It’s time to wrap up Batman Week with some Qs and As! I put out the call on social media for Batman questions, and I got some good ones! We’ve got comics, Batman ’66, movies, and Gotham on the docket, so let’s get to it!
Q. “Who’s your favorite villain from the Adam West series?”
A. As with most things Batman, that’s a lengthy answer. There are two ways to take that – either my favorite villain performance or my favorite villain. So I’ll give you both my favorite answer and my favorite exclusive to the show character.
Favorite performance is easy – Frank Gorshin as the Riddler. It’s amazing. Back in the day, there wasn’t much of a difference between Joker and Riddler – Joker hadn’t been reimagined as the world’s most dangerous psychopath. He was a prankster and the Riddler was a prankster who left clues. But Gorshin is playing the Riddler as the version of the Joker that hadn’t been conceived yet. He’s crackling with this weird energy and there’s something just unsettling about his weird Riddler giggle. Gorshin is threatening in a way that the other lead villains aren’t. There’s an episode I always think about, and I’m not sure of the title, but there’s a scene where Batman and Robin are surrounded by four villains. And the camera cuts to each one. You see Joker and Penguin and Catwoman and they’re all standing there, not looking especially imposing. And when it cuts to Riddler, he’s crawling toward them on all fours in a Spider-Man pose. It is the weirdest choice and I love it. If they have to punch their way out of that predicament, they’re definitely going to hit the clown or the out of shape man with the umbrella. They’re not going to fight the guy who’s cackling as he crawls toward them. That’s a man with nothing to lose.
Frank Gorshin is the best.
As for the best villain created for the series, well, I do have to give them props for renaming “Mr. Zero” to “Mr. Freeze”. That’s a better name and if they hadn’t changed it, Freeze would be long forgotten by now. I like Roddy McDowall’s Bookworm a lot, but I don’t think he has a lot of use outside that particular series. No, I have to go with Victor Buono’s King Tut. I don’t think he was used especially well on TV, but the idea is so good. Like so many of the best Batman villains, he’s obsessed with one particular thing (ancient Egypt) and he’s delusional enough to believe that he’s actually King Tut. The Egypt connection lends itself to some cool visuals and the idea of a guy who thinks he’s actually a Sun King is lots of fun. Decades later, the comics approached that same premise with the Greek mythology-themed Maxie Zeus, but something about King Tut just clicks. He finally came to comics in substantially different form in 2009, but I don’t believe he’s been revisited since. I would not mind seeing a King Tut revival. Heck, I wouldn’t mind writing a King Tut revival. Call me!
“What comic characters should be updated to match their Gotham versions?”
A. First and foremost, Victor Zsasz. He’s quite a bit different on TV, and I like the shirtless lunatic of the comics but come on. Yeah, the tally mark gimmick where he marks himself for every kill is pretty cool, but Zsasz is a psychotic serial killer in a world where the Joker exists. Other then the gimmick, he’s just a less interesting Joker. I wouldn’t mind rebooting him as Gotham‘s super-professional but distinctly unsettling hitman.
Obviously, Gotham Mad Hatter should inform the comic version. There’s a real creepiness there. The comic version usually has mind control technology, and I think he could benefit from some hypnosis powers as a backup. And the way the show turned the Tweedle Brothers into luchadors is the smartest thing anybody’s ever done with them.
If and when Hugo Strange comes back, I’d like to see him brought in line with the TV version, which is really just the ideal version of Strange without all the baggage from previous reboot attempts. And I’d like to see the Gotham Clayface in some capacity – the guy who can literally just reconfigure his face. I don’t want to see him replace the mud monster, but there have been nine Clayfaces. Make one of them a master of disguise. You’ve got plenty to choose from.
The one I’m torn on is Penguin. Yes, Robin Lord Taylor is the best Penguin ever and easily the most popular. But I almost think he’s too big a character for the comics. Unless every issue of Batman has six pages of Penguin content, I don’t think they can really get there. I would love it if they matched comic Penguin’s backstory to the Gotham version, though. All this stuff happened pre-Batman and now he’s kind of settled in, but he’s got this history with Gordon and everything. I just don’t think the up-and-coming Penguin works in a world where Batman’s around. But if anybody wants to do a Penguin: Year One series, it should absolutely be the Gotham version.
Also, there are serious problems with returning Barbara Kean to comics, since she’s either dead or doesn’t exist and if she does, you have the weird idea of Jim Gordon naming his daughter after his ex. But man, that character is great and I would love to see some version of her carry over to other media. You could argue that Erin Richards is doing her take on Harley Quinn, but comic Harley has been so badly broken that now she’s basically just Sexy Deadpool with an abusive relationship that everybody chooses to either ignore or romanticize. Barbara deserves better than that!
Oh, snap! Bring back Magpie but write her as Erin Richards playing the Beware the Batman version. Why am I doing DC’s work for them? Let’s talk business, guys.
“If Batman was to crossover with the Marvel Universe, who would you want him to interact with?”
A. That’s from my cousin Tom, who also wanted me to pitch a trilogy of Batman movies. I don’t have the time to do that here, but the short version is the theme of the first movie is Batman vs. Crime and would feature Penguin and Two-Face, who can fit into a mob story easily. Next up is the one where Batman Saves Gotham, which would focus on the Joker. Don’t treat it as the Joker’s first appearance – he’s fought Batman before and everybody thought he was dead. Have him work alongside a couple of physical threats like Bane and a grandiose plan. Go big and crazy. Third movie – Batman Saves The World. Ra’s al Ghul. I want a shirtless desert sword fight in this movie. I can talk more about my Batman trilogy if you buy me a drink. If I keep doing DC’s work for them, they’ll never hire me to write a Gotham tie-in comic. Instead, let’s get to the actual question.
Of course, DC and Marvel actually used to cross over on occasion. There were those Superman / Spider-Man team-ups and then there was the Batman / Hulk special even though it is hard to come up with a story where those two characters are both useful. The late nineties brought us the DC vs. Marvel miniseries where Batman beat Captain America in a fight and Wolverine stole the Batmobile. Before DC and Marvel’s relationship chilled, he managed to team up with Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the Punisher. But to me it feels like they’re missing the most fun possibility: Iron Man.
The smartest guys in their respective universes (don’t tell Lex Luthor and Reed Richards) teaming up? Awesome. And they’re both billionaire playboys who would undoubtedly butt heads in public. Since Tony Stark actually is the guy that Bruce Wayne pretends to be, there’s all sorts of tension there. That would be great! And for the villains, I think they should end up fighting villains they’re not familiar with. Superman villain Metallo, and Spider-Man’s Green Goblin. It’s the DC villain who’s most like an Iron Man enemy and the Marvel villain who’s basically a Batman rogue.
And now I’m on a roll, so my other pitch would be to team Batman up with a lighter Marvel character. I love those rare occasions where the Dark Knight has to work with Impulse or Plastic Man or the Creeper – somebody who’s a little bit of a goof and can play off him. To that end, it would be fun to see a story with Batman and somebody like Squirrel Girl or Star-Lord. Maybe Deadpool provided he didn’t kill anybody along the way. Like Deadpool does this whole elaborate act to convince Batman that he’s not an assassin and he doesn’t use guns because he wants Batman to like him. Deadpool on his best behavior.
Or, heck, just have Batman meet the Thing, because he’s my favorite Marvel character and that would be a guaranteed sale to me at least.
Q.: “How do you feel about Azrael as Batman and the whole Knightfall thing?”
A. I was going to get into the backstory of Azrael, but the good thing about having done this for one thousand years is that I’ve already done so. If you skip ahead to the end of this Gotham recap, I lay it out. Short version? He’s the guy who took over as Batman in 1993 when Bane broke Bruce Wayne’s back and then when he started killing criminals, Bruce came back. Azrael spent years seeking redemption after that. Basically? If you see a crazy looking armored Batman, that’s Azrael.
To begin with, I love Nineties Batman. I mean, I love Batman, but his nineties comics hold a special place in my heart. A lot of it has to do with what the comics industry was in the nineties with big insane gimmicks and foil covers and millions of copies sold to investors. All events and attempts to get on the evening news. There’s too much to get into here, but the important thing was the way DC spent most of the decade sucking hind teat behind Marvel and Image. The X-Men and Spawn were the poster children of the nineties, and even DC’s attempts to embrace that aesthetic never fully clicked. As I remember it, DC only really dominated when: Superman died, Batman broke his back, Superman returned, the Justice League relaunched with the big names. Even Batman’s return wasn’t a huge sales spike because Bruce Wayne never went away. It was a gradual process that ended up bumping right up against another event series.
Of course, I like DC’s nineties output a million times more than Marvel’s. Mark Waid’s Flash, Grant Morrison on JLA and Aztek, Hitman, Peter David’s Aquaman, the near-perfect DC One Million… there was some amazing stuff coming from them at a time when Marvel was turning everybody into Venom. And for that whole decade, the Batman books were a series of crazy crossovers with maybe like six months of standalone stories between them. You start with “Knightfall” where Bane spends the better part of a year wearing Batman down before crippling him. Then you have Azrael as Batman and then the showdown with Bruce returning. Jump ahead a bit and you have the giant plague crossover “Contagion”, followed by “Legacy” (Ra’s al Ghul and Bane?!), the Gotham Earthquake in “Cataclysm”, and then the year-long “No Man’s Land” to wrap up the decade. I like this stuff a lot, and it’s shocking to look back and see that the Batbooks held onto the same group of writers for most of that time.
So I’m pretty well in the tank for nineties Batman comics, even Knightfall, which should be everything I hate. I mean, it’s all about Batman losing and getting replaced by a cooler version. At least theoretically. Actually, it’s a story about how Batman doesn’t need to adapt to trends. There was a time when every character was getting darker and more like the Punisher. And Knightfall is all about Team Batman showing us why that doesn’t work. Azrael, with his armor and claws and willingness to kill his enemies was Marvel Batman. He was Punisher and Wolverine and Ghost Rider all rolled into one, and everything that people said they wanted Batman to be.
And then it turned out that isn’t what they wanted at all. That Batman had to be stopped. They gave people the Batman they were asking for and made them see why that couldn’t be Batman. It was a brilliant move and it only worked because they seemed to be going along with it. They had to sell us on AzBats in order to make the point. They couldn’t have done it if it didn’t feel like their hearts were in those Azrael stories. He’s an appealing character (costume aside) in the early going. The readers cared about Azrael, but in the end, he failed.
I should note that Azrael moved onto a solo series that ran for 100 issues after that – it was all about his quest for redemption and he finally became somebody that Batman could accept and even trust. I love Azrael. It was very stressful when he was Batman because even though it’s clear now what they were doing, at the time it was a bunch of comics where Batman steadily became more and more of psychopath. The Azrael stuff reads way better now in a big chunk than it did issue to issue, I’ll tell you that.
I have some more questions, but I’ll have to hold onto them for later. It’s not like I’m going to stop writing about Batman, you know?