Saturday, February 06, 2010

Five Worst Batman Villains

5. The Joker

This guy is only #5 out of respect for all the good Joker stories that there have been. Unfortunately, most all of those stories were published before 1988, which is coincidentally around the time The Killing Joke was published. It's not like the Joker was a harmlessly comical jackanape before the late 80s, but man, turning him into a quasi-genocidal embodiment of mass murder and psychological torture as a way of life really stretches credulity, and that's saying something in the context of a book predicated on a mentally ill billionaire dressing like a bat in order to beat up criminals with the putative support of local law enforcement. I had even forgotten, until Tucker reminded me, the bit in Joker's Last Laugh where - having almost destroyed the entire planet by drugging a whole bunch of deadly super-villains with Joker toxin and trying to kill the President of the United States - the Joker is once again saved by the Dark Knight performing CPR after Nightwing almost beats him to death. Seriously: the character has become so perversely demonic that keeping him alive in-story warps and distorts every other character and plot element around him. The Batman - and half-a-dozen other heroes - have saved his life so many times, it's stupid. And sad. Still: we'll always have "The Laughing Fish," and he was good on Batman: The Animated Series.

I mean, seriously, heroes don't want to kill villains, even the worst villains, because that would prove that "we're no better than them!" Does that mean a cop who fires his gun is no better than the bank robber firing at the cop? Really? I'd like to see you explain that to the local police union. The answer to this question is simple: don't turn every villain into a mass-murderer and we can go back to not caring if the Justice League forgets to read Felix Faust his Miranda rights.

4. Killer Croc

Quick - name one good Killer Croc story. OK, there was the one from the Doug Moench / Kelley Jones run where he goes down to Louisiana to live with Swamp Thing, that wasn't bad. But still: the fact that we all instantly thought of that one episode of B:TAS where he floats downriver and lives with the community of circus freaks ("Sideshow") kind of indicates that this guy has pretty limited range. Seriously: he's a crocodile man who likes to eat people, and is dumb. That's genius, right there.

3. R'as al Ghul

In theory - and based on his first, good appearances in the 70s - R'as should be a classic villain. In practice, he's become perhaps the most boring immortal megalomaniac supervillain in comics, with vaguely defined motivations, unbelievably generic henchmen (League of Assassins? What's next, the Club of Robbers? The Group of Rapists?), and contrived family drama. You know a villain has hit the skids when his main function is to appear in secondary and tertiary spinoffs in order to lend "gravitas" to the proceedings. In actuality, he's become the biggest, most impotent heel in supercomics. The problem is - this heel no longer has any heat whatsoever, he'd get booed off the undercard at a County Fair exhibition match. Darkseid had this problem for a while, too - absolutely overused and trivialized for a good decade and a half from the beginning of the 90s tright up until Final Crisis. He'll probably lay low for a while before they bring him back, and if they play it right he'll have been sufficiently rehabilitated so as to be once again cool. R'as? They tried that with him already (remember how he was dead for, like, six months or something?), it didn't take. The last readable R'as al Ghul story was in Legion of Super-Heroes, which doesn't say good things about his ability to be anything more at this point than stunt casting.

2. Black Mask

Why this character persists is beyond me. He's a crime boss with - get this! - a black mask, who is also a gruesome murderer who likes to torture women to death. That's class, that is. This guy would be a good villain in Punisher MAX, you know, as long as Frank got to shoot him in the head when the story was over. As it is, across the street at DC, this guy gets to linger on for years despite having nothing even remotely resembling a fanbase. He doesn't even have an interesting origin or compelling visual - he's got a black face! He's the Al Jolsen of supervillains! And then we're supposed to believe that Catwoman feels guilty about murdering this guy? A future installment of "Nobody's Favorites" if ever there was one.

1. Mr. Zsasz

What is this guy's gimmick, again? He likes to murder people in gruesome and torturous fashion, and for every life he takes he carves a line on his body. Do you see how many lines this guy has on his body? At least the Joker doesn't carry around a scoreboard on his body with a chit mark for every man, woman and child he's killed. This guy, though? Walking proof of just how bad Batman is at doing his job, not to mention how bad the Gotham Police are at doing theirs. If this guy were real (I know, poor parlor game to play with super comics, but still) - if this guy were real he'd be the worst serial killer in American history, and it wouldn't matter how crazy he was, they'd grease the rails all the way to the chair. There ain't a city, state or municipality in the United States liberal enough to let a guy like this get off on an insanity plea - he'd get the chair in Berkeley. He's just a monumentally stupid idea for a super-villain. You know how some people say there's no such thing as a bad character, there's just bad writers? Mr. Zsasz is proof positive that, Yes, Virginia, there are indeed bad characters, character who should be locked in a dark hole and never remembered, because their very presence in a story forces the reader to confront unpleasant questions regarding the basic unspoken ethical premises on which superhero comics are built. And not in a good way.


CL Raine said...

Horrible. No other words... Just horrible.

cc said...