The LEGO Batman Movie opens tomorrow, and I’m super jazzed about it. If you’ve seen the ads and trailers, you’ve probably noticed that everybody is in this movie. The whole Justice League, every villain you’ve ever heard of, and a bunch that you haven’t. There are an insane number of obscure villains appearing in the movie. I mean, you can actually clearly see Doctor Phosphorous on the dang poster! I’ve Zaprudered the trailers and kept track of the merchandise and come up with some of the weirdest villains set to appear in the movie. And now you’ll be able to tell your friends things about that guy who appears for two seconds and looks like a walking pencil. Will they be impressed? Not in my experience!
-Eraser – Astonishingly, the Eraser only faced Batman once, in 1966. Just look at him! He looks like a well-dressed living pencil! Lenny Fiasco’s gimmick was that he’d “erase” all evidence from a crime scene in exchange for a cut of the profits. You do have to wonder about the GCPD’s response time if the Eraser consistently beats them there, cleans up, and gets out before anybody shows up, but it’s still a neat gimmick. Even better, Lenny was a former classmate of Bruce Wayne’s and absolutely fixated on Bruce stealing the love of his life. He remembered every detail and even recognized Bruce in disguise years later. That should have made for a better story where Bruce had to find a way around facing him as Batman, lest he reveal his identity. The actual comic really dropped the ball with that, and I’m frustrated at how much potential the Eraser had as a character.
He shows up in the background from time to time and usually stands out because he’s got such a great design. I’d love to see an updated version of the Eraser. He is a potentially good character hamstrung by appearing in a lackluster story and a design that did not fit it with the more serious Batman of the Seventies on. But there’s room for weirdness in Batman’s world and a guy named “Lenny Fiasco” who dresses like a pencil is the weirdness I want to see.
-Zodiac Master – Zodiac first appeared in 1964 (Detective Comics #323) and, man, is he a weird mishmash of themes. His main gimmick was that he predicted disasters that he actually caused because it was more important that people be impressed with his prognostication than that they be caught unaware by his crimes. You know, he was teling the city’s horoscope, basically. Also, he has zodiac symbols all over his costume and he can pull them loose to use as projectiles. There is almost nothing about him that makes sense, including his ridiculously busy costume design.
Zodiac Master has only appeared three times – his second appearance was fourteen years later in a backup story about forgotten villains. And then he turned up twenty-eight years after that in a dream sequence. He also had a couple of cameos on Brave and the Bold, but he never even got any dialogue. And now, here he is in a major motion picture. Granted, it’s probably going to be two seconds of screentime, but it somehow got him a LEGO minfigure
-Zebra-Man – One of those characters that comics people all seem to know, the original Zebra-Man only appeared once, in 1960. And because he was created in 1960, he got his powers from…. radiation! (See also: Every Marvel character) Not only did radiation cover him black and white stripes, but it gave him super strength and powers that could be described as “magnetic”, except that they weren’t limited to metal. He could also attract and repel wood, rock, flesh, you name it. The main reason he made any kind of impact, though, is that Batman was exposed to the same radiation and became the Zebra Batman, which is kind of awesome.
Believe it or not, there was a new Zebra-Man introduced in 1987, and he only appeared in a two-part story before forever being relegated to crowd scenes and punchlines. The original Zebra-Man appeared in several episodes of The Brave and The Bold, so at least a whole new generation got the chance to be utterly perplexed by him.
-Orca the Whale Woman – This is the character I’m most surprised to see in the lineup. There are obscure characters in here, but some of them have stuck around for decades as curiosities. Orca appeared in a three-part story in 2000, a story that nobody liked. The writer (Larry Hama, who is usually very good but had a short and undistinguished Batman run) was fired from the book as the story ran. And it’s weird because Orca on her own isn’t a bad idea – she’s an aquatic version of Man-Bat or a female King Shark, but the actual was just bad, with some nonsense about a stolen diamond and her identity is supposed to be a mystery even though there’s a character named “Grace Balin”, which is as obvious a whale reference you can get without actually naming her “Orca”. I like the character design, but that’s all Orca has going for her.
After that story, she popped up again in a crossover and then died off-panel. She has not been resurrected in any subsequent reboots, and if not for LEGO Batman, probably would have been lost for good. Her LEGO minifigure is really cool, though.
-March Harriet – Believe it or not, legendary Batman: The Animated Series writer Paul Dini created this forgotten character. And she first appeared in 2008, so the fact that she’s already forgotten should tell you something. Also, it took until then for the comics to figure out that they should lean into the Lewis Carroll theme by teaming up the Mad Hatter with Tweedledee and Tweedledum. So then Dini and artist Dustin Nguyen created a bunch of similarly-themed characters, including a sexy lady in a rabbit costume. And also established that said lady was an escort turned villain.
Guys? I love Paul Dini. I really do. If I met him, I would hug him. But sometimes, and this is one of those times, I feel like I’m getting too much of a look at what he’s into, and I feel like that’s none of my business. I get the same vibe from Joss Whedon, actually, but that’s another story. Also? Kinda weird that I haven’t seen any sign of Mad Hatter in the movie, but March Harriet made the merchandising cut.
-Calendar Man – Julian Day is one of my favorites. First appearing in 1958, he’s one of those theme villains, and you can probably guess his particular obsession. Calendar-based crime! Now, take a look at this gloriously goofy costume. It’s his main look, but especially in his early appearances, he would wear different costumes corresponding to the season or day of the week. In his first three appearances, he wore sixteen different outfits, which is straight up bonkers. And in those Calendar Man stories (from 1958 to 1985 – he did not appear frequently), his schemes were always huge. I have no idea how he paid for everything. He somehow survived Crisis on Infinite Earths and hung around for years as a guy who’d show up whenever somebody assembled a team of forgotten villains.
He got a reboot in The Long Halloween where he was portrayed as the Hannibal Lecter of theme villains. It’s a neat idea and worked well for that story (where an unknown figure committed a high profile murder on every major holiday for a year), but it didn’t leave him with much use beyond that. This portrayal carried over into the Arkham games, with Day making a memorable appearance in Arkham City. (If you visit his cell on a real world holiday, his dialogue changes.) The original version made a couple of appearances on The Brave and the Bold, because of course he did. I love this big goof.
-Kite Man – He first appeared in 1960, because of course he did. And let’s be honest, a portable hang glider is actually not a bad gimmick. It’s his insistence on calling it a kite that makes him silly. After that first appearance, he didn’t appear again until 1979. And if I can take a moment to conjecture, I’m guessing the reason so many of these single appearance villains turned up again at the end of the Seventies comes down to Deadshot. He appeared once in 1950 as sort of a gentleman thief, and disappeared until the late Seventies when a seriously retooled version appeared and turned into a hit. I think the Batman writers were actively mining the back catalog in the hopes of finding the new Deadshot. Kite Man was not the new Deadshot.
In his third appearance, it somehow took Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Zatanna (who is actually magic) to stop him and it was established that Kite Man’s real name is Charles Brown. They heavily implied he was that Charles Brown. After that, he mostly turned up whenever somebody needed a group of washed-up villains. There was a period when other villains would talk about how they killed Kite Man, until he finally actually died back in 2006. (The same massacre that killed Magpie and Orca.) But a couple of reboots later and he’s still around, having appeared in Batman as recently as last month in a surprisingly cool scene. Between that, a minifigure, and at least a cameo in the movie, Kite Man is having his best year ever!
-Condiment King – Here’s a weird one. The Condiment King first appeared on Batman: The Animated Series in 1994. Now, it took me years to realize that “Make ‘Em Laugh” was an homage to the Adam West series. It features several ineffective villains, like Condiment King, each of whom turns out to be a popular comedian, none of whom have any idea what they’re doing. It turns out that Joker stole Mad Hatter’s mind control technology to brainwash them and leave the comedy field clear for him, in his disguise as Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot. It’s a great episode – sort of the super villain version of The King of Comedy. But the mind-controlled villains are the sort of goofy characters created for Batman ’66. And they’re clearly based on actual people who would have (theoretically) played them in live action. Roseanne and Jerry Lewis are pretty obvious, and Condiment King always seemed like he was meant to be Jerry Seinfeld.
The joke villain made a couple of subsequent appearances in comics, to no great effect. He died in Final Crisis, but a later reboot brought him back and he actually made an appearance only a couple of months ago in the main Batman series. He also appeared in the third LEGO Batman game. For a guy who sprays ketchup and mustard on his foes, he’s done pretty well for himself.
-Calculator – So, The Calculator’s whole deal was that he’d get in fights with superheroes and his costume would analyze their strategies and tactics to ensure he wouldn’t be beaten by them a second time. Which is a weird idea, but it provided an excuse for him to make a bunch of appearances in a hurry. The obvious flaw in his plan is that not only was losing fights built into it from the beginning, but it’s one thing to analyze the Atom and then move on. That analysis will not be super useful in any other situation because there aren’t any other heroes who are going to fight you by getting tiny. By the time he got to Batman, he had Atom, Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Elongated Man figured out. So really all Batman had to do was not shrink, stretch, shoot arrows, or use scream powers. Turns out Calculator was not prepared for somebody to just punch him.
After languishing in obscurity, he reinvented himself as an information broker. Sort of the villain version of Oracle, who provided tech support and analysis for heroes. I really liked that version of Calculator. Who knew I would gravitate toward a villain who stayed home and used a computer? Obviously, the goofy costume with the chest computer is more fun for LEGO purposes, but I would love to see evil nerd Calculator return to comics.
-Magpie – For a while, this minor villain was established in continuity as being the first threat to bring together Batman and Superman as a team. Yes, a gloried thief who stole “shiny things” from a museum and replaced them with duplicates was not only too much for Batman, but actually necessitated the assistance of Superman. Put that aside for a moment to deal with this – her whole plan was based on what real magpies actually do and her real name is “Maggie Pye”. Even in a world where the Rainbow Raider’s real name is “Roy G. Bivolo”, that is ridiculously on the nose. And she’s not some weird late-Fifties creation – Magpie first appeared in 1986! When we knew better! (John Byrne’s Superman run has not aged well.) Magpie is another character who died off-panel, but she actually still managed a moment in the spotlight.
2013’s animated series Beware the Batman focused (at least in the first half of the season) on villains who’d never appeared on TV before, and a reconceived Magpie took over the traditional Catwoman role. But in a neat twist, instead of having Batman and Magpie be potential romantic partners separated by the law even though Magpie is a basically honorable thief, they zagged on that. Magpie thought that was their vibe, but she was actually a psychopath who’d murder for baubles, so it wasn’t going to work. So she approached every appearance like she was the Catwoman of her own story, but she’s actually the out-and-out villain. And I should not that the LEGO Batman appearance of Magpie is based on her Beware design and not her comics look (which was very bad).
And those are just the ones I’ve been able to make out! There are sure to be even more semi-forgotten weirdos in the actual movie.