Aug 17, 2021
3 lame Batman villains rescued from obscurity by awesome retcons
When the Comics Code went into effect in the 1950s, effectively castrating the industry in the process, the artists (and the indentured servants they passed off as writers in those days) had a problem on their hands. They could no longer write effective villains for their superheroes to fight, as one of the Code’s many, many borderline puritan rules heavily restricted how violent the content could be, along with requiring villains who committed murder to be permanently punished. So our favorite superheroes would have to spend the next few decades fighting OCD-suffering morons in garish tights who mostly committed crimes that today would just be YouTube pranks.
So until the code eventually lost its authority, DC and Marvel were stuck with rogues’ galleries full of criminals who only stole blue diamonds shaped like emus on alternating Fridays and similar nonsense. But a few enterprising writers later realized that these comically outmatched losers could be repurposed and present actual threats to our favorite heroes. Here are just a few of them.
Right out of the gate, we’re starting with the most famous example. Our story begins in 1958, at the dawn of the Silver Age of Comics, with issue #259 of Detective Comics, the mainstay of Batman. Julian Day, a criminal who for some reason was obsessed with dates, days, and seasons, decided to challenge Batman to stop his crime wave based on the four seasons, and because this was the Silver Age, Batman had to undergo a drastic drop in competence so the issue wouldn’t be two pages long. And so, the Dark Knight did battle with a guy who dressed like a gay pride parade marching through an arboretum.
After his initial appearance, Day didn’t appear again for over 20 years, and when he finally does, it’s 1979, and comics are doing their best to shed their embarrassing past like a college rave phase. Day is occasionally brought out so other villains can make fun of him, because apparently the supervillain scene is just high school with slightly more psychotic murderers.
Then came the story that changed everything. In 1996, DC published the critically acclaimed series Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. The series, which revolves around a serial killer called Holiday who strikes on, as you might have guessed, calendar holidays, features Calendar Man reimagined as a Hannibal Lecter-esque inmate at Arkham Asylum, who knows Holiday’s identity and leads Batman on with cryptic clues.
Gone are the ridiculous costume and overblown hysterics about dates. Instead, Calendar Man has become a genuinely creepy psychopath with a compulsion, which is, you know, exactly what real life serial killers are.
We’ll stick with Batman’s rogues’ gallery to bring up an unusual character: a shitty supervillain who became a genuinely interesting anti-hero. If there’s one thing superhero comics like, it’s the whole “opposite villain” aesthetic, no matter how little sense it makes. That’s the origin of Thomas Blake, AKA Catman.
Debuting in 1963, Catman was originally a Batman villain who committed cat-themed crimes, so yeah, he was literally just Catwoman with a dick. He quickly became a joke, to the point where when he resurfaced in the ’90s, he had become an overweight loser who got bullied by Green Arrow, and when you get picked on by a guy who’s power is “owning a stick”, you’ve pretty much hit rock bottom.
That’s where comic writer superstar Gail Simone came in. As part of DC’s Infinite Crisis event, Simone was given the job to revive the old Secret Six license, which would now consist of a group of supervillains who were out for revenge against Lex Luthor’s Secret Society organization. The members were Deadshot, Cheshire, Ragdoll II, Parademon, Scandal Savage, and as you might have guessed, Catman. As it turns out, Catman had spent the years since his last appearance in Africa, and no longer looked like the worst contestant on Biggest Loser.
As part of the Six, Catman grows from a shitty Batman recolor to a genuinely interesting anti-hero, becoming the group’s de facto leader and racking up an impressive record of victories against heroes and villains alike. Not to mention, he finally gets to punch Batman in his smug bat-face.
3. Clock King
Our last entrant didn’t start out as a Batman villain. In 1960, a man named William Tockman needed money to help support his invalid sister after he was (wrongly) diagnosed with a terminal illness. He attempted to get the money by robbing the time-controlled vault of a local bank, but ended up caught by Green Arrow. While in prison, he found out that not only was he not dying (due to the doctor mixing up his records), but his sister died while he was locked away. Tockman swore revenge against Green Arrow, rather than the doctor whose fault the whole mess was in the first place, and became a supervillain with what might actually be the single worst costume in an industry full of fashion disasters.
Yeah, he didnt have time-powers or anything; he literally based his entire persona on his name being a pun, and his first crime involving a time lock. Shockingly, wearing a unitard with cartoony clocks on it didn’t make Tockman any better at crime, and aside from his initial appearance, his career mostly consisted of seeing how much of a laughingstock he could make of himself.
However, change would come from an unexpected source. When the 1960s Batman live-action series aired, one of the villains they used was, for some reason, Clock King. But this wasn’t what would save him; that would come about 30 years later. When the critically acclaimed Batman animated series aired in the ’90s, they picked up several villains from the ’60s show, one of whom was Clock King. And this is where things got interesting.
Reimagined as a man named Temple Fugate who blames the loss of his company on Mayor Hamilton Hill, Clock King is an efficiency and schedule expert who studies his targets down to the smallest detail, allowing him to make extremely intricate plans, and even avoid Batman’s attacks for short amounts of time. He also switches out the clock pajamas for a classy three piece suit, ironically making the character very similar to an older Golden Age character named the Clock, who also shared Fugate’s sense of timing.
The animated version of the Clock King became iconic, to the point that he made the switch over to the actual DC books. This led to a bit of an awkward situation as there are now technically two Clock Kings running around, one who’s an actual threat, and one who’s an embarrassment to the entire supervillian industry.