He is known to comic book fans as many things, psychologist turned psychopath, the master of fear, and one of Arkham’s finest. Debuting in 1941 World’s Finest Comics #3, “Riddle of the Human Scarecrow,” the Scarecrow is one of Batman’s oldest and deadliest enemies. Much like Batman himself, the Scarecrow utilizes fear as his weapon. However, unlike the Dark Knight, who strikes terror in the hearts of evil men, the Scarecrow uses it for personal gain and satisfaction. But before he became one of Gotham’s most fearsome foes, Jonathan Crane was just a troubled little boy. And like many of Batman’s rogues gallery, troubled little boys grow up to become dangerous men. Here is the origin of the Scarecrow.
World’s Finest Comics #3
Batman: Scarecrow Year One
Jonathan Crane was born out of wedlock to a reluctant mother, Karen Keeny and a non-existent father, Gerald Crane. Both parents having no interest in the boy, was left to be raised by his religious great-grandmother Keeny in a rickety old mansion in Arlen, Georgia.
Keeny was a strict old woman, making Jonathan labor in the fields, forbidding him to partake in things such as Halloween or leisurely reading.
Punishment for disobeying his great-grandmother was a trip to the chapel. A dark, rundown aviary not far from the mansion, originally built by Jonathan’s family as a place of worship. Now the structure stands to teach Jonathan (and his mother before him) a lesson on facing childhood fears. Forced to dress in his Sunday best, Jonathan would be locked inside and attacked by hungry crows. See great-grandmother Keeny had whipped up a special formula of wild fowl pheromones, home-grown herbs and rat juices to sprinkle on the boys suit to attract the angry scavengers.
Life outside of home wasn’t any better for Jonathan. At school kids picked on him, calling him names like “Handrail” and of course, “Scarecrow.” It wasn’t long before Jonathan discovered a secret library in the mansion where he took solace. After researching chemistry and other sciences, Crane developed an intensified dosage of his great-grandmothers pheromone formula. Jonathan would get his “poetic justice” on her and a bully at school, killing Keeny and nearly blinding the kid. Still things didn’t get better with age for Jonathan Crane.
Batman: Year One 1995 Annual
As Jonathan got older his body got lankier. His long extremities and love of literature did not make him popular in high school. His “Scarecrow” moniker stuck with him along with a new name, “Ichabod” a reference to the character from Sleepy Hollow who he shared resemblance.
Jonathan finally decided to read about the character he was reluctantly nicknamed. He discovered that their similarities did not stop with looks. He became inspired by Ichabod Crane and even took to dancing like the main character. His violent dancing as he called it, would extend into studying martial arts.
His senior year of high school, Jonathan built up enough courage to ask out the recently single Sherry Squires, former girlfriend of number one bully, Bo Griggs. Invited to a Halloween party, Sherry led Crane into a dark basement where Bo jumped out and scared him. He then tossed a pumpkin at Jonathan similarly to what happened to his new found hero, Ichabod.
He vowed to get his revenge. The night of the senior prom, Jonathan planned it just right. Using cherry bombs and a costume, Jonathan Crane finally succumbed to the name that had haunted him since he was a small child, he was now ready to strike terror and fear in his victims as the Scarecrow!
The accident paralyzed Bo and killed Sherry. Crane couldn’t be happier with himself. With two murders (great-grandmother Keeny and Sherry Squires) under his belt before adulthood, Jonathan was ready to take on college.
Attending Gotham University, Jonathan wasted no time throwing himself into his studies. Concentrating on psychology and chemistry, he quickly became the favorite of Professor Bramowitz. Crane used this to his advantage creating his now infamous fear toxin and soon disposed of his friend and mentor.
Batman: Lovers & Madmen
With the professor out of the way, this left an opening for the job. Jonathan would use the job to further his obsession, his lessons focusing primarily on fear.
Becoming a expert on the mind, Crane was even approached by a young Batman for advice on a sociopath who eventually becomes the Joker. His knowledge on psychology got him an internship at a mental institution where he treated and mentored a young Thomas Elliot aka Hush.
Doctor Crane’s teaching methods at the university were unorthodox to say the least. After firing a gun in the class and injuring a student in the process, Crane was let go from the university. Later, as an employee at his future residence, Arkham Asylum, Jonathan performed experiments on his patience to further his ‘research” and perfect his fear toxin.
Now full time criminal, Scarecrow initially sought revenge against all who contributed to his years of suffering, starting with the men responsible for his release from the university.
With the revamped New 52, writers saw an opportunity to put a new spin on the Scarecrow’s origin. After his mother’s death, Jonathan was raised by his father who was a scientist developing a fear toxin for the government. Dr. Crane would lock young Jonathan in the basement with spooky items to monitor his vitals and harvest his sweat for his research. One day, while Jonathan was locked in the basement, Dr. Crane passed away at his desk. The body was discovered days later and Jonathan was rescued from the hellish basement.
Batman: Dark Knight – Cycle of Violence
Much of the New 52 story is similar to the Scarecrow’s previous origin. He grows up a loner eventually becoming a professor at the university and his “habituation” teaching method gets him fired. He starts his own private practice but ends up snapping and killing a patient.
The Scarecrow’s descent into madness is like that of a great horror film where the quiet guy one day snaps and no one is safe. His knowledge of the mind and fascination with phobias makes him one of the few villains to get inside of the Dark Knight’s head. Unlike the thrill of simply causing chaos (Joker) or the typical motivation of revenge (Mr. Freeze), Jonathan Crane believes he is forwarding his work and bettering his research. This fuels his need to continue his rein of terror. His keen intellect makes him one of the first names other criminals enlist for help, allying himself with Hush, the Secret Society, the Riddler and the Joker. His intense need to incite fear and his delight in its often gruesome after effects makes him the perfect fit for Gotham’s nuthouse, Arkham Asylum. But his stays are usually cut short as it is only a matter of time before he cooks up a new scheme to escape and drive Batman into a fearful frenzy once more.
Suggested Reading for Fans of the Scarecrow:
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special #1 (1993) – Scarecrow has fun with Batman in a thorn maze.
Batman: Scarecrow Year One (1995) – Origin story of Jonathan’s Crane high school day used for this post.
Batman #524 (1995) – One shot story with Scarecrow in a funhouse.
Batman: Scarecrow Tales (2005) – 8 chilling tales including Scarecrow’s first appearance.
Batman: Year One – Scarecrow (2005) – Origin story involving Jonathan Crane’s childhood used for this post.
Detective Comics #835 & 836: Absolute Terror (2007) - Scarecrow replaces his fear toxin with simple psychology.
Batman: The Dark Knight – Cycle of Violence (2013) – New 52 origin story for Scarecrow.