DI: Okay, it’s Halloween, or it was, at this point. What did you go as?
B: Rainbow Batman.
DI: Little on the nose, don’t you think?
B: Only if I was being serious.
DI: Fair enough. But given the season, I wanted to know, given a life of doing dangerous, reckless and occasionally heroic things involving lunatics, what was your scariest moment?
B: Hmm. There’s been a lot of them, like you say. Crazy and horrifying well describe my world for the last thirty years.
And for the same reason that people say that most shrinks got into the field to understand themselves or the crazy people in their lives, I think crazy people, really truly violent psychotics I mean, have an obsession with abnormal psychology, too.
Examples litter my career, like the Joker trying to prove to Commissioner Gordon that the world wasn’t sane by driving him clinically insane. And I’ve been trapped, by various means, in dream worlds where everything was how I thought I wanted it, only to have it fall apart.
But the one that got the deepest under my skin I think was largely accidental. Jonathan Crane, who you may know better under the alias of the Scarecrow, was a psychologist. He specialized in phobias, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t trained in all aspects of the clinical practice.
And he became obsessively convinced that Batman and by extension the man beneath the cowl had to be crazy. I don’t know entirely if I’d argue the point- particularly not at the time.
But he put together an old failing of mine. A girl was kidnapped, and the ransom paid, but as often happens with kidnappings, they had no intention of letting the girl go. I tracked her into the sewers, where she was trapped. The water in the tunnel was rising. There was a boulder preventing me from freeing her, at least 300 pounds of dead weight. And I couldn’t move it; I couldn’t even budge it. I had to watch as this girl, five years old, drown.
I didn’t take that… failure, lightly. I embarked on a pretty brutal training regimen- but I still couldn’t build enough bulk. Faced with the possibility- really probability- that something like that would happen again, I started taking a performance enhancing drug called Venom-
DI: The same stuff that makes Bane into the meat mountain he is [ed. note: “meat mountain” does indeed sound like a porno- it isn’t just you].
B: Right, only this was years before Bane showed up. Anyway, like steroids, there were consequences to taking the drug, including rages. I’ve got anger issues on my best day, but I became truly frightening- and eventually I realized I was terrified of what I might do- that there was very real potential that on Venom I would be capable of doing far worse than what I might fail to do without the drug- and quit. Crane pieced together that situation, or at least enough of it, and used it.
He set a trap for me, captured me. I woke up in the old meatpacking plant, in one of the freezers. He told me he’d captured both me and Robin; this was also after the death of my second Robin- after I nearly beat the Joker to death for it. So I was keenly aware of their potential mortality.
I was drugged, hypnotized; later analysis showed the cocktail he used included hallucinogens, Venom, and a mix of drugs designed to make a patient more pliant. Crane told me there was a woman on the floor with me, and that if I didn’t kill her, he had henchmen in a second room watching via teleconference who would shoot Robin.
For hours he beat me, and taunted me, and threatened; every five minutes he’d start a timer and tell me at the end that if I hadn’t killed her that he’d give the order for them to shoot Robin, and just as the timer was about to go off he’d wind it back. The drugs probably kept me from recognizing his bluff, and every single time I thought it was going to happen- several times I watched it all unfold in slow motion, the gun firing, and I’d flash back to my parents and I was that same scared kid, and I’d watch the bullet fly through the air and tear through Robin’s face and skull- only to realize I was hallucinating. I wanted more than anything to murder the girl, then Crane, and then his stooges if they’d hurt Robin- and maybe even if they hadn’t- and anyone else I needed to protect people I cared about. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t. Eventually I passed out.
When I woke up I managed to head butt Crane as he was trying to put me back into a hypnotic state. I crawled over the floor to where the woman was. The hallucinogens had worn off enough that I could see her for what she really was: a bloodhound in an evening gown and a wig.
A gunshot rang out, and I ran out of the freezer and fumbled my way through the Scarecrow’s henchmen- they were rent-a-thugs, or I might have been in serious trouble. They’d been in a freezer next to me the entire time, and it’s door was open. “Robin” was a Raggedy Andy in a bad Halloween costume; the colors weren’t even right.
I stalked back into the other freezer, sobering with every step, and I realized I’d overcome what had terrified me before: the idea that I was so crippled by a fear of failure that there was no limit on what I might be capable of. I picked Crane up off the floor by his collar. “You’re going to hit me, aren’t you?” he asked sullenly.
But I hugged him. It was such a relief, of such a great burden. I couldn’t even express how wonderful it was not to have it hanging over my head anymore. Then I punched him for a while. Some of that might have been the drugs.
DI: Just so we’re clear, here, you were celebrating your ability to ignore the violent murder of a teenager. That might be the scariest thing about that story.
B: You know you have an uncanny ability to cut through whatever emotions have built up by being a dick. I think you’re beginning to grow on me.
DI: I want you to know, if you’re making an erection joke I’ll have to bleep it out.