Know Your Villains: Anarky, the boy who was almost Robin

Welcome to the first “Know Your Villains” article.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with my articles, I often include an “Interesting Facts” section which points out relevant historical information about current events.  Consider this new format to be an extended version of those.  The intent is to fill you in with all pertinent information on the character’s past, not just their highlight reel or random factoids.  Hopefully this will give you a deeper knowledge of the character and enrich your reading experience.  Enjoy.

Anarky (Lonnie Machin) first appeared in Detective Comics #608 (1989).  He was the brain child of Alan Grant and originally illustrated by Norm Breyfogle (In my opinion, one of the finest Batman creative teams and also the most criminally underrated, but that is an article for another time).  Alan Grant has openly stated that the character follows the same anti-political and philosophical teachings that he himself adheres to.  Grant has also said, that if he could be any hero, he would be Anarky.  I think it is fair to say that, Anarky is the intellectual representation of Alan Grant in the comic book realm.

Anarky believes in the absolute freedom of the individual.  If what you want does not infringe on the rights of another, then there is no reason you should be denied it.  Anarky will always side with the common man.  If a law exists that goes against the will of the common man, then it is a law which should not exist, and therefore there is no harm in breaking it.  He believes that laws are made by the rich and powerful to keep people in their place.  It is not the right of the few to regulate the many, but the right of the many to regulate themselves.  The voice of the people is the voice of God, and Anarky is here to see their will be done.

The physical appearance of Anarky was inspired by V from V for Vendetta.  While the color scheme is starkly different, the hat, face mask, and swirling cape are all reminiscent of V.  It is unlikely that the physical appearance of V was the only thing used as inspiration, as both characters follow similar philosophies, “People should not be afraid of their governments, Governments should be afraid of their people.”  Given that Lonnie is a twelve year old boy, he wears a harness on his shoulders with a fake head at the top to make himself appear vastly taller.  The mask and hat adorning the fake head and the cape, are designed to hide his small frame within its folds, this way he appears to be an adult.


Anarky holds no super powers, instead he relies on a genius level intellect to carry out his plans.  As a boy of twelve, he could not rely on his physical stature to win him his fights, instead he relies on a homemade taser staff and knockout gas bombs.  Aside from being able to invent and build his own array of weaponry, Lonnie also proves to be a formidable computer hacker. He is often seen as more of an anti-hero than a straight up villain, and even Batman felt conflicted about having to bring him in.  Batman ultimately deciding that, while Anarky’s heart was in the right place and his battles were just, the methods to meet his ends were unacceptable.  There was even the briefest moment where Batman may have considered him a worthy Robin, or at least Lonnie reminded him of the recently passed Jason Todd.  In a later interview, Alan Grant confirmed that he was trying to sow the seeds for Lonnie to step in as the third Robin, but was unaware that Denny O’neil and Marv Wolfman were already setting up Tim for that honor.


The first Anarky story was a two parter, appearing in Detective Comics #608-609.  In the story, Gotham citizens write into the Gotham newspaper in order to have their problems gain the public’s attention and support.  These problems are highlighted in the “Letters to the Editor” section.  Little do the Gothamites realize that their prayers are about to be answered.  Lonnie, then 12, decides to take it upon himself to help the people of Gotham by answering their collective voices.  First, he takes out a drug peddler, posing as a musician, at a newly opened heavy metal club that is polluting the neighborhood with both noise and narcotics.  Next, he assaults the owner of a chemical company that has been dumping toxic waste into the Gotham river.  This assault is filmed and sent to the local news station in order to rally the common man behind his crusade.  In the video, Anarky tortures the man by dunking his head in a bucket of sludge that came out of his factory’s drainage pipe.  The man protests that he has not done anything illegal, as the sludge has passed the Governments guidelines for acceptable toxicity levels.  Anarky points out that just because the law says it is safe, doesn’t mean it is, and poisons him with the runoff.  Anarky’s final act before getting caught is to protest the building of a bank on undeveloped land that the homeless used to squat on, claiming that a more worthwhile expenditure would have been to erect low income housing.


The idea that the common man is important can be seen in almost all of Grant’s stories.  Whether it be the primary focus of the story or merely a brief interlude, he always slips in some little section to show the plight of the average Joe.  Whether it be Batman stopping a mugging while on the way to take out a bigger threat, or merely making his presence known to scare some burglars off, these kinds of moments are spotted all throughout Alan Grant’s tenure.  In this specific story, Batman takes out a drug peddler on the streets.  Even the peddler remarks that he is too small of a fish for the likes of a “major dude” like Batman.  Batman aggressively points out that no crime is too small.  It is Grant’s attention to these smaller moments that bring a real sense of reality to the world of Gotham.  Its citizens aren’t just nameless cattle to be butchered by the likes of the Joker, but actual people with real problems just trying to live their lives.


Lonnie Machin makes his second comic appearance in the story Rite of Passage, featured in Detective Comics #618-621 (1990).  Lonnie is not the main villain of this story arc, instead being featured in the B plot.  Between this story and Anarky’s first story, Tim Drake has been introduced and is currently in training to be the third Robin.  Bruce, fearing that Jason’s downfall was that he wasn’t ready to be active, is putting Tim through an extensive training process.  At the point this story takes place, Tim is in the middle of that process and is not active as Robin yet.  The B plot is as follows:  Bruce is out of town, tending to another case, while Tim is stuck in the cave monitoring a situation with an Internet hacker.  An individual known only as the Moneyspider has been siphoning off money from corporate accounts and transferring them to varying third world countries.  Tim uses the Batcomputer to track things back to a Gotham Juvenile Correction Hall.  There, he discovers that Lonnie is the culprit and informs the proper authorities.  Lining the walls of Lonnie’s room are multiple bookshelves containing a vast array of books on anarchy and philosophy.  Among them you can also spot the comic book V for Vendetta.  This is also the story that sparked the idea that Anarky would make a good nemesis for Tim.

Skip ahead 2 years and we see Anarky appearing in the first Robin Annual (1992).  An interesting fact about Robin’s Annual is that it actually predates his solo ongoing title by a year.  While Robin did appear in a mini-series in 1991, it wasn’t until 1993 that Robin received his own ongoing series.  You want to hear something even crazier…Tim Drake got his own solo ongoing series before Dick Grayson!  Nightwing #1 didn’t debut until 1996!  But I digress… back to Robin Annual #1 (1992).  This year’s company wide event was called Eclipso: The Darkness Within and appeared in all the DC Annuals.  Eclipso was the Wrath of God and the Angel of Vengeance before the Spectre took over.  His spirit was trapped in a big black gem and then cut into a thousand pieces.  Anyone possessing one of those pieces would temporarily gain the powers of Eclipso.  Other than the inclusion of Anarky gaining access to Eclipso gems, the story basically followed suit with what we had come to expect from an  Anarky story, except that he had crazy powers to aide him in his quest.  It was basically “round two” of the Robin vs Anarky feud that had been started in Rite of Passage, 2 years prior.  It seems that the consensus, as both uttered by Batman and Robin, has been that Anarky’s heart is in the right place, but his methods are the questionable factor.

Anarky next shows up in the 1993 story arc God of Fear (a Knightfall tie in), printed in Shadow of the Bat #16-18.  In the story, the Jean-Paul Valley Batman is hunting the Scarecrow.  I really don’t consider this to be anything more than a cameo appearance by Anarky, even if he is in all three issues.  The story sets up an interesting conflict that eventually goes nowhere.  Anarky decides that Batman is actually the cause of the crime in Gotham, not the cure.  Having started the escalation that has drawn all the super villains out of the woodwork, means Batman is indirectly responsible for the status quo, and as such needs to be eliminated in order to return the city to any semblance of order.  Eventually their confrontation comes to a head and is diffused when the J-PV Batman threatens to kill Anarky if he ever interferes again.  Basically, Anarky sets off on a quest and then just gives up. Rather anticlimactic if you ask me.

1995 brings us a two part Anarky story featured in the pages of Shadow of the Bat #40+41.  By now, Lonnie is a 15 year old and still struggling to overpower the corruption that plagues the common man.  While he is working towards a goal that he knows is an eventuality that can’t be stopped, he would prefer to see it realized within his lifetime, and so he begins activities to hasten its birth.  Seeing information as the factor that will eventually free man from the yolk of bureaucracy, he fuses the hemispheres of his brain together in order to hasten his own enlightenment, and thus in turn mankind’s.  Through a heightened intellect, he will be able to envision more progressive strategies with which to bring about positive change.  While there is an action plot that occurs within this arc, the true bonus of this story is the origin of Anarky.  We find out that, as an 11 year old, he had a pen pal in an undeveloped country who befell tragedy.  It was this event that sent Lonnie on a course to defeat the system.  In order to make sense of the tragedy that destroyed his friend’s life, Lonnie began educating himself in all manner of philosophies in order to reconcile his confusion.  He eventually came to the conclusion that it is the few elite that cause conflict in the world, causing the suffering and death of the ordinary man for his own benefit.  While some bureaucrats may enter the field in order to better man, it is inevitable that absolute power will corrupt them absolutely, hence, Government is an archaic structure that is no longer needed and must be abolished.  All of this is revealed in a letter Lonnie leaves his parents, and at the end of this story, it is believed that Lonnie has perished in an explosion caused by this arc’s primary villain.  But, this is a comic book, and if you don’t see a body (and in some cases even when you do) it is not over.


The next appearance of Anarky was in a 4 part miniseries from 1997, aptly entitled “Anarky.”  Alan Grant has gone on record as saying this was his masterpiece.  Indeed, it was met with both critical and financial success.  The story is more about intellectual and philosophical ponderings than what the typical comic book fare usually presents.  Each issue has a single page that is an interlude in the larger story, featuring Lonnie talking to his dog.  If removed and placed together they form a larger image that appears to be Grant teaching us his core beliefs.  These 4 pages aren’t the only parts that are heavy with introspection.  While containing some action, the majority of the miniseries is just Anarky discussing philosophy with an assortment of individuals; Darkseid the Destroyer, The Demon Etrigan, and Batman The Dark Knight.  Initially we are lead to believe that his sole purpose in meeting with these people is to discuss the nature of evil.  His true goal is to siphon off residual energies from the previously mentioned individuals.  It turns out that Anarky has developed a device which will make people see things the way he sees them, but works on these unexplained and potent energies.   At first this element of the story seemed peculiar, but when Lonnie explains that science is merely magic explained, it becomes clear that he is harnessing forces we simply have not yet learned to control yet.  In a struggle with Batman, the device ends up striking Anarky with its beam.  He ends up hallucinating about the perfect future he would bring about through the use of the device, but it ends up being a failure.  When Anarky wakes up, he decides to give up on his current plan.  He decides that if he took control of the people’s minds, he would be no different than the politicians who do the same, but with science instead of lies.  Change can not be brought about by force, but only through the spread of information.  Lonnie points to the Internet and the information age as the true equalizer of man.  No longer will political parasites be able to hide in the shadows, as the spread of information will create a spotlight that they can no longer squirm away from.  On the last page of each issue, Alan Grant also has a recommended reading list of several books to check out if you are interested in his philosophies.


While the miniseries was seen as a critical and financial success, Anarky’s next appearance would be the exact opposite.  In 1999, at the urging of co-workers to capitalize on the success of Anarky the miniseries, the Anarky series was launched.  It only lasted 8 issues.  While the 97 series was seen as his masterpiece, Grant saw this as Anarky’s darkest hour.  Grant realized that Anarky could only be handled in small doses, as the majority of people are not up for overtly political jargon month after month in a comic.  He knew that Anarky was not capable of headlining his own monthly, but succumbed to requests, regardless of his nagging intuitions.  Back in 1999, I stayed away from this title, hearing that it was not worth my time.  16 years after its first printing, I am finally laying eyes on the material.  To be honest, it is not the pile of trash it is usually portrayed as.  The first 3 issues deal with Anarky getting a hold of a Green Lantern Power Ring to fight some weird, extra dimensional, thing/monster.  While a genuinely strange way to start off the series, it was interesting to see Anarky debating all the good he could do with the ring.  Ultimately, it was decided that since he did not earn the power, it would corrupt him absolutely.  The next 3 issues were much more in line with what I was expecting to get:  Anarky working to expose corrupt politicians and pitting himself against Ra’s Al Ghul to stop World War III.  Next came a tie-in issue that had nothing to do with the Anarky series, but with the major DC event of the year.  The final issue was indeed saving the best (worst) for last when we find out that Lonnie’s parents were actually his adoptive parents and that his true biological father was The Joker!  Really?  Ok…   I’m guessing this was retconned seconds after it saw print.

Other than the Green Lantern Power Ring debate, the book also postulated some other noteworthy ideas.  Much in the way that Grant was writing comic books to get his ideas out to the world, when Lonnie wasn’t doing his Anarky stuff he was writing books to get his teaching out to the comic book world.  Rather meta, and another indication that Lonnie is a fictional Grant.  Grant seems to have developed a little less optimism about the Internet’s potential in the 2 years since the miniseries.  In the series, he points out that all the Internet has been used for is airheads to spread rumors about themselves in order to bolster their nonexistent self esteem.  If he thought the Internet was a valuable resource being squandered all the way back in 99, what would he think today, knowing that a majority of the people use the internet to watch porn, take selfies, or post a picture of what they are having for dinner?   Believing that the Internet would one day be the key to freedom, but has instead been squandered by the majority on selfish ventures, I’d be interested in seeing just how disapproving his view of the common man has become.

Another element of the character that leads him into constant trouble; his willingness to only fight as a last resort.  He believes that any semi-intelligent individual should be able to rationally discuss a conflict and arrive at an outcome before having to resort to fisticuffs.  It gets him into a lot of crazy situations, where he openly and vulnerable walks into all kinds of danger, assuming everyone around him should be thinking like him.  Perhaps this illustrates he’s not as smart as he thinks he is, showing his naivety in regards to the inherent goodness of others.

Apart from the 1999 series, I had read all of these stories before, but reread them again for the sake of this article.  It was interesting to read all the stories as one, as opposed to how I originally read them, separated by the one or two year gaps that fell between each story.  Grant was the writer for all the Anarky stories from 1989-1999, and it was interesting to see how cohesive all the work was, even though the stories he wrote spanned a whole decade from beginning to end.  Rather than just ignoring the events of previous stories, the new ones built upon the narrative already established.  As opposed to some characters who are stuck in an infinite time loop for the benefit of new readers, Lonnie actually changed and grew as a character as time passed.  He wasn’t an archetypal schematic that anybody could use to tell a story, but a continually changing and developing character with a clearly defined arc within the bigger world of Batman.

This marks the end of an era, as we now enter a period of obscurity for Anarky, followed by other writers and artists eventually taking on the character.  The period of obscurity lasted until 2009.  During that 10 year gap, the character did have a couple of appearances, but they could literally be counted on one hand, and never amounted to anything.  In 2009, when the character eventually returned to comics, it was in Robin #180 (2009).  Fabian Nicieza is the writer responsible for the return of Anarky, however, he decided to throw in a couple unexpected twists.  It wasn’t Lonnie Machin under the robes but a different Batman villain, Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong (The General).  Ulysses first appeared in Detective Comics #654 (1992).  Back in 92 he was a little boy with the mind of a military genius and passed the time engaging in war games.  Much like Anarky, the return of The General came out of nowhere and was a big surprise to the readers of the comic.  In his absence, the character had grown up and was now a teenager.  Another surprise was that Ulysses had put Lonnie in a chemically induced coma and was using electrodes to communicate with him through computers.  Essentially Lonnie was being used as the unwilling brains behind Ulysses plans, as Ulysses donned the Anarky uniform to wreck havoc across Gotham.  However, the fact that Anarky had not been in the comics in years was not just cast aside.  Robin comments on the fact saying, “It has been a while since we heard from him, so long that I missed all the obvious signs”.  During this period, Lonnie could travel the Internet with his mind and adopted the pseudonym Moneyspider, harkening back to his hacker name from the 1990 story.  Robin eventually defeated Ulysses, but it wasn’t until Red Robin #16 (2010) that Tim eventually found Lonnie and rescued him from Ulysses’ grasp.  Tim was in the process of helping Lonnie reclaim himself, but as DC initiated a company wide cancelling of all ongoing titles in preparation for the coming of the New52, this was a sub plot that never saw completion.


These two different versions of Anarky are like day and night,  Lonnie wanted to affect social change by shaking up the status quo, while Ulysses entire goal was nothing but chaos and death.  I know I am jumping the gun here a little but I can’t help thinking of Francis Manapaul and Brian Buccellato’s introduction to the New52 Anarky when thinking about the difference between Lonnie and Ulysses.  Lonnie never killed, and in the new story the first thing we see Anarky do is douse a guy in gasoline and setting him on fire.  I know that we have yet to be told who is behind the mask in the new story, but if it is Lonnie, it would seem odd that the new creative team would choose to stray so far from Anarky’s original roots.  Are we getting an Anarky in name only?  Will we recognize any aspect of the character as the Anarky we remember?  I just recall how fans had been clamoring for years about how they wanted Anarky back, and when he eventually did show up, he was in a coma.  People were livid.  I don’t expect there to be the same kind of backlash over the new story that there was over the 2009 one, but it would have been nice to see Lonnie again.


Other than the new comic story going on right now, Anarky has actually had somewhat of a major revival in the last 2 years, appearing both in the animated series Beware the Batman and the video game Batman: Arkham Origins.  Both are firsts for the character and have definitely raised household awareness of his existence.  The Beware the Batman version of Anarky is unlike either of the two previously mentioned.  His attire is entirely white and he is the Big Bad of the series, equal to Batman in almost all aspects except for their differing views on the rights of innocents.  Seeing as how the original Anarky put the rights and will of the common man as his primary goal, it seems odd, yet again, to see a character baring his name act so callously towards the people he should be serving.  Seeing as how he veers so far from the look and core beliefs of the character, it makes one wonder why they didn’t just come up with an original villain to begin with.  The one element that, in my opinion, carried over from the Grant version is how he is a mirror of Batman.  Seeing as how Grant was intending Lonnie to become Robin, but couldn’t, he started molding Lonnie into his own kind of Batman like character.  Eventually Lonnie has his own secret base, vehicles, suits, and even Anarky symbol throwing-shuriken.  He is basically an individual, like Batman, who has put all his efforts towards the cause he believes in.

Batman: Arkham Origins manages to capture the essence of the character much more successfully, but not so much in the visual department.  Alan Grant himself has gone on as saying that he tries to steer clear of Anarky interpretations that aren’t his own, because after you have put so much into a character, it is hard to see what others do with it.  However, these feelings didn’t stop him from praising the inclusion of Anarky in the game and actually approving of the character’s intellectual representation.  Grant did think that it was somewhat unacceptable that the team chose to represent Anarky with the most stereotypical anarchist visuals possible, but I guess you have to take the good with the bad sometimes.


To see the most recent exploits of Anarky, check out the current ongoing run of Detective Comics by Francis Manapaul and Brian Buccellato, starting with #37. Here is my review for Detective Comics #37.