The Matt Signal – Episode 91: Never Fear

Plot summary: Scarecrow plans to release a new strain of his gas that removes all fear from his victims… including Batman!

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘Never Fear’

Original Air Date: November 1st, 1997

Directed: Kenji Hachizaki (1)

Written: Stan Berkowitz (1)

Scarecrow’s hideout was modelled on Hollywood’s Pan Pacific Auditorium, as seen in Xanadu.

After having to change the way he performed Scarecrow several times due to throat issues, Henry Polic II was replaced by Jeffrey Combs for this season.

First-time series writer Stan Berkowitz came up on T.J. Hooker, Dragnet and Superboy, the last of which likely led to his transition to cartoons. He went on to write for Spider-Man, Superman, Justice League, and Avengers Assemble.

Recap

Some rando swings through the Gotham skyline hanging onto a huge rope and having the time of his life… until he crashes into a neon sign.

Batman & Robin prevent the deaths of the man and scores of innocent bystanders. Bruce tries to calmly help the man back inside, but he gleefully skips along the side of the building and yet again almost kills himself.

The next day, Bruce finds Tim goofing around in his office. They learn that the man they saved has a fear of heights, but are interrupted by Seymour, a normally mild-mannered clerk, who bursts into the office, yells at Bruce a bunch and then quits, planting an unwanted kiss on a secretary on the way out. Yeesh.

Bruce finds a card in Seymour’s wallet labelled ‘Never Fear’ so investigates in a disguise (rather than as Batman). Turns out it’s a life coaching scheme that serves as little more than a supply of test patients for Scarecrow… who knocks Bruce out!

Scarecrow interrogates Bruce, who maintains his cover (possibly intended to be Matches Malone), so Crane doses him with gas that renders him immune to fear, causing him to walk into crocodile-infested waters where he is ostensibly eaten!

Naturally he returns to Wayne Manor without a scratch and drags Tim off to raid Scarecrow’s hideout in the Batwing. Bruce flies like a lunatic on the way over but assures Tim he can handle the effects of the gas.

Taking out No Fear’s ‘Guru’, Batman tortures him to find out Scarecrow’s plan, namely to release the gas using a subway train. Bruce walks away, leaving Tim to save the man’s life.

Deciding enough is enough, Tim restrains Bruce and removes his utility belt to prevent escape. He attempts to take Scarecrow out alone but is immediately captured.

Bruce of course escapes and unleashes the fury on Scarecrow’s men, tossing them off the moving subway train. Going one step further, he nearly strangles Scarecrow to death but Tim manages to dose him with an antidote to snap him out of it.

With the train diverted towards certain doom, Bats manages to leap to safety with Crane at the last possible moment. While dragging him to the police, Bruce tells Tim he did the right thing and that a little fear can be good.

Best Performance

Jeffrey Combs does an admirable job taking the wheel from Henry Polic II as Scarecrow, reimagining the villain as far more sinister. It’s definitely a sufficiently creepy voice to match his redesign, and I could easily see him winning this category in an episode with more emphasis on Crane… if one existed.

However, Kevin Conroy took this opportunity to remind us who the eff he is, effortlessly moving our hero all over the vocal spectrum. While he’s on orders to play Bruce and Batman virtually identically now, he more than makes up for it by changing his tone once Bats fall victim to the No Fear gas, leaning all the way into the more brutal side of his personality. He starts out snippy and irritable and progresses to full villainy, shouting down Robin and Scarecrow alike. We also get some undercover gangster voice for good measure.

Mathew Valencia remains strong as Robin, first making fun of Bruce and later standing up to him when the chips are down, before finally having an earnest heart to heart at the end which both actors play really well.

Ranking

As is normally the case with Scarecrow episodes, this serves as good psychological study of Batman, as his indomitable will is put to the test by the villain’s chemicals. Personally, I love how ludicrously stubborn the character can be, and his dismissive attitude towards Tim’s concerns plays right into that lane. It also gives us a taste of the Nolan iteration of the character as he cockily threatens and tortures thugs, which I don’t mind in small doses.

My favourite scene is Tim subduing his mentor for his own good, which Bruce responds to by attempting to manipulate him, demonstrating how dangerous he could be if he lacked morality. The brief conversation with Batman advocating Tim’s actions and fear as a useful tool was a nice closing touch, too.

I’ve not been a huge fan of Scarecrow’s episodes to date, with this easily being my favourite. Inverting Crane’s usual M.O. by removing his victims’ sense of fear was a logical direction to take him to mix things up. It also benefits from New Batman Adventures’ generally superior sense of polish, but in fairness we got a lot of Scarecrow pretty early into BTAS, giving the production staff several years to tighten up their operation.

That being said, the episode seems to run out of time before it can make good on its promise. I could have gone for some more focus on Scarecrow and the self-help guru serving as the face of his operation. Plus where on earth was that crocodile scene supposed to have taken place?

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Mask of the Phantasm
  3. Almost Got ‘im
  4. Heart of Ice
  5. Harlequinade
  6. The Trial
  7. Riddler’s Reform
  8. Double Talk
  9. Shadow of the Bat Part I
  10. I Am the Night
  11. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  12. Baby-Doll
  13. Sins of the Father
  14. Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero
  15. The Man Who Killed Batman
  16. Perchance to Dream
  17. Two-Face Part I
  18. You Scratch My Back
  19. Bane
  20. Batgirl Returns
  21. A Bullet For Bullock
  22. Joker’s Favor
  23. Read My Lips
  24. Feat of Clay Part II
  25. Catwalk
  26. The Demon’s Quest Part II
  27. Harley and Ivy
  28. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  29. House & Garden
  30. Beware the Gray Ghost
  31. Holiday Knights
  32. Second Chance
  33. Mad as a Hatter
  34. Heart of Steel Part II
  35. Appointment In Crime Alley
  36. Two-Face Part II
  37. Pretty Poison
  38. Deep Freeze
  39. Harley’s Holiday
  40. Lock-Up
  41. Shadow of the Bat Part II
  42. Feat of Clay Part I
  43. Cold Comfort
  44. His Silicon Soul
  45. Off Balance
  46. Vendetta
  47. Birds of a Feather
  48. Heart of Steel Part I
  49. Never Fear (NEW ENTRY)
  50. On Leather Wings
  51. See No Evil
  52. The Clock King
  53. It’s Never Too Late
  54. Make ‘Em Laugh
  55. Joker’s Wild
  56. Eternal Youth
  57. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  58. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  59. Zatanna
  60. Day of the Samurai
  61. Avatar
  62. The Demon’s Quest Part I
  63. The Mechanic
  64. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  65. Terror in the Sky
  66. P.O.V.
  67. Christmas with the Joker
  68. Fear of Victory
  69. Be a Clown
  70. The Worry Men
  71. What is Reality?
  72. Fire From Olympus
  73. Night of the Ninja
  74. Mudslide
  75. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  76. Nothing to Fear
  77. The Lion and the Unicorn
  78. Prophecy of Doom
  79. Tyger, Tyger
  80. Blind as a Bat
  81. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  82. Dreams In Darkness
  83. The Last Laugh
  84. Cat Scratch Fever
  85. Moon of the Wolf
  86. Paging the Crime Doctor
  87. Time Out of Joint
  88. Sideshow
  89. The Under-Dwellers
  90. The Forgotten
  91. Showdown
  92. The Terrible Trio
  93. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Scarecrow (Jeffrey Combs) (fourth appearance)

Probably the most radical redesign of any character, Crane now dresses like a southern preacher/undertaker, albeit one with a hangman’s noose and more skeletal mask. I hated their first take on him, looking like a worm in a hat and sweater, but the second version was much better. I don’t dislike this, but… does he look like a scarecrow anymore?

Anyway, it’s nice to see the character get a renewed sense of creative attention. He got some nice little cameos in towards the end of season 2, but ‘Dreams in Darkness’ feels like a lifetime ago. I don’t mind the more neurotic/weedy version of the character, but it is also interesting to see him taken in the complete opposite direction, more akin to his appearances in the Arkham games, where he seems more supernatural force than man.

I’m going to bump him up several spots, edging him a little closer to where I think most fans feel he belongs. I acknowledge I’ve been in the minority with my more negative assessment of him to date, but hey, it’s my column.

  1. The Joker
  2. Harley Quinn
  3. Mr. Freeze
  4. Poison Ivy
  5. The Ventriloquist
  6. Catwoman
  7. Two-Face
  8. The Riddler
  9. The Phantasm
  10. Baby-Doll
  11. Bane
  12. Mad Hatter
  13. Penguin
  14. HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
  15. Clayface
  16. Ra’s al Ghul
  17. Lock-Up
  18. Lloyd Ventrix
  19. Scarecrow
  20. Killer Croc
  21. Rupert Thorne
  22. Count Vertigo
  23. Clock King
  24. Nivens
  25. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  26. Enrique el Gancho
  27. Josiah Wormwood
  28. Talia al Ghul
  29. Sid the Squid
  30. Queen Thoth Khepera
  31. Maxie Zeus
  32. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  33. Tony Zucco
  34. Man-Bat
  35. Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
  36. Hugo Strange
  37. Red Claw
  38. Arnold Stromwell
  39. Mad Bomber
  40. Tygrus
  41. Kyodai Ken
  42. Condiment King/Pack Rat/Mighty Mom
  43. Grant Walker
  44. Gil Mason
  45. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  46. Cameron Kaiser
  47. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  48. Mad Dog
  49. Ubu
  50. Professor Milo
  51. Romulus
  52. Arkady Duvall
  53. Sewer King
  54. Boss Biggis
  55. Montague Kane
  56. The Terrible Trio

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, begins coverage of Loki this week.

Published by

Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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