At Last: Batman Vs. King Tut

Thanks in large part to the performances of Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith on the original "Batman" television series, The Joker, The Riddler and The Penguin became household names in the 1960s.

But for fans of the show, which starred Adam West as the Caped Crusader, some of the best episodes featured villains who existed outside the Bat-verse created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger and company. One of the all-time best was Vincent Price as Egghead, the world's smartest criminal (with the most oblong-shaped head). Another was King Tut, a Yale professor played by Victor Buono, who thought, due to a severe blow to the head, he was the iconic Egyptian Pharaoh.

And while Egghead made a cameo appearance way back in 1992 in "Shadow of the Bat" #2-3, King Tut - who was the main villain on "Batman" five times, more than any other villain created specifically for the show -- has never appeared in comics. But that all changes on February 11, 2009 when the regal rogue makes his DC Comics debut in "Batman Confidential" #26.

Written by the dynamic duo of Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis, the issue featues artwork by industry legends Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan, and kicks off a three-part arc telling the tale of King Tut's first visit to Gotham.

DeFilippis told CBR News that King Tut was one of his personal favorites from the cult classic TV show, so it was a decidedly cool assignment to bring the character to the DC Universe proper, even though this incarnation is slightly different than the one from the '60s series. "He's a bit different in comic form than he was in the TV show for two reasons," explained DeFilippis. "One, the tone of the comics versus the tone of the show and two, legal/copyright issues. The TV show exists in a strange place where DC, which is part of Warner Bros., owns Batman and Robin and the Commissioner and the characters invented in the comic, but the show itself is now owned by Fox. So who owns the characters invented for the show? It's a thorny issue, and it's generally kept the show's new villains far from the comics.

"Now, in this case, we worked from the concept of King Tut, a historic figure who clearly doesn't belong to DC or to Fox/the TV show. Because no one can hold a copyright on the boy King, we can build our own Tut, in a sense."

Christina Weir said the idea to welcome King Tut to the Batverse fold, albeit set in Batman's past -- as is the case with all the "Batman Confidential" stories -- belonged to über-editor Mike Carlin. "We had proposed the story idea with a new villain, The Sphinx, who would pose riddles Batman needed to answer," explained Weir. "Because Batman needed to not just solve the riddles, but anticipate them, he's forced to team with the Riddler despite suspecting the Riddler is responsible for the whole thing.

"But Mike thought it would be fun to do the same story with King Tut. And Tut fits the themes we're dealing with really well."

Weir added the issue of "tone at play," as well when explaining King Tut's 40-plus year wait to arrive in comics. "While there's a certain guilty pleasure to the campy vibe of the TV series, I'm sure there's been a reluctance to bring some of that to the comics for fear that it wouldn't mesh properly with what's been done in the DCU. But I think Mike's suggestion to use King Tut was perfect and we managed to craft a story that pays homage to the TV show yet makes perfect sense within the Batman universe in the comics."

The story opens when a series of crimes are committed against some of Gotham's wealthiest citizens. Riddles are left behind and are somehow connected to the Gotham Museum of Antiquities. "Batman suspects the Riddler is involved, but the Riddler swears up and down that he had nothing to do with it," explained Weir. "Furthermore, the Riddler is, shall we say, not happy that someone is stealing his M.O. He offers to team up with Batman to capture this fiend. But can Batman trust the Riddler? Is the Riddler actually this villain or is he telling the truth?"

DeFilippis added, "The Riddler is my favorite Bat-villain. I enjoy writing his dialogue, and his banter with Batman. When we developed the story, it was before Paul Dini had done his story about the Riddler reforming and becoming a detective. And when his story came out, we got in touch with Mike Carlin and asked, half in jest, if it hurt or helped our story. But the beauty of it was, as Mike pointed out, our story fits perfectly in with that story when you consider that 'Confidential' is a book about the past. And it does so without spoiling the truth about Riddler's motives in our tale. We can honestly say that either way lays the groundwork for the future Batman/Riddler dynamic as written by Dini. If Riddler really is trying to 'help,' this could be where he started considering the option of going legit. And if he's the real villain behind the Tut crimes, then it's one more reason why Batman has been reluctant to trust the Riddler's reform."

As for King Tut, DeFilippis said the beauty of the character is there is a built-in reaction to the majestic menace. And not only from the TV show. "I think people love Egyptian history and mythology, and can attach to the imagery so easily. He becomes iconic just by being a pharaoh, which we hope will give him staying power in the comics," said DeFilippis. "But also, we had to reinvent Tut for this story in certain ways. I want to assure the TV show fans that a lot of the central concept is intact, the central suspect, other than the Riddler, of course, is an Egyptologist who, due to a blow to the head, thinks he's the Boy King reborn.

"But we had to add more thematic. I guess the word is depth, but I'm afraid to use that word and sound like I'm insulting the show, when honestly if they built an altar to that show, I'd get a robe and become a worshipper. But the fact is we needed him to bring a bit more complexity in terms of motive and style of crime. So we delved into the history of the real King Tut. And we found the god Aten. Tut's name was once Tutenaten, and it changed to Tutankhamun. Aten was a bringer of light, so we built a whole concept around our villain's radical theory about Tut still worshipping the god Aten. This allowed us to give him a broader vision of Gotham. Here was the bringer of light coming to the dark city of Gotham. How would he react to Batman, a creature of the night?"

Weir called the artwork by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan "stunning" and admitted, "There's a page from the second issue we desperately want to buy to hang in our office."

Again, due to copyright issues, Victor Buono's original performance couldn't be used for inspiration either in the art or the script. "Our King Tut couldn't be the King Tut in the show," said DeFilippis. "So he needed a different physique. Plus, he might be the Riddler, so unless the Riddler is in a fat suit, he couldn't look like Victor Buono. There's also a character who is the other main suspect. For legal reasons, we couldn't give that guy the same name as King Tut's civilian ID in the TV show, William Omaha McElroy. So we named that character in honor of Victor Buono. His name is Victor Goodman. I'm half-Italian, so when I see Buono, I see 'good.'"

This is not the first time Weir and DeFilippis have donned flight jackets and fedoras while telling tales from the crypt. In 2004, the writing team penned "The Tomb" for Oni Press, a graphic novel teased as "Indiana Jones in the haunted mansion."

As for more Bat-villains, when asked if an Egghead arc of "Batman Confidential" was coming up next, Weir responded, "Well, no one's asked us yet, but if DC wants it, sure."

"Batman Confidential" #26 goes on sale in February from DC Comics.

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