Thursday, September 25, 2014

Know your Bat-Villain! Part I

When it comes to profiling, the Bat-villains are quite a challenge. We have to consider that, on top of their temperament, personality and idiosyncrasies, these guys have personality disorders and these would be hard to diagnose. To make things worse, they have been portrayed so many times the best known characterizations of each one might come from a different movie, comic continuity or series. Sometimes, their behavior is not consistent within certain continuity.
With that in mind, I give you my sketches of the most popular enemies of Batman, according to the characterizations that made them shine the most.

The Joker: He is a cold, manipulative type of psychopath gone wild. Batman (1989 film) shows the transition. As Jack Napier, he pushes the system and gets what he wants from a safe niche as a ruthless mobster; the physical transformation to the Joker only made him wear his true colors on the outside. He becomes even bolder and enjoys the fear he causes on people. However, he also manages a duality. People can see that he is dangerous and disregards life, yet he keeps conning them to trust him, specially in the case of his henchmen.
These days Cesar Romero's take is under appreciated, yet he is just the same psychopath in a campy context. The only difference is that he has shorter temper, which is common ground with most comic book versions as well as the one in Batman: The Animated Series, portrayed by Mark Hamill and mostly based in 70s and 80s stories.
In Alan Moore's The Killing Joke the Joker gets a possible origin story that is never confirmed. Instead of being Jack Napier, he was a bad comedian who loved his family and the accident that transformed him completely reconfigured his personality.
The most different version of the Joker might be the one Heath  Ledger did in The Dark Knight, his sense of humor is completely dry and his temper doesn't really boil. 

Like a good psychopath, the Joker doesn't appear to have empathy. However, some iterations show shreds of it. Modern versions don't want to kill Batman and even avenge or protect him from other villains.As manipulative as he can be, he clearly can't live without Harley Quinn for long. And finally, he often bonds with peers like the Penguin or Catwoman.
My pick: Mark Hamill's is straight, classic Joker.

The Penguin: This guy is South Park's Eric Cartman as an antagonist of Batman. He is a loud, ruthless man, with short temper, superiority complex and histrionic behavior. Despite the camp, the general template of the character  Burgess Meredith's portrayal in the 1966 series. With minor changes, that's the same profile in Batman Returns, Batman: The Animated Series, The Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and many comics (specially prior to 1995).  On several occasions Batman has admitted the intellectual superiority of the Penguin, who is cunning, pays close attention to details and plots ahead of the game, not to mention that he has a colossal drive and walks over any obstacle. He can also be very charismatic and persuasive as he is developing his plot (to the point of running for mayor). However, he usually fails because he puts himself in the spotlight, craves recognition and credit for his brilliant crimes and his temper blows as he starts losing. In other words, he puts on a hell of a show but he is too narcissistic to win.
Around 1995 writer Chuck Dixon turned the character in to Gotham City's equivalent of Moriarty, which is the current version. Instead of dragging negative attention, he keeps a facade as a legitimate business man and rules the underworld without anyone being able to prove so. This is cleverer, but in this role he is often portrayed as a coward.
His background often changes. Some versions of his origin show him being bullied as a kid, some show that that he was an even bigger bully all along. Penguin Triumphant shows that he was always the bully and he extorted his peers.
Usually, the Penguin is one of the most social enemies of Batman. He seems to enjoy gatherings and likes to team up with other rogues, specially the Joker. When it comes to women, it's anybody's guess. He ranges from bitter or awkward to overconfident and even highly skilled.
My pick: Burgess Meredith defined the character.

Catwoman: One of the few healthy characters in this list, with no personality disorder, her personality is like the average cat: melancholic, task-oriented, perfectionist, demanding, hedonist, avoiding and, when convenient, charming. She cool as the other side of the pillow in that she is in absolute control of her behavior, which is in perfect tune with her environment and whatever is going on. If people around her are uninteresting or useless to her, she is likely to act cold. She has high standards, but the more appealing she finds someone, the more charming and teasing she becomes. However, she protects herself and acts uninterested if she feels exposed. This is the case with her relationship with Batman.
She is also quite assertive, going for what she wants (and she only wants the best) and usually getting it. Under her frivolous facade, she actually cares deeply about good people and is capable of showing it. Her tendency to end up acting heroically often proves her altruism.
As a thief, she has her unique take on ethics, stealing from the rich and keeping it for herself or giving it to the poor. Either as a scheming mob boss with a gang of henchmen or as cat-burglar it is clear that she likes risk and danger.
Give or take, this traits are common to the most popular portrayals in animated series, video games and comics. Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises is the perfect example. In Batman Returns, Michelle Pfeiffer portrayal is always melancholic, but switches from clumsy and inhibited to bold and confident like the usual version. Julie Newmar, however, had a unique take as her main driving force seems to be her sense of thrill and fun. In her episodes, she is more outgoing and extroverted. She clearly enjoys teasing Batman and putting him in danger to see him escape. When it comes to Robin, she kind the attention he gets from Batman, so she is meaner to him. This version is echoed in Batman: The Brave and the Bold
My pick: Anne Hathaway, but almost tied with Newmar and Pfeiffer.

Harley Quinn: She is complicated in that her personality changes two times within Batman: The Animated Series, her continuity of origin.
In The Laughing Fish, Joker's Favor, Almost Got 'Im, and The Man Who Killed Batman she is a moll in perfect tune with the Joker. She is usually seen in charge of executing the tricky parts of his schemes, and when it comes to his jokes, being the perfect Andy to his Conan. Her self control under pressure, her absolute lack of empathy towards people she knew her boss was about to kill (Sid the Squid, Charlie Collins, Catwoman) makes her a cold blooded psychopath. She seems like a top groupie with an agenda that excites her, like Claire Underwood from House of Cards or Mercy Graves in Superman: The Animated Series. Her relationship to the Joker is that of a partner. This version is likely close to the one in Brian Azzarello's Joker and the Birds of Prey TV series.
In Harley & Ivy, she is portrayed as a codependent girlfriend, she is dependable and can still plan ahead, the big differences are her empathy and her weaker confidence despite showing more capability for successful planning and executing than Poison Ivy or the Joker, who is just using her because of her talents. Despite only being used in one episode, this is the version that was used in No Man's Land when she was introduced as well as her first comic book series.
Finally, after the series was renamed The Adventures of Batman & Robin she is portrayed as a having full blown histrionic personality disorder (HDP). Like the Penguin in Birds of a Feather, she is all over the place calling attention to herself, has wild mood swings and a strong sexual drive, is completely deluded about the Joker and Batman and cannot plan ahead. Her abilities become all about skillful improvising. This final version has the most conflicted relationship with the Joker, as her lack of vision becomes a liability that angers him as much as her habit of stealing the show with her spontaneous jokes. He is basically using her for sex and her improvisational skills. Give or take, this version is the one appearing in The New Batman Adventures, The Batman, the Arkham video game series and Mad Love, which is que quintessential Harley Quinn story.
My pick: Psychopath Harley. All of them were portrayed by Arleen Sorkin.

The Riddler: The constant in every version is that is a narcissistic, often petulant jerk, with no empathy and an ego so inflated that he has the compulsive obsession to demonstrate the superiority of his intellect by committing crimes, leaving clues and challenging Batman and the police to solve them. He ends up being a sore loser. The template of this characters is Frank Gorshin's take, who basically created the character. His portrayal shows a very aggressive nature, and extremely high levels of energy. The most contrasting portrayal is John Glover in Batman: The Animated Series, which shows him more calm and petulant. Every other version falls in between. In every Burton-Schumacher movie, a villain suffers a metamorphosis, in Batman Forever, Jim Carrey's Riddler goes from clumsy and inhibited to bold and aggressive like the usual version.
Although more melancholic, less histrionic, and less choleric, he shares narcissistic personality disorder with the Penguin. The Riddler can try to be sociable, but he tends to alienate people and it's very hard for other villains to work with him.
My pick: Gorshin.

Egghead: He is Vincent Price having fun with the Batman cast. The big appeal of this character is that he is a charming narcissist. Unlike the classic temperament archetypes, he is both social and task oriented; a combination of a melancholic perfectionist with an outgoing phlegmatic man. He can actually persuade people while throwing utterly egocentric one-liners.
Egghead's pomposity and perfectionism can be compared with that of Kelsey Grammer in the roles of Frasier Crane (Frasier) or Sideshow Bob (The Simpsons), to the point to get away with elaborated, yet simple, "Pinky and the Brain" type of brilliant hits, as well as getting Batman right where he wants, only to downfall because of eccentricity and obsession with little details. His attitude as a super-villain is also close to Gene Hackman's Luthor, and so are his schemes, only the later is more ruthless. Which brings us to his empathy. He can use and destroy people without remorse, yet he is also able to have decent romantic relationships.
He probably has mixed elements within the cluster B of personality disorders without being an extreme case. He is a manipulative and cold type of psychopath, that feels to brag about his accomplishments.
My Pick: Vincent Price (like there is another option).

As I imagined, these profiles ended up a bit longer than the usual. So I will split the work in several parts. Here are the ones I've completed so far:
Soon I'll do King Tut, The Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Killer Moth, Shame and the Ventriloquist.
In the meantime, here are some quick references to the type of criteria used in these sketches.

For more character profiles, check out the following articles:
Know your Justice Leaguer!
Understand the personality of the early
members of the World's mightiest team.

Know your Super Buddy!
Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Fire,  Ice, Sue, 
Maxwell and the rest of the late 80s gang!

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