When I ask you to tell me the name of the first Batman villain that pops into your brain you may say classic characters like Joker, or Two-Face you may say names of villains that are more popular because of the movies like Ra’s Al Ghul or Bane, I might even get newer ones like the Court of Owls, but I doubt the first villain that comes to mind would be Jarvis Tetch, the stout man with an obsession for Alice in Wonderland known as the Mad Hatter.
But he is more of a player than his popularity would imply. He plays big roles in storylines like The Long Halloween, Knightfall and No Man’s Land.
His story begins as most villains did in 1948, as a gimmick. A cartoony villain that wasn’t meant to terrify, but to add to the slap stick nature of the books of the day. But that changed over time and he became a sinister creepy man. Creepier than most because his crimes are crimes that are commited every day. Crimes including the abduction and manipulation of children.
He first appeared in Batman #49. He wasn’t even the driving force of the story. This issue was also the first appearance of female reporter and love interest Vicky Vale. She was following Batman for a story and using Bruce for access to exclusive events, when she begins to deduct that they are the same person. Tetch is just the villain of the week. He is an Alice in wonderland obsessed man, and a thief. Like the Riddler, he leaves clues in the form of hats to suggest his next crime. The finish in typical grandios Bill Finger/ Bob Kane style with a battle surrounded by thematic props, this time from Alice in Wonderland.
The second issue I’m looking at comes from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special #2 – Madness. This is another Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale one shot, this time starring The Mad Hatter as well as adding Leslie Thompkins, Comissioner Gordon and a young Barabara Gordon to the mix.
This issue was great on many levels. It delves into the creepy side of Tetch, that we don’t see in his origin, as the plot is of him kidnapping runaways to reenact the tea party scene from Alice in Wonderland. He uses drugged tea and thugs to keep them sedated and stationary. Barbara is one of those runaways after a fight with her newly adopted father. This is a rare glimps into their relationship before she became Batgirl.
And as much as I love a good Batman story, I love a good Gordon story more. We get to see what life is like for him after Year One, he has rebuilt his relationship with his wife, their son is getting older, but the stress of the job still lies heavily on him. It’s nice to see the human side of him as he searches for his new daughter.
But don’t think that Batman isn’t a presence here. They use the perversion of Alice in Wonderland for him to reflect on the final good memories he has of his his mother reading him the book. From these flashbacks we also learn of his first encounter with Leslie Thompkins, while simultaneously we witness her rescuing and rehabilitating Batman in the presence.
All these emotional scenes plus a great battle between Hatter and Batman make for a great second act in Loeb and Sales amazing hat trick of Halloween specials. Get it?
Thanks for reading!
Pictures from: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mad_Hatter_(comics), http://empire-dcp-minutemen-scans.blogspot.ca/2015/08/batman-madness-legends-of-dark-knight.html?m=1, http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/File:Mad_Hatter_0013.jpg