Let’s take a bite into the comic book industry’s version of vanilla ice cream and talk about Batman.
Batman is one of the most popular superheroes in the world for a reason. He’s got a great design, he’s got a cool story, he’s got tonnes of history, but most importantly…he has great villains.
Yes, it seems pretty cliche to talk about how awesome Batman’s villains are but we all know that Poison Ivy is awesome,
Mister Freeze is tragic and deep,
and the Joker needs no introduction.
But how does Batman manage to have so many great villains?
Easy, because he doesn’t kill them.
Batman’s aversion to killing criminals (even if the justice system he’s sworn to protect would have put the Joker to death a long time ago) and distaste at using guns is well documented. With that being said, we’ve talked about how the Batman of the Golden Age wasn’t above using guns, or even killing criminals.
The Golden Age Batman was a much darker and violent superhero than a lot of modern iterations and as a result, he either needed equally dark and violent villains or a small army’s worth of disposable henchmen.
Today we’re going to talk about one of Batman’s first adversaries, a creature of the night who wasn’t just violent and unquestionably evil, but one of Batman’s first important villains: The Mad Monk.
Origin and Career
The Mad Monk made his first appearance in Detective Comics #31 in September of 1939.
He beat out the Joker by 8 months.
The character was created by Bob Kane and Garner Fox.
Kane is the man who is widely credited with the creation of Batman (while he did play a part, a lion’s share of the credit does go to Bill Finger) and Fox is the man who helped create little known DC heroes like the Flash, Dr. Fate, and Hawkman.
The Mad Monk is special because he was the main villain for one of the first multi part stories in Batman’s career. While the first super villain to face Batman in a multi issue series was the imaginatively named Dr. Death,
The Mad Monk was a bigger, and much more mystical and terrifying, threat.
The Monk’s real name was Niccolai Tepes, a homage to historical crazy person and real life inspiration for the actual Dracula: Vlad Tepes aka “Vlad the Impaler”.
The Mad Monk was a literal vampire complete with the need to drink blood, the ability to turn into a wolf, the ability to hypnotize people into a trance, and an assistant named Dala.
While it is unknown why the Monk wants to kill Batman it is made apparent that the Monk does know his secret identity as Bruce Wayne when he kidnaps Bruce’s girl friend Julie Madison.
The Monk and Dala hypnotize her and use her to lure Batman into a trap in Paris where he has to fight a giant gorilla.
After defeating the beast, Batman is captured and is trapped in a net dangling over a pit of snakes. Because this is a comic book and nobody just wants to shoot their captured adversary.
Fun fact: This is the first time Batman ever uses the Batarang in comics.
After escaping, Batman tracks the Monk to Transylvania (because of course) and confronts the villain in his mountain castle. The Monk puts up a good fight by transforming into a wolf but Batman manages to knock the wolves out and escape.
The comic ends with Batman shooting The Mad Monk and Dala as they lie in their coffins.
If you ask me, this was a brilliant display of common sense. While I think the idea for the Mad Monk is cool, I certainly wouldn’t want an immortal blood sucking creature roaming the streets of Gotham or anywhere else in the world.
So what happened?
The Monk remained dead for a long time, probably because he was just two scary and dark for the censorship police known as the Comics Code Authority.
But, like the vampires that he took his inspiration from, he would arise from the grave many years later. In 1986 Gerry Conway, the co creator of the Punisher and the man who killed Gwen Stacy,
reworked the original 1939 story into a modern origin for the Mad Monk in the 1980’s.
In the new version the Mad Monk was a former plantation owner who owned slaves in post Civil War America. He and his sister Dala were attacked by their slaves and turned into the undead in a voodoo ritual.
Personally, I preferred the earlier version better.
The Mad Monk manged to turn Batman into a vampire but was eventually defeated by a wandering priest named Father Green.
The character would be given another fresh coat of paint in 2006 when a six issue mini series was published by DC Comics entitled Batman and the Mad Monk.
It was pretty good.
The Mad Monk is a villain that has been mostly forgotten to history. While he was a pretty one note character who didn’t have much staying power, and while he has been overshadowed by much more complex and interesting villains, he deserves a lot more attention and respect.
He was one of Batman’s first true challenges and paved the way for the rogue gallery that keeps us coming back to Batman comics again and again.
You know what’s awesome? Ancient Egypt.
As one of the world’s oldest civilizations Egypt has held a special place in the hearts of historians and pop culture geeks everywhere. From the great Nile river,
to the Pharaoh’s of old,
to the priceless historical artifacts that have been…”liberated” from their homes and placed in museums around the world.
Egypt has been a place that has captured the imaginations of generations.
It turns out that comic book creators have a healthy interest in ancient Egypt too. A lot of superheroes are either from Egypt or use ancient Egyptian magic and imagery.
Today we’re going to look at one of the earliest heroes from the Golden Age of comics who used ancient Egyptian magic, and another uncomfortable case of 1940’s casual racism and stereotypes.
Today we’re talking about the Scarab.
Origin and Career:
The Scarab first appeared in Startling Comics #34 in July of 1945. While the writer is unkown the artist was a man named Ken Battefield…who didn’t go on to do very much or become well known.
In the comic the Scarab was actually a well respected archaeologist named Peter Ward who was visiting his uncle in London for a vacation.
Suddenly, a wounded man stumbles onto his front step and tells Peter to find a scroll in the British Museum that links back to the ancient Egyptian cat god, making this one of the rare occasions where British imperialism was actually helpful.
Unfortunately, the men who stabbed the messenger are on Peter’s trail, looking for the fantastic treasure that is supposedly buried in the cat’s tomb.
Peter travels to Egypt, reinforcing every uncomfortable stereotype the West had about people from the Middle East.
and after being stranded in the desert he is fortunate enough to be aided by a mysterious cat who guides him to the tomb’s entrance.
In the tomb Peter finds a magic ring and POOF!, he’s instantly transformed into our hero.
The ring gives him a whole host of powers, including the ability to fly and enhanced durability. This is fortunate because the men who were after him and the treasure catch up to him and try to kill him, only to be foiled by the Scarab.
This ring apparently gives Peter a soul as well, because he demands that the robbers put everything they stole back and refuses to take any of the treasure for himself.
The Scarab would go on to a fairly long stint as a back up character in another Standard Comics title Exciting Comics and spent the rest of his run solving various archaeology related crimes. There is one particular instance where Ramon Royale, the man who Peter stopped in his first adventure, was employed by the German government in an attempt to destabilize Egypt and turn it against the United Nations.
However, Peter was able to convince the Egyptians that siding with the Unite Nations was a good thing.
The rest of his adventures would follow a pretty straight formula of the Scarab stopping some threat that was looking to steal archaeological treasure that didn’t belong to them. This would continue into his last story which appeared in The Black Terror #20 in 1947 where he stopped a gang of four Arab thieves bent on robbing a grave for wealth.
In an interesting twist the Arabs were actually immortals who uncovered an immortality serum in a tomb they had discovered by accident.
The Scarab was able to identify a counter to the potion and the four Arabs killed themselves when they realized they were no longer immortal and were unable to fit in with the real world.
So what happened?
The man never got past back up story material and disappeared in 1947. It makes sense considering that he just wasn’t that well written and superheroes were going out of style in post war America.
He would disappear off of pop culture radar for a while until Alan Moore picked up a lot of Standard’s superheroes for his Tom Strong series.
The Scarab would be a bit player for most of Alan Moore’s story until a spin off series to Tom Strong called Terra Obscura.
The Scarab actually played an important part in the story when he bonded with the ancient Egyptian god Thoth in order to stop the villain Mystico, who had bonded with the god Set and threatened to take over the world.
The Scarab was an unimportant hero who had an uneventful career and did uneventful things. Still, despite all the old timey racism and stereotyping, I kind of like him. He wasn’t the first hero to gain his powers through the mysterious and ancient gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt, but he embraced his gimmick with gusto and devoted his life to making sure that the artifacts and treasures of history were safe from thieves.
Eh, close enough.