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CSBG Archive

75 Greatest Friends and Foes of Batman: Villains #25-21

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22. Black Mask

Created by Doug Moench and Tom Mandrake, Black Mask was advertised on his first appearance as being crazier than Joker and deadlier than Ra’s Al Ghul. He was also described as a villain for the 80s. Well…of those three, he WAS created in the 1980s, so we have to give them that much, right?

Seriously, though, Black Mask has a WEIRD origin. He was dropped as a baby. He was then bitten by a rabid raccoon. He was never quite the same after that (seriously? A rabid raccoon?) and when he grew to adulthood, he ends up killing his parents and taking over his father’s cosmetic company. However, his plans are awful and Wayne Industries has to step in and take control when he launches a new line of make-up that CANNOT be removed – it bonds with your face completely. Ruined, he blames Bruce Wayne and his company for his failures, as well as his own father. This leads to him making quite a discovery…





Over the years, Black Mask has been a very capable crime boss (Moench later brought him back during Moench’s 1990s run on Batman with Kelley Jones). During the War Crimes storyline, Black Mask actually seemingly KILLED Robin (Stephanie Brown). In addition, he was a major player in Ed Brubaker’s Catwoman series, with Catwoman ultimately being driven to kill Black Mask after he threatened her friends and family one too many times.

Black Mask has re-appeared in the New 52 alive and well (well, as “well” as can be expected, that is).

21. Red Hood

Serving as the second Robin, Jason Todd always felt a little out of sorts with his role as Batman’s sidekick. Eventually he began to become more and more reckless and after running afoul of the Joker, Jason lost his life to a crowbar beating and an explosion. Jason was revived in the Lazarus Pit by Ra’s Al Ghul. He returned to Gotham using an old identity of the Joker’s, the Red Hood and took on both the gangs of Gotham AND Batman before he revealed himself…






In the end, it appears as though Jason was more misguided than truly evil, and during the New 52, he has turned over a new leaf and is basically a superhero in his own right, just with his own way of doing things that differ from Batman’s.

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Well, I would’ve voted for Pyg, just as a fun newly created villain in the Batman rogues gallery, and for Mad Hatter, both for his classic villain status and because I’ve enjoyed him in the Secret Six mini, as well.

I still want to remember Jason Todd as a hero, mainly ’cause I didn’t really like how he was voted off the comic in Death in the Family.

From what I understand, wasn’t he revealed as having been resurrected by the Lazarus pit in Hush, only to then be revealed as a hoax, only to then be revealed as alive a couple of years later (was that by the Lazarus Pit)? I remember thinking the Hush reveal was a very cool twist…don’t know why they didn’t follow through with it if they were going to use it later, when the shock and unexpected nature of the twist were effectively diluted.

– I quite like Professor Pyg, with his schizophrenic dialogue and disturbing obsessions, but I wonder where he’ll place ion a list like this in a few years. He’s a character who seems so purpose-buiult for Morrison’s arc, and his gimmick — word salad dialogue and creating perfect androgynous servants — seems to overlap mightily with the Mad Hatter’s M.O. in some of his creepier iterations. I like the character a lot, but does he have staying power?

— Despite my comments on Pyg, I was initially surprised that the Mad Hatter ended up so low ion the list, but then, most of what I like about him is pretty much exclusive to the Bruce Timm animated series; the comics version has much less personality, and, until recently, no tragic backstory of any sort. More generally, he’s one of the least-used Batman villains, probably because there are only so many variations on mind-control plots that work in the context of the Bat-books.

— The Court of Owls is a bit like Professor Pyg for me: an clever, suspenseful story which may lack real staying power. In this case, I think the issue is the same as with Marvel’s Illuminati miniseries; it’s simply not that workable to claim that on the one hand there’s been a powerful and influential organization doing big things for years, and at the same time to claim that we and the characters never noticed. Either they’re really ineffectual, or their manipulations are so subtle that they don’t matter much until the “present day” Big Reveal. Zero Year may go some way to answering these complaints, but I wonder if the Court of Owls will survive Snyder’s eventual departure from the Batman titles. Again, they were in a beloved recent story, but they may not represent a lasting and sigtnificant contribution to the rogues’ gallery in the same way as many of the characters ranked below them.

— To hazard a guess, I’d say the interpretation of Black Mask that Brian highlights here isn’t the interpretation lot of people voted for. I see a lot more love of the “Charcoal Red Skull” incarnation from the Brubaker Catwoman and the Judd Winick run online, which baffles me, because I frankly like the classic-model “failed Bruce Wayne” mask-obsessed version much better than the generic, cackling sadist. I take it that’s Brian’s opinion as well? Still, it’s nice to see the original concept highlighted here as a reminder that there was once a version of Hush done right :)

— On the other hand,I also like seeing the Red Hood listed as a villain (presumably as well as an ally), despite recent efforts to quasi-redeem him. The post-resurrection Jason Todd is a strange character, since some writers treat him as a legitimate objector to the Batman’s methods who voices the complaints of a set of readers; but others (primarily Morrison) write him as a satire of the “grim ‘n’ gritty” Batman other fans seems to want , much as Azreal once was. I suspect a lot of his appeal depends on how well you liked the Judd Winick run of Batman; I didn’t, but it does a have a loyal and engaged following even today.

I feel Snyder in general won’t age well, at least most of the early arcs I read. I don’t know if he improved this with Year Zero though.

Yikes, that is one messed up bad guy.


Also, nice to see Mad Hatter on here. He was my favorite as a kid, but nowadays he’s considered a joke by a lot of people so I wasn’t sure if he’d even make it.

And I freaking HATE the court of owls more than words can express. Least favorite Batman villains by far.

I also never approved of Jason Todd coming back, but I thought that they handled it as well as they realistically could have and that the whole Red Hood concept was actually really cool.

I think the Jason as Red Hood is horrible.

Jason was brought back with no story planed out beyond ‘he’s back!’ because Winick thought it was cool when Jason was seemingly brought back in Hush. That is as thought out as his return was.

His activities since returning also make Batman look like a hypocrite or ineffective, as Batman allows Jason to go on killing as the Red Hood.

The only part of Jason’s return that I think is any good is Morrison making him the new Wingman, but I still think it would have been better if Jason had never come back.

The fact that he was brought back at the same relative time as Bucky, whose return was thought and planed out, makes it even worse.

Bill Williamson

April 27, 2014 at 7:37 am

I’m of the opinion that they never should have brought Jason Todd back in the first place. But, having done so, they should’ve kept him a villain. It would’ve made him more interesting than whatever it is they’re doing with him now.

I didn’t like the original Red Hood story, but I really enjoyed the movie, so hey!

I voted for Pyg. A disgusting perversion of life that’s a good foil for the smiling, sociable Dick Grayson Batman.

I believe that the Mad Hatter first returned in the 1060’s Batman TV show, making him popular.

Nope; the Mad Hatter in the 60s TV show was based on the version from the 1950s and early 1960s comics who used gimmick weapons hidden in hats. He was retroactively declared an impostor when the 1949 version was brought back. Oddly the 1950s guy was the first to be called Jervis Tetch; when the unnamed 40s version returned, he claimed that was his name and the other guy had stolen it!

Professor Pyg just missed my ballot.

Wish I voted for Professor Pyg now.

More New Amalgam material:
-Mad Hatter was mixed with the Controller to make the Mad Controller.
-Black Mask was mixed with Dreadknight to make Dread-Mask, whose criminal empire is built to get revenge on his home country’s ruler Vandal Doom (Vandal Savage/Doctor Doom).
-Red Hood (Jason Todd) was mixed with the Crimson Cowl (Justine Hammer) to make the Scarlet Cape (Justine Todd), the adopted daughter of Oswald Hammer (the Penguin/Justin Hammer) and formerly the second Red Guard (Robin/Guradsman), partner to Iron Bat.

Jason was brought back with no story planed out beyond ‘he’s back!’ because Winick thought it was cool when Jason was seemingly brought back in Hush. That is as thought out as his return was.

To be fair to Winick, even if he did have a long-term plan the way DC was back then (and honestly probably still is to a degree now), it seemed outrageously disorganized and very, very editorially driven. There were so many stories of people being forced to abandon plans and change stories back and forth, often at the last minute. He could totally have had a plan where he wanted to go that was squelched because of big event crossovers as well as other people’s plans for Batman.

Meanwhile Brubaker was giving a quiet corner where he could work on Captain America relatively uninterrupted.

The only one in this batch that I have any interest in is the Mad Hatter. The Court of Owls was kind of fun as a one-off story, even though it seemed designed to be the exact opposite of that, and I was pretty tired of the Court by the end of it. I just could’t get into Professor Pyg, and the Black Mask and the Red Hood I just find annoying.

But that’s the fun of a large rogue’s gallery. Something for everyone.

People need to read “Red Hood: The Lost Days” to completely understand Jason and how he came back.

Does it feature the intro, “Because you demanded that he go away forever, Jason Todd is back!”?

What is it about the Court of Owls that I am missing? Halfway through the arc, I was desperate for it to be over as I was bored to tears. Having read the whole thing I could not tell what the Court’s goals were, save to be vaguely threatening and… inspire nursery rhymes, I guess? Whatever.

Obviously others see something here that I don’t.

i was wondering given how both the court of owls and proff pig are recent additions to the rogues gallery if they would even make the cut and if so how high would they be and nice to see black mask on the list for he makes the joker in ways almost tame some time espically given what he did to catwomans family members. plus prof pyg is an interesting baddie but one should not expect any thing less from the mind of grant. espically since prof pig could almost give the joker a run for his money in crazy. red hood interesting for thought he would show up way in the top ten.

I’m of the idea that no one writes a Batman story nowadays, without a DSM-V by their side

I jumped off Snyder’s Batman at the start of the first Owl crossover (issue 7, maybe?). I didn’t find it too bad, but one major stumbling block for me was the idea that DC chose Court of Owls to kick off the Batman relaunch. The very same story of a secret society controlling Gotham had been told twice already in the past 5 years: in David Lapham’s Detective and in Morrison’s Black Glove / Batman RIP storyline. The idea that they would go to the same well again for the relaunch baffled me. Adding to the confusion was Scott Snyder’s presence in comics news media, seeming genuinely excited for his concept, as if it were some kind of innovation, some mark he would leave on the mythos.

It’s sort of funny that all the 5-star reviews online had the opposite of their intended effect on me. I think I might have stuck with the title longer had I not had the same experience month in and month out of (i) reading Batman, (ii) thinking “yeah, that was alright” (iii) going online (iv) seeing a half-dozen five-star reviews by people in catatonic shock from the sheer mindblowingness of the story (v) getting mad because I knew these people read and praised with the same level of verve Morrison’s take on the evil secret society story scant months before.

“Get off my lawn kids; I’m 27,” but I really feel like this is the result of the “Best. ____. EVERRRR!” culture. You can’t just be on board for something; you have to be in a complete frenzy over it.

Not sure if my last comment got through (“Blah blah blah, Court of Owls wasn’t as good as people pretended it was”), but I did want to follow up on a point Omar made about enjoying the Timm version of Mad Hatter over the DC comic book character. For me, this is pretty much the case with every Batman character. I don’t know if it’s just hearing the various distinctive voices on the show (especially Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill) or if it’s the animation or the tone, but whatever it is, having read hundreds if not thousands of Batman comic books, I can safely say that none of it works as well as the cartoon. Perhaps this is heretical, but I don’t think Batman has been successful (artistically, I mean) as a serialized comic book character; he’s better suited to other media and to self-contained stories.

In one of the recent print issues of the Batman ’66 comic, there was an interesting “reveal” (I assume this is a new twist) about that version of the Mad Hatter, who seems to be less interested in mind control and more just an obsessive personality.

Pyg is interesting visually, even if it seems like he “doolittle” HAHAHAHA!!!! But that sexy disco hot was a great scene.

I wonder if members of the Court of Owls ever encounter members of the Black Glove. Man, that’s got to be awkward.

Cass –

The 1990s Batman Animated Series was amazing, and I am more of a fan of it than of any of Batman’s comic book versions. But, we have to note that, as a distillation of everything that was best about Batman, it couldn’t last forever.

Now, Batman’s comics, they have to last forever, it seems, with multiple titles per month. And that is why the comics can’t, as a whole, be as artistically successful. No character can, when they have to last forever with multiple stories per month.

kdu2814 –

Batman does a fine job of seeming ineffective or hypocritical all by himself. As long as mass murderers constantly walk free and unmolested in his city, day after day, what is one more mass murderer? Or perhaps the Red Hood is “worse” than all the other murderers in Gotham, because he dares to claim some morality?

Bernard the Poet

April 27, 2014 at 5:37 pm

I’m beginning to think that King Tut is not going to make the list.

I voted for him, Bernard… highly.

And by “highly” I didn’t mean chemically induced.

Those Pyg issues were just godawful. Why does every superhero comic have to be a horror comic? If you went to see an Iron Man movie, and it turned into The Human Centipede halfway through, you’d be pretty baffled, but that’s exactly what it’s like to read modern comics.

” in the 1980s that the hat-obsessed Mad Hatter picked up his most famous gimmick – MIND CONTROL HATS!”

Big deal, Marvel’s Ringmaster has been using Mind-Control Hats since the 60s.

Matt Bird: I’d totally read The Iron Centipede!

The distinction I would make is that Batman stops the other murderers (eventually) and puts them in jail. Jason he just lets go (and in Countdown Superman let him run free too).

I think the whole point of the New 52 relaunch was to visit ‘the same well’ again.

Wow, for my money a really dismal collection (other than the Hatter).
Doug Moench’s efforts at psychological depth always struck me as pretentious, including his creation of Black Mask. And when they play him as big league, I’ve never bought it. Though compared to some of Moench’s other work (Nocturna and the Thief of Night), he’s Luthor and the Thief of Night. To paraphrase a friend of mine, if he’s the villain of the 80s, it’s a good reason to stop buying comics until the 1990s.
The Court of Owls is creepy, but when it turned out they’re part of a national/international society I lost all interest. Because lord knows, comics have enough of them. And on top of that, as someone pointed out above, what were their goals? And more specifically, what were the goals that a collection of old-money Gothamites couldn’t realize with the power of their money?
Jason Todd? I liked the original circus kid, never particularly cared for the post-Crisis street punk. And I’ve never seen even a slight point to him post-resurrection. He’s just not interesting at all.

Bill Williamson

April 27, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Thing is, Jason Todd and Gwen Stacy are very much alike. Neither were particularly interesting when alive, Gwen was just Peter Parker’s sweet, kind and beautiful girlfriend and Jason was originally just a carbon copy of Dick Grayson before he went on to become a hardened street punk.. But dead, both take on greater significance, both demonstrate that their respective heroes are not infallible, that they make mistakes. Both died purely because of their respective heroes.

Just like Marvel should never bring back Gwen Stacy (and they considered it with One More Day and probably will consider it again off the back of the ‘success’ of the Webb Spider-Man films), DC should have never brought back Jason Todd. In addition to demonstrating that DC is low on ideas, having Jason Todd alive completely undermines the significance of his death and draws attention to the fact that he wasn’t a particularly great character to begin with.

I personally think they should just kill him again. Comics have enough Punisher-type characters already.

@Bill Williamson — Comics have enough Punisher-type characters already.

Maybe they did in the 90s and early 2000s (and I guess maybe even in the 80s), but now?

I like Nocturna. The only flaw she might have is that she sounds like someone from Gaiman’s Sandman, but ten years before it was cool to be that way.

Not sure if my other comment got through, so here goes nothing.

I find Pyg to be pretty one-note. He’s just kinda there, with no real characterisation to him.

I hate that DC try to make Jason Todd a hero. I like him as a villain, but as a hero, I think that, if anything, he should be DC’s Punisher, a very dark anti-hero who the rest of the DC Universe hates to work with and will only do so under the most necessary circumstances (at least I think that’s how the Punisher works, it is in the stuff I read). Also, having Batman actively support Jason’s activities as the Red Hood even though he publicly kills seems pretty out of character to me.

Court of Owls was okay, but I really think it should’ve been one of those things that was gradually layed out, like the preceeding arcs leading up to it had little chunks of info. But even with that, it’s hard to believe that this group has been secretly running Gotham for years. I mean, if they went dormant after Batman started, but before he got really good at what he does, and eventually resurfaced, that would be fine (that might’ve been what happened, it’s been a while since I read the arc). The Court works as an enemy of Gotham, but less so as one to Batman. I like the idea, but I don’t think they’re that great.

Fraser, you said it. This is a pretty weak dip in the list. And it’s funny to see Red Hood right after a column where Brian points out a good modern retcon is the Winter Soldier. Because this showed how doing the same thing could go very, very wrong. (And people can piss on Hush all they like, but if it had actually been Jason Todd in that story, both the story and return of Jason would have been better).

I wonder if members of the Court of Owls ever encounter members of the Black Glove. Man, that’s got to be awkward.

And let’s not forget the Religion of Crime, yet another secret society that also has been secretly running Gotham for centuries. Odds are there’s nobody left in the city who’s not affiliated with at least one the three (and/or the Manhunters).

From #25-21 I voted for Professor Pyg and Black Mask.

That first page from Mad Hatter issue is also the first ever appearance of Vicky Vale, right?


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