Sunday, December 21, 2014

From The Stage To The Sack


Name This Marvel Villain??

For those of you who are unfamiliar with our mystery villain, you probably took one look at him and thought, "Well, this guy looks just like a scarecrow, so...". But then you no doubt followed that up with, "No. This is where I insist that Marvel draw the line. They're not going to have one of their super-powered heroes BATTLE A SCARECROW. The villain well couldn't have run that dry already."

It gets better. What if I were to tell you that this villain would be sent up against Iron Man?

Good lord--I see you've actually fainted. Get up! A scarecrow vs. Iron Man is perfectly feasible. On second thought, move over, because I'm a little tempted to join you.

Yes, meet Ebenezer Laughton, the Scarecrow--a contortionist who was performing in the vaudeville circuit when a robber, fleeing Iron Man, burst into the theater. Laughton thought fast, and moved faster:

And, thanks to some ill-chosen words by Iron Man, Marvel now has a brand-new "super"-villain:

(Bear in mind that this is a 1964 story--so Laughton's decision was probably made easier by the fact that vaudeville acts had gone the way of the dinosaur over thirty years ago, though writer Stan Lee clearly thinks otherwise.)

With only thirteen pages available to it, this story has to move fast in getting Laughton up and running as the Scarecrow, so only a few panels are needed to provide his inspiration:

When you think about it, a criminal choosing a scarecrow as his identity isn't really so far-fetched. Scarecrows come to life have frequently been present in literature, with the fear factor being their main draw. A regular comics villain taking on the form is perhaps an unusual twist on the concept--even more so, since Laughton has no background in the occult and has no powers to mimic the supernatural aspect of such a character. Lee, instead, has him excel in the unexpected, something even Iron Man finds daunting:

In this first encounter, the Scarecrow evades Iron Man's pursuit and accomplishes his theft of Stark's residence, including the looting of some secret plans which he plans to sell at a rendezvous with a Cuban gunboat. Eventually, though, Iron Man catches up with him--and in close quarters, the Scarecrow finds himself at a disadvantage:

Though it's the Scarecrow who has the last laugh (which seems perfectly appropriate):

"Luck," eh? What Iron Man perhaps meant to say was, "Blast this armor's limitations! Why can't I build a suit that doesn't conk out after a few minutes of operation?? Why do I need additional plating over my knuckles? And what was I thinking with that vent on my back?"

Believe it or not, the Scarecrow gets a lot of mileage in Marvel comics. I don't think he battled Iron Man again, at least in a solo capacity; but in the retcon Iron Man: Enter The Mandarin series, his origin is revised to reveal that it was the Mandarin who induced him to turn to crime and who supplied him with the Scarecrow outfit. But even in the mainstream books, the effort is made to make the character more interesting than he otherwise might be when going up against other Marvel characters. I wasn't too fond of his appearances where he was lumped in with other villains who didn't quite set the comics world on fire:

But later, artist Mike Zeck takes the opportunity to play on the fear aspect that makes living, breathing scarecrows a terrifying prospect, by drawing our attention to the mask and eyes:

In this Captain America story, writer J.M. DeMatteis portrays Laughton as unhinged, and certainly ruthless:

And Laughton manages to evade Cap in similar fashion to his dealings with Iron Man, until Cap finds the opportunity to take him down:

Lies, perhaps--but Laughton's ravings weren't too far off the mark. In a Ghost Rider annual (a title where the Scarecrow would surely feel right at home), we learned that he had suffered abuse at the hands of his mother, who would offer him gifts afterward to ease her guilt--with the result that Laughton would later behave in such a way to encourage beatings (and thus the subsequent gifts). The memories of his mother's actions being too painful to bear, Laughton would later associate the abusive behavior with his father, instead.

As is evident, Marvel seems more comfortable with the character having been shifted from criminal motivation to a more terrorizing modus operandi.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Dematteis turned him into a lunatic.
That's his answer to everything.