Who is the most original Batman villain?
Batman, as we know, has many, literary ancestors, including Zorro, the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Phantom, The Shadow, and Sherlock Holmes. Not only does that fact not diminish him, it ennobles him. Batman is to vigilante crimefighters what Bach is to the Baroque: the ne plus ultra, the superior synthesis of all that has gone before, the gold standard of his type. One of things that makes Batman great is precisely how original he is NOT.
|Only Bob Kane could create a character as unoriginal at Batman, so please be fair and give credit where credit's not due.|
This aspect of Batman is a commonplace. But what of his villains? How unoriginal are they and which is the most original?
The Joker. Like Batman, the Joker is an unsurpassable synthesis. The deformed Gwynplaine of "The Man Who Laughs'
and the maddened murderous clown of Ruggiero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, for example,
|"Hey, buddy! Leave some scenery for the rest of us to chew, willya?"!|
...are part of his deadly iconic mix. One could discuss the genius of a creation like the Joker for hours, but we'd be wasting time making a case that he's the most original of Batman's foe. Like Batman, part of what makes the Joker great is precisely that he is not original.
Catwoman. Puh-lease! We all love Kitty, but she's every femme fatale every vigilante's every matched wits and mashed faces with! Let's just cite Sherlock Holmes' Irene Adler, and leave it at that. Sure, Selina Kyle had the animal costume fetish thing, but in that the character is just being set in the same mold and animal-totemed Batman himself.
|The Catwoman would sweat Moxie. If she sweat. Which she doesn't.|
I certainly have a soft-spot for The Penguin, and always insist that he be given his due (which he's usually not). But his creators are on record as saying that he was based on the "A.J. Raffles" character of a gentleman thief. Maybe they just said that to distract people from realizing how thoroughly they stole the character from Chester Gould's Dick Tracy.
Two-Face is one of my favorite characters, and perhaps the Batman character with the most to say about human nature. He's also quite the fashionista.
|You need to understand that if the tie is NOT drawn that way, it means it's a CLIP-ON.|
But Two-Face is just Gotham's take on Jekyll/Hyde (and it described exactly as such in the splash page from his first story.
|Read any good books lately, Harvey?|
Compared to some of the above, the Scarecrow is actually fairly original. But he's too clearly a villianized version of Ichabod Crane, the spindly teacher from America's most famous ghost story, Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleep Hollow.
The idea of a demented master of psychology holding an entire city in fearful thrall mostly for the hell of it and to sustain his own fragile ego is, after all, an American archetype.
|That's DOCTOR Crane to you!|
Later arrivals Poison Ivy and Mr Freeze may seem more original... at least until you've read Hawthorne's Rappacini's Daughter, in which a mad scientist, distraught at the loss of his wife, uses venomous plants to make his daughter poisonous to the touch, shutting her off from normal human contact.
|Combining the origins of Mr Freeze with that of Poison Ivy makes for a surefire classic.|
I think, in fact, that the Riddler might be the most original classic Batman villain. That may surprise you. A villainous mastermind who toys with the authorities by leaving intentionally puzzling clues is SUCH a trope to us! Nowadays even violent psychopaths like Hannibal Lecter leave anagrammatic clues just to prove their smarter than everyone else. Why, without this trope, what would Kevin Spacey due for a living?
|'Your guess is as good as mine. Actually, I lied; it's not."|
But when you think about it...don't all of those many puzzling villains...FOLLOW the Riddler? Honestly, I'm hard-pressed to come up with a literary predecessor to him in the whole "I mislead you with clues for fun to show how smart I am" type of villain. I mean, sure there have been clever masterminds such as Fu Manchu, who might mislead their opponents. But only incidentally, only as means to an end. The Riddler seems to be the first character for whom 'the game' IS the end, and crime merely the means to play it.
Am I wrong? Or is the Riddler actually the MOST original Batman villain...
which would explain why some many modern villains are based on him? Which would make him, in a literary sense...
Batman's most influence villain?
Feel free to discuss.