The Joker's Asylum Part IV: Scarecrow

With Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" scheduled to be released on July 18 and Bruce Wayne facing a fate worse than death in Grant Morrison's "Batman" this summer is shaping up to be the Caped Crusader's biggest since the release of Tim Burton's "Batman" in 1989.

Even Batman's rogues are getting in on the action as July will see the release of DC's five-issue weekly series of one-shots entitled "The Joker's Asylum," which celebrates Gotham's greatest villains. As the title suggests, playing host in each of the one-shots is Batman's archenemy, The Joker.

In this, our fourth interview with the five writers of "The Joker's Asylum," CBR News spoke with horror film and comic writer Joe Harris ("BPRD: There's Something Under My Bed") about his leading rogue - Scarecrow.

Harris told CBR News, "I wrote Scarecrow's story as though it were a 1980s' horror movie with a touch of 'Heathers' and various John Hughes films from the era. I was raised on a steady diet of movies like 'Friday The 13th,' as well as other slashers, along with higher-concept movies like 'April Fool's Day' and the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" series. I treated Scarecrow like a slasher movie threat, with nods to Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger, a masked maniac with a pathology known to Batman readers and let loose upon a house of unsuspecting teenage girls having a slumber party. His psychiatrist alter-ego, Dr. Jonathan Crane, has been 'treating' a troubled young girl named Lindsay for her social problems and decides a 'Mean Girls' setting of queen bees and outcasts is the perfect forum for a lesson in the both the nature and the power of fear. Even the title, 'Dark Knight of The Scarecrow' is referential."

What makes Scarecrow a serious challenge to Batman?

I think, with Scarecrow, you've got a villain who threatens to tear away that thin veneer that hides the darkness inside of us. He's able to get past the super-ego, that small, little piece of us that actually makes us human and separates us from the animals. He enables our worst fears, not by necessarily distorting threats or anxieties, but by giving that which we repress, what we stuff down deep and like to pretend isn't there, the oxygen it needs to burn. He releases our fear, through both the use of his 'fear gas' chemicals and his own psychiatric training and malpractice. He doesn't make us afraid of anything. He just makes us face it on his terms.

And, really, since Batman is essentially the tormented, repressed and inwardly raged everyman on steroids, working so hard to channel and compartmentalize a nest of issues and complications, the idea of it all coming crashing down is a particularly terrible proposition.

What makes Scarecrow an interesting character to explore as a writer?

Scarecrow is both a fear merchant and a ruminator on the subject. He wants to frighten you. Then he loves to peel the onion and expand and extrapolate on the reasons why you're afraid. He's deeply disturbed, as both Batman and the other members of his rogues' gallery all seem to be, but Scarecrow intends to be scary. It's like we're all playing out his thesis in some twisted clinical trial.

What role does The Joker play in your storyline and what makes him a great central figure to this series of one-shots?

He's the 'Crypt Keeper' introducing the story and bookending Scarecrow's one-shot with some quippy narrative and disturbingly funny thoughts. Assuming I did my job correctly I mean. I envisioned his role in this story as akin to the way Cain used to introduce things in the old 'House of Mystery' books I'd dig through the dime bins on Flatbush Avenue for as a single-digits child. Because I intended to tell a horror story, portraying The Joker almost as Rod Serling taking me on a tour of the "Night Gallery" before this week's demented episode, felt especially right.

After nearly 70 years, what is it that makes Batman such a popular hero and ever-lasting icon?

He's dark and intense. Complicated. Driven. I disagree with the cliche argument that the lighter-dwelling Superman is less interesting or somehow less challenged because of his powers. Everyone's got to serve somebody and the drama and conflict in each archetype is fantastic. But what makes Batman so popular, to my mind, is his ability to be brutal and violent while also being meticulously careful and deductive. He can be obsessive and even sadist at times. But we can relate to it and get release through it because Batman, usually, does not fuck up. I can't imagine him kicking the shit out a falsely-accused person. If he puts the hurt on you, you had it coming. Batman is one serious, wrathful badass, but he always toes this clear moral line. The beasts he keeps tamped down inside of him would cause any of us to go screeching over it.

Who is your favorite Batman rogue and why?

Is it cliche to say The Joker? Clowns are scary under the best of circumstances. Ra's al Ghul was great in Mike Barr's "Son of the Demon" graphic novel and really affected me as a kid too, more of a Bond villain-type. He's Batman's Moriarty, his intellectual foe.

If Bruce Wayne meets 'a fate worse than death' in "R.I.P.," who deserves to be the next Batman and why?

Well, we've been there and seen that with terrible consequences after Bane broke Batman's back in "Knightfall" and Azrael stepped in. I thought that was a fantastic take on the bigger picture, the mantle of Batman and how it wears its owner as much as he assumes that character. Jean Paul went too far. Only Bruce Wayne could be Batman. Although watching Dick Grayson struggle with finally assuming the role would be a fascinating thing to craft and behold.

Are you planning to see Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" in July?

Hey, with apologies to the first two "Superman" movies which my inner child clings to as favorites, for my money, the only recent comic book movies I've, personally, really dug are Bryan Singer's "X-Men" films and Chris Nolan's "Batman Begins." I think that, with Nolan and Christian Bale, you've got the absolute pitch-perfect and defining collaborative characterization of Batman. From all accounts I've heard and read Heath Ledger has really brought the homicidal, terrifying Joker I always wanted to see, and which Jack absolutely didn't provide me with, to life. For me, this is the movie of the summer, although that inner child also clings to images of Adrienne Barbeau in that otherwise ridiculous "Swamp Thing" movie.

"The Joker's Asylum: Scarecrow" with art and cover by Juan Doe is scheduled for July 23.

Check back with CBR on Monday for David Hine's thoughts on Two-Face.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Batman forum.

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