Tuesday 30 August 2011

Guest Post: Batman Primer Part III - Batman's Rogues Gallery

Crystal from pop culture website The Uniblog is back to continue her series on all things Batman. You can read Part I here and Part II here. Over to Crystal...
The villains in Batman are what really set his world apart from that of most superheroes. They aren't generally very high-powered, they aren't looking to take over the world, and most of the time they are batshit (pun intended) crazy. Sanity, or lack thereof, is a topic explored at length in Batman; even the sanity of the Dark Knight himself has been tackled by many writers. So let's take a look at some of the most prolific and famous members of Batman's Rogues Gallery.

Catwoman, one of Batman's most recognizable villains, has gone through many changes since her creation in the 1940s. Selina Kyle is a cat burglar who has been a socialite, a hooker, and even an amnesiac flight attendant (wait, what?). She's Bruce Wayne's most prevalent love interest and, contrary to most of the villains in Gotham, she isn't generally a murderer or criminally insane. In recent years, Selena has been let into the inner circle of Batman lore by being in on his secret identity, and has already proven that under great duress, she could keep that secret.  

The Penguin is another very recognizable figure from the Rogues Gallery.  Like most of the lasting characters in the DCU (DC Comics Universe), he too has gone through many changes over the years. A rotund "bird" of gentlemanly style with a penchant for using weaponised umbrellas, Oswald Cobblepot may not seem very menacing, but he is one of Batman's oldest, most persistent enemies.  He is mostly a mobster and thief, but is not against killing should the situation call for it. These days, he is quite often seen running a nightclub, The Iceberg Lounge, as a front for his criminal activities.  Contrary to the Penguin of the Tim Burton films, The Penguin is not some sort of mutant, but a strange stout man who leans to the ugly side.  He is also sane, and in complete control of his actions, which creates a novel dynamic between himself and The Batman.

Mr. Freeze gets a bad rap from mainstream media today. The incredibly cheesy and inexcusably awful performance by "The Governator" Arnold Schwarzenegger may have ruined him a lot of people, but make no mistake, Victor Fries is as nuanced and interesting a character as comics are capable of. This wasn't always the case, as when he was created in the late '50s he was just a villain with a cold theme. When the lead writer of Batman: The Animated Series (which will be explored further in a future article), Paul Dini, reworked the origin of Mr. Freeze, he really took shape. Dr. Victor Fries' story became that of love and loss. His wife, Nora, had a terminal disease which he was attempting to cure. He had cryogenically frozen her to keep her alive until he could come up with a solution. Unfortunately, his funding was cut and the person who owned the equipment violently caused an accident between Victor and his cryogenic machinery, which changed him into the icy cold man he is today.

Two Face is another villain who is an almost tragic Shakespearean character in nature. Former Prosecuting Attorney Harvey Dent was a champion for justice in the corrupt world that is Gotham City. He was even a frequent contributor to cases that Batman worked on and was a friend of both the Bat AND his alter-ego Bruce Wayne. Dent had a dark secret though - a duel personality, and the side that was becoming more and more prominent was the dark "Big Bad Harv" persona. Then, depending on continuity, organised criminals either throw acid in his face or cause him to be in an explosion, but either way the result is the same: Half of his face is irrevocably scarred. The dark personality took complete control and Two Face was born, an organised criminal mastermind with an insane obsession with the number two. One interesting thing about Two Face: He uses a two-headed coin he got from his abusive father to make all of his decisions.  One side is scratched up and one side is clean, so if he is flipping to kill you, you better hope you don't get the scratched side.

Poison Ivy is the one of the most famous eco-terrorists in comics. She was used as a guinea pig by an insane professor who injected her with more poisons and toxins than a small army could withstand. Now she is attuned with plants in every sense. She feels closer to plants than people, she is immune to the poisons and toxins that created her and is an incredibly skilled biologist, especially with exotic and dangerous varieties of plants. She is a seductress and uses pheromones to snare her victims, and the poisons that naturally flow through her veins to take them down. Her (arguably) only human friend is her polar opposite - the light-hearted and sledgehammer-wielding Harley Quinn.

Harley Quinn is the clown mistress of crime. Otherwise known Doctor Harleen Quinzel, she was a physiologist who got through medical school mostly by cheating and seduction. She ended up getting a job at the infamous Arkham Asylum, where she planned on getting the dirt on some of their more "glamourous" criminals in order to write a tell-all book and make a mint. When she got the opportunity to treat the infamous Joker, it was just what she was looking for. In their session, The Joker filled her head with sympathetic stories, painting him as a tortured soul. The source of that torture?  Batman. Quinzel became infatuated with The Joker, and when he escaped she went mad with fear of what happened to her "Puddin". When Batman returned him battered to a pulp, she was driven completely over the edge. Helping The Joker escape in full Harlequin costume was her first act as a super villain. Now she is known for being almost as ruthless as the man who created her. Her insanity is based on her obsession with all things Joker; she is willing to put up with massive amounts of abuse from him, though as the years go on she has become more independent and has teamed up with Poison Ivy, Catwoman and even Batman for different adventures. Her popularity has even allowed her to carry her own comic series for a while.  

The Joker is THE most famous criminal in Gotham, and is Batman's opposite in every way. Where Batman represents order and justice, The Joker is chaos incarnate. He doesn't kill to be cruel (though he is cruel), he kills because to him, it doesn't matter - and that is the joke. His origin varies; the currently accepted version is that he was a poor comedian with a pregnant wife. Because he worries about supporting his family he gets roped into robbery. Unfortunately, before said crime transpires, his wife and unborn baby die in an accident, but he can't get out of the plan. The criminals make him keep his commitment to robbing a chemical plant. At the job, Batman shows up and scares him so badly he falls into a vat, causing his face to be bleached white and sending him the rest of the way into insanity. I tend to like a more mysterious Joker, where he is crazy because he just is. That is what makes him so menacing; he is just as likely to give you a hug as shoot you in the head.

There are many, many more villains to cover, but these are a few of my favourites. Others include The Ridler; a brilliant criminal mastermind who uses clues to outsmart the police and especially Batman. Killer Croc is a hardboiled giant with scales and sharp teeth, who at his best is a hired hand and at his worst is a cannibal. Bane an incredibly smart "roided-up" Caribbean super-criminal who arguably comes the closest to taking Batman out. If you want to learn more, Wikipedia is a killer source for info on all things comics.

The villains of Batman are my favorite part of Batman, and honestly what really got me into comics originally. They are varied and deal with the broken psyche in a dramatic but very human way. These are people who were driven over the edge and, generally, revel in their madness. They lead to one of the greatest debates in comics; is it having a Batman that created this breed of villain, or would they have existed in one form or another anyway?

Next Time: The Batman Primer IV - My Favourite Batman Media.

Thanks Crystal for another awesome post! I have to say the villains are definitely my fave part of Batman too - they're all so unique and intriguing. 

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, check out more of Crystal's writing and other fun stuff at The Uniblog.


  1. Wow! I never expected to be so thoroughly educated in all things Batman. Fun post. Love the illustrations and the info on the characters. Definitely helped to learn something new, like about Catwoman... a hooker, and an amnesiac flight attendant? Fascinating.

  2. I've always had a soft spot for Poison Ivy and Catwoman. I don't feel guilty, though, cause most of these villains had a tragic past. Great post.

  3. I have always loved Catwoman oh and Harley Quinn! Loved her as well! I think Batman always had the best evil women in the comic-verse. They weren't all completely evil and had shades of grey at times.

  4. I saw the Batman Live show in Sheffield Arena a fortnight ago and all the villains were amazing, but especially Harley Quinn. She was just perfect, with her costume and her squeaky voice.

    Although the giant 3D Joker's head popping out with actors in the eyes, mouth and hair was pretty cool too!