The Batman Adventures #5
Plot: Martin Pasko
Script: Kelley Puckett
Penciler: Brad Rader
Inker: Rick Burchett
Colorist: Rick Taylor
Letterer: Tim Harkins
Cover: Mike Parobeck
By Erin Bentley
30 July 2009 — Sometimes it's good to see familiar names, other times it's not. This issue sees the return of writer Kelley Puckett — who wrote the first three issues of The Batman Adventures — but this time he has to follow Martin Pasko's plot. Let's see if he can faithfully do so without committing character assassination.
The story opens with the Scarecrow's goons breaking into an electronics store in order to stock it with doctored equipment that will make everyone illiterate — as seen in the previous issue. As the leader, Mario, turns on the lights, Batman and Robin ambush them. One of the gang members tries to use a TV to knock Batman out, but he's repaid by Batman punching him in the face through the TV. As Robin takes a radio apart to see what makes it tick, Mario runs away with Batman hot on his heels.
This opening scene, to date, is the most violent intro in The Batman Adventures. There is no doubt in my mind that the gang member Batman punched in the face through the TV is in for a long hospital stay. He might even be dead. It also shows that Robin has some technical know-how, since he discovers the device that's causing people to become illiterate.
Elsewhere, Professor Crane is having a nightmare, but a very devilish looking man in a suit assures him that it's not a dream — he's in Arkham Asylum. The devil's assistant offers Crane the opportunity to teach again through Arkham's experimental work release program. Crane is about to agree, but the Scarecrow head on his lap interrupts by stating that The Scarecrow has no interest in learning — only fear. Crane shuts him up and agrees.
The scene shifts over to a Gotham University classroom, where Dick Grayson is in attendance. Crane begins the class, while the Scarecrow head is chanting "Scarecrow, Scarecrow." Crane returns to Arkham with an armful of papers to grade. As he looks over them, he notices that his students cannot spell. The Scarecrow head goes on a tirade about how it's a product of a system gone wrong, and that Crane should teach them a lesson in fear. Crane picks up the head and puts it on. Scarecrow is woken up by one of his goons who reports that more TVs are ready for shipment. Scarecrow orders them to be shipped so that all will be taught a lesson.
Across Gotham, Mayor Hill is pacing in his office while talking to Commissioner Gordon. Hill goes to turn on the TV when Robin suddenly burst through the window. He kicks the TV, destroying it. The Mayor is about to give Robin a lecture when Gordon sees that Robin is holding the device that Scarecrow's men have been implanting around town. Robin then brings Gordon and Hill up to speed.
Mario takes a cab to his mother's, where he sees an ambulance. Rushing upstairs, he finds his mother collapsed on the floor with paramedics trying to revive her. One of them asks Mario if he can read the label on the medication bottle. Mario cannot, he does not even know what medications his mother was taking. The paramedics comment about how people all over Gotham are taking the wrong medications because they cannot read the labels. Mario panics when he learns that the paramedics cannot do anything until they learn what his mother took, because they cannot read either. Mario flies into a rage, but Batman appears and reads the label. He begins helping the paramedics treat Mario's mother, then demands to know where Scarecrow is, but Mario refuses. With a few choice words, Batman persuades him to talk.
Easter egg time! One of the streets Mario travels down is called Carruthers. This is a reference to comic book artist Sandy Carruthers, co-creator of the Men in Black comic book.
On a barge, Scarecrow watches Mayor Hill's press conference as the mayor announces that it's Scarecrow who is behind the scheme. Scarecrow punches his TV and senses a familiar hand in the discovery of his plan, so he has his goons prepare for visitors. Later that night, the guards on the barge have all been knocked out. Batman and Robin enter the main hold when the lights are suddenly turned on, and they find themselves surrounded by a gang. Batman pulls out a Batline and twirls it around, knocking out the men, and Robin goes after Scarecrow.
Robin finds Scarecrow in a cabin, where he fires a gun at The Boy Wonder. A stray bullet hits the leg of a table where TVs are piled, causing it to collapse. Scarecrow is about to be crushed when Robin saves him, but Robin gets pinned himself. As Scarecrow flees, Robin tries to get through to Crane by telling him that only he has the power to reverse the ignorance he has spread . Crane's personality comes through and he gives Robin the antidote before trying to leave. But he runs into Batman and is sent back to Arkham.
If I have a gripe with this issue, it's that they used the clichéd trick of the hero convincing the bad guy to do the right thing. The gag is old and predictable. But otherwise this was a good conclusion to a two-part story.
Surprisingly, Puckett not only followed the plot that was laid out for him, but added something to the character of Jonathan Crane. This comic shows that Crane has not only been affected by his own fear toxin (as we saw in "Nothing to Fear"), but he has an underlying personality disorder; by the end of the issue, the Scarecrow personality has completely taken over.
The artwork and color palette are wonderful as well. Scarecrow's design is very creepy and shows that Crane is quite tormented. (Throughout the comic Crane battles himself, trying to figure out if he is Jonathan Crane or The Scarecrow.) The shadowing on Batman and Robin is very menacing, making them look like figures of the night.
One thing I found enjoyable was the overall lack of dialog. There's just enough to explain what's going on, but otherwise it's mostly action sequences. This is how a Batman comic should be in my mind: little to no talking, and lots of stealthy action. After all, Batman is a ninja, and should not be of the talkative sort. What's more, Robin has a sizable role in bringing down Scarecrow. Usually Robin is merely the sidekick, but here he is portrayed as Batman's partner and can hold his own in a fight. This helps define Robin to a whole generation of first-time comic book readers.
Overall Score (issue): 7
Average Score (storyline): 7