In this feature I take a look at one episode that marks a high point in a television series. It’s not necessarily the absolute best a series has to offer (that’s always debatable), but it’s an episode that remains lodged in memory long after I first watched it.
Longtime Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy died on November 10, 2022. Conroy’s Batman is the best Batman, a hero who is tireless in his quest for justice, a man who has sympathy in his heart even for his greatest foes. I’d already planned on writing this article before Conroy’s death, but now this feels like a fitting tribute. A quick note – I always loved that Conroy portrayed Batman’s voice as his true self while his Bruce Wayne spoke with a put-on, airy lilt. It may seem a small thing, but it showed that Bruce Wayne was the man’s actual mask. That’s a big difference from the Batmen who put on gruff voices while in costume (see: Christian Bale). Okay, onto the meat of the article.
There are plenty of standout Batman: The Animated Series episodes, but I’ve always gravitated towards the episodes that shine a light on Bruce Wayne’s humanity and vulnerability. Right from the start “Nothing to Fear” puts Bruce on the defensive in the worst way. Dr. Moss, an older man who knew Bruce’s father, insults Bruce and says he’s shaming the family name. As if that’s not bad enough, Scarecrow drugs Batman with a fear toxin, and Bruce is immediately haunted by visions of his father echoing Dr. Moss’s words.
Scarecrow is an interesting villain for Batman because he uses people’s fears against them. Batman is an agent of darkness, and a big part of the reason he’s successful is he instills fear in criminals. That shared connection creates a nice symmetry within the episode. Scarecrow introduces himself in a grandiose way, proclaiming, “I am fear incarnate. I am the terror of Gotham. I am the Scarecrow.” More on that in a bit.
Bruce survives Scarecrow’s attack, but his mind is bubbling over with the fear toxin. He looks and feels terrible, and he confesses his visions to his butler/surrogate father Alfred. He tells Alfred his great fear of shaming the family name. And in his best moment of the series, Alfred says, “That’s rubbish. I know your father would be proud of you, because I’m so proud of you.” I love that.
Of course the Scarecrow continues his quest for revenge, and despite his mental state, Batman rushes to the rescue. The final fight takes place on a zeppelin, and while hanging precariously onto the nose of the airship, Thomas Wayne once again looms large and calls Bruce a disgrace. This is when Batman shows his mettle. He overcomes the fear toxin without an antidote, any tricks, and no superpowers. And then he speaks his best lines of the series: “No, you are not my father. I am not a disgrace. I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!” Chills. And there’s that symmetry I mentioned earlier. His words call back to Scarecrow’s, but Batman’s ring true. He becomes Scarecrow’s worst nightmare and takes him down using his own fear toxin.
“Nothing to Fear” shows the resourcefulness and grit of Batman even when he’s at his worst. Because nothing can be worse for Bruce than enduring the cruel words of a father he loves and misses so much. And no one could have conveyed Batman’s emotions the way Kevin Conroy did. Rest in peace.
Other Best Eps candidates: “Appointment in Crime Alley,” “Day of the Samurai,” “Tyger Tyger”