Friday, September 4, 2015

The Players on the Other Side: A Guide to Your Anti-Bats

Years and years of reading Batman comics have shown me something very interesting: writers love the idea of the anti-Bat. I'm not talking an opposite; The Joker is the opposite of Batman. Joker is chaos to Batman's order. I'm talking that villain who is the cracked mirror version of Batman. Most superheroes have one villain like that, but with Batman it seems like they could form a club. So I was thinking, as something fun for this Friday, to run down the anti-Bats, and end with a mention of a character who isn't a DC character who is, in my opinion, the ultimate dark version of Batman. I won't be drawing in any of the other characters from outside DC who are takes on Batman, so fans of Nighthawk of the Squadron Supreme or Darkwing of the Guardians of the Globe (or Darkwing Duck, for that matter), I understand your love, and there might be s piece someday about alternate takes on Batman. But today, let's bring on the bad guys.

Killer Moth
First Appearance: Batman (Vol.1) #63

Killer Moth is looked on a kind of a joke character now. I think the striped leggings don't help much in that respect, to be honest. But when he was introduced, he set himself up as the Batman of the criminal set. He had a Mothcave and a Mothmobile, and criminals would hire him to help them escape the police and Batman. This goes about as well as you might expect, with Batman shutting him down repeatedly. When he first appeared, he even had a millionaire secret identity, as Cameron Van Cleer (who sounds like the jerk rich boyfriend in a 80s movie). Over time, he became more of a generic 60s villain, performing all sorts of heists and capers. He's probably best remembered as the first villain who fought Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. He would pop up occasionally throughout the 70s and 80s, and in the 90s, he got one really great story, "The Misfits", in Shadow of the Bat, a new secret identity, Drury Walker, and was one of the villains who got a serious Underworld Unleashed treatment, transformed into a giant moth monster called Charaxes in Robin. As opposed to a lot of the villains from that crossover, this change stuck, and he remained Charaxes until he was killed in Infinite Crisis. While there was another Killer Moth briefly after Charaxes's death, and one who has appeared in the New 52, he has mostly returned to obscurity. For a villain who hasn't been a major threat, well, pretty much ever, Killer Moth has a pretty interesting career in other media. He never made Batman '66 (although there was a test short of Batgirl with him as the villain), or Batman: The Animated Series. However, he did make The Batman, both in his Killer Moth costume and his Charaxes form, and pops up a couple times in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He is also a recurring villain on Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go!, where his form is closer to Charaxes than Killer Moth. Starfire's pet grub, Silkie, is a product of Killer Moth's experiments. I list him as the first anti-Bat, though I will admit that Deadshot, who pre-dates him by a year, did start out as something of an anti-Bat as well.

The Wrath
First Appearance: Batman Special #1

Created by Mike W. Barr in one of his numerous excellent Batman stories, The Wrath is one of two villains on this list whose origins directly mirror Batman's. In his one appearance in the one-shot, "The Player on the Other Side," (from which I drew this piece's title), Barr and artist Michael Golden created the Wrath as a criminal whose parents were shot by police in Gotham, and who trained around the world as a hitman. He comes back to Gotham on a contract, and plans to take out the officer who killed his parents, namely Jim Gordon. This is an excellent issue, and it's been collected a couple of times, but only in recent years. The Wrath never popped up again after his death in this issue, but an apprentice of his appeared as a new Wrath in a Batman Confidential arc by Tony Bedard and Rags Morales, and Jonathan Layman and Jay Fabok introduced a New 52 Wrath during their run on Detective Comics. Interestingly, the Wrath also appeared on an episode of The Batman, along with a Robin-like sidekick called Scorn. This was towards the end of that series, when it was firing on all its cylinders and was pretty solid.

First Appearance: Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1

Right before The Dark Knight Rises, I wrote a long piece about Bane's history, so I'll just give a quick rundown here and you can go and read that of you want to read more about probably the most infamous of the anti-Bats. Created by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan, Bane was a child raised in an island prison, paying for the crime of his father. There, he trained his mind and body to perfection, escaped, and went to Gotham to prove himself by defeating Batman. While Bane isn't as much a direct visual counterpart to Batman as Killer Moth or Wrath, he is the self-made man, the man who pushed himself harder than anyone else to become the pinnacle of human achievement. His use of the super-steroid Venom also makes an interesting parallel, as Batman was addicted to the drug during its first appearance in Legends of the Dark Knight, but kicked the habit. And as Bane grew, he also spent time as the chosen heir of Ra's al Ghul. The great thing about Bane (at least before the New 52 reset him to being similar to his original incarnation) was that Bane grew out of his role as an anti-Bat and became a fascinating character in his own rights, mostly thanks to Gail Simone's tremendous work with the character in Secret Six. Bane is a solid part of the Batman mythos now, entering that highest echelon of Batman villains, He has appeared in all modern animated forms of Batman, as well as in both movie series, and had a prominent role in the Arkham video games series.

First Appearance: New Year's Evil: Prometheus #1

Prometheus is a character created by Grant Morrison, so you know you're in for a trip right off the bat. Prometheus's basic origin is the same as the Wrath: criminal parents killed by the police. But while the Wrath's parents were petty crooks, Prometheus's were like the couple from Natural Born Killers. And instead of training with the best people the mob could find, Prometheus trained with evil monks and the like, and got his Batcave as a house in a void dimension. So, yeah, totally Morrison there. He decided that if he was going to make an impact, he had to kill superheroes, and set his sights on the Justice League. He also had a helmet that enabled him to download the fighting styles of anyone, so it's interesting to note that, as much of a parallel to Batman he might be, he cheated to do it. And when Batman finally defeated him in Morrison's final JLA arc, it was by exploiting the helmet. When Prometheus next appeared, he had inexplicably gone from a guy who could face down the whole Justice League to a henchman for another villain (more on him later) who Green Arrow took out handily. It was eventually revealed that the Promethus from those stories was in fact the apprentice of the original Prometheus, who the original killed when he recovered from his defeat by Batman. Prometheus was the main villain in the much derided Justice League: Cry For Justice mini-series, where he exacted vicious revenge on any superhero who crossed his path, and was killed by Green Arrow. He has not appeared since.

First Appearance: Batman (vol.1) #608

Hush is a tricky character. Created to be the mastermind villain of a mega-arc in the ongoing Batman title, Hush was Tommy Elliot, a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne who came from a privileged background. But as opposed to the loving Waynes as parents, the Elliots were terrible people, and so young Tommy tried to kill them. He would have succeeded, if Thomas Wayne hadn't saved his mother's life, and so years of slow planning began for Tommy to get his revenge on Bruce. When he was pulled into a conspiracy with Jason Todd, Riddler, and Scarecrow, Tommy took on the identity Hush, and became a criminal mastermind.I think a lot of the problems people have with Hush comes from the fact that he came from out of nowhere, was an obvious suspect, and there were various structural issues with the story, and that the next stories featuring the characters were an awkward series of stories in Batman: Gotham Knights where he and Prometheus teamed-up with Prometheus as the lesser partner (see, I said there'd be more on this later). Paul Dini did a great job rehabilitating the character in his run on Detective Comics and Streets of Gotham, making him a fully formed character, and even making him more of an anti-Bruce Wayne by Hush having surgery to look like Bruce and try to take his place. Hush popped up recently in Batman: Eternal as one of the suspects for mastermind of that conspiracy, but has not been seen since that series wrapped.

First Appearance: Justice League of America (Vol.1) #29

Owlman is a little bit of a cheat for this list, as he is simply a version of Batman from another universe, specifically Earth-3, the Earth where good guys are evil and bad guys are good. However there are some wrinkles that made me want to call him out. One is that he has interacted wit the "real" Batman in various battles between the Justice League and their evil opposite numbers, the Crime Syndicate. Also, he's an interesting character in his own right; in his various origins, Thomas Wayne Jr. either killed his parents or watched his brother, Bruce, and mother killed, and decided to become a criminal. Grant Morrison reintroduced the Crime Syndicate in his excellent JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel, and the Syndicate popped up a few times after that. Since the DC reboot, there have actually been two Owlmans. One is this version, the alternate Thomas, who is still lurking out in the DCU after the events of Forever Evil. The other is Lincoln March, the ally of the Court of Owls, who claims to be Thomas Wayne Jr. of Earth Prime. He was a centerpiece of the "Court of Owls" storyline, and appeared at the end of Batman: Eternal, where he was recaptured by the Court. What will happen to him next remains a mystery.

Grendel (Hunter Rose)
First Appearance: Comico Primer #2

OK, here's my pick as the greatest anti-Bat in comics, and he wasn't even created to be one! The assassin/mobster/bon vivant Hunter Rose, better known as the first Grendel in Matt Wagner's epic cycle, shares many of the same cultural roots as Batman, with the pulps as the backdrop (although I have to imagine Batman factors in somewhere in that cultural DNA as well). Hunter is a self-made man, who as opposed to Batman didn't have everything laid out in front of him. He pulled himself up, as an exceptional person in a world of ordinary people. And while Batman had legions of good influences (Alfred, Leslie Thompkins, etc.), Hunter was only noticed by Jocasta Rose, a woman who became his lover and confidant at an impressionable age. With her loss, Hunter decided that he would never be mundane, he took the flashy name of Hunter Rose, he became an internationally best selling novelist, and when that wasn't enough, he took over the New York mobs. Hunter is as cool, as calculating, and as brilliant as Batman, but everything he does is for himself. Except for one thing. He has a young ward, Stacy Palumbo, who he took in after he killed her uncle and saved her from a child pornography ring. But, in another inversion, instead of this being the thing that saves them both (as I feel Bruce Wayne taking in Dick Grayson kept Bruce in touch with his humanity), when Stacy discovered that Hunter was in fact Grendel, she manipulated events that led to his death, and her own eventual slide into madness. Hunter is a phenomenal character on his own, with no Batman necessary, but Wagner's Batman/Grendel is an excellent showcase of the two characters and how they relate. Seriously, it's the best batman related intercompany crossover ever, and should be in the collection of any Batman fan.

No comments: