“Nothing to Fear”
Written by Henry T. Gilroy and Sean Catherine Derek
Directed by Boyd Kirkland
The third episode of Batman: The Animated Series is, arguably, one of the most important episodes of this first season and volume one on DVD. Not only does the Henry T. Gilroy and Sean Catherine Derek script perfectly explore the Batman psychology, but it offers the first interpretation of The Scarecrow. Mind you, at the time of this airing, Scarecrow was not as well known as he is now. It wasn’t until the 2005 Batman Begins and subsequent appearances in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises that he become an established figure in the Batman rogues gallery. Let’s not forget he’s also played an important role in the Arkham game series. While the previous episode, “Christmas with the Joker”, provided a blend of cartoonish villainy and actual menace, “Nothing to Fear” is a decidedly moodier and darker reflection on the Batman myth.
The episode opens at the Gotham University. Bruce Wayne, Summer Gleeson, and Dr. Long get in an elevator. Trust me, this is not going to turn into one of those jokes. Bruce, exhibiting his cooly aloof and playboy demeanor, ends up annoying the uptight Dr. Long. The doctor tells Bruce that he knew his father, Thomas, and that it’s fortunate that he didn’t live to see the man his son grew into. In his words, he would have “died of shame.” The snobbish Dr. Long huffs away and while Summer Gleeson attempts to apologize for the harsh words, it’s clear that Bruce is deeply hurt. I was shocked by the verbal low blow Dr. Long gave Bruce as it’s a matter of public knowledge that his parents were killed before his eyes. This is where “Nothing to Fear” really starts to pick apart the psychosis of Bruce Wayne.
The Scarecrow makes a daring attack on the University, but Batman intervenes. While fighting off the villain’s thugs in a vault, Scarecrow shoots him in the back with a dart. What Batman doesn’t realize is that the dart contains a time released fear toxin, which allows the Scarecrow to escape. The harsh words of Dr. Long come back to haunt Bruce as he envisions his father shamefully telling him “you have disgraced the family name.” It’s a stand-out moment for the episode and also provides Kevin Conroy to show his range as an actor. Conroy, widely considered to be the definitive Batman for so many, is terrific in this episode and “Nothing to Fear” is easily his strongest yet. The fear toxin has an enduring effect on Bruce, well into the following day. While he’s watching the news, he imagines reporter Summer Gleeson to be verbally berating him. It’s through her taunts that we understand just how afraid Bruce is of failure. While Michael Keaton delivered a Bruce Wayne/Batman that was driven and obsessed, Kevin Conroy gave viewers a Batman that was haunted by the promise he made to his parents on the night they died, and of the fear of failing his city he swore to protect. “Nothing to Fear”, out of the previous episodes in this first season, is easily the most nuanced.
The Scarecrow, given his first on-screen interpretation, is acknowledged as Jonathan Crane. He’s a professor at the same university as Dr. Long, and performed experiments on people shortly before he was dismissed. Branded as “a lunatic”, Scarecrow has targeted Dr. Long as he holds a personal vendetta. At a charity event, Scarecrow gasses Dr. Long and the guests shortly before Batman arrives. The patrons immediately turn on Batman as they envision him to be this gigantic bat. The scene is remarkable in how much it brings to mind a sequence from 2005’s Batman Begins that finds Gothamites attacking The Dark Knight. It would not be surprising if screenwriter David S. Goyer and director Christopher Nolan were inspired by this episode as they most likely combed through plenty of Scarecrow material.
Of course, Batman is able to escape the ensuing chaos and battle the Scarecrow to his dirigible. In the fight, the dirigible gets damaged and crashes, moments after Scarecrow is able to escape via his glider. The rousing action sequence comes to a halt immediately when Batman is struck by his recurring fear of his father’s disappointment in him. But this time, he’s able to master his fear as he says a now classic line “I am vengeance. I am the Knight. I am Batman.”
Batman, having grabbed a piece of Scarecrow’s mask, is able to track him to Crane Chemicals. It’s during the scene of detective work that we learn of Axis Chemicals and S.T.A.R. Labs existence within the world of Batman: The Animated Series. It’s interesting as Axis was the chemical plant where Jack Napier became the Joker in the 1989 film, and S.T.A.R. is the famous laboratory from Superman, and heavily featured in his animated series.
“Nothing to Fear” concludes with Batman stopping Crane by releasing his fear toxin into the chemical plant. The gas drives Crane mad and he envisions Batman as a giant, demonic bat (not unlike the final confrontation they both have in Begins.) Meanwhile, at the G.C.P.D. station, Bullock bets his badge that Batman and Scarecrow were working together. Unbeknownst to him, Scarecrow is dangling from the ceiling fan. The final scene finds Bruce at his parents grave. He leaves two roses and walks away with his shadow taking shape as the Caped Crusader.
The third episode of Batman: The Animated Series is notable for being significantly darker than the previous one. While “Nothing to Fear” does not feature Dick Grayson/Robin in any capacity, the show is starting to feel less and less disjointed and more of just a gigantic portrait of Bob Kane’s creation. The imprint of Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski is undeniable. It’s impressive to think of how so many viewers were introduced to Batman and the members of his rogues gallery through this animated series. At the time, especially during the 90’s, Batman was the reigning superhero at the box office with 89′, Returns, and Forever. In much the same way that a particular generation grew up with X-Men on FOX Kids, the very same generation grew up with Bruce Timm’s masterpiece that set forth the very first connected universe. Batman: The Animated Series led to The New Adventures of Batman and Robin, along with the spin-off, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League and Unlimited, with Batman Beyond and Static Shock as well. (Let’s also not forget The Beta Project, as well.)
“Nothing to Fear” is also one of the first episodes to deal significantly with more adult material such as Bruce Wayne’s fear and of just how scarred his psyche is from witnessing the death of his parents. The Gilroy and Derek script does not go on comic-book/cartoon proportions, except for the instance of the Scarecrow’s escape out of the dirigible on his glider. Other than a moment of heightened reality, one could easily make the argument that Timm’s version of Batman was the first real-world based take on the iconic DC Comics hero.
Stay tuned for more Batman: The Animated Series.
*I’d like to personally thank everyone who has supported my recap/reviews of this series, so far. I’d like to especially give credit to Matthew R of Super Serum Comix for his continued support. Watching the animated series as a form of counting down to Batman v. Superman has been tremendous fun. If anyone has any ideas for the series and/or aspects you’d like me to cover, please comment below and/or tweet me @reggiemantleIII