It can be hard to keep up with this many Bat-titles so I figured I would make an article that updates everybody on what their favorite villains have been up to in the New 52. It also gives me a great chance to vent a little because for the most part, I don’t like how the classic rogues have been treated lately. The New 52 has really focused on bringing in a lot of new foes for the bat-family to face, and that’s fine! It’s given us the Court of Owls and NoBody, and those were good stories but by turning away from old favorites, some writers have downplayed the A-list rogues so much that it’s a downright travesty! So here’s a list of the classic villains who have shown up so far, what they’re up to, and my thoughts on how they’ve been handled…
Arnold Wesker is alive again and without explanation. Wesker was murdered back in “Detective Comics” #818 by the Tally Man II and we saw him again as a resurrected Black Lantern in “Blackest Night”. In “Batman: The Dark Knight” #2 his death was retconned and one of Batman’s most bizzare and sympathetic villains was back for more great stories! So how was mild mannered Arnold Wesker’s return to continuity? Terrible.
We got a glimpse of him on the cover of “Batman” #1 and then a week later he made his real debut in “Batman: The Dark Knight” where, instead of treating the character with any kind of respect and giving him a rich story and halfway decent characterization, Arnold got a cameo as a hulking monster that crashes through buildings and uses a dead cop as a hand puppet.
Two-Face’s first appearance was in an Arkham Asylum riot that occurred in “Batman” #1. There were loads of great cameos and a surprise twist to who Batman’s ally was in the fight against Arkham’s inmates. Even though he didn’t have much to do in that issue, it was a memorable first glimpse at Two-Face because Greg Capullo did a great job drawing him with all of this loose, peeled away skin.
Like I said, he wasn’t the main focus of that book by a long shot, but that’s okay because the character was well-characterized and treated with respect. I mean, at least his debut wasn’t as a giant monster that said ridiculous things like what happened with Arnold Wesker, right?
One Week Later…
The very next week DC published an almost yet another Arkham riot littered with cameos only this time we got One-Face. One-Face swung at Batman a few times and it looked like he was going to rip Batman in half like a phone book up until the moment that, well, I’ll let you guess:
A) Batman used a gadget to bring One-Face down
B) Batman assessed the situation and used the environment to his advantage to stop One-Face
C) One-Face passed out.
If you picked C, you’re right. It wasn’t an epic fight and it sure as hell wasn’t a good idea.
A few months later, Two-Face returned in “Detective Comics” only this time he didn’t have to participate in a riot to get free. He just was. And he was also starring in his own ongoing back-up adventure that was meant to justify the series’ new $3.99 price tag. A Two-Face backup might sound like a good idea unless it’s about Two-Face legitimately having a chance at being reinstated as District Attorney and then having the character abducted by a ninja-like cult. As a Batman fan, I may be able to suspend my disbelief about freeze-rays, plant ladies, and men of clay, hell, I would’ve even been fine with the ninjas, but when it comes to notorious gangster and mass murderer Two-Face being returned to public office on a technicality, I can’t help but shake my head in disbelief.
Remember the creepy homicidal maniac who carves a notch in his flesh for every murder he commits? Well, not only did he go ahead and cut a slash into his flesh BEFORE killing someone in “Batman: The Dark Knight”, but he was turned into a giant rage monster, too.
Great White Shark, the swashbuckling C-list villain The Cavalier, and the time obsessed Clock King were used as steroid fueled beasts in that unfortunate series as well.
It’s not all bad, though. Penguin has been doing fine. His iceberg lounge was upgraded to a casino in “Detective Comics”
He singlehandedly used an umbrella rifle to kill a Court of Owls assassin
He’s even about to be the main villain in Batwing’s comic and that book’s supposed to take place in Africa! And although it may not be considered part of the New 52, he had his own “Penguin: Pain & Prejudice” mini series along with a great portrayal in the video game “Arkham City”. In fact, besides Catwoman and Bane, who are getting the spotlight in “The Dark Knight Rises” this summer, it’s Penguin who has had the best year of all Batman villains.
Jonathan Crane is doing quite well, also. He seems to have given up on wearing the straw hat for good, but his characterization is the same and he hasn’t resorted to taking steroids like so many other villains. He’s even had one really great moment in which he brought the caped crusader to his knees, crippling him with fear in an issue of “Batman: The Dark Knight”.
Scarecrow has been getting some serious face-time in the New 52. He had a cameo in “Batman” #1, he’s wreaked havoc in a few issues of “Batman: The Dark Knight”, he’s had his own one-shot adventure in “Detective Comics” and the year isn’t even over yet. Look for more Scarecrow in this month’s “Batman: The Dark Knight” written by “Penguin: Pain & Prejudice” author Gregg Hurwitz.
Catwoman is much, much younger (she claimed to be 23 in “Catwoman” #2) in the New 52 and as a result she’s also a more naive and downright immature character than she’s been in a few years. Catwoman hasn’t been a real villain in decades and in the new 52 she’s still filling the role of anti-hero with quite a few fun adventures. Spark, a thief with electric super powers, has partnered up with Catwoman for about three issues now and that doesn’t feel quite right, but he isn’t reminding anyone of Scrappy-doo or Jar-Jar Binks just yet. So far so good. Other than forgetting Bruce is Batman and being de-aged drastically, she’s doing alright in the new continuity. But still, it’s a shame to see so many years of character development get washed away.
Her characterization is the same, but her original design is long gone in favor of something more sexed up. I never had that much of a problem with the change (even though I definitely liked the old design better) and was really enjoying Harley’s adventures until Adam Glass rewrote her origin in “Suicide Squad” #7. The new origin re-established Joker’s fall into a vat of chemicals long ago (I much prefer the idea of Joker just showing up with no past. Batman is a character that relies heavily on a rich and detailed past and I like the idea of the Joker having no past at all. He just showed up one day and we know nothing. It adds more to the idea of Bats/Joker being the antithesis of each other) as he takes Harley back to the very plant where he was transformed. It is there that he has her go through the same process. So now Harley is “TEH PERMAWHITE”, turned insane by chemicals rather than Joker’s manipulation and abuse, and her hair is dyed a purplish black on one half and red on the other. I. Hate. This.
Which is a shame because up until that issue, I was really enjoying everything about “Suicide Squad” even though the series is a big step in turning Harley away from being a villain and more of an anti-hero.
Other than the occasional Harley Quinn team-up or “Gotham City Sirens” adventure, Poison Ivy has always been one of Batman’s more sinister female foes but now she’s joined the Birds of Prey and is a full-time anti-hero. It’s as if the New52 Batman Rogues Gallery has a big sign on the door that says “No Girls Allowed!”. That’s why I’m looking forward to Talia Al Ghul being utilized as a villain in Grant Morrison’s “Batman Inc.”–she’s the only evil woman left in this town. Poison Ivy has been portrayed in two different ways so far. In “Batman: The Dark Knight” she was just a green-skinned damsel in distressed locked away in a big tube and in Birds of Prey she’s lost the green skin and now wears a weird black and green leotard that can sprout enormous vines.
I would rather see her plant powers be toned down and more of a focus on her intelligence and ability to manipulate weak men, but for now I would just settle for seeing her be evil.
Is it Preston Payne? No.
Is it Sondra Fuller? No.
Matt Hagen? No.
Cassius Payne? No.
Basil Karlo? YES. So now that that’s finally been settled, what is being done with Batman’s shape-shifting villain? Nothing. Nothing of interest, anyway.
There really, really needs to be a good Clayface story. The guy is nothing but a punching bag so far. Batman stomped all over him during the riot in Arkham Asylum in “Batman #1, in “Batman: The Dark Knight” Clayface took steroids–which I have no idea why he would need steroids or how that would even work on him–anyway, it doesn’t matter because all it did was give Clayface a nosebleed and make him pass out just like Two-Face did when he took the same drugs. Over in “Detective Comics” Clayface was released by Jeremiah Arkham during a Court of Owls attack but was eventually gassed and put back in his cell. Are you noticing a pattern of failure? Finally, in an issue of “Justice League” there was yet another mass breakout at Arkham (There have been three in the past nine months. Shouldn’t a mass breakout attempt be some kind of event and get the reader excited?) only this time rather than getting gassed or beaten up by Batman, Clayface took his worst beating yet. First he was blasted by Superman’s heat vision until he was nothing but a fragile shell and then Batman smashed him to pieces.
Clayface isn’t a threat in the New 52, he doesn’t have a personality in the New 52, hell, he only ever shape-shifted one time in the New 52. Marv Wolfman and Alan Moore have proved that there are great stories that can be told with Clayface, and for cryin’ out loud, anyone whose seen “The Thing” (The Kurt Russell one) or read Stephen King’s “IT” knows that shapeshifters are scary and incredibly cool so why isn’t this villain being treated better than this?
Joker has had cameos in various flashbacks and the occasional fear-toxin induced hallucination, but his only real appearance has been in “Detective Comics” #1. His portrayal in that issue was essentially the Frank Miller version: simply a serial killer who just so happens to look like a clown. No charisma at all. There was nothing fun about this Joker and it was a rather boring debut. But then at the end of the issue, Joker did the unthinkable– he cut off his own face and vanished. He hasn’t been seen in Gotham ever since.
The thing that makes Batman and the Joker dynamic so great is that they are the absolute antithesis of each other. Bruce is a handsome man, but isn’t conceited at all, yet Joker is this hideous clown that’s always been rather vain. So why he would cut off his glorious face is a mystery. Since it will still be a while before we find out what his reasoning is behind the self-mutilation and subsequent disappearance this storyline will get no complaint from me until I see how events unfold. But it better be good.
The Riddler has had one and only one appearance in any bat-title so far and it was nothing more than a brief cameo in “Batman” #1′s Arkham riot. As much as I love Capullo’s work so far, I hope we never see Riddler look like this ever again.
David Finch lifted the design of Bane straight from the video game “Batman: Arkham Asylum” which –although it’s an awesome game overall– has the 2nd worst portrayal of Bane ever, second only to Joel Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin”.
He’s written about the same way here. Bane is back on venom again and this time he’s throwing giant boulders at Batman while going on and on about how he will break the Bat’s back…AGAIN! And while he’s shouting about the upcoming breakage, The Flash shows up and tosses a venom antidote in Bane’s yap, which Bane swallows. All of this happened at a cliff overlooking the ocean and Bane, woozy from ingesting the antidote, fell down to the rocks below where he was swept away by the tide. This would’ve made since if the fastest man alive wasn’t already on the scent to jog down to the beach and grab Bane before he vanished. *sigh* Hopefully “The Dark Knight Rises” can restore this character’s dignity.
Waylon Jones was seen in Arkham Asylum brawling with Batman during “Batman” #1′s big riot and that was fine and dandy as a nice little cameo. But then he showed up as one of the main villains in the series “Batwoman”…as a 6-eyed stegosaurus monster.
I’ve hated the portrayal of Killer Croc in recent years. The whole mutation thing really irks me. I much prefer him as an abused kid with a skin condition who became a monster because of the way the world treated him, not because he had lizard DNA injected into him. Making him a crocodile-man just turns Killer Croc a poor man’s version of Spider-Man foe The Lizard. Sometimes less is more.
Mr. Freeze has been given a major makeover that includes a new suit, hair that’s not so much punk rock as it is Butters Stotch, and a brand new origin story. By losing the hydraulics and thick metal shell on the suit, Freeze has lost his tank-like presenc. He seems like less of a physical threat and should be easier to bring down, but at the same time he should move quicker and he’s already proved that he can channel the cold of his suit through his touch in such a way that he can deliver serious frostbite or even explode pipes running under the floor. But still, the bat-family should be able to move fast enough to take him down before he can lay a finger on anyone. Right?
Looks aside, is Mr. Freeze being handled well? I would say yes. Absolutely. In the annual, anyway. In his debut in “Red Hood & the Outlaws” he was apprehended pretty easily by Red Hood and the gang who actually came to rescue him from the Court of Owls’ Talon assassin– ya know, the guys who are vulnerable to cold? And it’s not like the Court sent a whole army after Mr. Freeze, they sent one guy. One guy whose crippling weakness is cold. Against Mr. Freeze. But anyway, that forgettable episode aside, it’s the new origin story that has everyone talking.
What was done with his origin in “Batman Annual” #1 wasn’t done for shock value. The character was treated with respect and the story was well-written. I don’t necessarily agree with the choices made, but…well, let me lay out what happened: See, in the new origin tale of Mr. Freeze, Victor was working for Bruce Wayne in the cryogenics lab of Wayne Industries. Victor was fascinated by a frozen patient named Nora and began to obsess over her so much that he started to believed she was his wife. Quite the creepy twist on the Paul Dini origin, right? Bruce doesn’t want Victor tampering with Nora’s tank and tries to shut him down so Victor throws a chair at Bruce, who dodges it, and the chair bursts a vat of chemicals that spray onto, and forever alter, Victor. Now his body temperature is extremely cold and if he ever touches normal, room temperature he will die. He wants revenge on Wayne and he wants his “wife” back. Also, throughout the story we see flashbacks to Victor’s childhood where we learn that he’s always been a creepy monster obsessed with the cold and even killed his own mother. Before I get to the pros and cons: why would he need to be kept cold all the time if his core temp is already cold? Wouldn’t it make more sense if the chemicals made him constantly hot and he had to be kept cold so his brain wouldn’t fry? Cold blooded things like warmth. Warm blooded things need to be kept reasonably cool. Just a thought. Anyway, here are the pros and cons of the new Mr. Freeze origin as I see it.
Pros: 1) It now makes sense for Victor to be locked up in Arkham Asylum with the other psychos. 2) Newer and creepier Mr. Freeze stories. Sympathetic villains are tough because we as readers want them to find redemption, but at the same time want them to always be villains. Those two ideas can’t coexist and it leads to the same story being told over and over again. That’s why Victor worked so well in The Animated Series where he only had a handful of episodes. But that sympathetic angle doesn’t work as well in comics because this is a story that’s been being told for over 70 years and there’s no end in sight. Remember when Harvey Dent, another sympathetic villain was finally cured? It didn’t take long for a new writer to make Harvey re-scar his face and turn back to crime. In order to get more stories out of a sympathetic Mr. Freeze he has to either become a good guy permanently OR finally lose Nora and decide he wants everyone else to be miserable and that’s when he tries to freeze the world again and again and again. 3) The two most popular versions of Mr. Freeze’s motivation– freezing the world or saving his beloved– have been blended together 4)Victor now has a closer connection to Wayne making him a more personal villain. And since Bruce now publicly endorses Batman, the Dark Knight isn’t so much an obstacle in Victor’s way anymore as he is a primary objective.
Cons: 1) Now that we know Victor was always a murderous ice fetishist since childhood it’s almost impossible to empathize with him. 2) It makes Mr. Freeze just another psycho when Batman could still use a few more villains with understandable motivations. We could always put ourselves in Mr. Freeze’s shoes (boots) and empathize with him in a way that we never could with the majority of Batman’s rogues gallery. Mr. Freeze was never evil or insane, he was desperate. Now that we’ve lost that aspect of his character, which rogue will take his place? There have always been two kinds of Batman villains: those who could find redemption and be rehabilitated if it wasn’t for how damned evil this town is (Harvey Dent, Arnold Wesker), and those who are downright monsters (Jonathan Crane, The Joker). It’s nice to see a villain who isn’t totally nuts from time to time. And if the goal was to make Freeze more evil yet still retain lost love origin, why not just let Nora die. That’s more than enough motivation for Freeze to want to see everyone freeze, it’s the sort of malice that’s born out of crippling depression and that’s something anyone can still relate to. Falling in love with a dead girl isn’t. 3) The transformation into Mr. Freeze is no longer a tragic accident. Victor brought this on himself by attacking Bruce Wayne.
The Black Mask
I know I’m in the minority here, but I’ve never been a big fan of the Red Skull knock-off design of Black Mask. That being said, the skull-mask has stayed the same in The New 52 but what has changed is who’s behind it and what sort of magic powers the mask provides. “Hold on a second!” You say, “The Black Mask doesn’t have magic powers!” Well he does now! Mind control powers, that is.
And Roman Sionis, who was shot and killed by Catwoman pre-New52, is alive and well and Jeremiah Arkham, who took over as the Black Mask, is now back in charge of Arkham Asylum. This can be somewhat confusing since Jeremiah is seen as an inmate in Arkham Asylum in “Batman” #1. But that’s quickly retconned in “Detective Comics” where we learn that Sionis vanished for a spell and Jeremiah tried on the mask for a bit in his absence but ultimately gave it up. It never made sense to me why Freeze and Sionis would ever be locked up in Arkham, but in the New 52 they are both quite insane. I guess all Batman villains have to be nowadays.
The Mad Hatter
What’s Mad Hatter known for? Mind control and being the creepy variety of pathetic. That was his thing. He’s often depicted as having an obsession with Alice in Wonderland, a girl who doesn’t really exist–looks like Mr. Freeze is stealing his thunder there, eh? And now Black Mask has a mask that grants him mind control over everyone–he doesn’t even have to put hats on them first! How is Jervis Tetch (still the #1 most Googled “Jervis” in the world, by the way) going to compete with that? Well, for starters, the New 52 Tetch didn’t even use hats in his one appearance in “Batman: The Dark Knight”, nope, instead he employed Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (a couple of other Alice in Wonderland inspired villains who never really used that schtick to great effect) to help him point a giant satellite dish toward people and then those people would kill themselves. It’s not about being lonely and having a weird tea party anymore, Hatter just wanted to kill people. He was just another murderous psycho. *sigh* At least he’s the only guy with an Alice In Wonderland motif, right? I mean Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum never actually reference the books and seem to just like the names. Not so fast! There’s a new villain, a chick named The White Rabbit who loves talking about the Lewis Carroll books and she’s not creepy at all. She’s a playboy bunny with incredible teleportation/duplication powers or something. Wow! So, to recap: 1) The Mad Hatter no longer uses hats to commit crimes. 2) He’s not the only person working the Alice in Wonderland gimmick #) He’s not the only villain with mind-control powers and the other guy doesn’t even need transmitters placed on his victims via hat or a big satellite dish aimed in their general direction for his power to work. 4) He’s no longer the only forever-alone villain who is obsessed with a woman who never existed. 5) And I didn’t bring this up earlier, for some reason Mad Hatter now runs around with a harpoon gun.
So what are your thoughts on the old rogues and how they’ are being used in the New 52 so far? Who needs a makeover? Who would you like to see more of in upcoming issues?
Thanks for reading!
I want to cite ComicVine.com as a great source for comic book images. Their vast photo galleries were a big help in putting this article together and they’re really doing a great job with their database.