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An Intimate Portrait of Mr. Zsasz

Ah, villains.

Batman: Knightfall

When it comes to villains, the ones that I love most are the villains that really horrify me. I find guys with gimmicks silly. Really, you’re committing crimes as a venue for sharing riddles? Come on, Pinterest already. A good villain is someone whose only agenda is to cause suffering. Those villains both intrigue and unsettle me. The Joker (from the Batman series) is sometimes portrayed in this way. Carnage (from the Spider-Man series), that symbiote suit wearing spin-off, is another great example.

In fact, I almost wrote this article about Cletus Kassidy, aka Carnage. The Maximum Carnage storyline is a personal favorite of mine, and not only does the story possess a murderous supervillain so vile that its progenitor (Venom) sets aside long held hatred to team up with Spidey, but Carnage’s endgame (other than, you know, just killing people) is to turn a city on itself through the magic of sonic superpowers (still not sure how that works) and have people kill people while he kills people (Yo dawg, I heard you like murdering, so I put murdering in your murdering, so you could murder while you murder). Note From The Editor: Nicely Done.

I think that what appeals to me about these kinds of villains (and now I’m really starting to sound creepy) is that my horror is often shared by the heroes in the story as well. This brings us to Victor Zsasz. I first stumbled across Victor Zsasz in the Knightfall storyline (Batman #493). There, Zsasz has taken over an all-girls boarding school in a classic horror movie scenario, and holds the girls at knife point. The story had some truly wonderful, dark artwork, especially the cover by Kelley Jones, and it left such an impression that I remember it vividly 10 years later. In the Knightfall story arc, Zsasz serves as part of a lead up to the mental and physical breakdown that Batman will eventually experience (if you don’t remember, the 90’s were all about DC superheroes dying). I didn’t know it at the time, but Zsasz’s backstory was explained in Batman Chronicles #3. When I read Knightfall he seemed to just come out of nowhere as darkness made into flesh, and that worked for him. Even though I now know he lost a fortune, had an existential crisis, and decided to “free” people from the meaninglessness of life, I still like to think of him as a context-less, murderous psychopath.

Batman: Cacophony

I’ve not loved every choice that writers and artists have made involving Zsasz. In Detective Comics #816 artist Cliff Chiang gives him a bit of a skinhead look, and in the Streets of Gotham series he is dressed in Armani (come on now). Those looks detract from the beautiful simplicity of Victor Zsasz, living horror. On the flip-side, not every later contribution has been to my dislike; some have really rounded out the character nicely. I would specifically mention Kevin Smith’s Batman: Cacophony, where all of Zsasz’s words run together to reflect how quickly his thoughts move. In Paul Dini’s Streets of Gotham of series, it shows the world briefly through Zsasz’s eyes, juxtaposing a deadpan face against frames of people strewn about with knives sticking out of them (really, really unsettling stuff).

If we’re to believe Batman: Cacophony, Zsasz is the villain Batman hates fighting the most. In the Streets of Gotham series, Robin is so disgusted by Zsasz’s murdering of kids that he almost decides to kill Zsasz himself. See, it’s not just me that’s horrified, it’s the heroes too. So, that’s my submission for villain week. Some people like funny. Some people like gimmicky. I like the guy that makes my skin crawl and causes me to pray that there is no real life equivalent. Maybe something is wrong with me.

~ Tim Jenkins ~

Note From The Editor:  If you would like to purchase the Knightfall story in trade paperback, you can start with part 1 for only $11.99 at Instocktrades.com.  If you are more interested in Silent Bob’s take on Zsasz, grab Cacophony for in hardcover edition for only $11.99 as well.  If you prefer your Zsasz to wear Armani coats, Streets Of Gotham: Leviathan can be yours for only $11.99 at Instocktrades.com too.

About Tim Jenkins

Favorite Comics: Swamp Thing, Super Girl, Flash, etc...

Defining Quote: "Truth is born as lightning strikes." - Archilochos.

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