The recurring Batman villain The Scarecrow, AKA evil psychologist Jonathan Crane, first appeared in a 13-page story entitled “Riddle of the Human Scarecrow” in 1941’s World’s Finest Comics #3.
As you can see from the wholesomely fun cover, Robin was already hanging out with Batman at this point in the Caped Crusasder’s crime-crushing career. The Dynamic Duo next fought Scarecrow in 1943’s Detective Comics #73 (pictured above).
After DC’s 1985-1986 Crisis On Infinite Earths shake-up, in which they gradually relaunched many of their books and overwrote many of their characters’ previous histories, partially or in whole (and, um, for the first time), Batman was given a new, updated origin story in the 1987 Batman story arc “Batman: Year One,” which established Batman as a lonely vigilante having at least a whole year of Robin-less adventures (1989 arc “Batman: Year Three” would establish that as the year that Batman finally took a partner).
In this new continuity, The Scarecrow’s first post-reboot appearance was in 1987’s Detective Comics #571 by Mike Barr, Alan Davis and Paul Neary, but a story specifically devoted to telling his origin wouldn’t come until 1993’s Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special #1 Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.
Like all of the Legends of the The Dark Knight stories, that one was set during Batman’s first, Robin-less career, so now, apparently, The Scarecrow began his career in crime a few years before Robin began his career in crime-fighting.
Other “Year One” era Scarecrow stories included Loeb and Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween (a year-long story which included two Halloweens) and Batman: Dark Victory (another year-long story that included two more; along with Loeb and Sale’s two other Halloween specials, Batman’s first year or two of crime-fighting included seven Halloweens, but let’s not dwell on that, or we’ll go mad), plus a 2001 Legends of the Dark Knight story arc entitled “Terror” (By Doug Moench, Paul Gulacy and Jimmy Palmiotti)
And then in 1995, DC published “Year One”-branded annuals for all of their titles, featuring the origins of each of their headlining characters. Because Batman already had a “Year One” story, however (he had the original one, the one that brought the phrase into DC’s lexicon), the annuals devoted to the various Batman books each featured the origin of a different villain. Batman Annual # was devoted to re-retelling the origin of The Scarecrow and, once again, it was set during Batman’s first year, before he had taken Robin on as a partner.
Which, finally, brings me to the subject of this post—Awkwardly titled 2005 miniseries Year One: Batman Scarecrow which re-re-retells The Scarecrow’s origin story.Oddly, this was published a year before DC again rebooted certain aspects of its history (at the conclusion of Infinite Crisis, which again lead to some changes in the continuity of certain characters), so there was no real impetus to update fans or readers on The Scarecrow’s origins; if the 1993 and 1995 origin stories were being over-written by this one, it was simply because it was a newer one (The most likely impetus for the two-issue miniseries, however was the fact that 2005 was the year Batman Begins, which featured the film debut of The Scarecrow, was released, and so it seemed like a good time to publish a comic book with the words “Batman” and “Scarecrow” in the title).
As someone who read the previous Scarecrow origin stories, what struck me was that this one was that it opens with Batman and his first Robin trying to chase down The Scarecrow, who escapes them, and, a scene or two later, it becomes evident that this is there first encounter with the character.
So now rather than appearing during Batman’s first year, or at some point before Robin, The Scarecrow is now first appearing sometime after Batman’s third year, or at some point after Robin.
Is that a big deal?
Well not really, I suppose, but now that we’re in a golden age of reprints, it seems like a publisher with DC’s size library would take extra care to keep as much of their continuity/history as straight and consistent as possible, to keep evergreen collections like the Loeb/Sale Long Halloween, Dark Victory and even Haunted Knight (which collects their first three Halloween specials) as relevant as possible. From the publisher’s perspective, you don’t want to have people choosing between buying a collection of Long Halloween and Year One: Batman Scarecrow instead of buying them both, right?
The new-er Year One story by writer Bruce Jones and artist Sean Murphy, is a pretty good one. I enjoyed it a heck of a lot and, despite my affection for those earlier Scarecrow origin stories (particularly on the visual side of them), I have to confess this is an all-around superior comic book story.
And it’s easy to see why Jones opted to move Scarecrow’s debut back along Batman’s loose timeline to a point sometime after Robin’s debut—Robin gives Batman someone to talk to throughout the story (roles filled by Alfred and James Gordon in the other, earlier origin stories), and is a more lighthearted character who can crack jokes and define Batman’s mood or state of mind by simple comparison.
Plus, if communicating to the reader that Batman seems to be blaming himself for something by having Robin say, “Hey, don’t blame yourself, Batman,” seems a little inelegant and obvious a writing technique, it’s still more subtle than Batman thought-clouding “I blame myself,” you know?
Batman and Robin’s relationship and banter was easily the best part of the story, and it would have been a much, much weaker one if Robin were removed simply to keep the story more consistent with a couple of other Scarecrow origin stories from the previous decade.
Personally, it didn’t really bug me that much, perhaps because it turned out to be a great comic, and if a comic is great, it’s easy to forgive little things—it’s when a comic is terrible that the little problems seem magnified, as its lack of quality calls it’s very existence to question. For example, if this Scarecrow origin story was awful, then it wouldn’t even have the excuse of being a good comic to explain why DC bothered publishing a third, contradictory version of a story they’ve already told and re-told, you know?
What is exceptionally strange about this story, however, is the way in which it was collected, and it was a collected version of it borrowed form a library that I read a few weeks ago.The 2009 trade Batman: Two-Face and Scarecrow Year One collects both the Scarecrow story and the 2008 two-issue miniseries Two-Face: Year One by Mark Sable, Jesus Saiz and Jimmy Palmiotti.
I didn’t much care for this one at all, in addition to it being extremely redundant (If Loeb and Sale devoted a single one-shot special to telling the Scarecrow’s origin, they spent over a year and 13-issues telling Two-Face’s in Long Halloween; additionally, Two-Face has probably the most often told and re-told origin of any of Batman’s rogues gallery), it’s simply not very good, the story being mostly mediocre and the art extremely pedestrian for a villain-focused Batman story (Saiz is a decent story-teller, but he lacks the expressionistic style to really sell either Batman or his colorful foes).
What’s most strange about the pairing of the two stories, however, is that while Jones and Murphy’s is completely unconcerned with past Batman stories, over-writing—or at least ignoring so as to exist completely apart from—some of the most widely-read and critically acclaimed Batman comics of the past few decades, Sable and Saiz’s story is set within some of those exact same stories.
Like a weird Russian doll of a story, Two-Face: Year One takes place during Long Halloween, which told the story of how Harvey Dent went from being a crusading district attorney and ally of Batman and Jim Gordon to being an insane serial killer and one of his former friends’ worst enemies (as well of telling the story of how Gotham City crime transitioned from standard mob-run organized crime into a colorful underworld of freaks and out-sized “performing” criminals). And Long Halloween was itself set during “Batman: Year One.”
The first half of this collection ignores Batman continuity, then, the second half exists as an exercise in trying to fill any available space left in Batman continuity with more continuity.
And, as if to drive home the point that these two stories don’t compliment one another at all, the second one is, as I said, set during Batman’s first year and long before he’s working with Robin. However, The Scarecrow appears repeatedly in a minor role in it. He’s part of Two-Face’s gang, as he was in Dark Victory, and is here shown phone-banking for Two-Face’s campaign for district attorney and, later, serving on a jury Two-Face assembles to prosecute an enemy. If someone were to pick up this book, looking to learn the origin of the character Scarecrow, as a book entitled Batman: Two-Face and Scarecrow Year One seems to promise, they would find an engaging, well-drawn origin of the Scarecrow, followed by a story followed immediately by a story that contradicts at least one major element of it, whether Scarecrow was around before or after Robin was around.
I think that's kind of weird.