When we talk about "new" Batman antagonists—you know, characters that came into the mix in the 2000s and beyond—it's easy to get caught up in the big-name A-listers. Baddies like the Court of Owls and Red Hood tend to steal the spotlight with huge fanbases and flashy adaptations in games, shows and movies. Trust me, I get it. I like them too. But you know who else I like?
The unsung hero—er, villain of the Gotham City rogues gallery known as Professor Pyg, who some of you newer fans may be meeting for the first time ever in this week's BATMAN #62. If that's you, you should know a few things. Yes, he's really always that messed up, and, yes, his stories are really always this creepy—that's what makes him so wonderful.
Aptly introduced back in BATMAN #666 in 2007, Professor Pyg's real name is Lazlo Valentin and he first faced off against Dick Grayson under the cowl, rather than Bruce, though Bruce has certainly had his share of run-ins with him since. While he may look pig-like, his codename actually refers to the classic story of Pygmalion, a play about a sculptor who fell in love with his statue. Lazlo just wears a pig-shaped mask to confuse things a bit, or maybe to make things more unnerving—the actual Pygmalion had nothing to do with bacon.
Of course, Lazlo doesn't seem to care about that at all. What Lazlo does care about is artistic "perfection." Like the Pygmalion of myth, Lazlo fancies himself something of a sculptor—except he doesn't work in clay or marble, he's much more fascinated with transforming living human bodies.
If that sounds gross and potentially lethal, believe me, it is. Lazlo, despite his complete insanity, is actually a pretty gifted chemist and surgeon. It's just that he uses those skills to kidnap and then medically alter his victims into what he believes is the "ideal" human shape—usually some sort of grotesque monster. Those victims are turned into brainwashed "dollotrons" who are either turned into permanent "art installations" for Pyg's aesthetic sensibilities or forced to be henchmen for his bigger projects. It's as unpleasant and grotesque as it is painful, and, even if the dollotron victims are rescued, they're usually left permanently scarred and traumatized by the experience. This isn't Joker venom we're talking about here, or one of the Mad Hatter's mind-control devices—this is permanent, physical alteration with a scalpel and a needle and usually a whole bunch of other deeply unpleasant things.
What I'm saying is that you do not want Professor Pyg to catch you under any circumstance, ever. There are plenty of fates worse than your average run-of-the-mill crime in Gotham, but falling into Pyg's hands might very well be one of the worst.
And just to make things even scarier? He has no real rhyme or reason for his crime. He's really only motivated by his art—there’s no vendetta or plan or higher purpose. Pyg doesn't follow a pattern or even build up to a punchline. He's not really angling for pure chaos like the Joker, but he's also not systematic like Victor Zsasz. He just wants to spread his own twisted idea of "perfection" in his work, no matter the cost. And he usually does it while babbling almost incoherently, singing opera with words he's mostly making up (“Pyg~ will make~ you perfect~”), or reciting nursery rhymes while doing his very best actual-pig impression. Oh, and don't forget all of this is happening while he's got a butcher knife or a scalpel or a bone-saw in his hand.
In other words, he might honestly be the scariest person in Gotham, which, all things considered, is no small feat. Look, I know he may not be as widely known as the Scarecrow, but if I had to pick whether I'd want to run into Dr. Crane or Lazlo Valentin on the street, I'd pick Crane any day of the week.
Honestly, Pyg is scary enough that he could anchor a horror series all his own, or, at the very least a mini. We know that the citizens of Gotham are terrified of people like Joker (and clearly, they should be) but you'd think once the GCPD got word of a crazed "artist" surgeon kidnapping and mutilating people, even the most jaded Gothamites would start to double-check their doors and windows. After all, in a city full of things that go bump in the night, a thing that gleefully squeals and sings off-kilter nursery rhymes is...well, something that's even worse.
I'm not saying Professor Pyg should, at the very least, anchor this year's Halloween special, but I'm also not not saying that. I mean, come on! Think of all the potential (and all the potentially lost sleep)! Until something like that’s greenlit, however, we’ll have to content ourselves with the occasional disturbing Batman storyline or one-shot, like the one Tom King and Mitch Gerads have come up with for Batman #62.
Just do yourself a favor. Don’t read it while eating.
BATMAN #62 by Tom King and Mitch Gerads is now available in print and as a digital download. For another great (and greatly disturbing) Professor Pyg tale, check out BATMAN AND ROBIN VOL. 1: BATMAN REBORN by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Philip Tan.
Meg Downey covers movies, TV and comics for DCComics.com, and writes about Batman each month in her column, "Gotham Gazette." She's also a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column. Follow her on Twitter at @rustypolished.