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Why Polka-Dot Man is DC's Toughest Villain

Why Polka-Dot Man is DC's Toughest Villain

By Joshua Lapin-Bertone Friday, August 6th, 2021

Don’t laugh, Polka-Dot Man is a lot more formidable then you think. No, seriously!

Who is the most fearsome villain in the DC Universe? Forget the Joker, he’s nothing but a clown. Move over Lex Luthor, you can’t even grow a mullet. Step aside Darkseid, you might be a New God, but you haven’t harnessed the power of polka-dots!

That’s right, we’re talking about Polka-Dot Man. Are you rolling your eyes? Don’t act so smug dear reader, Polka-Dot Man has left Batman cowering in fear. Have you ever scared the Dark Knight? I didn’t think so. With  Polka-Dot Man making his cinematic debut this weekend in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, let’s take a look at his dotted rap sheet.

Dick Grayson was Robin before he became Nightwing, Wally West was Kid Flash before he became Flash, and Abner Krill was Mr. Polka-Dot before he graduated into Polka-Dot Man. That’s right, like most of DC’s epic characters, Polka-Dot Man had to evolve. Mr. Polka-Dot first appeared in Detective Comics #300, which immediately tells you how important he is. This was the 300th issue of Detective Comics, the first title DC ever published!

If you’re a DC UNIVERSE INFINITE member, you could read the issue, and I’d recommend it because I suspect Abner Krill’s polka dot beginnings will surprise you. Let’s start with the cover, which depicts Batman and Robin fleeing in terror as Mr. Polka-Dot shoots his deadly dots at them. “Great Scott! One of the dots on that fantastic criminal’s costume has become a flying saucer! And that other one he ripped off has changed into a flaming sun,” the Dark Knight cries. That’s right, Mr. Polka-Dot can conjure miniature suns! Things are getting crazy, and this is just the cover. Imagine seeing this on the newsstand in 1962.

The story begins with Batman and Robin foiling a robbery at the Spot Service Cleaning Company (because Abner is always on brand). As the Dynamic Duo fight off the crooks, their fearless leader reveals himself. Clad in a white jumpsuit with colorful polka dots, the criminal mastermind introduces himself: “Call me—Mr. Polka-Dot. An odd name, but an apt one. For I shall use my inventive dots to make my name known throughout the underworld,” he says.

If I were Batman or Robin, I’d probably be laughing my butt off at this point, but Mr. Polka-Dot quickly proves his power. He begins by turning one of his dots into a BUZZSAW and throwing it at our heroes! I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty metal move.

Later on in the story, Mr. Polka-Dot explains to his men that each dot on his costume is connected with a set of wires and when he releases them, they expand and turn into his gimmicks. As the story goes on, Mr. Polka-Dot shows off more of his dots, which include flying saucers, flaming hot suns, Pope bubbles, giant fists and more.

Consider this—he built all this himself. Can Batman’s utility belt do these things? Batman and Robin are eventually able to defeat Mr. Polka-Dot, but it takes everything they had. Remember, Batman has stared death in the eyes countless times and has faced down the DC’s greatest super-criminals, yet in this debut issue, he runs in fear from Mr. Polka-Dot. That should tell you something about this so-called “joke villain.”

Sadly, Mr. Polka-Dot wouldn’t be seen again for another 34 years, and by that time he had changed his name to Polka-Dot Man. You might think the name change meant that he had stepped up his game and added more buzzsaws to his arsenal, but sadly when we caught up with Polka-Dot Man in Batman: GCPD #1, he had fallen on hard times. He looked a bit deranged and was attacking police officers with a baseball bat, which is dumb when your buzzsaw dots are right there. “Stay away or dot’s all she wrote,” Polka-Dot Man yells, unfortunately.

The confrontation ends about how you’d expect. Harvey Bullock takes Polka-Dot Man’s baseball bat and nearly beats him to death with it. Of course, Polka-Dot Man still gets the last laugh by hitting Harvey where it hurts—a brutality complaint! Bullock is forced to attend a series of excruciating therapy sessions, which drives him batty. Maybe there’s method to Polka-Dot Man’s madness here after all. Fun fact: this is also where we learn his real name is Abner Krill.

For a while, Abner’s reduced to a series of cameos where he’s depicted as one of Gotham’s z-list villains. Eventually, your favorite dotty villain made his triumphant return in a limited series called Final Crisis Aftermath: Run. A strange, but powerful character named General Immortus recruits Abner to join his team of villains, even helping him upgrade his signature dots. Now they can teleport! After joining, Abner regales his teammates with tales of how he fought Batman, but for some reason they don’t seem too impressed.

Unfortunately, Immortus’s team is betrayed by the Human Flame, and during the battle, Polka-Dot Man meets his end when his skull is crushed by a falling manhole. A manhole can almost be considered a dot, though, so maybe there’s some irony in how he goes out. However, it’s also something that largely exists to keep people from falling into raw sewage, so there’s no denying this isn’t Polka-Dot Man’s finest moment.

I know what some of you are thinking, “Josh, you spent all this time trying to build up Polka-Dot Man as this heavy hitter, but he kind of sounds like a Silver Age loser.”

You’re right. Sigh… While the buzzsaw dot is pretty cool, Polka-Dot Man is a pretty ridiculous villain, with a laughable motif and a costume that would get him beat up in any middle school. I wanted to make him sound cool, but there’s a limit to what I can do. You know who just might be able to do it, though?

James Gunn.

The Suicide Squad’s Polka-Dot Man, played by David Dastmalchian, has a different backstory and power set, and while I don’t want to ruin it, I think you may find yourself on team polka-dot when all is said and done. But love him or laugh at him, I think we can all agree that there’s a lot more to Polka-Dot Man than just a silly costume and name. He’s been a formidable villain, a desperate one and now, in The Suicide Squad, a sympathetic one. Will he ever become a popular one who can stand alongside Batman’s well-known rogues?

Assuming he can somehow survive his time working for Amanda Waller, dot’s not such a crazy idea.
 

The Suicide Squad, directed by James Gunn and featuring David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man, is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. Not yet an HBO Max subscriber? Sign up today to enjoy the best of DC movies and TV.

Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.