What is a hero without villains to fight. Since Batman and Robin don’t kill their enemies they have a rogues gallery as famous as they are. the show bible says this about the villains:
Many of the villains faced by Batman will combine an eccentric, outrageous sense of criminal “fun” with deadly efficiency. After all, if they’re going to give a character as extreme as Batman a run for his money, they’ll have to be pretty extreme themselves.
. . .
Also, we insist that our writers put some thought into the internal logic of the villains’ actions. Specifically, what does the villain want and what do they plan to do with it when they get it. Although greed is a good motivation, the more thought we put into the manifestations of this greed, the more satisfying it will be. Beyond greed, the motive and plan of the villain should be made clear so we have a sense of where the story is going and what Batman must thwart in order to emerge victorious. The same goes for those stories which are “mysteries”. We have to know what Batman is wondering if we’re to care about his discovery.
Which would also help us try to solve the mystery along with him really. While original villains were created they used Batman’s classic gallery a lot, splitting them between the floating Stonegate prison and the worst mental institution in America, Arkham Asylum. Not all of Batman’s foes had serious mental issues. Some were just regular criminals. The bible also asks that they refrain from restoring to too many death traps like the old live-action series. They weren’t outright banned, just that they didn’t want to get into that rut, as fun as it was to watch Adam West and Burt Ward try to escape those traps. They do challenge Batman (especially if he doesn’t have the right tool and has to improvise with what he has) but there should be more than that.
There are nine villains with large profiles and a section on potential other criminals for the Dark Knight to face. So what we’ll do is two per installment and then the smaller list. (It was going to be three and maybe it will be later on, but Joker and Penguin’s profiles are very long.) And we begin with three of his most popular, the Joker, the Penguin, who teamed together during two visits on The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries. Fun fact. Of course we have to start with the Clown Prince Of Crime himself. Even the show bible gives him first place.
Originally an ambitious criminal with a twisted sense of humor, the man who was to become the Joker first encountered Batman during a botched robbery at the Monarch card factory. Terrified by the Dark Knight’s ominous appearance, the would-be robber escaped by leaping into a drainage vat of chemical waste which carried him into the river. After dragging himself to shore, the criminal made a horrifying discovery; the toxins in the vat had dyed his hair bright green, bleached his skin chalk white, and stretched his now red-rimmed lips up into a hideous grin. This gruesome, permanent transformation snapped the crook’s already unstable mind, and he vowed to use his bizarre looks to terrify honest people the same way Batman used his costume to strike fear into criminals. Thus was born the malevolent mountebank known only as the Joker.
It’s a slightly altered origin for the Joker but one that is true enough to his roots–and the Joker has had his origin changed a few times in the comics, and that’s not counting making his own backstory up every time someone asks him. We would also learn later in Mask Of The Phantasm that he was a flunky for mobster Chuckie Sol at one point in his life and may be responsible directly for the death of Andrea’s father. That means Batman and the Joker actually met before either took on those names. Funny, isn’t it? I skipped over the paragraph describing his arsenal because I think we all know the Joker’s brand of tricks by now.
True to his criminal roots, the Joker still wants to be the number one crime boss in Gotham. But mixed with that is insane need to confound Batman (and the rest of Gotham) with his outrageous black comedy crimes. To our way of thinking, the Joker’s one motivating objective is not to do in the Batman. Oh, he will try to kill him, but only as the coup de grace to a particularly inspired crime. The Joker looks upon Batman as his greatest challenge, and he’s not going to take out the Dark Knight in anything less than a grand and gruesomely funny style.
That’s how I picture the Joker, as slapstick gone wrong and deadly, but his main goal is thievery. As for wanting to do in the Batman his way, we’ve seen what happens when someone else appears to have killed Batman or when Harley does a terrible job of it…or at least the execution even if Batman ended up…executed.
The Joker is intelligent, theatrical, and in his own weird way, a showman. To him, if a crime isn’t worth pulling off with panache, it isn’t worth doing at all. It must also be noted that while the Joker is frightening, and prone to psychotic, murderous mood swings, he is at time genuinely funny.
Pulling that off would also require the best voice actor, which is why Mark Hamill has been considered THE Joker for fans. While there have been other good portrayals before and after him, Hamill did the best to demonstrate his humor as well as the “psychotic, murderous mood swings”. Really listen to how the Joker speaks, going from goofy to scary, sometimes within the same sentence, but so naturally it’s frightening. It’s just perfect. While every actor should be allowed to put his own spin on things, Hamill, Jack Nicholson, and Cesar Romero are some of the best ones to watch to see how to play a great Joker. (I like Heath Ledger’s performance before you ask but while he was a good villain he just wasn’t how I see the Joker. Not enough energy, which I blame Nolan for.)
His dialogue must be crisp and clever, and completely free from the usual round of stale cartoon one-liners and bad puns. He’s got a lighting-fast mind, and should always be ready with a quip, or a comical non-sequitur as a given situation demands. Also keep in mind that this guy is a clown, and writers should find ways to work visual gags, funny expressions, and the occasional element of innocent, clownlike comedy into his persona. The fact that the Joker can instantly snap from roguish, not unlikable mischief-maker into a cold-blooded killer makes him an even more terrifying adversary.
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional pun but what’s the difference between a one-liner and a quip? Comedy is not my strong suit. That’s why I do a parody/commentary strip instead of a regular gag strip.
Next up is the Penguin. I’m glad they didn’t go full-on creepy with him the way Burton did. I know, he didn’t want to do another crime boss. But then why do Penguin? While the show model is similar to Burton’s costume for Danny DeVito, thankfully his personality is not.
Starting life as a sheltered, over-protected mama’s boy, young Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot was treated cruelly by the other kids in his neighborhood. His short, round body, waddling gait, and beak-like nose were easy targets for bullies, and they gave little Oswald the nickname “Penguin”. His only safe haven was his mother’s exotic pet store, where he could spend time with his doting mother and the birds he loved.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked the Penguin’s portrayal in the show and all, but I don’t know if he needed a tragic history. Maybe because I grew up with a Penguin who was just a thief who had his own gang. Always worked for me. But this is another example of a story that was never really shown in the show itself.
But even there, peace was fleeting for Oswald. Though he was in his late twenties, he was still the object of scorn by local gang members. They jeered him for his funny looks, his obsessions with birds, opera, and classical literature, and cruelest of all, for the fact that he still lived at home with his mother. The breaking point came when several members of the gang broke into the pet shop and destroyed the birds as a “prank” (because even in a kids show BIBLE you can’t say “dead” I guess :D). Oswald’s mother suffered a massive stroke when she discovered the atrocity, and her son was driven mad with grief. Deciding then and there to fight the punks with their own methods, the Penguin used the shop’s insurance money to hire his own gang, and exacted his terrible revenge on the neighborhood punks. With the local bullies crushed, the Penguin took over the neighborhood shake-down operations and in no time parlayed it into one of the most profitable criminal gangs in Gotham.
Later on it does mention his trick umbrellas as well as noting he has two normal ones because after his father died of pneumonia his mother made him into a mild hypochondriac, something else I don’t recall ever seeing from the show. But at least they explain the umbrella obsession as well as the bird obsession. The bible also says he has an almost psychic link with birds, which is why they obey him, stopping short of giving him an actual superpower.
In our series, the Penguin will have his fingers in every illicit element of Gotham’s underworld. Smuggling, gangs, gambling, fencing rings; the evil bird will have a piece of it all. Still, he will be very careful to present himself as a gentleman to the cities’ upper crust. This is important for two reasons; the first being he actually considers himself to be a debonair, sophisticated man about town. He dresses in an old-style cutaway coat and top hat, a look which he, at least, considers high-class. He is also fond of quoting classic writers, particularly Shakespeare, though to add a beat of comedy to his character he will rarely get the quote right. The Penguin is more concerned with the appearance of being educated, rather actually getting his quotes right. The second reason the Penguin wants to pass himself off as a gentleman is that he doesn’t want his mother to learn of his criminal misdeeds. Mrs. Cobblepot genuinely loves her son and Penguin fears that if she ever knew the truth about him, it would kill her.
As far as I recall this never comes up in the show. It might have worked better in a comedy (like Kim Possible, which I believe actually did this once) if there was an episode where Penguin is trying to set up a big score just as mommy comes to visit. And in case you’re wondering, they say that when he gets caught he tells his mom that he’s going on the lecture circuit for one of the many books he apparently write on ornithology. So they covered that base.
Though he is often seen in the company of beautiful women (usually rentals) most human relationships mean nothing to the Penguin. People are troublesome but necessary objects to be bought, sold, and discarded at his whim. Any affection he might have is reserved for his mother and his precious birds.
There was an episode where Penguin tries to fit into high society and falls for a woman playing a trick on him (although she ends up at least liking Oswald) so at least it says “most”.
As far as Batman’s concerned, the Penguin mainly wants to see him dead. There’s little of the on-going match of wits between the two adversaries as there is between Batman and the Joker or the Riddler. Penguin considers Batman to be a muscle-headed nuisance, not much different from the buffed-up goons who used to bully him when he was a kid. Therefore Penguin tends to underestimate the Dark Knight’s detective abilities, which trim him up every time.
One last interesting thing is two separate images of the Penguin.
Why does the book contain both the original design of the Penguin and the character model they finally went with. And now that they’re both together here I find I prefer the original. Maybe because it doesn’t remind me of Burton’s version?
Next time another puzzling foe and one that makes strange stirrings in Batman’s utility belt.