Celebrate Leap Day With the Five Greatest Moments of Batroc the Leaper!
Today is February 29th and that means it's Leap Day! It's a truly magical time that only comes but once every four years, where we set aside a little bit of time to honor the most beloved Frenchman in the history of comics, the inimitable Georges Batroc, a.k.a. Batroc the Leaper!
Originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the pages of Tales of Suspense #85, ze Leapair is known for three things: A mastery of the French martial art of savate, a supreme skill at, uh, leaping, and a French accent so ridiculous that even Peter Sellers would think it was a shade over the top. Together, they make him one of the greatest super-villains of all time, which is why we're doing our part to honor his legacy with The Five Greatest Moments of Batroc the Leaper!#5: Captain America and Batroc the Leaper (2011) by Kieron Gillen, Renato Arlem and Nick Filardi
The most recent example of Ze Leapair's greatness came last year in a one shot that was essentially his first starring role. Sure, his old foe Captain America gets top billing, and he's definitely a part of the story, but the focus is decidedly on Batroc. He even narrates the story, and through that device, Gillen's script shows us a side of the character that we don't often see.
For one thing, we get a firsthand look at the idea that it's not just money that drives Batroc to serve as Captain America's most beautifully moustachioed punching bag, it's the thrill. The mercenary aspect of it is really just a cover for the fact that Batroc is basically a super-villain because being a super-villain is fun. It's his fatal flaw, too -- because he's devoted to that thrill, that spirit of pitting himself against the perfect fighting force, he can never really resist pushing his luck and trying to win, even when he knows that super-villains always lose:
Of course, we also learn that he actually speaks perfect English and just affects ze ovair-zé-top accent for laughs, as though we needed yet another reason why he is The Greatest Guy.
#4. "The Mercenary and the Madman" (Captain America #251 - 252, 1980), by Roger Stern and John Byrne
What with it involving Captain America fighting draculas and almost running for President, Roger Stern and John Byrne's run on the title in the early '80s is a high point in the character's history -- and as we should all know by zis point, a high point sans Batroc is hardly a high point at all!
As you might expect, Batroc shows up in the role of hired muscle. This time around, the client is the super-strong Mr. Hyde, who has a plan to hijack a boat full of highly volatile liquid natural gas and use it to extort a few million dollars out of an oil company by threatening to blow up the entire city of New York. After all, the key to successful super-villainy is thinking big, and as the panel above proves, Batroc is always down for sticking it to the 1%.
But despite his mercenary ways, Batroc is a man of honneur, and he's certainly not up for actual acts of mass destruction. When Hyde reveals that his plan is to just go ahead and explode Manhattan even after they get the money so that he can get revenge on one of his enemies, it suddenly becomes a Batroc/Captain America team-up as they join forces to take him down.
Unfortunately for Batroc, Cap's not exactly full of gratitude:
I mean really, when you send the Juggalo Coast Guard after somebody, you're not playing around. But while most villains would react to their plans being thwarted by swearing revenge and, you know, trying to blow up a city in order to get it, Batroc just shrugs it off with what may in fact be the greatest panel John Byrne has ever drawn.
#3. "The Bloodstone Hunt" (Captain America #357 - 362), by Mark Gruenwald, Kieron Dwyer and Al Milgrom
All right, this is where things start to get a little weird. See, back in the prehistoric days of the Marvel Universe, a bunch of aliens came down from space with a giant red gemstone, and because this is pretty much what happens when aliens visit during caveman days, a caveman showed up and decided to hit the giant gemstone with a spear. As you might expect from the fact that this is a story set in the Marvel universe, a fragment of the stone embedded itself in the caveman's chest, granting him immortality and setting him on the path of becoming Ulysses Bloodstone, Monster Hunter!
Until he finally died, of course. Eventually, his daughter Elsa would take up the family trade (and the Bloodstone) in the pages of her own mini-series and the amazing Nextwave: Agents of Hate, but before that, the stone took a strange turn in a six-part Captain America story.
To keep things short, Baron Zemo Jr. wanted to resurrect his father, the evil Nazi scientist who was Captain America's foe from way back. Obviously we'd all be better off without Nazi scientists returning from the dead, so Cap tries to stop him and the two enemies start running around the world, following radioactive compasses mounted on pieces of Bloodstone Sr.'s skeleton so they can find the lost fragments of the shattered magic alien gemstone.
As you might expect, Zemo Jr. needs a little help going around the world on an Indiana Jones adventure -- at one point, Cap and Diamondback actually fall into a pit of snakes that Dwyer draws to look exactly like the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark -- and so of course, he hires Batroc. But not just Batroc -- Batroc's Brigade! Which is essentially Batroc plus two amis with similarly sketchy track records in villainy, Machete and Zaran the Weapons Master.
Unfortunately, Zemo's idea of how to use three deadly mercenaries is to quite literally throw them to the sharks:
It's not exactly their finest hour. But when you consider that Batroc was trussed up as a human sacrifice by Incan cultists about ten pages before that, the fact that he's able to take out even one shark is a testament to his incroyable skill!
#2. "Eurohit" (Punisher #64 - 70, 1992) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Dougie Braithewaite and Al Williamson
From the issues above, you might get the idea that Batroc doesn't do much other than fight Captain America. Generally speaking, c'est vrai, but there are a few times where he runs across another character, and thanks to one of the big summer events of the early '90s, he's one of the few characters to tangle with the Punisher and survive.
The plot of "Eurohit" is summed up pretty accurately in the title: Frank Castle goes to Europe to kill people. It's a truly hilarious pastiche of international stereotypes -- in the issue set in Spain, Frank literally kills a matador by having him gored by a bull -- and to add to that, Abnett and Lanning throw in a few European characters who tag along for the ride. One is Outlaw, a new character created for the story who's the British version of the Punisher, and I honestly cannot believe that he's never made a comeback. And then, of course, zere is Batroc!
Over the course of the story, Batroc keeps getting into a conflict with the Tarantula -- a Spider-Man villain known for wearing shoes with knives on them because hey, why not? -- and eventually they decide to settle things with an all-out slugfest. Presumably, they realized what was going to happen if they actually fought the Punisher, and decided that they had to find something to keep themselves occupied while he did the actual killing.
Either way, it's awesome:
If having to swim away as fast as he can and hide behind his arch-enemy so that he won't get eaten by Sharks is a low point for Batroc's career, then having a fellow super-villain say "@%#*& you, Batroc" and then kicking him out a window? That's definitely a high point.
#1. "Double Dare" (Captain America #303, 1985) by Michael Carlin and Paul Neary
Much like John Shaft, Batroc is a complicated man, with complicated motivations. As I've shown, sometimes he fights for the thrill. Sometimes, he fights for money. Sometimes, he fights for honor.
And sometimes, he goes out to a bar with his friends and gets so drunk that he decides to fight Captain America just for the hell of it.
The fact that those dudes are just straight up hanging out at a bar in full-on super-villain attire isn't even the third most awesome thing about this comic, although Batroc's textbook perfect table flip definitely goes pretty high on the list. But the best part is that it's simply exactly what it is.
In a genre devoted to sweeping epics about revenge and murder and sinister plots and evil machinations, this is a comic where the bad guy gets drunk and bets his friend that he can beat up his arch-enemy. That's it. And it's such an unusual occurence that when Captain America figures out what's going on, he stands in slack-jawed shock until Batroc finally kicks him in the back of the head.
Batroc eventually does get his free shot, and surprising no one, it doesn't really work out for him. But despite that, he keeps on coming back, because more than any other villain, he's in it for the same reason we are. He's there for the fun.
Vive Batroc! Joyeux Leap Day, mes amis!