Last week the guys debated which Batman villain is the best, and this week they continue that debate in print for your reading enjoyment.
Chris: If there was any doubt that No Right Answer has awesome fans, this week’s episode would have proven it and then some. I say this because I entirely expected more than a handful of comments stating that the Joker was the best and we were fools for not including him (which would mean they didn’t actually watch the episode), or that our choices were so far away from rational thought that we must be morons of the highest caliber.
And yet neither of those things happened. More than enough viewers agreed that the Riddler was a fantastic choice for the “best” moniker, with another high percentage saying that Two-Face was a strong choice as well. Then we had other fans coming in and (civilly) giving their own cases for villains such as Ra’s, Scarecrow, Clayface, Mr. Freeze, Hush, and even our colleague Jim Sterling represented Team Killer Moth.
What this forces me to do is reconsider the Joker as Batman’s one truest and most obvious villain ever. Come to think of it, I’ve read a number of stories that feature the Joker most prominently and more often than not, I’m overwhelmingly disappointed with the results. It leads me to learn that just as stories that take Batman out of Gotham, stories that give the Joker too much power also don’t work.
Essentially, any story where the Joker isn’t both confined to Gotham and to the restraints of just being a lone lunatic in a clown’s body can and does quickly become laughable, but not in any enjoyable way. Take the A Death in the Family storyline where the Joker becomes an ambassador for Iran. Doesn’t that just sound a bit too moronic to work? Or Last Laugh, where the Joker is diagnosed with cancer, decides to pretty much kill the world and finds instant success, which again doesn’t feel very fun since it’s all too easy.
Probably the most disappointing arc I’ve read is actually a Superman story called Emperor Joker. In it, the Joker gets 99% of Mr. Mxyzptlk’s power and uses it to utterly redo the universe into this bizarre world of his insanity. Again, it’s a concept that sounds really fun, but giving the Joker so much power so quickly gets boring way too fast.
For my money, if you’re looking for a brilliant Joker story within the comics and already went through The Killing Joke, check out Brian Azzarello’s Joker. It’s a Joker story told entirely from the perspective of a lowly henchman in the Joker’s gang that shows how utterly insane and terrifying the Clown Prince of Crime can really be when restraint on the writer’s part is expressed. Seriously, if you haven’t given Joker a read by now, you’re really missing out.
If I were to give an honest option for the real harshest villain Batman has ever faced, it’d without a doubt be Bob Kane. Ooh, didn’t expect that? Go give a read about what he actually did for the Dark Knight. You’ll discover that Kane originally envisioned Batman as being a middle-aged dude in bright red bat wings (no cowl) just swinging around, shooting bad guys as he pleased. Everyone knows Kane as Batman’s creator, but he was a hack and a joke. Bill Finger gets all the credit for giving us the Batman we know and love today. Don’t believe me? Maybe Cracked can convince you instead.
Kyle: So, this was quite an episode. It seems like every time we do a Batman-oriented episode, there is in fact a right answer, so we have to make a caveat. A proviso. A limitation. A quid pro quo.
Sorry, I’ll stop that. Anyway, factoring the Joker out of the equation makes this a genuine No Right Answer situation, where it’s all based on personal preference. I personally have a preference for Batman villains that challenge him mentally. And the Riddler is completely based off of that idea. He’s no match physically (really, very few of the rogues are) but he’s a genius. And really he was fully capable of being Batman himself if you disregard the physicality.
That last point may telegraph that Ra’s al Ghul is the better fit, but he’s missing the one thing that every Batman villain should have: a full-blown psychosis. And the Riddler’s compulsion to leave clues to be found is such an appropriate one. It mirrors Batman in that both men have a shining brilliance that is both impaired and aided by their need for theatrics.
I touched on something during the debate that I should expand on: Two-Face has been portrayed on screen several times, and he’s been done right. The Riddler has not been given his due. If Christopher Nolan had used the Riddler, everyone would see the character for the wonderful psychotic genius that he is. Unfortunately, because everyone’s lasting impressions of the Riddler are Frank Gorshin and Jim Carrey, he’s remembered as a more buffoonish and less effective knock-off of the Joker.
Further, I understand and agree that Harvey Dent’s downfall into madness is one great origin for a villain. Plus it gives Batman lots to think about and feel guilty about when he busts his old ally. But beyond the transformation, Two-Face is not very interesting. He’s obsessed with the number two and the concept of duality. He’s also a stickler for a warped sense of justice. That gets old pretty quickly. And after the initial shock and guilt wears off, Batman sees him about the same as any other whack-job causing trouble.
Meanwhile, the Riddler’s origin is a more understandable and believable starting point for an insane criminal. Abused as a child and called a moron and a cheater, part of his obsession with leaving clues is to earn the recognition for his intelligence that he never got as a child. In a way, he has to get caught. But if he does, he fails. It’s as big a personal tragedy as Dent, but much more internal and personal.
Anyway, that’s why I’d like to see more of him.
Dan: I’m really impressed at the overwhelmingly positive response we have gotten from the omission of the Joker from the debate options last week. Clearly a fan favorite and for good reason, we were worried that people would be so put off by our exclusion of Mr. Chuckles that they wouldn’t give the other villains any chance. Good on you, oh great fans of our show and of the Dark Knight.
And Jim Sterling commented as well, making him a superfan!
Chris grabbed the first point with the solid argument that Two-Face has a great gimmick. Any lazy comic book writer can say that the bad guy is half mangled and half normal, but to give him two separate personalities that cannot trump one another is a powerful move. When T.F. flips the coin and it lands sunny-side up, he would like to still murder and pillage, but he doesn’t. He has such a good gimmick that even he is a slave to it. More than any other villain in the lineup, he has inner turmoil that exists even without the Bat hanging around.
Kyle evened things up with a very good point: Would Batman stand a chance against the Riddler if no hints were given? Is the man in green so smart that he could win every confrontation if he could just resist the urge to leave clues everywhere? Hard to say, but it is something to think about. The Riddler is one of the few Bat-villains that can go toe-to-toe with Batman intellectually and sometimes come out ahead, at least for a while. He sees himself as perhaps smarter than he actually is, thus the clues, and that is probably his biggest weakness. Nice cane, though.
Kyle grabbed another point with the argument that, unlike T.F., the Riddler exists to be a foil to Batman’s intellectual powers. Would Riddler leave hints and commit crimes if he truly thought there was nobody that could follow his capers at his level? Probably not. He is a villain that only exists because Batman is so awesome. T.F. is his own person, able to commit crimes mostly because he is at war with himself. Riddler is definitely a Batman villain at his core.
Man, was Kyle on a roll! The next point was given to him due to the fact that the Riddler’s capers are so elaborate and diabolical, they can sometimes be confused with the Joker’s calling card. We didn’t include the Joker because he was too obvious, and if Riddler can be so smart that we assume the evil unfolding is the work of the obvious fan favorite … well then maybe the Riddler isn’t getting as much respect as he deserves.
Chris shook off the barrage from Kyle and came back with backstory. Man, I don’t know what the Riddler’s backstory is besides a smart guy who felt somehow wronged by Batman, and I consider myself a well Bat-ucated individual. T.F. has a backstory that is not only in pop culture regardless of Mr. Nolan, but is a much deeper and richer reason for existing. Batman went a little insane the night his parents died, and T.F. did the same when he got splashed with acid. However, T.F. was given the extra layer that he already had a duel-personality issue, and then we get to see a dark mirror of Batsy.
I wouldn’t mind knowing the Riddler’s backstory, if anyone knows it. For now, I will just re-watch Batman: TOS and enjoy the wonderful ride Paul Dini gives me.