Friday, October 26, 2007

Some of my Favorite Scarecrows #2: Bret Blevins'

I admit it—When artist Bret Blevins' work first appeared in Batman: Shadow of the Bat, I was pretty bummed about it. SOTB had been launched as the brand-new ongoing series that would serve as the new home to the Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle creative team, then and now my favorite Batman creative team.

Breyfogle left almost immediately though, and Grant soldiered on with various replacements, some of whom had a quirky style that fit in well with Breyfogle's mildly cartoony expressionism (Like Tim Sale and Vince Giarrano), while others not so much (Dan Jurgens, Joe Staton, Mike Collins). With #16, Bret Blevins became the more-or-less regular artist on the series, and his muscular, rounder, softer version of Batman was too far removed from the sharp, angular, dynamic one I'd grown used to seeing in Grant-written stories.

His first story arc was "The God of Fear," a three-parter that ran through #18, and was sort of a soft tie-in to the ongoing "Knightfall" storyline (it had the Knightfall logo in the upper right hand corner, but wasn't numbered as such). It pitted Batman (now being played by Jean-Paul Valley, though still rocking the old suit) and Anarky against The Scarecrow.

By all rights, it should have been a story I loved, but I just couldn't get used to Blevins' versions of these characters (particularly Anarky, whom Breyfogle co-created and thus pretty much defined visually). I'm sure teenage Caleb pounded out an irate letter or two during this story arc on his word processor.

I didn't much care for Blevins' Scarecrow either, as the design allowed for Crane's real eyes and mouth to peek through the holes in the costume, accentuating the fact that he was just a guy in a suit, rather than a guy doing a convincing job of being a supernatural terror (This is the same reason I always despised depictions of Batman with stubble on his chin).

Looking back now, however, not only do I appreciate Blevins' art a lot more than I did as a teenager with too-few comics under my belt (his toothy Joker, which he drew for an origin story in Legends of the Dark Knight #50, is particularly disturbing), but I actually really dig his Scarecrow.

He's not just tall and skinny, but impossibly so, closer to a stick figure than a skeletal one. With his big round head, he resembles a bit of a lollipop in some panels. Blevins' mask actually looks a little more disturbing than the older, feature-less ones. From an aesthetic standpoint, I like the unreality of the more expressionless or cartoonish expressioned masks, but the madman peeking through the face? That's a bit scarier to me, even if it's not quite as cool looking.

Blevins would draw the Scarecrow again in 1995's Batman Annual #19. If you were reading DC back then, that was the year when all the annuals were tied together by a "Year One" theme, giving the origins of the stars. Since Batman already had a year one story (and a year two and year three), his annuals were all turned over to a few of his villains, and Dough Moench wrote the Scarecrow origin, and the tale of his first battle with Batman (Completely different versions of their first encounter were also told by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, in a Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween special we'll take a look at later in the week, and more recently by Bruce Jones and Sean Murphy in the movie cash-in Year One: Batman/Scarecrow).

Moench played up the relation between Jonathan Crane and Ichabod Crane—two tall, skinny, laughed-at fools who shared a surname—and gave Crane some fighting ability, based on his thrashing, spasmodic dancing (One of these two stories featured Scarecrow boasting of his "Crane style" fighting technique to Batman; I can't remember which now).

Blevins' skinny Scarecrow is super-loosed limbed, and he often moves around as if he doesn't have any bones at all, but is really just clothes and straw. I like the weird angles his body contorts into when he's sneaking around or fighting.

Blevins' version of the character seems to have been the most influential of the last decade or so. Many future Scarecrow artists would apparently look to Blevins' for inspiration—Duncan Fegredo in Scarecrow #1, Carl Critchlow in Batman/Scarecrow 3-D #1, Paul Gulacy in crazy-ass Legends of the Dark Knight arc "Terror," Tom Mandrake in his recent two-issue Dectective fill-in story, even the mask Cillian Murphy breifly dons in Batman Begins looks a bit like Blevins' version—making this more or less the definitive version of the Scarecrow for a period.


Mr. Fob said...

I still don't like Blevins's Batman. I enjoyed Alan Grant's stories after Breyfogle left, but SOTB never looked as good again.

Chance said...

I really enjoyed this post a lot. I'm enjoying the art you're talking about, art I never knew existed. I can see how both versions are fearsome, but I do prefer the first.