Ask Chris #329: The Official Handbook Of Extremely Obscure Batman Villains
Q: Hey, so in The Lego Batman Movie, there's a character called The Mime. What's the deal with that? — @comicsfan4life
A: That signal, shining in the sky --- someone needs me to explain an extremely obscure Batman villain to them! I have been training for this day my entire life.
It might come as a surprise, but I actually haven't seen The Lego Batman Movie yet --- although I definitely want to. As I understand it, though, the Mime is only one of several c- to z-list Batman foes who show up and somehow also manage to get toys out of the deal. So my question is, why stop with the Mime?
The LEGO Batman Movie has what is probably the most impressive roster of characters that any superhero movie has ever had, and it's still pretty staggering how deep they went into the bottom of the barrel for some of the cameos. But at the same time, there are a lot of villains that don't need any additional explanation. Like, nobody really needs a primer on Poison Ivy, and if you're reading about comic books online, there's probably a good chance that you don't need me telling you about Catman, either. Even if he's presented along with a few other scrubs in the movie, that dude was a headliner in an ensemble book that ran for years.
At the same time, while Calendar Man has never really managed to crack the A-List, he's also a pretty well-known character thanks to high-profile appearances in books like The Long Halloween, and the Arkham games. And with someone like Gentleman Ghost, there's really not much to tell. He's a gentleman and a ghost. And he rules.
Still, there are a few that could use a spotlight, so excuse me for a moment while I dig out my Obscure Batman Villain File Cards and get us started. And what better place to start than the one you asked about: The Mime!
There's this weird period in the late '80s and early '90s where the Batman books were still sort of doing the gimmicky one-note villains of the Silver Age, but with the darker sensibilities of the era that pretty much dictated that they should all be terrifying murderers. It's how you get stuff like that one Peter Milligan/Jim Aparo story about a librarian who killed people and left them in different parts of the city in leather jackets with the Dewey Decimal System number that corresponded to their careers stitched onto the shoulders --- which is amazing, by the way. And it's also how you get the Mime.
The heiress to a fireworks manufacturing fortune, Camilla Ortin rebelled against her father and his noisy industry by studying the silent art of mime with the famous Marcel Marceau. Unfortunately, her act proved to be fairly unpopular --- there's a lot of this story devoted to people, including Robin, talking about how much they hate mimes in general --- and for some reason, this drove her immediately to the kind of thematic crime you can only get in Gotham City.
She started her reign of shushed terror by stealing all the clappers out of the church bells in Gotham City, and then moved on to shooting people with a silenced pistol when they interrupted her act. She even mimed a criminal giving up in order to lure Batman into range to hit him with a 10,000 volt charge from her gloves, which seems like the sort of thing people did a lot in comics in the '80s that, in retrospect, seems a bit impractical.
Eventually, she set her sights on Gotham's loudest event, a concert by the band Blister Twister, where they were performing a heavy metal cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" (seriously), and was quickly apprehended.
This may come as a shock to you, but there are actually three different versions of Zebra Man running around in the DC Universe. The one that appears in The Lego Batman Movie --- distinguished by his mohawk --- is actually the second, although considering that he and the first guy have the same powers and appeared about 30 years apart, you could make a case that they're probably the same guy.
There is, however, one crucial difference. The original Zebra Man was a scientist whose experiments with magnetism left him (and later, Batman) striped with alternating lines of attracting and repelling force, which he used for --- what else? --- robbing banks in Gotham City. This guy, however, was a member of Strike Force Kobra, a villainous team bent on world domination that also included a guy named Planet Master. And before you ask, that guy's a little less impressive than he sounds: He had the ability to make you cold, like Pluto, and presumably to make you gassy, like Jupiter, or bring you to the verge of complete catastrophic destruction, like Earth.
In the hierarchy of Gotham City's criminals, none rank lower than those whose gimmick crimes would be way more interesting if they were committed by the Calendar Man. The Zodiac Master fits that bill, although his costume makes Calendar Man's seem pretty reserved.
While he claimed to have the ability to predict disasters --- which he would then arrange for criminal purposes --- his main gimmick was that he wore what appeared to be extremely awkward thematic baubles on his shirt, which he would then throw at Batman and Robin, expanding them into larger weapons.
This incredible matter-expanding technology is never addressed or explained in the original Zodiac Master story, but it does provide a pretty big challenge for the Dynamic Duo. Fortunately, the Zodiac Master's reign of astrological terror is brought to an end when Batman rams him in the butt.
Wait, what did you think I meant?
Okay, real talk: The Eraser kind of rules. As a classmate of Bruce Wayne's, Lenny Fiasco (the most amazing name in the history of superhero comics) was known for spending more time erasing his wrong answers than actually writing them down. As an adult, he turned this dubious talent to crime, hiring himself out to erase any clues that were left at the scene of the crimes. Literally.
He used his eraser-shaped hat to clean up after bank robbers, leaving crime scenes so spotless that even Batman's truly ridiculous extending magnifying glass couldn't detect anything.
When Batman confronted him in disguise, Lenny immediately recognized Bruce Wayne from the scent of his aftershave, and revealed that he turned to crime because a girl he had a crush on went out with Bruce while they were in school. And look, I don't know if there's such a thing as a reasonable motivation for dressing up as a pencil and trying to kill Batman with "pencil-sharp" graphite shoes, but I'm pretty sure that's not it.
I've said before that trying to narrow down the best Batman '66 villain is one of those things where it's almost entirely based on who was in the last episode you saw, but King Tut might have the most interesting backstory of the bunch.
Most days, William McElroy is a soft-spoken professor of Egyptology at Yale University. When he experiences a sharp blow to the head, however, his personality is taken over by King Tut, a malevolent monarch who seeks to recreate Gotham City in his own image as "a modern Thebes." Which mostly involves him driving around on elaborate barges and golden semi-trucks and just getting so mad at Batman.
Despite the colorful gimmick and Victor Buono's incredible over-the-top performance, King Tut really stands out as being one of the more sympathetic villains on the show. While most of the villains are die-hard criminals who just straight up love doin' crimes, Prof. McElroy is always portrayed as a sympathetic victim of his own tendency to get bonked on the head. One hopes that one day, he'll be fully cured, and will be able to rejoin his family and their sprawling network of podcasts.
Kite Man is a man who likes kites.
The Mad Hatter has always lent himself to rolling with a gang of characters inspired by Alice in Wonderland, but for some reason, it wasn't until 2008 that Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen realized that they should probably throw in the other most prominent member of Lewis Carroll's famous tea party (sorry, Dormouse), in the form of a pretty lady dressed as a bunny rabbit. Because according to superhero comics, you can never have too many pretty ladies dressed as bunny rabbits --- there are two separate White Rabbits in two different universes, although it's worth noting that only one of them makes a point of carrying around a watch and being late to things.
Anyway, March Harriet doesn't have much going on beyond the name and a pretty fun variation on her Sexy Rabbit Halloween costume, largely because she's overshadowed by the real breakout star of the Wonderland Gang, the Carpenter. As in, the Walrus And.
The Carpenter would later go on to put her skills to good use (well, nefarious use, actually) by building deathtraps for supervillains. March Harriet, on the other hand, pretty much just has the ears.
Unlike the other characters on this list, who were generally created to be legitimate threats to Batman (well, "legitimate" "threats"), the Condiment King was meant from the start as a joke.
The version we see in the movie --- and believe it or not, there actually is a Condiment King legacy --- was the one created for Batman: The Animated Series. Stand-up comedian Buddy Standler was driven to crime when the Joker used the Mad Hatter's mind control devices to take out his competition for the Funniest Man in Gotham City. Which, I dunno, man, I think Condiment King might technically be funnier than an evil clown who murders people with a crowbar, but I'll admit that I like my humor pretty lowbrow.
And finally, we have Orca. And can I be real with you for a second? Like, super real?
I friggin' love Orca.
I mean, don't get me wrong, she's terrible: A marine biologist who turned herself into a werewhale for vaguely environmental reasons and then got into a bunch of fights with Batman that involve a truly untenable amount of dialogue, a story that ended up being the most memorable part of what might be the worst run of Batman comics of the 21st century.
But also? She's great.
For extremely specific values of "great."
Ask Chris art by Erica Henderson. If you’ve got a question you’d like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris.