“I can’t say that it really came close,” Burnett recalled when I spoke to him at New York Comic Con in 2019. “We sort of foisted the idea…let’s at least do a pilot script and see how it feels. [The network] appreciated it and they let us do a version of that story in Galactic Guardians…but it was just too dark for them.”
And dark it was, at least by the Saturday morning cartoon standards of the day. Right out of the gate, “The Fear” is a more moody affair than traditional Super Friends episodes, with much of the action taking place on a rainy Gotham City night, and a Batman whose rain-streaked face gives way to tears as he remembers his past. And while other heroes do appear, it’s firmly a Batman and Robin story as they take on the Scarecrow and his “straw men” henchmen in Gotham City. But perhaps most importantly, “The Fear” features the first onscreen depiction of Batman’s origin, including the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne.
Of course, this being the 1980s, where Broadcast Standards and Practices divisions ruled over Saturday morning cartoons with an iron fist, there was only so much they could show. For one thing, Scarecrow doesn’t use his trademark “fear gas” to induce traumatic hallucinations, and instead uses “fear transmitters” shaped like skulls that emit a hypnotic signal. It’s through those “fear transmitters” that we learn that Batman is terrified of a specific alley in Gotham City, and it’s here we see, in flashback, the Wayne murders…albeit in a fashion appropriate for children’s programming of the era.
The Origin of Batman
It’s the familiar story: Thomas, Martha, and Bruce Wayne are leaving a showing of a Robin Hood film (not The Mark of Zorro or some variation as has become canon in the decades since) when they take an ill-advised shortcut down a dark alley, despite young Bruce’s protests. There they encounter a mugger and…well…you know the rest.
But since this is a piece of children’s programming from the 1980s, the gun is never shown, nor is the word “gun” even spoken. Instead, a terrified Bruce cries “Look out! He’s got a…” before the sky is split by thunder and lightning. The next shot is of Bruce and Alfred standing at his parents’ graves. We’re even treated to a montage of Bruce’s training that looks very much like the “Who He Is and How He Came to Be” story that appeared in 1939’s Detective Comics #33 (reprinted the following year in Batman #1), the first time Batman’s origin was ever told in the comics.