Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Makeover: The Bookworm

There are no bad characters, just characters that no one has spent far too much time thinking about how to make work. I intend to fix that.

The Bookworm first appeared in the first season of the Adam West Batman show in a two part story entitled "The Bookworm Turns"/"While Gotham Burns", where he was played by Roddy McDowell (Fun Fact: many years later McDowell would voice another Batman villain obsessed with books, the Mad Hatter, in Batman: The Animated Series).  Even by Adam West show standards the Bookworm was...fairly convoluted.  Possessing the ability to read and process thousands of pages of texts in seconds, the Bookworm was driven mad after reading every book and realizing that he lacked the creativity to write one of his own.  Distraught over realizing that he would never write the great American novel, he called up his taylor, had him make a leather suit so he'd look like old book bindings, and then started committing crimes based on books he'd read.  Though personally I don't think  he gave himself enough credit, because faking the assassination of Commissioner Gordon, so that he could plant a bomb in the Batmobile, as a clue that he's going to "blow up" a bridge as a projection on the side of a building, so that he could lure Batman and Robin into a trap making them think he was going to steal the Declaration of Independence, and then steal the Batmobile to use to help him steal rare books from the book depository is fairly creative (if not needlessly complex).  The Bookworm did end up actually migrating over to the comics years later, but only as a serial killer Riddler knockoff who gave the Huntress a bad time in her short lived 1989 series.

I don't really know where to begin describing what is wrong with the Bookworm as a character.  I suppose the most obvious would be that I actually needed to rewatch his episodes of the Adam West show twice to get the sequencing down right on his scheme and I'm still not sure I actually understand it.  His motivation is kind of suspect because lots of people fail at writing a novel and few turn into supervillains (and I can think of at least a dozen ways to get rich legally if your brain is a supercomputer).  I also have to think it's uncomfortable to wear a business suit made out of leather.  And that's remembering that his appearance on TV was at least more creative than turning him into a serial killer who leaves clues.  The only truly interesting idea from the comic was him stealing a mobsters old diary to track down hidden loot, and the only thing I really like from the show was his hat, which just looks like Indiana Jones added a book-light.  But I think we can work with that.

Alexander Wyvern would be the first to admit he was a bookworm. He always had been.  Growing up his allergies nearly killed him, the only place he could find that he ever felt he could breathe away from the smog and pollution was deep in the archives section of the Gotham Library's archives where the air was still and ancient.  His parents wished they could afford to move out of the city for his health, but young Alex never did.  He loved Gotham City.  Down in the archives he soaked up her past, from pirate cove, to smugglers den, to the ruthless world of fledgling industrialists and mobsters.  Old journals, newspapers, building schematics, her whole history just sitting there and no one else seemed to care.  But the Bookworm cared.  He studied her past and learned her secrets.  Most of all he knew her truth, Gotham had always been a city of mad men and criminals.  And to a sick little boy who could barely walk down the street without hyperventilating they were larger than life, giants who walked the very earth he now trod.  And giants cannot help but leave evidence of their passing.  Littered throughout and under Gotham City were the lost treasures, hidden hoards, and creepy crypts of centuries of maniacs, mobsters, and mad scientists.  The Bookworm wanted to walk in the footsteps of his heroes and find the gifts they left behind.  But some secrets are best left buried, and there's no telling what horrors might arise when things long since forgotten are brought to light.


  1. When did they air Adam West's Batman on FX?

  2. They showed a 2 part episode every day in the afternoons in the mid-90s. I used to rush home from school everyday to watch it, then switch to Fox to watch the Batman animated series.

    I never thought about that before but it probably explains a lot.

  3. I'd give the Bookworm a little more credit. Like you said, there are all kinds of things you can do if your brain is a supercomputer.

    I propose keeping the "knows all the books but can't come up with something new" angle on Alexander Wyvern. He's read them all, and he can't help but see the similarities between anything new and everything old. So, to raise awareness of the cyclical nature of history, he starts digging up the past. And boy, does he come up with some doozies. He doesn't do it to get rich, he does it because the past is very important to him, and it frustrates him to see the ignorance of the public. And when it comes time to stop him, it's very hard to do so. There's not a building he doesn't know, not a legal defense he hasn't read, not a crazy scheme he hasn't studied, and few indeed are the dirty secrets he hasn't sniffed out. Even the Riddler would have a hard time getting around this guy: (Riddler: "What is that which has been to-morrow, and will be yester-" Bookworm: "Time. I read that one in the Book of -" Riddler: "Oh, shut up.") In the midst of all this bookery, it would be fun to throw in a shout-out to Project Gutenberg and other organizations devoted to preserving old knowledge.

    It would be especially fun to contrast his type of intelligence (extremely archive-based, comparing everything to specific examples in the past) to the more fluid intelligence of Batman (sure, Batman knows plenty, but like most normal humans, his thinking is mostly situation-based).

    Also, the hat is great. Not something you'd normally wear in public, but grade-A supervillain chic.

  4. That hat may be the single greatest piece of Supervillain fashion, and I would unironically wear it in real life.

    While I would love to read a Riddler vs. Bookworm story, I think it's problematic to make them too similar. There's only so much villain real estate for puzzle/clue based villains which explains why Cluemaster has never been as big as the Riddler (or for that matter why the Huntress revamp of the Bookworm as a serial killer Riddler hasn't stuck).

    Ultimately comics are still a business, and if a Bookworm story can be told as a Riddler story DC is going to want it to be a Riddler story (because there is some number of people who are more likely to buy a comic with Riddler on the cover). I think that the best chance a lot of these obscure characters have is if they can mark out their own "territory" that has some fertile storytelling potential, which is why I tried to set up the Bookworm as the potential starting point for "mysteries in Gotham's past" type stories like the recent "Gates of Gotham" miniseries.

    I do like your idea of contrasting Bookworm's 'archive' based intelligence against Batman's extreme deductive abilities. I feel that Batman suffers as a character when he's treated as knowing and being good at EVERYTHING. He's a genius, but he spent his life dedicated to becoming a crime fighter and detective, of course he should be able to learn and acquire information quickly, but there should be huge gaps in his knowledge (as fun as it is watching Adam West upstage Bookworm at the end of the episode by having memorized Dante's Inferno, why on earth would Batman have taken the time to memorize it in the first place).