Overview: In Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant #1, eight of Batman’s most fearsome rogues take center stage in their own stories.
Editor’s Note: Due to the anthology nature of this collection, we will feature a synopsis and analysis for each story, rather than breaking up the synopsis and analysis. Spoilers are sure to be revealed.
Story #1: The Penguin in “Bird Cat Love” by writer Danny DeVito and artist Dan Mora
Synopsis: In “another time, another place” in the suburbs of Gotham, Penguin saves children from chasing a ball into a busy street. Meanwhile, Catwoman returns a bird to its nest in Gotham City.
Afterward, the two join together — as a happy couple — to talk over their next plan. Catwoman and Penguin plan a whole series of heists to rob the rich and fill their coffers for the next stage of reaching their goal. Once they’ve acquired enough money, they build sanctuaries for animals and plan a major heist of vaccines from around the globe. With the vaccines, they figure out a way to distribute them freely to the people of the world, ending a global pandemic once and for all. When they are done, Penguin and Catwoman leave with the blueprint for making the vaccine, so pharmaceutical companies can’t make money off of it.
Penguin and Catwoman then retire and dedicate their lives to preserving wildlife around the globe, overseeing earth as its guardians.
Analysis: It’s easy to dunk on this opening story because it feels so out of character for both Penguin and Catwoman, and it’s true, this story defies expectation. It’s absolutely bewildering and is quite the leap to start Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant #1 off with. That said, it’s written by Danny DeVito, the actor who portrayed Penguin in Batman Returns and also a writer DC Comics was hoping would sell this book.
For those who have seen Batman Returns, this story comes across as something written by an actor from the movie who, having no deep knowledge of comics lore, thought it would be fun to put his own spin on the role he once played. Nothing more, nothing less. While writing this, DeVito clearly had the COVID-19 pandemic on his brain, as this story heavily revolves around Penguin and Catwoman working to end a global pandemic. Sure, in the context of Batman comics, this story doesn’t make sense, but that’s not what this is. This Penguin story is a fantasy written by someone who wanted to transform the supervillain he was known for and do something positive to end a dark time.
The art by Dan Mora is absolutely amazing. Mora’s Penguin is very close to the one DeVito played in Batman Returns, and his Catwoman is a hybrid of classic and modern designs. While the story may confuse readers, especially the rhyming every so often, the art is breathtakingly beautiful.
Story #2: Scarecrow in “The Fearless Man” by writer and artist Wes Craig
Synopsis: Scarecrow holds a sermon in front of his followers about the nature of fear. He admits that for so long, he thought to weaponize fear. Now, he realizes that freedom from fear is his new goal. In order to achieve this, he needs a true, fearless man who was born of the people.
Scarecrow cuts the power to Gotham City and casts it in complete darkness. This, he surmises, will summon the true man without fear. Nightwing enters his lair, and Scarecrow attempts to kill the hero. Scarecrow fails, and power is restored to Gotham.
At home, a girl who looks almost like Carrie Kelley with a buzzcut, gets a cellphone notification from Scarecrow that reads, “What if we had no fear? Click the X and be free.”
Analysis: It’s hard to gauge where or when this story takes place. Writer and artist Wes Craig has a style reminiscent of The Dark Knight Returns, and he even adds a few mutants seen in those comics. The girl at the end could also be Carrie Kelley, albeit with a different haircut, but this isn’t confirmed.
Other than that, this is a very pretty story with bold, beautiful colors. It’s just confusing. Scarecrow rambles about fear, which admittedly is his usual m.o., and Nightwing halts his crime. Beyond that, any sort of meaning is muddied and doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
Story #3: Poison Ivy in “Ophiocordyceps Lamia” by writer G Willow Wilson and artist Emma Rios
Synopsis: Poison Ivy poses as an employee at a chemical plant, infiltrating it, so that she can pump it full of lamia spores. The spores infect the employees, and gas fills the plant. Ultimately, the plant will explode.
There is a blonde woman that works in H.R. named Janet, and Ivy has a soft spot for her because she reminds Ivy of Harley Quinn. Right before the explosion, Ivy saves Janet and curses her own sentimentality.
Janet asks to go with Ivy, but Ivy refuses. Ivy tells Janet that she needs to be alone. As a kindness, Ivy cures Janet of the spores and walks away.
Analysis: G. Willow Wilson and Emma Rios celebrate Poison Ivy with a story that showcases Ivy’s complexity in Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant #1. As an admirer and advocate for nature, Ivy can be an extremist whose sole wish is to destroy the industrial machinations of mankind and return everything to nature, piece by piece. As someone who is human, who shares a love of people, Ivy takes pity on a woman named Janet and frees her from death. Ivy can’t take Janet any further, but she takes satisfaction in knowing that Janet will always remember the plant creature that Janet almost became.
It’s a fun little story, something poetic that almost feels akin to Swamp Thing in a way. It’s also a teaser for a Poison Ivy-related book coming in 2022.
Story #4: Red Hood in “For The Sky is Red” by writer Stephanie Phillips and artist Max Fiumara
Synopsis: Hank comes to, strung upside with a gun pointed at his head. It’s his own gang that has done this to him, and they’re looking to rub him out once and for all. Hank’s gang are upset that his invention, the Red Hood, has brought heat from the police, the Falcones, and Batman.
Hank pleads his case for the Red Hood moniker, telling them that it’s the reason why the mob, the police, and all of Gotham fear them. Hank tells his men that through the Red Hood, they have a symbol of power in the city.
Unfortunately, Hank pleads his case too well, and his men kill him. The Red Hood is a symbol, and that means it doesn’t have to be Hank wearing it. One of the gang members picks up the helmet and walks off.
Analysis: This is one of the better stories in Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant #1, as it takes a classic villain and pulls a reverse-Batman with its story. The Red Hood, its creator tells us, is a symbol of power in Gotham, one that breaks the stranglehold of the elites, of the mob, and of anyone who would instill fear on small-time hoods. Though the power of the Red Hood ultimately goes to Hank’s head, it’s an interesting argument for why criminals in Gotham would turn to a gimmick or a moniker.
The art is absolutely beautiful and carries a very serious, noir edge to it. It feels old-timey in a good way, celebrating where Batman has come from and reminding us that the Batman tales of the past are as complex and deeply rooted in ideas as they are now.
Story #5: Mad Hatter in “The Perfect Fit” by writer Dan Watters and artist Skylar Patridge
Synopsis: Damian Wayne recalls the first time he encountered Mad Hatter. Hatter was building a wonderland outside of Gotham, using his mind control technology to perfect his own little playland. Damian recognized right away how dangerous Hatter’s technology was, to override the human mind so completely.
Outside a Waynetech Skunkworks lab, Robin talks to a team of GCPD officers about how dangerous Mad Hatter is. He’s taken over the mind of the best lock picker in Gotham, and he’s holed up inside somewhere.
Robin leads an assault into the lab, but they find no trace of Mad Hatter. Hatter has stolen something and disappeared. This story continues in Arkham City: The Order of the World #1.
Analysis: There really isn’t too much to this story other than it’s an advertisement for the current Arkham City miniseries.
Story #6: Killer Moth in “The Happiest Man in Gotham” by writer Mairghread Scott and artist Ariela Kristantina
Synopsis: Killer Moth walks through his career as someone who tried to be one of the greats and failed miserably. One fateful day, he meets Harley Quinn, who tells him that “You gotta let go of the life you planned to find the life that’s waiting for you.”
This totally changes Killer Moth’s worldview. No longer is he a third-rate villain playing at being a top dog. He’s turned his life around, making a career at picking up the scraps left after Batman takes down a foe. He collects money lying around, ransacks a museum or a building that just took a beating, and does what he can to find his own niche. It’s made him happy, and he enjoys a quiet life playing video games with his cat because of it.
Analysis: The idea behind this story is great. There is definitely a heart and an attempt to take a low-grade villain like Killer Moth and make him interesting. Before this story can really spread its wings and take readers somewhere, it ends! It was just getting good, leading readers down a less-traveled road, when we’re hit with a “The End.”
It’s a shame because this story could have been the true star of Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant #1.
Story #7: Ra’s al Ghul in “Demon’s Game” by writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artist Riccardo Federici
Synopsis: Years ago, Batman plays chess with Ra’s al Ghul. Whereas Ra’s sees chess as a game that can mean many things to many different people, Batman merely sees it as pattern recognition.
As the two play and chat, we see Batman battling Ra’s al Ghul’s men years later, freeing hostages and looking beyond the misdirection to Ra’s true goal. They’ve encountered each other many times over the years, continuing their initial chess game that was interrupted so many years ago. At the end of the present battle, Ra’s leaves Batman with a note to move a chess piece on a board.
Analysis: This is a tie-in to the Batman/Superman: Authority Special, but it’s also a familiar approach to the special relationship that Batman and Ra’s share. It’s about how Ra’s and Batman see each other as equals, and although Ra’s wishes Batman will join him, the ends do not justify the means to Batman. He can never be on Ra’s side because of his code.
Riccardo Federici delivers some hard-hitting art in this tale that adds to the serious and dramatic tone between these two men. It’s dark, moody, and intense, which fits this story perfectly.
Story #8: Talia al Ghul in “The Second Eye” by writers Nadia Shammas and Joshua Williamson and artist Max Raynor
Synopsis: At Leviathan headquarters, Talia al Ghul heads off to a meeting. As she walks, she remembers when she was a child and Ra’s brought her to one of his meetings. There, she claimed her seat, and when someone else challenged her, she killed that man at her father’s command.
Over the years, Talia trained under Ra’s guidance, and as she grew, she wondered who her mother was. When she finally confronted her father and asked him, he took her to a mirror. Ra’s told Talia that her mother was ashes and that, someday, he’ll be ashes too. Talia is her own mother. He also told her to never let anyone see weakness.
As Talia prepares to enter the meeting, she repeats a phrase her father once told her: “Never let them see you sweat.”
Analysis: This story is another tie-in for the upcoming Shadow War event. While it serves as a vehicle for exploring Talia’s fierce and relentless training under her father, it doesn’t really add much to her character or to the greater Batman mythos. Talia is essentially a weapon, and she will never let anyone in because she has been conditioned never to show weakness.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.