Villainous Games: Profiling & Confronting Criminal Distortions
Since Holmes opposed Moriarty, several famous detectives have faced off against recurring villains, who view the committing of crimes as an elaborate game of wits with their opponent. Joker, Riddler, Two-Face, and a myriad of others have offered crimes as challenges to the Dark Knight. Early in his run on Detective Comics, popular writer Greg Rucka presented the game-like quality of Batman’s relationship with various villains.
Here Batman is forced to confront why a mysterious new woman Whisper A’Daire and his old nemesis Ra’s al Ghul are interested in starting a gang war in Gotham (rebuilding after the extreme events of No Man’s Land). Whisper portrays Batman’s efforts as part of an elaborate game. Villains love to face Batman; they leave him clues, daring him to stop them. Whisper teases him, “You’d hardly be a detective if I gave you all the answers. But you’re about to get a clue.” Hearing gunshots, Batman follows the sound to find two more corpses, pulling him even further into the mystery.
Jeph Loeb has written a number of classic Batman storylines (a series of year-long mysteries), and these important stories, instrumental in keeping Batman in the world of mystery, also highlight how villains derive pleasure from playing with the Dark Knight. Hush presents a more personal mystery.
One evening, while pursuing Catwoman, who has stolen the ransom from a kidnapping executed by Killer Croc, Batman discovers his line cut and himself falling several stories to the street below. Rescued by the efforts of Oracle, Huntress, and Alfred, and an operation by childhood friend Tommy Eliot, Bruce is able to pull himself back together.
While pursuing clues, opening up to Catwoman, and reminiscing about childhood adventures with Tommy, Batman finds various perils–a blown tire on the Batmobile, Superman under Poison Ivy’s control, and Joker apparently playing murderer once again. Commissioner Gordon steps in before Batman beats Joker to death.
Some mysterious figure, his head covered in bandages, is playing with Batman. Stopping a theft by Riddler, confronting Ra’s al Ghul, and thwarting Scarecrow’s attack on Huntress, Batman faces the possible reincarnation of someone from his past, another trap from his new nemesis. The story builds to the confrontation where the new opponent finally stands revealed, but he escapes to cause problems for Batman another day.
In Sam Hamm’s Blind Justice, Batman opposes a mad scientist who has used technology developed in Wayne Enterprises to manipulate innocents first into committing crimes and then into suicide. Bruce Wayne must clear his own name while also tracking down this scientist and those others who infiltrated his company.
In Devin Grayson’s “Fear of Faith,” in the first days of No Man’s Land, Scarecrow seeks refuge with a group of survivors in a church. His deceptions undermine the minister’s authority and threaten to pull the entire community into a gang war. Batman’s efforts at the end of the story expose Scarecrow’s deceptions and save the community from street violence.
Through the years Batman has repeatedly faced off against villains who have sought to manipulate social situations to their advancement or amusement. Villains are notoriously arrogant, often seeing themselves in a tournament with Batman, seeking ways to one-up him.
Perhaps, the WB animated-series episode “Almost Got ‘Im” is one of the more illuminating examples; here Poison Ivy, Penguin, and Joker relate stories about how they almost killed Batman. The ultimate irony of the story is that Batman is there among them disguised as Killer Croc; he is the one who ultimately captures them. Batman knows his opponents, their modus operandi; he knows what their obsessions are. Such hard work enables him finally to foil their plans.