Supervillains are as well-known in comics and mainstream media as their heroic counterparts. Joker, Lex Luthor, Red Skull, Thanos, all these names can be sounded off and any person on the street is bound to know one or all of them.
But what about the villains that everyone else doesn’t know about? The bad guys and girls who often fly under the radar, either because they don’t last very long or because they don’t generate quite the exciting stories that their peers in super-crime do.
This year marks the 80th birthday of the Batman. 80 years of the Dark Knight fighting crime, saving the day, teaming up with other members of the DC Comics pantheon. Most importantly, it’s been 80 years of villains. From Joker and Riddler and Catwoman, to Firefly and Killer Moth, to Magpie and Mister Polka-Dot. They have all gone up against Batman time and again, lost and returned to bedevil him another day.
Thus comes the reason for this article and all the subsequent ones that follow. An A-to-Z of some of Batman’s most not-so-famous foes. May they be as enjoyable to learn about as the other luminaries of Gotham City crime.
Anarchy- a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority.- Webster’s Dictionary.
Supervillains, by their very nature, are seen as persons who thrive on disorder and rebelling against authority. But a Batman villain whose name and actions echo this sentiment, now that was something altogether different.
Created in 1989 by the team of Alan Grant and the late Norm Breyfogle, Anarky was developed to be an emulation of a similar figure that had appeared and gained popularity in the pages of Judge Dredd (child character Chopper). Alan Grant conceptualized him as a way of injecting philosophical anarchist ideas into Batman comic books. While initially there was the intention of Anarky (twelve year old Lonnie Machin) to become the new Robin the wake of Jason Todd’s death and quickly became popular with readers, he was used sporadically during Grant’s run on Batman when the need for some philosophy felt necessary.
A bolstering of his growing fame was a collection of his stories put out by DC that included works written by Grant, with artwork done by other persons besides Breyfogle.
In the late 90’s, Grant and Breyfogle worked together on the first and short-lived second Anarky series. The second series, while popular with audiences in Latin America, proved to be unsuccessful in the States. Thus, he was shoved aside. Though in an interview in 2003, both Alan and Norm theorized that Anarky’s political motivations didn’t sit well with the higher up’s at DC.
“We don’t have any conclusive evidence, but Alan and I can’t help but feel that Anarky’s philosophy grated on somebody’s nerves; somebody got a look at it and didn’t like it […] So I’ve generally gotten the impression that Anarky was nixed because of its philosophy. Especially in this age of post 9/11, Anarky would be a challenge to established authority. He’s very anti-establishment, that’s why he’s named Anarky!“– Norm Breyfogle; Adelaide Comics and Books.
Since then, Anarky has shown up in fits and spurts over the years, under the guiding hand of different writers and creative teams.
Noted comic book figures who have taken on Anarky include James Peaty in Green Arrow #51 (2005), Fabian Nicieza in Robin #181 (2008) and again by Nicieza in the pages of Red Robin before the series was canceled in October 2011.
While Anarky has sadly fallen by the wayside in spite of being well-liked in later years, he has found a home in various media, including video games, animation, and live action TV. These are several of his noted appearances within recent Batman franchise extensions.
Arrowverse– Appearing in the fourth season of Arrow, Lonnie/Anarky was played by Alexander Calvert. Initially shown as an assassin working for H.I.V.E to sow chaos in Star City, Damian Darhk fires him for being unstable. This sends Lonnie over the deep end, with him adopting the name Anarky and beginning a crusade to take down Darhk and H.I.V.E., leading to conflict with Team Arrow. After being defeated by Thea Queen/Speedy (though not before killing Darhk’s wife), Anarky showed up again at the start of season five, attempting to bomb Star City before Green Arrow stops him.
Beware the Batman– Voiced by Wallace Langham, Anarky is the main antagonist of the show, revamped as a criminal mastermind, though clad in all white instead of his usual red robes and golden mask.
Batman: Arkham Origins– This rendition was voiced by Matthew Mercer. Taking down Anarky is a side mission throughout the main game, with Batman deactivating bombs that are placed at key buildings throughout Gotham City. The final showdown is in the courthouse, with Anarky being left tied up for the GCPD.
There have been three different men who have held the title of Black Spider over the years. For the purposes of this piece, the focus will be on the first and the one who has been adapted for other media as well.
Black Spider (Eric Needham) first showed up in Detective Comics #463 (September 1976) and was created by Gerry Conway. Initially shown as a heroin-addicted criminal, Eric spends time in jail and upon release, kills a shopkeeper revealed as his father, all to get money to buy more drugs.
Filled with remorse and regret, he becomes the costumed vigilante Black Spider, waging a violent war on people who are suspected of being in the drug trade. When his mission brings him into conflict with Batman, sides are immediately drawn. While Needham sees himself and Batman as allies with a common purpose, Batman disapproves of the extreme measures that Spider goes to. Thus begins their long-standing conflict.
Over the years, Needham found himself working with costumed villains, despite his professed desire to hate crime. Tragically, Needham’s wife and son were killed when a drug lord discovered the costumed extremist’s identity (Batman: Shadow of the Bat #5, October 1992). Preparing for a final assault, Spider took down all of the low-level soldiers and then detonated bombs strapped to his back, taking out the drug lord and his entire operation.
Despite this seemingly explosive end, Black Spider returned as a member of Batman’s rogues gallery. First showing up in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman dating Lyta Hall, then later in both Underworld Unleashed and Identity Crisis.
His most recent appearances were during the New 52 as a member of the Suicide Squad. Despite his attitude about working with other criminals, Spider plays along, while taking extreme risks that leave him with multiple injuries. Amanda Waller offers him the choice to leave the Squad, which Spider turns down, seeing his teammates as his new “family.”
All of this becomes moot when Spider is revealed as a double agent working for the terrorist organization Basilisk. His double is killed by Deadshot on a mission to Basilisk HQ when the ruse is discovered. Eric Needham is last seen in Belle Reve after invading the home of Waller’s grandmother and being taken down by the senior and younger Waller women.
Young Justice– This iteration was voiced by Josh Keaton. Eric Needham/Black Spider shows up as a member of the League of Shadows. This particular version of Black Spider shoots a sticky web substance to tie people up. He later shows up in the Young Justice: Outsiders episode “Rescue Op” where he works alongside Terra in service of the Light.
Batman: Assault on Arkham– This renedition was voiced by Giancarlo Esposito. Needham’s role in the film is as a member of the Suicide Squad, tasked with entering Arkham Asylum to retrieve a memory stick from Riddler’s cane. Things heat up when Batman covertly takes down Needham and takes his place, switching costumes with him. When Waller detonates the explosives in the Squad’s necks, Needham dies alongside King Shark. Needham is seen one last time with the Joker holding his head, the Batman mask partially blown off as Joker laughs long and loud.
As the year progresses and more Batman celebration occasions pop up, it is the hope of this writer that everyone who is a fan of the Dark Knight will enjoy these little pieces about some of the less notable members of his Rogues Gallery. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, when it’s a dive into Calendar Man and Dr. Death. Same Bat time, same Bat channel. ‘Til next time, citizens.