Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Detective Comics #73 (March, 1943)

"The Scarecrow Returns"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Linda Page is taking Bruce Wayne on a date to a "hat show" because Bruce is always making fun of her ridiculous hats (to be fair, 1940s women's hat styles are really silly and Linda is always drawn wearing particularly awful ones).
But then the Scarecrow shows up to rob the place of all the... valuable... hats... Yes, the Scarecrow has escaped from prison and decided to rob a hat show because he wants Gothamites to be terrified of... small... words...
Anyways Bruce can't change into Batman with Linda around (secret identity and all that) -- so he stumbles around bumping into the Scarecrow's men and accidentally knocking them out. Eventually the Scarecrow pistol whips him and makes off with the goods, leaving a clue of a blackboard slate with the words "HAT" and "MAT" written on it in chalk.
Obviously the "HAT" refers to the most recent crime, and Bruce thinks that the "MAT" refers to an upcoming charity wrestling bout for which the proceeds are going to (what else) war bonds.
So Batman and Robin show up to guard the bout, and it turns out that Scarecrow's goons are actually both the wrestlers in the bout, and pull guns on the audience while Scarecrow steals from the cashiers. Everyone's incensed that Scarecrow would "steal from Uncle Sam", and the Dynamic Duo fights the wrestling goons and even save the money, but Scarecrow himself gets away again.
Another slate is left behind, and this time the clue is "VAT" and somehow Batman immediately deduces that this refers to the vats that clothes dyers use and also considers this so obvious a clue that it must be a trap laid by the Scarecrow. Well, considering that he's intentionally leaving you these clues, Batman, yeah I think that's a good bet.
So because it's that point in the story, when the Dynamic Duo shows up they're captured by the Scarecrow's men, tied up, and thrown in the vats while they are slowly filled with water, but not before Scarecrow tells them the next clue is "YAT" -- why are you giving him the next clue if your intent is for him to die? (And why not wait to make sure he drowns, or just shoot him, or...)
Anyways, turns out the "YAT" is Yat Sing, who runs a Chinese art store in Chinatown and is of course a big racial stereotype. Batman and Robin show up because OF COURSE they got out of the death-trap and OF COURSE they solved the clue (Yat Sing is the only Yat in the phonebook worth stealing from, you see).
So the Dynamic Duo beat up all Scarecrow's men and the Scarecrow himself and he's back to jail and THAT'S THAT. (Groan)
My Thoughts: When I reviewed the first appearance of the Scarecrow, I remember being impressed by how unique the story was and the attention to detail and characterization that Bill Finger gave to developing and motivating this new villain in such a way that was psychologically convincing and felt new and fresh. I enjoyed that story, but I also knew intellectually that there was only one more appearance of the Scarecrow in the Golden Age before he'd disappear for two decades before resurfacing in the Silver Age. And I had wondered why that happened. 
I don't, anymore.
The issue of creators' rights and corporate comics is a sticky one, and there are pros and cons to each side. On the one hand it's true that Batman would be a far weaker and far less known  character today if the endless hordes of immensely talented writers and artists who worked on him hadn't have been able to. On the other hand, sometimes a writer picks up a character they did not create, and they clearly have no idea how to handle them.
And that can ruin a character.
The Art: Bob Kane and his studio handle things well enough. The Scarecrow looks like the Scarecrow, his unique appearance both in costume and out are retained as well as his gangly way of moving about. In many panels the characters are rendered very small in a large background space and Robinson's detailed inks become hard to discern. It's an overall trait of Kane's pencils and layouts.
The Story: The cover proclaims that the Scarecrow is back by "popular demand", and while I tend to believe that since it's been two years since he first showed up, I wonder why DC didn't wait for Finger to be ready to script Scarecrow's return himself, why they pawned it off on Don Cameron who clearly has no idea what to do with the character. In fact, Finger hasn't done a lot of scripts lately, last appearing in Detective two months ago, and another script of his won't appear in the book until July. My research hasn't turned up any explanation, but I conjecture that now that the Batman was a fairly established character and DC had a good number of other writers working on it, they didn't have to rely on Finger as much, who was notoriously bad at working to deadline.
But I wish they had. Cameron plops the Scarecrow into a dreadfully boring formula script. It reads like the formula from the Adam West TV show done straight. Nothing about it at all says Scarecrow, or retains anything about the character's methods and motivations. There are some token references to causing fear and terror in the character's dialogue, but it would just be the same fear and terror any criminal causes -- all he's doing is robbing stuff. And then leaving clues for Batman to find on purpose. Like the Joker does, like the Riddler will do, like every villain on that 60s TV show will do regardless of whether it's their MO or not. 
Professor Jonathan Crane, Scarecrow's true identity, is not forgotten, but other than a few token lines referencing "psychological reactions" and "nervous breakdowns" his intellect seems to have dropped from college professor to grade school teacher. Chalkboard slates and crimes based around rhyming three letter words? Is this Batman or Blue's Clues?
This is a terrible story, nothing of note happens in it at all, and I'm convinced that it's complete misuse of the Scarecrow character, making him as boringly generic as any random gangster villain, was responsible for him falling by the wayside for twenty-four years.
Boy, I hated this story.
Notes and Trivia: Last appearance of the Scarecrow in the Golden Age of Comics.

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