Still, I’m committed to it now; and anyway, I find these theme weeks invaluable in kick starting my blogging creativity. And I’ve certainly felt in the blogging doldrums for the past couple of months. Forcing myself to sit down and come up with six or seven takes on the same subject is a good way of stimulating my creative juices. And as you know, there is nothing I enjoy more than stimulating my juices.
A couple of months ago I mentioned in a guest post over at A Family Runs Through It that I was more qualified to teach my children about my favorite Batman villains than algebra or geography. Jeff rather foolishly commented that he’d like to see that list of villains. So this post is your fault Jeff. I hope you’re very proud of yourself.
And that’s no bad thing. Batman has a heritage of kookyness just as much as grimness, and the Riddler represents this era to me. The greatest screen Ridder was of course Frank Gorshin in the 60′s TV show. In fact, according to the mighty Wikipedia, the character was relatively obscure before he took up the mantle, having only three appearances in two decades in the comics. So perhaps its Gorshin’s hyperactive portrayal which actually cemented the Riddler in the cultural conciseness, and him who we have to thank for his longevity.
Apparently David Tennant has expressed interest in playing the Riddler in the next Batman movie, which would be fantastic. Johnny Depp has also been linked to the role. While Depp is a good enough actor to pull it off, I think his name would over-shadow the character somewhat. And anyway, Tennant is British so it stands to reason that he’d be better in the role.
4) The Penguin is another example of a Batman villain with a history of campness. Sporting trick umbrellas and commanding flocks of trained birds, the 60′s Penguin was a comedy character with very little believability. Unlike the Riddler however, this version of the character doesn’t really appeal to me. Nor does Tim Burton’s mutant sociopath as played by Danny DeVito in Batman Returns .
No, the Penguin I like is the current comic’s version. A devious criminal strategist and owner of the popular underworld haunt, the Iceberg Lounge nightclub. The Penguin has a almost unique position within Batman’s Rogues Gallery, in that he is completely sane. Sure he has a bit of an umbrella fetish, but when compared with characters like Two-Face, the Scarecrow, and the Ventriloquist, he is the very picture of good mental health.
Additionally I like the complex relationship Batman has with the Penguin. They are adversaries first and foremost obviously, but the villain also is a valuable source of information for the Dark Knight; albeit usually tinged with a liberal dose of unscrupulous self interest.
Christopher Nolan has ruled out the Penguin’s appearance in any of the new Batman Films, although Philip Seymour Hoffman’s name was attached to the character for a while.
3) The Joker is one of the few members of Batman’s rogues gallery who has had any significant negative impact on his life. Not only did he manage to kill Robin (the second Robin, Jason Todd, that is), but he also permanently paralyzed Batgirl from the waist down. Not bad for a guy in clown makeup.
Joker was created to be the polar opposite of Batman. Where the Dark Knight is grim, disciplined and principled the Joker is lighthearted, anarchic, and utterly psychopathic.
I’m strongly in favor of the origins of the Joker being shrouded in mystery. This is one of the many things that The Dark Knight got right about the character in my opinion. Unfortunately the comics appear to have gone with the origin suggested by Alan Moore in the seminal Batman: The Killing Joke. While it’s as good a backstory as any, I much prefer a bit more ambiguity in my clown faced psychotic killers.
2) Ra’s al Ghul is the most international of Batman’s villains. On the face of it Ra’s al Ghul’s motives are pretty ethical: he wants to protect the environment and achieve balance in the world. Unfortunately he believes that the only way to do this is by eliminating most of the human race.
Other villains may have a few henchmen kicking around to do their bidding, but Ra’s al Ghul has an entire secret society: The League of Assassins, who’s resources appear almost limitless. In addition he has access to various Lazarus Pits: natural occurring chemical pools which can rejuvenate the sick and even bring the dead back to life.
Not only does Ra’s al Ghul know Batmans secret identity, but he also considers him a worthy heir to his empire. Ghul’s daughter Talia also shares this opinion, and her on/off relationship with Bruce Wayne injects some seldom seen romance into the Batman mythos.
The thing I enjoy most about Ra’s al Ghul’s appearances in Batman stories is that it is seldom immediately apparent that he’s involved at all. He’s behind the scenes, manipulating and controlling events for diabolical reasons which are only revealed at the end of a twisted path of investigation and intrigue. He’s an ideal foil by which to highlight Batman’s detective abilities.
I think Ra’s al Ghul is thought to be dead within the current comic continuity, but in comics death is frequently a temporary state of being. No doubt he’ll be back at some point in the future.
1) Gotham City isn’t a villain as such. In fact I’m sure that Batman himself would argue that it is his greatest ally (If he existed that is, I may be a geek but I’m not a deluded geek). But I pick Gotham as my number one choice because my favorite stories are not based around Batman’s freakish costumed opponents, but around the grit, grime and squalor of the city itself.
Gotham fits the Dark Knight like a glove, just like the brighter and more optimistic Metropolis is the perfect match for Superman. In fact I would go so far as saying that once you remove the Caped Crusader from Gotham you loose a vital component of what makes him such a great character.
Batman is a longstanding member of the superhero team the Justice League, and as such fights interstellar spacecraft and supernatural demons from the bowels of hell. But to me it never feels quite right. Let Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern fight off the alien invasions; Batman’s place is in Gotham beating seven shades of crap out of Eddy the Fence.
It was Gotham City that made Batman who he is. Gotham City that gunned down Thomas and Martha Wayne in Crime Alley (seriously though, who goes for a walk down a street called “Crime Alley” after dark?). And Batman belongs in Gotham, fighting the good fight against a relentless tide. He is a dark candle in a darker city.
Lets face it, it doesn’t get much cooler than that.
Honorable mentions go to Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, the Ventriloquist, Two Face, Scarecrow, and Mr Zsasz; all of whom could have easily made this list if I’d written it on a different day.
I’m very tempted to follow this up tomorrow with a top 5 list of Batmans allies, but I don’t want this week to get bogged down in my fanboy rantings about the Dark Knight. Instead you can look forward to a riveting tale all about my key-ring. Hey, I never promised this week would be entertaining. Let’s all just keep our heads down and plough through it.