BATMAN REDRAWN part 4 — NEW CHARACTERS
As promised, a look at the myriad new characters that popped up in the pages of BATMAN AND ROBIN, from the creators themselves. Have a great weekend, folks.
Pyg, along with his mind-controlled killer Dollotrons, had appeared briefly as a crucified, upside-down corpse in issue #666 of my BATMAN run with artist Andy Kubert. I didn't think I'd use him or any of the other characters mentioned in the story - Max Roboto, Candyman, Loveless, Jackanapes, the Weasel and Flamingo - again, although I'd concocted detailed backstories for all of them. Some things, however, tend to take on a life of their own, and it became impossible to keep a bad Pyg down.
Pyg's name is derived from the song "Pygmalism," as written by Nick Currie (recorded by Kahimi Karie on her Tilt CD and also by Currie's alter ego Momus on the CD Folktronic). The name refers, of course, to the Greek myth in which the sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with a statue of a woman he has carved, which is then brought to life by the goddess Aphrodite. Pygmalion is the name of the play by George Bernard Shaw which inspired the musical My Fair Lady and which tells the tale of Professor Henry Higgins, who makes a bet that he can transform Eliza Doolittle, a uneducated Cockney flower seller, into a convincingly well-spoken society lady as proof of Nurture's superiority to Nature. Like Pygmalion, Higgins is creating his own ideal woman, and like Pygmalion he falls in love with her. The Currie song is from the point of view of the Professor's latest "creation"-"sometimes in the night I sing the songs Professor Pig has taught me"-and brilliantly reconfigures Pygmalion as a story of mind control and rebellion.
Professor Pyg's wardrobe recalls the Edwardian suits worn by Rex Harrison, who played Higgins alongside Audrey Hepburn's Eliza Doolittle in the 1964 film version of My Fair Lady. Harrison, of course, also portrayed Doctor Dolittle, who could speak to animals. The attempt to dominate and redefine the feminine principle by forcing biology to conform to the artist's will ("Why can't a woman be more like a man?" sings the frustrated Higgins) suggested links to the "wire mother" experiments of Harry Harlow and backwards to the chaotic proto-mother mythologies of ancient Babylon and Mesopotamia. The shattered mind of extreme circus performer Lazlo Valentin has mashed all these connections into a frightening personal mythos, constructed to justify his deranged activities as Professor Pyg.
THE CIRCUS OF STRANGE
With Dick Grayson's origins as a circus aerialist, it felt right to pit him against a group of circus-themed villains in his first adventure as Batman. There have been circus criminals before, but rather than the traditional Ringling Brothers clowns and ringmasters, I imagined the Circus of Strange as an "extreme" troupe, more along the lines of the Jim Rose Circus.
The members of the Circus of Strange are all based on classic "freak show" archetypes - the lizard man, the bearded lady, the Siamese twins and... um... the man with his head on fire...
Mr. Toad - half man, half amphibian, all stud - is inspired by the character of the same name from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, right down to the opening "wild ride" in his odd car. Several Batman villains have been lifted from Lewis Carroll's books, and the time seemed right to begin the plunder of another beloved children's author.
Phosphorus Rex was mentioned previously in BATMAN #666. His skin combusts in the air. What else do you need to know?
Big Top was originally written and drawn as a more obviously feminine "bearded lady," but it seemed rather ungallant, even for the Damian Wayne Robin, to administer the kind of beating he hands out to a woman, so we made Big Top look more masculine and referred to the character as "he"-all of which served only to compound his strange allure.
Siam was the kind of challenge Frank Quitely loves-conjoined kung fu triplets. When not hard at work on BATMAN AND ROBIN, Frank loves nothing more than to while away the hours drawing perfectly constructed anatomical grotesques-people with their torsos reversed so that their heads hang down between their legs, etc. He works out how they would sit, eat, play football or have sex, then draws them doing it. Siam was a breeze for him to draw after some of these creations, but the character design is still a technical masterpiece that fully justifies all those dedicated hours of life drawing classes. Look at the way the three lock together and provide momentum and balance for one another when they fight. No one but Frank could have drawn this villain.
OBERON "THE GRAVEDIGGER" SEXTON
Originally the character was called "Auberon Sexton," but I changed the spelling to link the character to the King of the Fairies in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream both to underline the Englishness and also to amplify Sexton's "mystery man" feel.
When the plot of BATMAN AND ROBIN #4 called for a meeting of several Gotham City crime bosses, nobody wanted to see another faceless crew of mob guys parked round a table. Although most of these characters would only hang around for a couple of pages, it was fun to give them names and a little bit of history, which may or may not be explored in future Batman stories.
Some of Batman's rogues' gallery - particularly the "face" villains like Two-Face, Clayface and False Face - were clearly inspired by Chester Gould's distinctively grotesque bad guys from the Dick Tracy strip, so I decided to throw a couple of Gould-style hoods into the mix; hence the double-decker forehead of Romeo "High-Rise" Romero, as well as the vertical facial scars of "Aitch-Eyes." The mob accountant Rodney Fidget suggested a minor Batman baddie from the Denny O'Neill '70s or the Alan Grant '90s. Gentleman-G Merriwether, slick in his Ozwald Boateng suit, was named for the makeover show From Gs to Gents while Neon Dragon Triad boss Tony Li has echoes of Hong Kong action cinema and Quentin Tarantino's Crazy 88 gang from Kill Bill. Gabriel Santo - emissary of the enigmatic El Penitente himself - is wearing the hood and robe of the Penitente order of flagellant monks. Every one of these characters opens doors into potential stories.
Like Professor Pyg, Flamingo was another throwaway character from BATMAN #666 who came alive in my head and demanded to muscle his way into new stories.
One of the big influences on Batman-both in the real world where he was created as a character and in the fictional world of young Bruce Wayne-is Zorro, and the idea of going back to that primal root to create an "evil Zorro" as a new enemy for Batman seemed appropriate and overdue. So the briefly glimpsed Flamingo of BATMAN #666 became Eduardo Flamingo, lobotomized super-assassin for the shadowy Penitente cartel, with his own origin story, special abilities and motivations. Where Pyg is dementedly in love with the sound of his own voice, Flamingo first appears as an engine of pure Death and mayhem. There's no discussion, no appeal with Flamingo. He is here to kill you and he will kill you. I loved the idea of a terrifying, amoral and brain-damaged monster who was still self-aware and style-conscious enough to dress in pink and choose as his emblem the graceful, ludicrous flamingo.
Another obvious inspiration for the look of Flamingo is the artist currently known once more as Prince-particularly as he appeared on the cover of his 1984 record Purple Rain. Don't ask me why but Batman and Robin vs. Prince seemed to make perfect sense at the time.