“Never Fear” (season 3, episode 6; originally aired 11/1/1997)
The New Batman Adventures has its first great episode with “Never Fear,” a story that turns the Scarecrow into this show’s most terrifying villain, and not just because of his dramatic costume redesign. Dr. Jonathan Crane is back to exploit the fears of Gotham’s citizens, but rather than amplify those horrors, his new goal is to eliminate fear and send the city plunging into chaos. With the help of a motivational speaker and his Never Fear seminar, Scarecrow exposes locals to a gas that removes their worries and frees them to do whatever their hearts desire. For one man, that means swinging between Gotham buildings like Batman. For Wayne Industries employee Seymour Grey, that means standing up to his boss and kissing Bruce’s assistant on the way out.
Of Batman’s rogues, Scarecrow receives the most significant change in appearance with the revamp, transforming from a lanky man in rags with a potato sack over his head to a hanged-man preacher with a skull for a face. There’s nothing goofy about this incarnation of the villain. He’s now a walking nightmare, and his plot to destroy Gotham by removing the city’s fear is ingenious. Gotham has fear built into its very foundation, and taking that away would lead to immediate devastation. Even worse, Gotham’s protector, who uses fear as his most powerful weapon, would be unable to put a stop to it.
The thing that really elevates this episode is what it reveals about Batman when he’s exposed to the gas, removing his fear of killing and putting him in direct opposition with Robin. The result is the best use of Tim Drake on this show thus far, revealing him to be a capable fighter but not quite strong enough to make up for the fact that he’s 10-years-old. Pop culture loves dangerous children, and Robin is at his best when he’s a formidable but still flawed. After all, Robin has to mess up sometimes to make Batman look even better. And Batman has probably never looked better than in this episode, which shows off the fighting skills that earned him a spot fighting alongside heroes such as Superman and Wonder Woman in the Justice League.
You know it’s going to be an awesome episode when Bruce whips out the sunglasses and moustache to do some undercover detective work as Matches Malone, but when Scarecrow knocks out the supposed thief and throws him in the crocodile swamp of the Gotham Zoo, that’s when we really see what Bruce Wayne is made of. After taking out the reptiles with his bare hands, Bruce rises out of the water and does his first of many slow walks toward the camera, showing the stony determination that comes with a lack of fear. Tim notices the change in Bruce’s demeanor and expresses his concerns, but Bruce assures him that he can handle himself. Spoiler: He can’t.
After scaring the crap out of Scarecrow’s goons, Batman finds out his enemy’s location by using a familiar tactic: tying a cord around a henchman’s legs and throwing him out a window. When the man proves to be tighter-lipped than expected, Batman becomes more ruthless than normal, cutting away at the line until the thug eventually talks. With his foe barely hanging by a thread, Batman turns away and allows him to fall, but luckily Robin is there to catch the man before he becomes another death on Batman’s conscience. That’s when Robin decides that it’s time to take a stand against his new dad, tying Batman up and taking away his utility belt because he’s gone over the edge.
The first episode of TNBA animated by the great TMS, “Never Fear” features visuals that are beautifully detailed and incredibly smooth. There are two very simple things to look at to tell if TMS animated a cartoon: crowds and puffs of smoke. The former shows the studio’s attention to detail, as individuals with unique body types, faces, and wardrobes populate each group of people. The second displays the fluidity of TMS’ line work, as every puff of smoke swirls and shifts depending on how the air is moving.
Kenji Hachizaki (an animator who has worked on Lupin III, Howl’s Moving Castle,and Little Nemo In Slumberland) directs his only episode of this show, and the combination of his dynamic storyboards with the intricate animation gives this episode a Fleischer-meets-anime feel. The Batwing aerial scenes are like something out of Battle Of The Planets, while the train action sequence that ends the episode is ripped straight out of a Fleischer Superman short. And then there’s the fantastic fight choreography. Batman has never looked swifter in battle, and the streamlined revamp style allows for even sharper movement on screen. The big appeal of this episode is seeing what happens when Batman is allowed to completely cut loose, and the direction and animation wonderfully serve the story, showing Batman at his fighting finest, even if it’s a dark moment in his superhero career.
BatmanBruce Beat-down: Batman wipes the walls with his enemies this week, but Bruce Wayne has one of his most badass moments on this series when he takes down two crocodiles with his bare hands. PETA’s not going to be happy about that one.
- How fun is it to watch Batman and Robin mimic Spider-Man’s webs with their grappling hooks and prevent a neon sign from crashing pedestrians at the start of the episode?
- “Scared you, didn’t I?”
- Robin: “Batman!” Batman: “Quiet.” I love when Batman turns into the angry parent.
- “You’re not trying to scare me, are you?”
- Robin after karate chopping his handcuffs off: “Owwww.” Formidable yet flawed.