about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

The Twelve Days of Who's Who! Part Eight: "And the rest!" Plus honorable mentions! (1985-1989)

While this post rounds out the remnants of the Batman villains from 1985-1989 Who's Who, there were some odds and ends of characters who didn't *quite* qualify, but who nonetheless deserved honorable mentions. But first, let's start with the rest of the actual Batman villains, even if two profiles are reruns.

I've already written about this piece at length, but it's so awesome that I had to include it here a second time. Man, I so wish they'd reprint and remaster this image on not-crappy paper. But don't get Bolland recolor it, or at the very least offer the recoloring as an alternative version. Not that I love this coloring entirely, but I'd be worried about what kind of boring computer paint job Bolland use to cover up his own wonderful ink work.

Ditto. Man, I love Mignola, even when he draws Harvey looking like a squat fridge in a suit.

The profile of the Ventriloquist and Scarface comes hot off the heels of their first appearance, which was also the debut story by Alan Grant with his then-co-author John Wagner. It's a fitting debut, since Grant would use this guy (these guys) over and over again throughout his run, clearly having a great deal of affection for them.

For me, this profile has the appeal of early concept art, where the rough groundwork is there but doesn't quite resemble the character later on. Most notable is Scarface's spinning head, a visual motif that happened a lot in that first two-part story, but which was never done since to the best of my recollection. Also, you'll note that the Ventriloquist doesn't even have his Arnold Wesker name yet! At this point, he's still a mystery. Or to put it more bluntly, he was a one-note non-character. I'm glad that Grant eventually gave Arnold a name and some depth, mainly because it laid the foundation for other great Ventroloquist stories in Batman: The Animated Series and in several comics, often ones not by Grant himself.

Another touch I love: the fact that the gun goes "GUDDA GUDDA" instead of, presumably, "BUDDA BUDDA."

Probably the most explicit "Like Batman, But Evil" of them all. Despite his contrived origin and horrible costume, the Wrath's story is highly esteemed by fans. I like it all right, but it's never really stuck with me beyond the opening that mirrored Bruce and Wrathie's origins. He's fine for a done-in-one story, but there's really not much to be said about him other than what's said here.

And that concludes the Batman villains for this period of Who's Who. But wait, there are some others who have fallen through the cracks who don't quite qualify but who nonetheless deserve acknowledgement!


While most people know the Clock King from his wonderful, under-appreciated appearances in Batman: The Animated Series and an inspired role in Dawryn Cooke's Suicide Squad episode of Justice League Unlimited, the original comics' Clock King is a Green Arrow enemy. He's also one of the most mocked villains I've ever seen, regularly being dug out for "Worst Comic Villains Ever" lists. It was on one such list from Wizard Magazine: The Dark Book '98 (where he was listed alongside Crazy Quilt and Kite-Man, who made #1) that I actually read his origin.

Holy crap. Holy crap, that is an GREAT origin!

You know what that is? Unlike my dream Pre-Crisis Penguin origin, this one actually *is* pure Breaking Bad! He learns that he has cancer, so he turns to crime to provide for his dying sister, which already makes him a sympathetic enough villain in the first place. But then you have that twist, oh god, that twist that he was misdiagnosed by a quack doctor and sent to prison by an uncaring vigilante (I see that even old-school Ollie was a dick), so he gets to live while his sister died, and died alone. Geez, Ollie, aren't you still rich at this point? Even if Clock King wasn't innocent, his sister still was! Sheesh! So as a result, you now have a villain with an entirely legitimate motivation for wanting to kill the superhero, not to mention a grudge against the quack doctor in the first place!

But nobody remembered this. All anyone ever saw was the horrible, horrible costume. And thus, the Clock King became a joke villain whose biggest claim to fame was working alongside Cluemaster in the Injustice League, which became the Justice League Antarctica, which then became a short-lived new Suicide Squad that was quickly slaughtered in the first issue. Or so it seemed. That battle is the reason why Cluemaster is now covered with horrible burns, in case you're wondering.

I actually thought that Clock King died from his multiple gunshot wounds, but apparently he also survived. Yay! Unfortunately, I have little hope that anybody remembers this origin at all. Man, I'd love to see it make a comeback. At the same time, I also love Temple Fugate. Would there be a way to combine the two and have it both ways, mainly to have Temple's entire look and anal-retentive brilliance and Tockman's tragic origin? Or are they like the two Mad Hatters, too different to be reconciled? Mainly, I'll just be happy so long as we never again see that goddamned Alucard-wannbe floppy-haired Temple from Terror Titans.

Either way, I'll be over here imagining this playing overhead while Clock King sneers, "TIME to stay out of my territory."

Gentleman Ghost

Just like Black Spider, my first exposure to Gentleman Ghost was in a spread of villain mug shots in the great mini-series, The Untold Legend of the Batman. Little did I know that he was mainly a Hawkman villain, and I still think of him as that even though he's battled Batman a few times, and has even received new prominence thanks to Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

I have to say, Gentleman Ghost is one of the only villains where I think his origin is actually superfluous. Everything you need is right there in the design and name. That's a perfect instant villain, where you know exactly what he's about the moment you see him. That said, I do kind of like the ambiguity surrounding whether or not he actually is a ghost. I know that they couldn't have suspended that mystery indefinitely, but still, I think something is lost the moment you have an answer either way.

These two are more relevant to Batman's rogues than you might suspect on first glance.

Like Gentleman Ghost, these two have faced off against Batman but are mostly tied to another hero entirely. Next to Batman's villains, I think the Flash has the second greatest rogues gallery in comics. While they've floated around DC stories for decades now, it's only been in the past fifteen years that they've gained widespread recognition thanks to the early comics writing of Geoff Johns. Before Johns, they shared a similar lack of appreciation that has dogged characters like the Riddler and the Penguin, which is that modern comic writers didn't know how to make them into viable threats.

In The Dark Book '98, Flash writer Mark Waid talked about the time he killed off all the Flash Rogues in one fell swoop in the opening of Underworld Unleashed, and why he soon realized that was a mistake. "I honestly thought there was nothing more to do with them today. Only after I [killed them] did I realize that was foolish. [But] I'll never make them killers, because that caters to the audience's basic whims. The answer is to find a role for them that makes them strong without making them killers. I haven't yet figured out how to do that today."

While I love that Waid realized his mistake and understood why it was just as wrong to make them killers as it is to kill them off, his own words display a surprising lack of imagination. At best, it displayed the kind of binary thinking that we've seen in too many superhero comics where the villains are just antagonists, rather than characters with their own motivations. But then, Mark Waid is the same guy who seems to abhor any suggestions that characters like Dr. Doom and Lex Luthor have any noble, redeeming, sympathetic features, and goes out of their way to write them as pure monsters driven by petty reasons. His take on those villains isn't necessarily wrong, since those are valid interpretations. But it's definitely not how I approach villains, nor how I like to see them written.

While Waid pretty much avoided using the Rogues (who were quickly brought back to life) in his Flash run, his plucky young successor Geoff Johns instantly turned Captain Cold into the second most important character in the series, and went on the bring the rest of the Rogues to top-level status. He did it without making them killers, except in cases of self-defense or revenge. What Johns did was build upon the history that was already present, treating the Rogues as blue collar working-class criminals who had their own internal drama and conflicts, with goals beyond "robs banks" (which they still did, because hey, money) and "kill the Flash" (which they were generally smart enough to avoid trying to do). They had their own agendas, and since those agendas often clashed with the Flash's heroic, lawful ways of doing things, boom, you had conflict without resorting to grim-n-gritty.

It wasn't perfectly executed (Mirror Master does coke, how shocking, and Heat Wave is turned into a Firefly-style fire fetishist), but it's a great example of showing how you CAN make villains work without turning them into monsters or taking them too far from their silly-seeming roots. The trick was treating them not as villains, but as characters. Writers of many Batman villains would do well to take note.

If his inclusion in Batman: Arkham City is any indication, then Grundy's appearance in Batman: The Long Halloween (which I suspect was inspired by this issue) has popularized the idea of Grundy as a Batman foe even though he's far more tied to Alan Scott and the JSA. Loeb has also popularized the idea of Grundy as a mindless brute who repeats the same lines over and over, while B:AC only slightly improved the character by making him a Frankenstein's Incredible Hulk Zombie. I've always enjoyed the stories that treat Grundy with the murderous sociopathic understanding of an angry child, which was used for chilling effect in his very first appearance. While Grundy could all too easily be played as a joke ala Bizarro, that cruelty has served to make him a legitimately scary foe on several occasions. Much more interesting than "SOLOMON GRUNDY BORN ON A MONDAY" over and over again.

Black Lightning's Kingpin-rip-off nemesis was recently given a major role in the abysmal Gotham Underground maxi-series, where he was a rival to the Penguin. Having not read Black Lightning, but I doubt the character has had better treatment than getting combined with the killer of the Huntress' parents, mob boss Steven Mandragora, that one episode of Justice League Unlimited, where Whale/Mandragora was voiced by Glenn Shadix. Far as I'm concerned, when you're a Kingpin rip-off, being voiced by Otho is the high point of your career.

Considering how very anti-social Batman's villains are, I find it fascinating to think that there was a time when loners like Poison Ivy (Harley doesn't count, especially not then) and Scarecrow (Superfriends REALLY doesn't count) would actually deign to collaborate. I'm not sure what either of them really hoped to accomplish against the frickin' Justice League, aside from maybe hopefully killing Batman in the process. Either way, they were dupes of Libra, a character either redeemed or ruined due to Final Crisis, depending on how you view that story.

Thus ended one of the first instances of Batman villains working in a team with others. Not surprising that it resulted in failure. Really, the only way you could force them into a team is to force them to work together, with the offer of some kind of incentive.

Which, of course, is how we got the Suicide Squad, a heroic team of villains whose rosters have included a handful of Batman's rogues, including Penguin, Ivy, and of course, Deadshot. As such, while I'm now completely goddamn exhausted beyond any ability for commentary and/or snark, I'd like to include all three Suicide Squad profiles from Who's Who, both in honor of that fantastic series by John Ostrander (which is now sadly more known for Juggalo Harley Quinn than anything else) and as a reminder that even villains CAN be versatile when applied to different situations outside of the typical hero/villain dynamic of superhero comics. If only more writers could be so creative with villains.

Tags: brian bolland, deadshot, mike mignola, norm breyfogle, penguin, poison ivy, scarecrow, who's who and secret files

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