Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Worst of The Scarecrow

While The Scarecrow has been drawn by a lot of great artists over the years, and starred in a lot of pretty good Batman comics, not every appearance is golden. Or bronze. Or tin. There have been quite a few bad Scarecrow stories and sub-par Scarecrow designs, so I’d like to take a break from highlighting some of the best of the Scarecrow to take a look at some of the worst.

You would think his strong visual hook and compelling modus operandi would make him into a popular villain for other DC books to borrow, but the fact of the matter is Scarecrow stories in non-Batman books don’t usually turn out so well.

For example, in 1994, The Scarecrow became the first DCU character to guest-star in brand-new series Anima, one of the many ill-fated attempts to spin something lasting out of the Bloodlines annual event (Hitman was ultimately the only Bloodlines ongoing with any legs at all).

Now, I have a soft spot for this series, and teenaged Caleb was pretty into it. Looking back now, it’s shameless in its pandering, and pretty hilarious in how dated it is (Anima is to grunge as Vibe is to breakdance), but, well, they were pandering to me specifically, and, like a lot of the DC comics I was reading at the time, I was just as enamored by the potential I saw in the characters as the characters themselves.

Someday I’m going to have to force myself to reread this series and write something serious on it, because it is an incredibly weird one. The art in the first few issues alone was so bizarre…almost collage-like, and the book looked and felt more like a bad Vertigo comic than a DCU comic of any kind, even when Hawkman or Superboy showed up.

Anyway, teenage runaway Courtney Mason, whom we’d previously met in New Titans Annual #9 and various Bloodlines branded books, has made her way to Rain City, which is a DCU fake city version of Seattle. In 1994! What cooler place to set a comic book, huh?

She’s befriended a few similar teenage outcasts, including an Asian pickpocket named Pockets and the diverse members of a grunge band called Boojum (Including a lesbian! Who likes her! In 1994!).

One of those bandmates is your typical dunderheaded type, who’s always trying to score with the ladies. Finding a hot chick passing out flyers for a strange new drug rehab clinic called New Dawn, he checks himself into it, in an attempt to score with the chick.

Turns out, New Dawn is actually run by Courtney’s evil aunt, a mad scientist type trying to figure out how Courtney and her mom are able to access some Carl Jungian style mystical mumbo jumbo realm called the Arcana and populated by archetypes (Courtney can summon “Animus,” a big, hairy red monster that beats things up for her). Also on staff? A skinny, bespectacled Gotham psychologist who goes by the name Dr. Egret.

Wait, egret? That’s a kind of bird, isn’t it? Like, a tall, skinny bird? With a long neck and long legs? Not unlike a crane? Oh my God! Dr. Crane! The Scarecrow!

When Courtney and Boojum bust into the joing, Dr. “Egret” captures Courtney, injects her, and puts on his costume for, like, four panels. Animus beats him up, and he goes to jail. Those cover images grossly exaggerate the amount of Scarecrow in the book, but Anima had a bad habit of grossly exaggerating the amount of guest-starrage in it. For example, the first issue was solicited as guest-starring Batman, but, in actuality, Animus simply impersonates Batman in one panel. (Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter do actually guest star later, however).

A more recent not-very-good Scarecrow story was Aquaman #30-#31, “Kiss of Death,” by Marc Guggenheim and Andy Clarke. This was during the last volume of Aquaman, after it quit being a boring book about Aquaman traveling around the world fighting The Thirst (who I’m pretty sure was actually a Kool-Aid Man villain at one point) and became a boring book about Aquaman being the Batman of Sub Diego.

In this particular story, someone is killing Sub Diegans by forcing oxygen down their throats, suffocating them (see, the Sub Diegans were mass-mutated to breathe water and exhale oxygen…which doesn’t make sense since there’s oxygen in water, but let’s not worry about that right now). Eight people have died so far, and Aquaman, Aquagirl II, and a new female police detective character want to solve the crime.

Since the killings are taking place underwater in Sub Diego, which used to be part of the city of San Diego, Aquaman decides he needs to talk to a specialist on serial killing, so obviously he travels all the way to east coast city Gotham to talk with Dr. Jonathan “The Scarecrow” Crane in Arkham Asylum.

Why? I have no idea. The killer isn’t doing anything at all fear related, and Crane is basically just used as a generic smart serial killer, a Hannibal Lecter to Aquaman’s Clarice (But that actually makes it sound more exciting than it actually is; their relationship is just quick and business like, and there’s no sense of Crane gaming Aquaman).

The closest I can come up with for an explanation to this story is that Guggenheim just really likes The Scarecrow (Hey, I don’t blame him!) and just squeezed him in here, since he happened to be writing a fill-in on Aquaman rather than a fill-in on Batman.

And since I can’t find my copy of Hawkman #26, those are all the bad comics guest-starring The Scarecrow that I’ve got.

Anyone have any other recommendations?

To return to the subject of Scarecrow character design, I think the very worst Scarecrow design of all probably belongs to artist Vince Giarrano (whose work I actually like quite a lot) who with writer Dough Moench created an alternate future version of the character that seems kind of amusing for about a second, but, if you look at/think about it any longer than that, you begin to realize how stupid it actually is.

Their Scarecrow appeared in 1996’s Batman Annual #20, one of the “Legends of the Dead Earth” themed annuals. This was undoubtedly the worst idea for themed annuals anyone at DC ever came up with. The gist of it was that sometime in the farflung future, the Earth was dead, and heroes had spread out onto other planets. None of them were really “our” heroes, since so much time has elapsed, but they all coincidentally had the same names and similar powers. I guess the idea was to show how enduring the DC heroes were or something, but the results were kind of unappealing. I think I only actually read two—the Batman annual and the Aquaman annual—so I don’t know, maybe some of them turned out great.

But Batman Annual #20 sure as hell wasn’t one of them.

What we had here was a story within a story. An old man is telling some young kids about the “Bat-Man,” which breaks up into little stories of a crazy looking Bat-Man and Darkwing (I think his name was). The former looked like a man in a werebat costume, as Rick Baker might design for a movie, and the latter looked like Hawkman with Robin’s colors on. Together, they flew around this big future city, capturing alternate future versions of Batman’s classic foes, whom they would then drop down a hollowed out tower into a prison they called Hell.

The villains were all redesigned by Giarrano, and I really loved the style he used on this book (his art was the main reason I bought it). Rereading it in preparation for Seven Days of the Scarecrow week, I was able to pin down exactly what I liked about it.

It was almost as if Giarrano was drawing the whole book sarcastically, in a loose, rough, exaggerated style that showed someone capable of much better aping a sort of post-Image house style not so much to replicate it, but because he thought it was funny. This is just a guess, of course, but given the subject of the story—the old man telling stories of these dark, wicked cook heroes and the silly villains they fought—it sure seems to fit.

Giarrano’s art here is like that of Marc Hempel’s mixed with Rob Liefeld’s, and that certainly makes it something worth taking a look at.

Anyway, for some reason Moench gives the all the villains lame names that underscore that they’re basically the traditionally rogues, only lamer. So the Penguin character is “Ice Bird,” The Joker is “The Jester,” and Catwoman is “Cat-Femme.”

The Scarecrow in this annual? He’s a guy whose job is to literally scare birds away from the crops, and then decides to try and scare Bat-Man and Darkwing, turning to a life of crime.

His design? He’s your classic Scarecrow…except he has the head of an actual crow. And, as Giarrano draws it, it’s a big old Heckle and Jeckle-style head. This Scarecrow is a crow scarecrow.

Finally, this is probably the absolute worst Scarecrow story ever written. Don't read it. Seriously. It's awful.


John said...

Proof that it's pretty much impossible to focus on any Bloodline characters (other than Hitman, of course) without having one's mind wander to other, more palatable characters: Anima's real name was Courtney Mason, not Courtney Whitmore, a.k.a. Stargirl.

Caleb said...

Gah! Thanks, John. I'll fix it.