Why is it that we just can’t get enough of Batman? Is it the compelling way he straddles the line between the light and the darkness, staring down the abyss on a nightly basis yet emerging each and every morning as the savior? Is it because he represents an (exaggerated) ideal of what we could achieve if we had the wealth and the resources and did a lot of push ups? Is it the way he shows us that even a grim loner clad in darkness needs the love and support of a surrogate family? Or is it just because he wears an awesome costume? Of course, the answer is all of the above but there’s one other intrinsic factor to Batman’s 70-odd years of popularity and it’s this: He has the greatest rogues gallery in comics.
That’s not to say that the likes of Lex Luthor, Doctor Doom, The Red Skull, Magneto, Brainiac etc. aren’t awesome. They are! But no single hero can match Batman’s rogues gallery pound-for-pound. The Joker, Two-Face, Catwoman, The Riddler, each is as iconic and recognizable as The Dark Knight himself. Which is why it’s so irksome when they’re done wrong! Here are some controversial redesigns that caused controversy and provoked ire among Bat-fans.
15. POISON IVY
Poison Ivy has one of those looks can stretch pretty far under the remit of artistic interpretation without compromising the character. Think of Tim Sale’s work on The Long Halloween which depicted Ivy as a human/plant hybrid with chlorophyll hued skin and cascading ivy tresses for hair. That said, she usually has long red hair and (variously suggestive) plant based garments. The implication is clearly that she feels more affinity for plants than humans and wants to identify more as a plant than a woman.
With that logic in mind, her Birds of Prey costume from the New 52 kind of makes sense. The surface area is divided between solid black and leafy green implying conflicted loyalties which sounds cool on paper but… Man is it ugly! Some readers may have found Ivy’s previous skimpy costumes regressive but there must be better ways to afford Pamela some modesty.
The Long Halloween is a perfect Batman story, combining a tense murder mystery with memorable turns from The Dark Knight’s entire rogues gallery and sumptuous art from Tim Sale that seamlessly blends influences from Art Deco to Film Noir to German Expressionism. For fans that cut their teeth on the visually oriented Tim Burton Batman films of 1989-1992 it was the perfect entry point into Batman’s comic book escapades.
While most of the villains fare well under Sale’s penmanship The Penguin is pretty much the only miss. Firstly, Sale’s expressionistic use of scale makes the character appear about four inches tall giving him an infantile appearance that robs him of any sense of menace. While there are some clear nods to the Tim Burton/Danny DeVito penguin from Batman Returns (such as the flippers and needle like teeth) there’s none of the inherent weirdness that made that version scary.
13. MR FREEZE
DC’s New 52 had many brilliant character moments, action beats, lines of dialogue and characterizations peppered here and there with curious or questionable choices. Mr. Freeze’s depiction is a clear microcosm of this. While there’s nothing exactly wrong with his characterization, many fans who fell in love with the depiction popularized by Paul Dini in the animated series will not recognize this callous sadist.
The design is curious, too. Not only is Freeze sporting an absurd mohawk but the suit is surprisingly sleek and while he wears the familiar fishbowl helmet (which looks like a snow globe on his head) his arms are inexplicably bare. While the steam emanating from his bare flesh looks cool it flies in the face of the comic book pseudo science of Mr Freeze.
The words “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” don’t amount to a hill of beans when you’ve got action figures to sell and a line-wide reboot that was hell-bent on inflicting cool and edgy re-imaginings upon characters who were pretty cool and edgy to begin with. For an international hitman for whom discretion is the better part of valor this ill-fitting redesign has so many pointless and flashy affectations it might as well have been designed by Rob Liefeld.
Aside from the decent enough tweaks to the helmet, Deadshot’s New 52 redesign looks neither protective nor functional. With arching shoulder plates that look like they’d snag on any doorway and shin pads that look like they’d stab him in the knees every time he straightened his legs, it’s a far cry from the Nolanesque plausibility applied to Batman’s own redesign.
11. THE JOKER
The Joker is (among other things) a big fan of irony. Consider that moment in The Dark Knight where he sets a fire truck on fire. But you can go too far with these things. Like… Having your face cut off by a villain called the Dollmaker and wearing said severed face as a mask. Yup, that’s how Joker gets his laughs!
It’s brilliantly bizarre and befitting both the story arc and Joker’s twisted mind, it certainly is gruesome, especially since artist Greg Capullo shows no quarter in depicting the rotting, fly riddled skin of the mask and the oozing flesh beneath. The sequence in the Batman and Robin title in which Joker assaults Damian Wayne’s Robin while wearing the mask upside down is genuinely disturbing. Are you sure this is how you wanted to connect with younger audiences, DC?
There are three different kinds of Grant Morrison writing. There’s the first which is legitimately brilliant, the second which is him doing his very best Alan Moore impersonation and the third is “no more illicit substances for that man!” Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth falls somewhere between the latter two categories. Designed to be a nightmarish trip alongside Batman through a darkly surreal rendering of Gotham’s famous loony bin it features some questionable renderings of Batman’s villains.
While the art by Dave McKean never fails to astonish (the aforementioned Mr Moore famously called the book a “gilded turd”), there’s something off about this depiction of Clayface. This leprous depiction clearly plays for body horror but falls wide of the mark while bearing very little relation to the character we all know, invoking neither pathos nor menace.
9. DOCTOR DEATH
One of the New 52’s greatest challenges was to ret-con Batman’s origin to supersede Frank Miller’s excellent Batman: Year One. Anyone but Scott Snyder would have fallen flat on their face, but damn if he didn’t pull it off. The “Zero Year” arc did a great job of re-interpreting Batman’s origin, while incorporating some subtle nods to the early issues of Detective Comics in which Batman made his debut in the late ’30s.
While the original Karl Helfern aka Doctor Death looked every bit the generic pulp villain, Snyder re-envisaged him as something far more monstrous. The result of a failed experiment, Doctor Death is afflicted by a deformity characterized by extreme and hideous bone growth giving him an appearance as nightmarish as his murderous intentions. As in “The Black Mirror” or “The Court of Owls” Synder can seamlessly weaves horror elements into a compelling Batman mystery.
Yeah sure, sneering at ’90s comics has become a cliche that borders on self-parody for comic book sites. That said, while Chuck Dixon’s work on Catwoman in that infamous decades was always solid, her costume and aesthetic are unmistakably problematic. While the aesthetic may have been awesome in the eyes of drooling adolescent fanboys, it’s hardly appropriate or practical for a cat burglar.
The skintight bodysuit accented by thigh high boots and long gloves lend the look a needlessly fetishistic bent, while the exposed hair is just plain silly (unless she really wants to give GCPD’s forensics department a fighting chance). Despite her improbably body fat ratio, her chest looks like it weighs 30 pounds on its own. Leaping across the rooftops of Gotham must be agony for her without some serious support.
7. KILLER CROC
“Hush” has gained a reputation as one of the quintessential Batman stories of the 21st century. Although it has all the right components; a script by Jeph Loeb, art by Jim Lee and appearances by all the usual suspects of Batman’s rogues gallery, the years since its release have shown it to be an enjoyable triumph of style over substance.
In “Hush”, Batman’s villains are seen to be behaving in slightly different or modified ways and nowhere is this more evident than in Waylon Jones. Croc’s monstrous appearance is the result of a rare skin condition, which lends the character a sense of pathos and says something about our attitudes to appearance. It was society’s rejection and hatred of Jones that made him a monster (even the Suicide Squad movie got that). Mutating him into the love child of The Abomination and The Lizard cheapens this somewhat.
6. BLACK MASK
When’s a reboot not a reboot? When it’s DC Rebirth. The clever use of the Flash’s Speed Force hopping antics has written DC editors a free pass to cherry pick parts of the New 52 that worked while jettisoning everything that didn’t (i.e. pretty much everything to do with Superman). Even when surgically grafting the new onto the (sort of) old, though, there’s always going to be a certain amount of baby that gets thrown out with the bathwater.
The cool thing about Black Mask is the way his look straddles the line between the old-school gangster caste of Gotham criminals and the newer ‘freaks’. That’s why exposing him to a techno-organic virus in Red Hood and the Outlaws and making his mask look like some sort of gimp Darth Vader is so damned jarring.
5. THE RIDDLER
When the New 52 first launched back in 2011, those first issues were a decidedly mixed bag. As the reboot progressed, the Batman title stood out as consistently the strongest. The cover for Batman #1 (and indeed its first few pages) set out the stall for the title from the outset, plunging The Dark Knight into battle with a handful of Arkham inmates including a distressingly wrong-headed depiction of The Riddler.
This version of Edward Nygma raised eyebrows not just because he was brawling with Batman (which just seemed fundamentally wrong) but because of his curious visual comprised of inmate’s whites with a green domino mask and a shaved head with a shock of green hair sculpted into a question mark. Throwing subtlety to the wind, Riddler also had question marks tattooed on his skull. Fortunately, the character would be done justice in the subsequent “Zero Year”.
On the whole, most Rebirth designs have been superior to their New 52 counterparts, but this latest version of Deathstroke’s duds has proven divisive among Bat-fans. Deathstroke’s New 52 aesthetic was decidedly badass and looked armored and protective without appearing needlessly bulky or restrictive. The subsequent ‘upgrade’ for Rebirth… not so much. While it’s clear what they were trying to do, (the sleeker look and orange mail are clearly loving homages to George Perez’s original design from the ’80s) something about it doesn’t quite work.
The interplay between black and orange looks arbitrary and the suit generally lacks the intimidating bulk of its predecessor. Fortunately Christopher Priest did such a great job writing the character in those first few issues, most fans quickly forgot how much they disliked the design.
While John Romita Jr. is a beloved comic book artist, his work has become so synonymous with the Marvel brand that there’s always been something a little jarring about seeing his work applied to the DC canon. That aside, as good as All-Star Batman is there’s something just a little off about this depiction of Two-Face.
The characterization is great, especially with Two-Face using Harvey Dent’s political infrastructure for criminal ends by blackmailing his former contacts, but there are some odd choices to the aesthetic. The principal offender is that magenta suit and tie with the black shirt. Whether they miss the classic bifurcated look or they just don’t feel those two colors work that well together the look just plain hasn’t sat right with a lot of fans.
A curious offshoot of the successful “Forever Evil”, “Arkham War” sees Bane as the leader of an army of Blackgate inmates at war with the former residents of Arkham Asylum. While Bane is certainly fearsome, he learns that the “crazies” don’t fear him as much as they do Batman. In response Bane builds himself a Batsuit, re-inventing himself as a Bane/Batman hybrid.
It’s an interesting visual but one that’s extremely dissonant with the Bane we’ve known since 1993. Bane’s hubris would never allow him to co-opt the symbol that he has despised and feared since childhood. Sure, “Knightfall” has now been retconned out of existence but it would make far more sense for Bane to make criminals more afraid of him as he is than to piggyback on Batman’s reputation.
1. HARLEY QUINN
By 2011 Harley Quinn fandom was in full effect. Unfortunately a certain contingent of fans were calling for a more erotically charged version of the character as seen (in all her fetishistic glory) in 2009’s Arkham Asylum video game. The result was an unprecedentedly racy depiction of Harley that seemed more concerned with titillation than taking the character seriously.
It’s telling that this revised version of her origin features Dr. Quinzel emerging from her toxic bath with her clothing provocatively eroded in certain strategic places to reveal her undergarments. Her actual costume was only a little more conservative, comprised only of hot pants, thigh high boots and a corset that barely protected the good doctor’s modesty. While she was generally treated with respect by her writers and story lines, her needlessly provocative attire ran afoul of many progressively minded fans.
Which of these redesigns did you actually like? Let us know in the comments!
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