I find it interesting that colloquial sounds combined with receiving a large percentage of information from screens has conditioned a generation of humans to recognize jumbles of letters such as:
as the evil laugh of a diabolical scheme coming into fruition, and not just a random assortment of characters.
Anyway, welcome back to Comical Musings. I’m Hal, you might recognize me from such posts as DC Talk – with Hal 9/11/13, and this is DC Talk – with Hal, the bi-monthly post where I pontificate about something tangentially related to DC Comics in order to fulfill a now-obsolete commitment to my brother. And you have happened upon our special (probably won’t be posted in time for) Halloween edition. Since I needed to shoe-horn another post in before the end of the month, I thought I would step back from DC current events and turn an analytical eye to one of my favorite characters in the DC universe. Highlight for spoiler: If you consider advanced notice of what I am going to talk about in this post to be a spoiler, then you should probably seek professional help. I’ve also wondered what would happen if I threw out a non-sequitur spoiler; so if you’re reading this please acknowledge it in the comments below.
Anyway, the spoiler: I mentioned this character at the end of my last DC Talk post.
So, Forever Evil is a thing. And one of the primary characters is Owlman. How much do you know about Owlman? Not much? Oh well, it’s not important…
Actually, it kind-of is. Owlman is the brains behind the Crime Syndicate. He’s the Syndacate’s version of Batman, and like Batman he has no super powers, other than his calculating intellect. (He might also have super finances, and wear a powered exoskeleton as part of his costume, but Tony Stark would tell you that those are just come with the territory.) He’s also enough of a formidable force, that he is currently carrying on an affair with Ultraman’s wife and he doesn’t care that Ultraman knows.
Owlman has an interesting and storied history within DC continuity, but continuity went out the window with the New 52. Prior to the reboot, Owlman was the alter ego of Thomas Wayne Jr., the older brother of Bruce Wayne from a parallel earth. After witnessing the murder of his mother and brother, Thomas Jr. came to blame his father and turned to a life of crime.
The current incarnation is still named Thomas Wayne, but his backstory seems to be slightly different. This time both of Owlman’s parents were killed by their butler Alfred “the Outsider” Pennyworth. (That’s what happens when you hire a butler who prefers to go by a nickname that is based on an H. P. Lovecraft story.) The reason behind the murder of Owlman’s parents has yet to be revealed, but it is somehow related to Alfred’s undying devotion to Owlman. Alfred’s desire to save Owlman from the destruction of the parallel earth led him to orchastrate many of the events of the Trinity War, and ultimately culminated in the whole Forever Evil Crime Syndicate takeover of the DCU.
Owlman now seems more committed to control than to evil. He wants to control EVERYTHING. After taking control of Gotham City on his parallel earth, he is seen (via flashback) hunting down rogue criminal agents that pose any threat to his complete domination. These few crumbs of information were mostly provided in the pages of Justice League #23.4. Justice League #24 dedicated the first few pages to the origin story of Ultraman. And Justice League #25 is supposed to cast further light on Owlman’s origin.
So, why have I just inconvenienced countless electrons to bring you up to speed on Owlman? Well, Owlman is an interesting character, and I’m interested to see where the whole Forever Evil story arc will take him. But I wanted to make sure you know, oh informed Comical Musings devotee, that Owlman was not the first character created to be a polar opposite of Batman. And the original is still one of my favorites.
Back in the 50’s DC created a nameless character who committed himself to becoming the diametric inverse of Batman. He raised money by helping other criminals evade capture by the police. Eventually he constructs his own cave, drawing from pictures and articles about the “Bat-cave” published in contemporary media. He assumes the identity of philanthropist Cameron van Cleer and even becomes a social peer with Bruce Wayne. But by night, he takes on a persona that is the complete opposite of Batman. He commits murder. He wears an outstandingly garish costume. He is… the Killer Moth.
Killer Moth has become somewhat of a joke over the years, and not without reason. His original costume is ridiculous (and bears little resemblance to any actual moth) and he was used as the first high-profile collar for Batgirl (Barbara Gordon). DC has since tried to contemporize his character by pairing him up with Firefly, converting him into the moth-human mutant hybrid Charaxes, and portraying him as a doting father wearing a moth costume in Cartoon Nework’s Teen Titans. But the mention of his name is still met with either chuckles of derision or the blank confusion of unfamiliarity.
In either case, I think Killer Moth deserves more. The Mothman, as an entity, has its own nefarious history as a cryptozooilogical being, with numerous accounts of a red-eyed creature heralding impending calamity tracing back even before its famous sighting in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. (Ironically, according to some descriptions the Mothman looks more like an owl.) So, in my opinion, the moth makes a better nocturnal antithesis of the bat, when applied to active human agents. I realize that some bats eat moths, and some owls eat bats. But I think that by willingly selecting a lesser animal, it makes the actor more threatening. And as we’ve seen from recent experience, choosing an arthropod as the basis for your persona can have unsettling results. Furthermore, the Killer Moth is a killer. He’s not just Mothman (and not just because that name was already taken); his willingness to take lives is so much a part of his character that it has been incorporated into his name, and it runs completely contrary to who and what Batman is. Obviously, Owlman is willing to permanently eliminate those who stand in his way, but Killer Moth did it first.
At the same time, Killer Moth is able to operate in society when he is not wearing green and orange striped tights. In fact, after assuming the false identity of Cameron van Cleer, he estabished himself as a wealthy socialite, and even befriends Bruce Wayne. Owlman doesn’t seem to fit in our world. He may never have a motivation or an opportunity to try to blend in as Thomas Wayne, and it is unclear if he would be able to do so effectively. His intelligence and his skills at manipulating people would probably make it possible, but as with the other members of the Crime Syndicate, he seems more comfortable operating as Owlman and being recognized as an overlord. There is something more sinister about a villain who can fit in with society. It’s unsettling to think that any of the seemingly normal people around you could be plotting evil, or carrying out despicable acts when no one is looking. Once we accept that as a possibility we begin to become suspicious of everyone. Owlman can make the world darker through his tyranical control. Killer Moth makes everyone’s world darker by casting a pall of doubt and mistrust over their relationships with other people. At the same time, he is able to hide in plain sight and strike during a moment of vulnerability.
It does detract from Killer Moth’s menace when you consider that his greatest criminal offense may be his crime against fashion. It’s hard to be scared of a guy wearing a questionable moth costume with a green, orange, and purple color scheme. I’m a fan of garish outfits, don’t get me wrong, I just think that in this case Killer Moth’s costume may have hurt his street cred more than it has helped. But that can be easily fixed. Characters’ outfits are getting redesigned all over the place in the New 52, and with a wardrobe update I think Killer Moth could make a comeback as a serious threat in the DCU. Then again, his silly outfit was always part of his charm, which is why I was never as interested in Charaxes or any of the more moth-like incarnations. Recently DC has done a good job re-imagining characters like Alan Scott, Parasite, and the Creeper. Then again, they also gave Solomon Grundy a leather fetish. So if Killer Moth does re-emerge from the chrysalis of villain hiatus and make an appearance in the New 52, it could go either way.
When it does happen you’ll hear about it here, so stay tuned to Comical Musings for our latest ramblings about all the doings a-transpiring in the realm of sequential illustrated art. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go put the finishing touches on my Halloween cos-choom. [I wonder where I can get a pair of green and orange striped tights?] If you have a minute, leave us a comment below and let us know what you’re dressing as for Halloween, or what comic character you would dress as if you had more free time.