Written by Joe Harris
Art and cover by Juan Doe
Size: 32 Pages
This review contains spoilers, click here to read
This story opens up as previous installments did. With the Joker introducing the story with snappy dialogue. Joe Harris however chooses not have this story be a flashback but places the Joker at the site of the opening scene itself. The house where some teenage girls are preparing for a slumber party.
Heather and her three lackeys are discussing the un-coolness of a girl who is about to show up and their plan to humiliate her. Harris delicately introduces the theme of fear as a tool here with Heather saying "Jack thinks what I tell him to think". Lindsay, the persecutors' victim arrives and is obviously apprehensive at the prospect of attending a party hosted by bullies. In fact she discusses this in the next scene. A flashback of a session with her therapist in which we learn the reason of her reluctant presence at the party - the analyst urges her to attend the soiree in order to "show these... bullies you're not afraid. Let yourself see that they're just as scared as you are".
We then smoothly transition back to the present. The jocks have arrived and the children begin to play a game. Every boy is to randomly pick a girl's name from a bowl. The pair must then go upstairs for seven minutes. What happens next is up to them. As the first couple break off to the second floor Lindsay finds that the game is rigged. All the names in the bowl are hers. Upstairs the awkward duo meet a grisly fate at the hands of the Scarecrow. Unaware, the other participants of the malignant soiree continue the charade. Jack picks Lindsay's name and she hesitantly follows him upstairs while another girl escapes to the washroom to purge the ice cream she just ate. Scarecrow preys on her anorexic insecurities. Upstairs Lindsay naively trusts Jack's claim to pure intentions. Not too soon though, the gullible young woman discovers the objective of the rigged game. There is a concealed camera installed in the room. The malicious voyeurs below suffer a twisted karma at the hands of the Scarecrow. At least I think they do. Things are bit jagged here. Just two panels after having scared the wits out of the sadistic oppressors downstairs the Scarecrow appears under the bed in the same room as the pair of teens upstairs. It's a confusing and jarring transition and not the only one. I believe the writer assumes our suspension of disbelief which is fair but a little more clarity would have been judicious. At this point it's Jack's turn to suffer from his own phobia as Lindsay watches and listens to the Patron of Panic espouse the benefits of revenge. This triggers a new flashback wherein Lindsay realizes that this manic straw man and her therapist are one and the same. It would seem that the Scarecrow developed not so much a fondness for Lindsay but rather an obsession with her oppressors.
The next scene finds Commissioner Gordon and Batman discussing a 911 call from a young man (Jack) in the pangs of distress. This leads the Dark Knight to the slumber party but not before Lindsay sees Heather crumble with dread under the influence of the Scarecrow's fear toxin. The Dean of Dread offers an enlightening psycho-analysis about fear as a the root of behavior and how it reveals who we truly are. But the morbid therapy session is cut short by the Batman crashing in. The Father of Fright manages to paralyze the crime-fighter and expounds on the virtue of vengeance while menacingly wielding a knife. "Sometimes you get just one chance, child, to strike back" says the Scarecrow. Which Lindsay does. She strikes the Scarecrow with the camera she held since finding it. At this juncture the Joker enters to explain the moral of the story only to be interrupted by an interesting twist that concludes the tale. I won't spoil it for you but suffice to say that it's one of the more thought-provoking twists I've read in some time.
The visuals throughout this book punctuate the clever script splendidly. If I'm not mistaken it is vector art and is surprisingly flexible and expressive. Some of the facial construction and anatomy is sometimes reminiscent of Bruce Timm but it could just be that I associate this minimalist aesthetic with animation. The textures and deliberate compositions are pleasing and work well with the subdued panel layouts. What delights me most about Juan Doe's work is his prominent design sense. Every panel and page demonstrates his ample skill by properly directing the eye and maximizing the impact of the proper visual elements without sacrificing any kinetic feel.
This is some sharp entertainment. With a few purposeful exceptions, every character's actions are dictated by an individually tailored fear and it's an interesting interpretation of the root of our neuroses. Including the Scarecrow's. In this very concisely constructed story we are shown a villain who is not necessarily evil but rather fascinated with fear in almost the same way a researcher admires the brute strength of a savage beast. What makes The Scarecrow dangerous is that he has given way to his macabre fixation to the point of it becoming a sadistic mania. It's not an entirely original Scarecrow story but an unexpected setting and clever storytelling make this a fresh, distinctive and fully satisfying tale.