Monday, September 19, 2016

The triumphant return of Kite Man (and friends)

I remember an interview with Geoff Johns that ran on Newsarama maybe as many as ten years ago at this point, which would have been several editors, site redesigns and owners ago, so I'm not even going to attempt looking for the link. But in the interview, the person asking the questions of Johns noted his impressive ability to take some of the most minor, silliest DC supervillains and make them scary. Apparently seeking to test the limits of his ability, she chose one of the most minor, silliest villains she could, Kite Man, and asked what he would do to turn him into a "serious" villain.

Johns didn't seem to miss a beat, seemingly wondering aloud if maybe Kite Man could be a serial killer who built kites out of the bones and treated and stretched-out skins of his victims.

Good answer, I guess, but it's stuck with me since, because it was such a dramatic shift from who Kite Man was created to be. Bill Finger and Dick Sprang made him a villain who used a variety of kite-related gimmicks to commit crimes and, in a telling detail of just how "serious" a threat he was meant to be, his civilian identity was Charles Brown, which he shared with a comic strip character who famously had a hard time with kites.

Not every supervillain needs to be a grisly serial killer of the Leatherface variety. It's the Crazy Quilts, Killer Moths and Calendar Men in Batman's life that make The Jokers so scary. A large part of what makes Batman such a vital character at this point is the wide variety of his adversaries, which range from organized crime types to monster men to would-be world conquerers to serial killers to terrorists to mad scientists to legitimate supervillains to silly costumed types. In 2016, there are very few Batman stories a writer can't tell, and chancse are, there's already a villain or 17 to drive a conflict in that story.

So it was fun to see the return of Kite Man after some absence (he was killed off, at least twice, between Identity Crisis and Final Crisis) in the pages of Tom King's Batman; he returned in the sixth issue of that series, which was drawn by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert.

That scene at the top of the post accounts for almost his entire appearance in the book; on the very next page the super-powered Gotham Girl grabs him by his kite and crumples it in her hand, taking him into custody.

Not only was I relieved to see that he wasn't riding a kite made of human skin and bones, but when these sort of old school Silver Age villains are played completely straight in the more serious modern comic book narratives, they become at once both humorsous and also seem a lot more insane. Like, dude just used an extremely expensive home-made kite/hang-gliding rig, risked his life and caused a few thousand dollars worth of damage just to steal a single pearl necklace. It's easy to see that guy ending up in an asylum, whereas you know the president would be ordering drone strikes on the likes of The Joker and Scarecrow at this point.

Now, Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr. have rightly been getting lots of praise–including from me!–for rehabbing and revitalizing a bunch of minor villains in the pages of their All-Star Batman, but it's worth noting that King and company are doing their part with this issue, as well.
In addition to Kite Man, Gotham Girl also takes down Colonel Blimp and Captain Stingaree (that's him on the page above). The former is a 1982 Paul Kupperberg and Don Newton creation who uses blimps to steal (Chris Sims will happily walk you through his first appearance) and the latter is a pirate-themed crazy person created by Bob Rozakis, Michael Uslan and Ernie Chan for a 1976 story in Detective Comics.

Interestingly, King only gives them each a page or two, but with similar stories as those of the villains' original appearances apparently having occurred off-page (Stingaree, it should be noted, was written pre-Flashpoint by Brad Meltzer in the pages of his short-lived–and terrible!–run on Justice League of America, where Meltzer made Stingaree a closeted homosexual in a relationship with his fellow sword-weilding, fancy dress-wearing Batman villain The Cavalier, who Black Lightning blackmails. Not very PC, guys!).

So King managed to reintroduce three minor Batman villains and keep their stories in tact while transplanting them into a current Batman narrative, and he did it in about six pages of a 20-page story, which is actually about Gotham Girl going a little loopy after the events of the previous five issues, and Batman trying to comfort her. But the Kite Man page at the top of this post? It's by far the best of those 20 pages.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Kite Man excitedly shouting his name as he steals stuff is what sells it.