An anarchist anti-hero for our angst-ridden age? – Anarky
It’s tough to get a new Batman villain to “take.” The Rogues Gallery of rogues galleries is so star-studded, it almost beggars description. With iconic luminaries like the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, the Riddler — need I go on — there isn’t a lot of oxygen left over for a fresh face to catch fire. So it was a minor miracle that Anarky, the philosophizing youngster with the cattle-prod and creepy outfit, became somewhat of a fan-favorite foe of the Caped Crusader. They don’t admit a whole ton of members to that exclusive list — it’s like the Augusta Country Club of evil-doing.
This is largely testament to his look. Artist Norm Breyfogle (a criminally underrated Bat-penciller of yore), along with Alan Grant the creator of Lonnie Manchin and his alter-ego, drafted one of the more visually arresting enemies that Batman ever went up against. Not to say the look was complex, or even that original: it was a second-generation distillation of the Guy Fawkes inspired V of V for Vendetta fame. Make the mask gold, make the haberdashery red, and voila. But the small touch of the elongated neck, which gave Anarky an eerie otherworldliness to him, was perhaps the most vital flourish — and important in hiding the fact that, yes, it was a young teen under there raising Cain on the streets of Gotham.
Anarky appeared periodically in the Bat-titles after his 1989 debut, some might say growing up before our very eyes. And while he was never a breakout villain star on par with the Venoms of the world, he still had his fair share of fan support, enough to at least make him the anti-hero of his own mini-series in 1997. The eponymous Anarky gave both Grant and Breyfogle a chance to return to and refine their creation, to mold his philosophy a tad, and take him in a different, more grandiose direction. Every villain is the hero of his own narrative, and Anarky is most certainly a hero in his own mind — and maybe one period.
Anarky is heavy on the musing, missing no opportunity to take a moment to let its central character sit down and espouse his (and Grant’s) thinking on the chains binding humanity. In that regard each of the four books at times reminds the reader of any number (emphasis on the “numb”) of Steve Ditko’s dense Objectivist comics, from Mr. A to The Avenging World. The difference being that those are turgid, dreadful reads (and in that regard very faithful in their debt to Ayn Rand’s nigh-unreadable bricks). Anarky has a genuine story. It’s at times quite silly, as almost all superhero comics are when you boil them down, but it has a beginning, an ending, and some action in between. Though yes, there are philosophic interludes, where Anarky sits down and bores his dog to death, like Ted Striker’s harangues to his seat-mates:
One is also reminded of the South Park version of Paris Hilton, who drove her poor dog to suicide with her relentless ramblings. (And please note a portion of the trademark encircled A forms the background of that splash.)
Anarky’s purer anti-order leanings are both complicated and elevated here. Now he isn’t merely concerned with upending imposed, top-down control, but also with freeing the human consciousness itself. At this point Lonnie had not only passed through puberty and thus filled out under the cloak, but had also “fused” both hemispheres of his brain (“bicameralism”), making him a super-genius — and he was trying to do something similar for all humanity. Before writing this Grant had come under the sway of “Neo-Tech,” an offshoot of Objectivism — some might call it a cultish con more than a true philosophy — developed by a direct-mail magnate, writer of poker manuals and tax cheat named Frank R. Wallace. (In the proud tradition of L. Ron Hubbard…) Grant incorporated some of its tenets into Anarky’s new bent. This erstwhile Objectivism can be seen throughout his long speechifying, though scrubbed of much (but not all) of the impenetrable gobbledygook you always find in these empowerment/cult things. (They want to be obtuse so you’ll buy more and more of their overpriced books to figure out what the hell is going on, you know?)
Anarky’s new philosophy might have had a murky real-life origin, but that didn’t prevent the mini from being a decent ride. His quest to free the human consciousness takes him to strange places, all in order to mine personality aspects for a device that will remove the invisible veil obscuring the minds of mankind. Siphoning off pieces of certain individuals’ personalities will provide a power source to do just that. (Just go with it — he’s the one with the bicameral brain.) Anarky first crosses paths with Etrigan the Demon, so that he can gather his madness. Then, for a whopping dose of evil, he travels all the way to Apokolips to stand toe to toe with Darkseid — an encounter that might otherwise have been relegated to far-fetched fan fiction:
Lonnie has a set of balls on him, you have to give him that.
And for the third and final of the necessary components, the “goodness” of old foe Batman — and he can’t resist explaining his goal to his arch-enemy like some Republic serial villain:
Of course things go awry in the end, and Anarchy’s scheme fizzles out, done in by his own hubris. Which is the denouement of almost every comic villain, come to think of it. But hey, it’s the thought that counts, right? And Anarky means well, in his way — but let’s be thankful that Batman is usually there to check his more ambitious plans.
The great disappointment of this book doesn’t come from the story, but ironically enough from what was the first true strength of the Anarky character: the look. Anarky had evolved by this time into dude whose metal mask was for some reason able to transmit his every facial contortion, which is a great boon for the illustrator, as they’re not stuck trying to convey the emotion of a character with a static mask. But it completely robs our titular star of his creepy visual appeal, as the hollow-eyed, impenetrable specter who stalked the night. Not to pilfer an internet meme, but it’s Lips on Optimus. That it takes place here on Breyfogle’s watch, he a man who not only molded Anarchy but also had one of the dreamier, nightmarish Batman palettes, is crushing.
But hey, at least Legs shows up.
Though Anarky had this brief moment in the sun, he lapsed into obscurity as the calendar shifted to a new century. An ongoing petered out a couple of years later (after bafflingly positing that Anarky was the Joker’s son), and the mask and haberdashery gathered dust, even after Lonnie was re-purposed in 2008 as “Moneyspider.” And in the umpteen million animated DC properties and video games he’s hardly rated an appearance — and when he has it’s been underwhelming. (His appearance in the quickly cancelled Beware the Batman CGI cartoon eschewed much of the Breyfogle design to make him into goddamn Moon Knight. Seriously, you have to squint to find the Anarky in that costume.)
I retain a great fondness for the Anarky character. We readers born in the latter half of the last century didn’t get the chance to make the acquaintance of too many original Batman villains from the ground up, and Anarky was one of the best of this limited crop. (Bane may have found his way into two movies, but does anyone really go wild for the Venom-addled, back-breaking hulk? Did Bane have his own ongoing? Did he?!?!) Grant and Breyfogle have apparently both referenced this Anarky mini as their finest creative hour, their pride and joy. It doesn’t seem to live up to that lofty self-regard, but it’s a pleasant enough experience for the Anarky devotee, if you can get past the wordiness. Anarky vs. Darkseid is a kick, and may be worth the price of admission on its own.