Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Makeover: The General

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.

February is Supporting Supervillain Month


Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong, better known as the General, first appeared in 1992's Detective Comics #654.  He was a child prodigy when it came to military history and strategy but also sadly a sociopath, and so at a very young age he was shipped off to a military boarding academy by parents who were terrified of him.  By the age of 10, the General decided that he'd learned everything he needed to and so burned the academy to the ground.  The precocious lad then headed into Gotham City where despite his age he started taking over small local gangs to turn into his own private army.  Inevitably stopped by Batman, the General proved difficult to keep in juvenile detention.  His young age and military discipline meant he was quickly (and repeatedly) released for good behavior.  Still his previous failure highlighted how poor a decision it was to make a 10 year old your leader, so he spent the next several years trying to find an adult figurehead he could use as his puppet.  After a crazed homeless man who thought he was Julius Caesar and the Toyman failed to fill that role, the General hooked up with a newly crowned Middle Eastern boy-king.  After a failed junta and attempted genocide, he found out that there's no such thing as time off for good behavior when it comes to war crimes and disappeared for a few years.  Upon his return he decided to make it his life's mission to become the Joker to Batman's Robin.  And for some reason this meant the General successively assumed the identities of Red Robin and Anarky, because when you're already a D-List Robin villain, that's pretty much a lateral move.


First the bad.  Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong kind of lost his way after his first appearance.  While I actually like the interactions between him and Robin, stealing action figures with the Toyman and then trying to commit genocide in the Middle East points to a character without a firm direction or clear scale.  And while the general stars tattooed on his head helps, the fact that he's worn a different military garb in each appearance isn't great from a branding standpoint. Personally, I'd stick to the military cadet or Revolutionary War uniforms, but really any single choice would be fine.  And finally, the less said about the whole Anarky thing the better.  Not only does it destroy a perfectly good character in the original Anarky (more on him later), but it basically eliminates the General himself, with a motivation I still do not clearly understand.

Now let's look at the good.  The General is a sociopathic military genius who has yet to hit puberty.  That's a wonderfully insane concept that really only works in comics and should be embraced.  I also can't actually think of another villain who has a military motif off the top of my head, which earns him bonus points for originality.  Next, the General is one of the better Robin rogues (more on them later) and helps give the impression that there will continue to be super-crime in Gotham long after the original Dark Knight is forced into a permanent retirement.    Finally and most importantly, the young Mr. Armstrong's original plan was good.  In a city patrolled by Batman and his army of proteges, military training and precision is a useful attribute in your henchmen.  And that's where the General's true potential as a character lies.

The General could admit that he'd suffered some early defeats in his campaign against Gotham City.  But all great leaders did.  The key was to analyze those defeats.  Clearly he had underestimated Batman and Robin and overestimated the discipline of the men under his command.  The first was a mistake that would not be repeated, and the second could be corrected with time.  And the General had plenty of time, he hadn't even hit puberty yet.  Finding the men to train wouldn't be a problem, he was an excellent recruiter, but he would need money while he trained them to perfection.  And then it hit him, not all of those he recruited would be worthy of being part of his elite guard.  That didn't mean he couldn't turn him into more than they were.  And in Gotham there was always a demand for well trained soldiers willing to take on the Batman.  After all, it wasn't like the Joker or Signalman could go down to a temp agency to hire a new crew.  Meanwhile Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong could focus on building an army worthy of being led by him.  However long it took, the General would be ready the next time he faced the Dynamic Duo, and after all, mercenaries had a long and storied place in military history.


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