Night Slayer is one of the many examples of the school of Batman villain that’s more old-school 70s-style Batman than modern Batman: the guy who wants to be as good as Batman at being Batmannish, but evil. There are others, of course: Black Spider, the Wrath,1 KGBeast and Prometheus are all from this “hey let’s sit down and make a Batman villain” train of thought.
And, honestly, most of them are crap, because the entire point of Batman is that he’s more or less an ultimate paragon of humanity. None of these guys are threatening, because you know Batman is going to win. I mean, come on. Night Slayer knows martial arts and can “blend into shadow.” KGBeast has a gun-arm. Prometheus is Evil Batman Squared. Nobody particularly cares about any of them (except KGBeast, who somewhere along the line got chic for being sort of corny in an Old School Comix sort of way and because “Ten Nights of the Beast” is a pretty good Batman story – but seriously, everything since then has been mucho downhill).
The anticlimax with Batman’s inevitable victory with these guys is somehow greater than the inevitability of him beating the Joker or Two-Face or anybody else from his usual gallery of Arkham psychotics. Although you know Batman is going to win in those comics too, ultimately any story about fighting somebody really psycho-crazy is, at root, a horror story, and the point of a horror story is the experience being appropriately ghoulish, creepy or weird. It’s not the end; it’s the journey. But when Batman fights Evil Skilled Person, the journey is that much less interesting, because not only is Batman going to win, but most of the time Batman’s going to win and he’s going to win on his home turf. I mean, you can’t outfight Batman. You can only try to out-weird him, most of the time. Which means that Batman stories versus non-crazies are the Batman equivalent of process stories more than anything else, and nobody really gets excited about process stories.
The exception that proves the rule here is Bane. I’m firmly in Tim O’Neil’s camp on this one: Bane is one of Batman’s best villains, and I’d go further and argue that he is the best Batman villain.2 Bane is the best Batman villain of all because he beat Batman. Straight-up, no qualifications, he beat Batman. Yeah, Batman eventually came back and managed to tie it up; big deal, because nobody else ever put him down on the count before. Because Bane beat Batman by, essentially, being Batman – smart, planning, physically extremely capable, nigh-inhuman supply of willpower3 – his victory was never an Arkham horror story. It was a straight-up Batman-versus-a-criminal story, except Batman lost, and lost definitively.
The last few issues of Secret Six have been fantastic because Bane decided it was time to screwing around and get back to doing what he does best: e.g. beating Batman to prove he’s the best. When Batman finds out about this, what does he do? He calls in every superhero he can find, because Batman knows Bane can beat him. Does Batman call for help when he has to fight the Joker again? No, he just goes out and beats up the Joker, because it’s Thursday and that’s what Batman does on Fridays. When Bane shows up, Batman has to stop himself from pissing his pants.
And because Bane is so good, he just makes all the other “normal” Batman villains that much worse.
- Taking a moment here to admit that the Wrath was actually a really great concept and had a great story, but was executed so well that logically, by any sense of narrative, he had to die at the end, and there endeth the Wrath. [↩]
- Riddler is my favorite, but that’s not the same thing. [↩]
- FREE STORY IDEA FOR DC COMICS: Bane. Green Lantern ring. Done. [↩]