Jan 20, 2020
3 supervillains Batman was clearly just humoring
So I’ve talked before about the times when some enterprising writer decided to dredge up and give new life to the creative trainwrecks that litter Batman’s past like Amtrak’s past is littered with actual trainwrecks. No matter how silly Superman got, he at least got to fight giant robots and aliens (whenever he wasn’t traveling in time to meet his parents for the umpteenth time—which really loses its impact after the first few stories—or flying to different dimensions where everyone is giant turnips or whatever other nonsense the writer shat out to meet their deadlines).
However, even by the standards of the ’60s, some villains were so laughably bad, so pathetically forced, that there’s no way Batman could possibly have had problems taking them down. And not even the neurotic Silver Age version of the Caped Crusader who spent most of his time putting on weird costumes because the Comics Code made it illegal to punch anyone. A fucking crossing guard could have arrested these guys! These are the villains who made Calendar Man look competent (the original bullshit one, not the creepy Hannibal Lecter one).
In 1957, a man named Phillip Cobb arrived in Gotham City, hoping to make a name for himself in organized crime. This being Gotham, he understandably assumed you could basically put out an ad on Craigslist (or the ’50s equivalent, which were just newspapers, I guess) and Gotham’s assorted scum would just show up to audition for your gang. Or rape and murder you, because it is Craigslist, and there’s a 50/50 chance either way. However, ol’ Phil soon found out that even Gotham’s population of dropouts and Korean War draft dodgers weren’t interested in getting themselves killed for some random asshole just off the train from Buttfuck, Nowhere. Looking around at the freakshow of costumed lunatics that made up most of Gotham’s underworld at that point, Cobb decided that in order to make a name for himself, he needed a costumed persona, something that would make people respect him. So he dressed himself up in longjohns decorated with the Wingdings typefont from Microsoft Word.
Presumably basing his persona on the “50% off your entire purchase” Hobby Lobby coupon that arrived in the mail that morning, Cobb decided that since modern society was “ruled by signals and symbols”, he should create a criminal identity around that, because career crooks definitely want to work for someone who looks like he made his costume out of discount bin iron-on patches. Somehow, “crimes based on signals” (which could literally be anything and would just be regular crime if it wasn’t committed by a dork in a bad costume) constituted actual news, but Batman barely made an effort to catch this guy, presumably thinking it was all some sort of Make-A-Wish thing for a terminally stupid patient.
Shock of shockers, Signalman’s idea to use the power of random symbols didn’t work out and he wound up in jail, where his cellmate turned out to be a guy who had previously fought Green Arrow. This inspired Cobb to reinvent himself as the Blue Bowman, assuming that Batman had no experience fighting a guy with arrows. You know what they say, Cobb, “assume” makes an ass out of you and… well, you, because you’re the one wearing the bootleg Green Arrow costume.
Somehow, trying to fight Batman with the same weapon one of his closest allies used didn’t work either, and Signalman went right back to the original thing he did that didn’t work. After almost 15 years of absence, he returned in 1976 in a story that involved him trapping Batman inside the Bat-Signal, turning it into a makeshift electric chair, because apparently spotlights can do that? What makes Signalman especially ridiculous is that despite the laughable concept, DC kept putting him in situations that implied that the character was actually feared.
Even the other villains kept including him in groups where he stuck out like a dismembered limb, like the Secret Society of Supervillains or Raz Al Ghul’s villain jury, where he’s described as an “illustrious cut-throat”. It’s not just Batman; even the villains and the goddamn narrator tried to make Signalman feel better over his shitty choices.
2. Mr. Polka-Dot
Want to know why people used to look at comic fans like they were leprosy-infested child molesters? It’s because of characters like our next entry. This is what superhero comics meant in the popular consciousness for a good 40 years. Allow me to present Mr. Polka-Dot.
Introduced in 1962, presumably when someone at DC suffered a psychotic breakdown, Mr. Polka-Dot was a villain whose gimmick was… dots. Yeah, seriously. Sure, weaponized dots that contained miniature explosives and traps, which actually makes it worse, because he built the suit himself and could have created literally any other identity, but thought the thing to strike fear into the heart of Gotham was to look like a shower curtain. Adam West on his worst day could have beaten this asshole without even using any of his nonsense gadgets, and he spent most of his time dancing with the villains rather than fighting them.
However, Mr. Polka-Dot did get one gig outside his terrible criminal career: he was a shill for Wonder Bread, which is arguably a way worse crime than anything he ever committed on purpose.
You’d think that it’d be impossible to sink any lower from that abysmal start, right? Well, you’d be very, very wrong. After his predictable loss to Batman, Mr. Polka-Dot was missing for decades, presumably because DC wanted to forget whatever acid flashback or hostage situation had led to his original appearance, but he did eventually return… only to now lack his weaponized dots. Yeah, Mr. Polka-Dot (or as he now called himself, the Polka-Dot Man) was just a looney toon in spotted pajamas. His biggest role in the modern era was getting beaten half to death by Detective Harvey Bullock because he kneecapped a police officer with a baseball bat. Which, ironically, was more damage than he managed to cause back when he had his gadget dots.
Like Signalman, Polka-Dot got reduced to appearing in the background of other people’s stories, but unlike Signalman, DC apparently couldn’t justify trying to make him look bad-ass. The closest he came to being salvaged was his appearance on the animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold as one of several Silver Age villains menacing Bat-Mite, but the show virtually gorged itself on Silver Age goofiness, so it’s not really something to take as a compliment.
3. The Eraser
Okay, I know I joke around a lot about how bad characters are the result of deadlines, but with this next entry, there’s just no goddamn way he isn’t the creation of a desperate Bill Finger looking around the office for anything he could turn into a gimmick (that Bob Kane would promptly take credit for) and happening to glance at his pencil. Figuring he’d be pushed out of the picture soon anyway, he probably decided he might as well leave the Batman franchise in ruins… and so we meet Leonard Fiasco, AKA The Eraser.
The Eraser might sound like a semi-workable name for a hitman or something, but of course, this was 1966, so it’s actually the name of a ridiculously gimmicky bad guy who had a helmet designed to look like a pencil eraser. Originally a man named Lenny Fiasco (talk about setting the kid up for a fall), Lenny was an old classmate of Bruce Wayne who was mocked because of his constant screw-ups in school, and he eventually turned to crime because… Bruce Wayne took a girl he liked to a dance. Okay, yeah, the Joker is clinically insane because of brain damage and Mr. Freeze desperately wants to cure his terminally ill wife, but sure, being mildly slighted in school is totally a legitimate excuse to embark upon a life of crime.
The Eraser’s gimmick was that he’d “erase” the clues left behind by criminals, in return for 20% of their profits, with the explanation that his school days of occasionally making spelling errors had prepared him for a lifetime of grueling crime scene cleanup. And that’s not a pun, either; he literally uses his stupid eraser hat to erase clues.
Imagine Batman trying to make the fight last longer than three seconds, especially since there’s no way that eraser helmet allows for any kind of peripheral vision. Granted, they also tried to give him an additional weapon in the form of pointy shoes with gas canisters in them.
Like Mr. Polka-Dot, there really was no way to make this laughably bad idea into anything worthwhile, and DC didn’t even try, aside from Grant Morrison, a writer who delights in literary obscurity and included the Eraser in a few cameos during his Batman work in 2008. The closest Eraser got to an actual revival was a brief cameo in The Brave and the Bold, where his rematch with Batman goes exactly as it should have gone the first time.