and effect seem like it’s actually happening.
Next Week: The 4th episode of Batman: The Animated Series, “The Last Laugh”