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75 Greatest Friends and Foes of Batman: Villains #15-11

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12. Talia Al Ghul

Even when introduced by Denny O’Neil, Bob Brown and Dick Giordano, Talia Al Ghul was pretty much a villain. She was sweet on Batman, true, and saved his life and was so damned sexy that Batman couldn’t help himself around her, but she basically had the idea of “Oh, yeah, genocide is totally cool. Just so long as Batman isn’t killed in it.”

However, besides times when she was shown to be directly under the control of someone else (like her sister), Talia tended to flirt with being an outright villain and a loyal ally to Batman throughout most of her published history.

This changed during Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated, where we finally see Talia essentially snap from the pull between her father’s influence and Batman’s influence. As she says, she offered Batman love and he chose war.

So she slowly takes over her father’s operations (calling her group Leviathan) and then makes her major push on both her father and on Batman (Morrison here pulls back a bit on an earlier story where he implied that Talia used drugs to force Batman to have sex with her in the story that would give her his genetic material to make their son, Damian Wayne)…

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She has clearly gone over the deep end at the end of Batman Incorporated where she even sacrifices her own son, Damian…

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11. Harley Quinn

Introduced in the Batman: Animated Series as Joker’s love interest/sidekick, Harley Quinn became so popular that she ultimately made the move over to the DC Comics Universe.

Originally a therapist, she fell in love with Joker while interning at Arkham Asylum. In the DC Universe, she was committed to a mental institution but escaped during the great Gotham City earthquake. She then joined Joker as part of his gang…

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The Joker betrays her, though, and leaves her for dead, seriously injuring her. Poison Ivy comes across her and saves her life and then gives her enhanced abilities. Harley goes to get her revenge on the Joker, but as it turns out, she just can’t turn on the guy…

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She then works with the Joker for a while more and eventually goes off on her own to have her own ongoing series, where she tangles with Batman some more…

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In the new 52, much of her origin is the same, although she is slightly deadlier and had been working on the Suicide Squad for a while.

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29 Comments

Bill Williamson

April 30, 2014 at 5:23 am

Wagner was still on Detective when The Ventriloquist and Scarface were created. He basically left after the first five issues (and of course, Alan Grant kept his name on the scripts because he was afraid DC would fire him otherwise)

Glad to see they made it. Glad to see that Harley Quinn made it. She was also one of my votes, although I absolutely hate what they’re doing with her now, design-wise. The thing about Harley Quinn visually was that she had class. Now they’ve designed her to look like some kind of prostitute.

Interesting to see Talia made the villains list, seeing as she was also on the allies list.

Disappointed to see Hush so high up. He’s so boring. Paul Dini is literally the only person to do anything worthwhile with him.

– The Ventriloquist and Scarface just never *worked* unless Grant was writing them. For one thing, no one else seemed to have the right touch when it came to his deliberately goofy “G for B” speech impediment, to the point that his various adaptations and successors dropped that idea entirely. Grant also gave him a sort of supporting cast with Rhino. But gangsteresque Baman villains often have a hard time lasting, since Two-Face and Black Mask have the “supervillain as mobster” thing pretty well tied up in the Bat-books. (Did Wesker and his dummy ever have any major interactions with Two-Face? That seems like a real missed opportunity.)

Speaking of adaptations, I always got a kick out of the way the animated series made Ventriloquist and Scarface into a subtle “theme” villain whose schemes invariably involved “dummies” or mannequins of some sort; in their first appearance, they’re working from a wax museum or costume shop sort of place full of mannequins, and int heir second, they maneuver Catwoman into stealing a a rare stuffed specimen of an extinct big cat. I wonder if the comics version might have found more favor if that had crept in a bit more.

— Hugo Strange is another character who’s had some utterly fantastic stories, mentioned above, but whom later writers have struggled with. I think part of the issue is that his gimmick was eventually reduced, post-Moench, to being “that guy who wants to know the secret.” Aside from Matt Wagner and, through side references, Grant Morrison, Hugo was also dropped down from “mad scientist” to simply “corrupt psychiatrist,” probably in a misguided effort to ground the character.

Moench himself had an inadvertent role in this, since pre-Crisis he’d had Hugo using stuff like “mandroids” but post-Crisis gave him more realistic methods in what amounted to a belated, if excellent origin story. It’s just that no one ever took up the character from tat point and got him “back” to the guy who made monster men of innocent people. If only we could get a return to the 1970s and 1980s model of Strange. Still, it was great to see him turn up in a high-profile role in Arkham City; you’d also think the more modest version of Strange would have fit well into the Nolan films, but I guess he’s not a big enough “name” villain for that.

— Hush? Right then, Hush. He was in a good Paul Dini story, though that was definitely a salvage mission. After that, I dunno. Tying him in to the origin of the female Ventriloquist was never going to help the character, and the extended “impersonating Bruce Wayne” thing felt like a contrivance in search of story. I guess Snyder may use him again, but like a lot of the quickly abandoned Loeb stuff — Secret Identity Riddler, Lecteresque Calendar Man, Crazy Gilda Dent — I don’t see Hush ever reascending to “master of the rogues’ gallery” status again because it’s just a terrible idea. Is there some reason Loeb didn’t use Black Mask? Oh, right, he was being revamped over in Catwoman around that time, right? That must be it.

— One of the more striking things about Batman’s rogues’ gallery (and his allies list) is the diversity of the female cast, something that other contenders for “best baddies and allies” like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four (who have some amazing villains), and arguably the Flash really lack. Talia, in particular, is just a remarkably versatile character, as her steady evolution over multiple writers and even multiple continuity shifts has shown. Even when she was hijacked to the Superman titles, she worked pretty well as a character. I tend to think she’s at her least interesting when she’s flatly Batman’s ally, even to the point of opposing her father, but as a woman of divided loyalties and ambivalent goals, she’s a distinctive, unique contribution to comics. I’m willing to argue that she’s Denny O’Neill’s greatest contribution to the Batman mythos, and that guy has no shortage of “greatest contributions.”

— Harley Quinn, on the other hand, is fantastic concept but a more difficult one to use because of the tightrope-walking required to write her successfully. Played seriously, she’s simply a depressing, even creepy character and you lose the warped screwball comedy that makes the character sustainable; played too frivolously, and you get some very unpleasant implications with all the domestic abuse overtones of her relationship with Mistah J. It’s a testament to how trick Harley is to write that Morrison, IMHO, fumbled the ball a bit in trying to sever her from the Joker definitively. Harley’s also a bit difficult to write in that she’s a Batman villain who really doesn’t spend much time opposing Batman. Even in the animated series, her spotlight moments were about her reform efforts or her noin-atagonistic relationship to Batman, and to to primary antagonists like Poison Ivy, and, uh, what’s that smiling dude’s name again?

Of course, some of the problem of comics Harley is also that comics-Joker just…ins’t the guy from the cartoon most of the time. As with Deadshot, the Suicide Squad may be the bets place for her, since she’s most interesting and workable when she’s trying to outgrow the Joker than when she’s his cheery sidekick with some warped standards and limits. In the animated series, she tended to turn against his more, er, mass-murdering schemes; the one time she participated in something truly awful, in Return of the Joker, she gets a “villain’s temporary death” moment in the flashback sequence and is later implied to have essentially retired from villainy immediately afterwards. Given that the comics Joker actually succeeds in doing horrible things to people, their enforced separation in books like Gotham City Sirens and Suicide Squad is probably the only way to retain Harley’s sympathetic facets.

I can’t stand the Al Ghuls. Harley? Never got into her. Hush? I don’t know. The concept is good, but writers love to make him too complex sometimes. Guess he got more fans thanks to the new Batman games. Ventriloquist and Scarface? No problem with them. Hugo? See Hush.

Talia and Harley both made my list. Both are just too much fun to read about; I loved Talia’s strange romantic relationship with Bruce, and I’ve never seen a Harley story where she wasn’t just an adorable psychotic killer.

The Angry Internet

April 30, 2014 at 7:19 am

@Omar Karindu: …no one else seemed to have the right touch when it came to his deliberately goofy “G for B” speech impediment…

This isn’t really a speech impediment, at least not in the generally understood sense–it’s a standard ventriloquist trick. Labial consonants like “b” require lip movement, so ventriloquists substitute other sounds and hope that the audience won’t notice. Notice how Wesker himself has no problem saying “about” in the second panel on the third page. “Gottle of gear” for “bottle of beer” (or more often “gottle o’ gear,” since “f” is another labial consonant) is a old ventriloquist joke.

nice to see harley almost made it to the top ten. though surprised hush got such a high ranking given how the character started out interesting being close to batman since child hood but over time has become boring or unused to his full potential tali seems to be on this list twice

Part of the reason Harley took off is that Arleen Sorkin did such an amazing voice job on B:TAS.
Reading Hugo Strange’s first story was quite interesting, as he’s presented as an international Moriarty-class criminal mastermind. I suspect they had plans to make him a recurring foe but Joker showed them a different type of villain worked better. The idea of him just being an obsessed psychiatrist never clicked for me, but I did enjoy Matt Wagner’s remake of Monster Men.
Talia’s an interesting character for her ambivalence, as Omar says. However I think the amount of blood on her hands has always made her less convincing as a romantic interest than Catwoman.

I did enjoy Dini’s pairing up Scarface with a new Ventriloquist. And also Harley seeing through them when they try to con her into doing some work for them (she points out that while she may be batshit crazy, she isn’t stupid).

Hush.

Ugh.

Yay for The Ventriloquist though!

Like Fraser said, Hugo Strange was more in the mold of a villain in the pulp tradition. That would soon be displaced by more visual villains like the Joker and the Penguin.

Harley Quinn suffers from having been created to be paired to a less depraved version of the Joker. In the comic book continuity she is hard to write, for the reasons Omar said. But I suppose she was too good a character not to be transplanted into the comic book continuity.

Harley could be something Joker could never be….lovable and adorable. She’s as sick and demented as they come but she also had redeemable qualities. She could be extremely loyal. Though her relationship with Joker is terrible, she sticks it out though. Unlike Joker, she actually makes friends with others like Poison Ivy. Harley cares for animals and can be kind to others when it works for her. But make no mistake, she is deadly and very intelligent. Alone she has put Batman against the ropes as well as any of the top tier villains.

Talia….never exactly cared for her. Most of what I know of her comes from BTAS and Batman Incorporated and she just seemed nuts in the comic.

Wow, Strange was kind of well built in the comics. I, like many on this list, first met Strange on BTAS and he wasn’t tough looking like this.

Loved Harley’s brief stint (was it one issue?) in Secret Six. But I liked a lot about that book, too bad DC f*ed that up.

Harley was in the Secret Six for a couple of issues of Birds of Prey, around 102-4 or so. A flashback in one of her Detective Comics appearances under Dini’s pen explained how she came to quit the group and seek sanctuary at the Amazon embassy instead. I don’t believe she ever appeared in any of the Secret Six miniseries or series, excepting a couple of cameos as one of the Arkham escapees in Villains United Special #1.

The only one of these I voted for was Hugo Strange, but a good batch overall (other than Hush, but we knew he was coming). It’s particularly interesting that Talia made it onto both lists. I wonder if anyone else will! (There’s one very obvious candidate who I’m guessing probably will, but at least two others who are possible but unlikely at this point.)

I would have voted for Hugo Strange, if I had voted. However, I agree with everyone above that his later obsessed psychiatrist origin/role was not his best.

Pretty surprised to not see Harley higher. I figured if anyone could usurp the Joker it would be her.

Can’t believe how high Hush made it. Jeph Loeb made a deal with the devil.

From this list #15-11, I voted for Hugo Strange & Hush.

Grant Morrison, destroyer of Denny O’Neil characters.

I had Wesker, Strange and Harley on my lists so this is a pretty decent batch. And while Hush is indeed too high up, I’m always up for defending him against his considerable group of detractors. The key approach is to ignore everything in Loeb’s first story except the basic plan and swiped Harvey Dent-look from Dark Knight Returns, then completely purge your mind from everything that went down with him in Gotham Knights and just see him as a really obscure villain that Paul Dini brought back and fleshed out to extremely good results in his run on Detective Comics and Streets of Gotham.

Thought about Scarface and Ventriloquist in my quest to pick a Grant bad guy. Wait, the Nu52 version may have super powers? Sigh.

Hugo Strange just missed the cut too. Classic, but just a little too plain.

Hush was better when he was Jason Todd for a brief moment. And then even better still for an even briefer moment when he was just someone manipulated by the Riddler making Nygma a bad ass. But man, the stories right after Hush ruined everything.

I’m not hardly anti-Morrison, but he really screwed up Talia, didn’t he? I agree with Brian’s assessment that she’s really more a bad guy than ally, but a conflicted one. Wanting to kill her kid is not the character that gave birth to Damien.

Everyone has given really good reasons why Harley is cool but just might not work in the comics as well as the cartoon.

More new amalgam material, more foes of Iron Bat:
-Ventriloquist and Scarface were mixed with the Hulk’s Joe Fixit persona to make the Ventriloquist and Joe Fixit. Their successor was a mix of Peyton Reilly and Abominatrix.
-Hugo Strange was mixed with Dr. Faustus to make Dr. Faustrange, who occasionally tangles with Super-Soldier as well.
-Hush was mixed with Ghost to make Null, a one-time friend and employee of Iron Bat’s real identity of Tony Wayne.
-Harley Quinn was mixed with the Daredevil villain the Jester to make the Harlequin, who fallsfor Iron Bat’s arch-foe the Laugh Monger (Joker/Iron Monger).

Hush?! Really?! Ugh. Hey, guys, let’s vote Romulus for the X-Men villains while we’re at it! Hush definitely got better under other writers (and by that, I mean Paul Dini), but that only elevated him from complete suckage to average villain. He’s such a try-hard villain. Loeb tried so hard to make us give a shit, and I just didn’t. Holy shit, it’s Bruce’s best friend from childhood! Who… you’d think would’ve been brought up… He’s a villainous counterpart to Batman!1!!1 Yeah, that’s new…

I’m glad Talia’s here though. I never really liked her as a love-interest, since her high body count made it hard to believe the romance. I’ve always preferred Catwoman as a love interest (at least in the whole “dating villain” thing). But the introduction of Damian really added to her character.

OH, and Harley… :D Love her. I hate the New 52 design (like pretty much everyone), since it… barely resembles an actual harlequin and looks like her boobs will flop out, but Suicide Squad is a decent series, and her thing with Deadshot is strangely, disturbingly cute. But seriously, why mess with a perfectly good design? Ugh. Whatever, still adorably psychotic :)

I’m glad Harley Quinn and Hush made it so high up on the list. One of the things I like about Harley Quinn is that she is a little bit realistic with the fact that no matter how abusive a loved one is, that person will most likely stay with that other person. It’s sad, but I think there’s some truth behind it.

As for Hush, I just think he’s a bad-ass for cutting out Catwoman’s heart and assembling all of Batman’s villians against him.

I’ve not caught up yet on my DDVR’d episodes of “Arrow” due to my brother being terminally ill – but I have gotten up to the “Suicide Squad” episode…. Was that Harley offering her services as a therapist from her cell?

Brian Cronin

May 2, 2014 at 9:34 pm

It was even Arleen Sorkin, the voice of Harley Quinn from the cartoon show.

I cant stand Ventriloquist and Scarface. I always hated his speech impediment thing. It was so annoying when trying to read. It would always take me out of the story.

And on a side note – why the F*** was Hush impersonating Bruce??? I never understood why none of the characters (Dick, Tim, or hell, even the JLA) put a stop to it. I wasn’t reading all the batbooks at the time. But that ongoing plot made no sense to me.

Brian Cronin

May 3, 2014 at 6:00 am

And on a side note – why the F*** was Hush impersonating Bruce??? I never understood why none of the characters (Dick, Tim, or hell, even the JLA) put a stop to it. I wasn’t reading all the batbooks at the time. But that ongoing plot made no sense to me.

They decided that it was useful to them to have Hush convincing people that Bruce Wayne was still alive so people wouldn’t put two and two together.

When it got down to the top 15 of both lists I found them guessable (though not the precise sequence)

Wesker & Scarface was one of my choices (I consider him the best new enemy added since year one) though I was a bit bothered in the cataclysm storyline [Stephanie Brown warning] when he was deliberately avoiding the letter “B” but still threatened to “Burn” the city to the ground with earthquakes.

Hugo Strange was another of mine – his contrast to the other Batman enemies makes him stand out more

Hush was NOT a choice of mine -I have no interest in him – was especially put off by his debut story with it’s “here is an important person from the past of the hero who has never been seen before, can you guess the identity of the new villain?”

Talia made my ally list but not my enemy list – she spent most of her appearances working for other people either helping her love or serving her father or sister – good enough for an ally but not good enough for an enemy – While Grant Morrison turned her into a major baddie that’s just one storyline which is not good enough for my top ten

Harley also not significant enough in her own right to make my list

Missed reading this entry. I had Harley Quinn #6 and Talia al Ghul one place higher.

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