I love traveling through the decades in comics. It only took a second for me to realize that picking up Detective Comics #517 by Mike W. Barr, Alan Davis, and Paul Neary was a good decision. It’s all about the Scarecrow, and the opening splash page features a cool layout and design and also this text: “He’s back! The Pharaoh of Phobias, the Duke of Dread, the Scarecrow…” Titles like that don’t pop up in many comics these days, and it adds such a fun touch – something about the phrasing makes me feel like a little kid waiting for story time.
The entertainment only continued when I turned the page. Detective Comics #517, “Fear for Sale,” featured Jonathan Crane using his knowledge of fear in a way I haven’t seen. Instead of mining minds to discover fears and use them as weapons against his victims, he takes away fear. He uses a special scare removal concoction (I hope he got it trademarked) to remove that little voice of common sense that resides in most of us. As he points out, it’s just another type of fear and erasing that constant tinny sound of practicality running through our brains makes us leap forward without looking. That is not always as positive as motivational posters make it sound.
Scarecrow uses his brew on sports figures. A high diver was no longer afraid of trying a quintuple somersault and broke his back in the process of giving it a whirl. A race car driver who’d won the Indianapolis 500 three times became fearless and took a risk that led to a serious accident. He only survived because Batman and Robin were on the scene. Whew.
While the Scarecrow probably gets kicks watching others suffer, he has another motive for dosing them with the no-fear (different from the No Fear t-shirts we all wore in the ’90s) drug: money. It always comes down to money or power, doesn’t it? If the sports star survives the accident he inevitably gets in, the Scarecrow shows up asking to be compensated for the antidote. He requested $50,000 from the race car driver and after he refused, he upped the price to $100,000. When the driver said no way, the Scarecrow bet him that he couldn’t jump out of the window to the ground and survive. He flew out the window… and you can imagine what happened from there. Spoilers: it ends with a splatter.
Robin shows up while Scarecrow is putting the pressure on the race car diver and gets sidekick-napped. When Batman tries to trap the Scarecrow and runs off to save Robin, so many amazing events happen I barely know where to start. First of all, Batman puts on a disguise to look like professional daredevil Alvin Kenner. Yes, that’s Batman under this mask:
When did he have time to take a lifecast of Kenner?
Then, as Batman learns that Jason Todd in danger, he smiles a smug, wonderful smile.
I don’t know what to make of Batman smiling. It’s a touch creepy.
As Batman races off to the concrete factory where the Scarecrow’s got Robin, he has to wrestle with the no-fear drug. Being aware of the fact that it’s running through his veins helps him control it as does concern for Robin. Though the no-fear drug takes away the voice of reason for the person injected, it apparently doesn’t remove fear for the sake of others because Batman is scared for Robin’s life. That fear helped keep him focused and fighting against the drug and ultimately, led to him capturing the Scarecrow. He used the Scarecrow’s weapon against him. It’s clever.
And one especially fantastic moment occurs on the last page of “Fear for Sale:” Batman survives underwater for ten minutes because he had air trapped under his cape. Maybe Edna Mode has the whole “no capes” thing wrong.