The late, great Stan Lee had a principle he built his writing on: “every comic book is somebody’s first issue”. While he meant that as a guide to how to write, it also applies to any given comic’s unexpected influence. Every comic fan has that obscure also-ran that holds a soft spot in their heart only because they met them early on. And if the right person is appealed to, that can make a character a big name. Let’s look at how that idea applies to Batman #189!
The Riddle of the Human Scarecrow
But first, we’re going back to 1941’s World’s Finest Comics #3. That issue, an anthology of what were then some of DC’s best-selling characters, included a Batman & Robin story entitled “The Riddle of the Human Scarecrow”. It introduced Jonathan Crane, a reckless professor of psychology whose study of fear, old clothes, and thin body have earned him the nickname “Scarecrow”. Crane, who has a frankly unhealthy book-purchasing habit, decides to lean into the nickname. Adopting a straw-filled costume, he begins terrorizing the wealthy of Gotham City. He runs afoul of Batman, and things go about how you’d expect.
The Scarecrow returned two years later in the pages of Detective Comics #73. There, he becomes a generic gang leader (albeit one with an interesting costume). Those two appearances were the sum total of Scarecrow’s Golden Age appearances. For contrast, The Joker typically appeared in two stories a year minimum. The Penguin appeared at least once per annum. The Scarecrow was, more or less, on the level of a one-appearance-wonder.
Fright of the Scarecrow
That changed with Batman #189 in 1968! Writer Gardner Fox and artist Sheldon Moldoff brought the character back after 25 years away from the comics page in that issue. Since the comic’s then-audience hadn’t been born when his original stories were published, they helpfully recap his origin before jumping into the action. The Scarecrow retains his criminal mastermind gimmick here, but with the addition of what would become his most defining feature.
See, The Scarecrow uses a unique weapon for the first time in this story: Fear Gas! It’s just one weapon in his arsenal here, but it proved the most memorable bit of the issue. As time went on, The Scarecrow’s reputation would grow as “The Master of Fear”. Fear Gas became his weapon of choice and that helped the character’s popularity grow. He has menaced the Dark Knight with it in cartoons, TV shows, video games, and on the silver screen, none of which would have happened without Batman #189.
How An Issue Becomes Key
One writer remembers a character, thinks they’re interesting, and puts a new spin on them. That’s all it takes to move a character from one-appearance-wonder to fan-favorite… and juice up the value of their key appearances in the bargain. The Scarecrow getting that treatment led to his use on the Batman/Superman Hour, which led to his use on Challenge of the Super Friends, and so on. Those continued television appearances in turn led to continued comics appearances. Once comic book adaptations started regularly using comic book villains in the 60s, they had the power to make also-ran characters into household names.
Which leads to The Scarecrow’s third appearance being a surprisingly valuable book. If you’ve got a collection of Silver Age comic books you’d like to sell, don’t wait – drop us a line! Back to the Past specializes in taking your collection and turning it into cash without a moment’s extra effort on your part. Our expert staff can pick the key issues out of a collection in moments, transforming stacks of long boxes into multi-thousand-dollar auctions in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
Who’s your favorite obscure character? We won’t judge! Tell us in the comments or hit us up on social media @b2pcollect.