Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday Makeover: Blackbeard the Pirate

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.

April is Pirate-Themed Supervillain Month

The gangster Edward Thatch, better known as Blackbeard, made his first and only appearance in 1940's Batman #4.  He had discovered the secret location for the annual Gotham Yacht Club party during which the richest men and women in Gotham would compete to see who could put on the most lavish display of wealth.  Taking inspiration from his namesake (the real Blackbeard's name was Edward Teach, the writer appears to have mistakenly thought it was Thatch), he figured if he dressed himself and his men up as Blackbeard the Pirate and his crew that the authorities would never believe the story, and even if they did, no one would link the crime to him.  Putting aside the stupidity of choosing the one pirate who has the same name as you to remain anonymous, the plan actually worked with the Coast Guard ignoring the calls for help as a prank.  Unfortunately for Blackbeard, Batman and Robin didn't.  A short duel later, and him and his gang were in custody.  Batman would again meet Blackbeard the Pirate much later (or earlier, depending on your perspective) in the 2010 mini-series Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne where an amnesiac Batman was sent bouncing through time and met the original Blackbeard who mistook him for the caped crusader of his day, the Black Pirate (it was better than it sounds).  That Blackbeard captured Batman in an attempt to force him to lead Blackbeard to the fabled treasure of the Black Pirate which was said to be hidden in a cave system outside of Gotham settlement, a cave system that would one day become the Batcave.

There isn't actually a lot I don't like about either incarnation of Blackbeard the Pirate.  While the fact that the gangster literally chose his own name as a pseudonym is a little odd, the bigger sin really is the writer not checking an encyclopedia to get it right.  Other than that, he's surprisngly well done for a one shot 16 page story villain.  By 1940s comic book logic, dressing up as pirates so that the police won't believe the story when your victims call in makes a certain amount of sense. He even explains that he hired a fencing instructor to teach himself and his crew so it 'makes sense' that a bunch of mobsters can sword fight like real pirates.  It's not exactly a reusable villain formula, but it wasn't bad as a starting point.  And there simply aren't any flaws with the "real" Blackbeard the Pirate Batman encounters in the past.

The historical Blackbeard the Pirate actually works pretty well as a Batman villain in his own right.  Gregarious characters almost always make for a nice contrast with Batman's more dour attitude (just as the Joker or the Riddler) and being a pirate, a professional murderer and thief, is more than enough to put him on the Batman's radar. Best of all, Blackbeard was known to light fuses in his beard to light fuses in his beard in order to create a demonic visage to turn his opponents into "a superstitious and cowardly lot."  Which officially puts him in the category of dark and twisted mirror images of Batman.  Indeed the only real problem with him being a Batman villain is that he lived and died a couple hundred years before Batman was ever born, and you can only do so many time travel stories before it starts to get ridiculous.  If only there was some way around those problems....

Blackbeard the Pirate is immortal.  Maybe he found the Fountain of Youth, maybe it was some other magical mishap, or maybe legends really never die.  Whatever the reason, in the DC Universe Edward Teach found himself to be immortal.  He loved the pirating life and kept to it for as long as he could, but eventually the world moved on.  Blackbeard was despondent at first but eventually he found ways to amuse himself.  Over the centuries, he's been a smuggler, a bootlegger, and most recently a mobster.  It wasn't the same, but it kept him busy.  Then superheroes and supervillains started popping up all over the place.  He started to get wistful for the good old days.  And then suddenly it happened: Sea Fox, Tiger Shark, Captain Stingaree, and Cap'n Fear.  It was a new Golden Age of Pirates in Gotham City, and Blackbeard wasn't going to let it pass him by.  He trained his gang in the pirating arts, and set forth to capture a yacht club.  And when Batman stopped him, he felt a pang of recognition.  Somehow the Black Pirate, the only man to ever beat him, had followed Blackbeard to the 21st Century.  The good times had come again.


  1. I appreciate this post is two years old, but I felt compelled to correct your assertion that Blackbeard's real name was Edward Teach. Actually, his real name is unknown. It has been variously reported as Edward Teach, Thatch, Thache, Thatche, Thach, Thack and Tack. 'Teach' is the most commonly used today, but in the past, Teach and Thatch were the most common spellings. One source, although lacking documentation to support the claim, reports his name as Drummond. It is also possible that all of these names are wrong, as many pirates sailed under a pseudonym to avoid tarnishing their family name, or to evade detection by the authorities.

    When commenting on the background of such a mysterious figure, one must beware of speaking in absolutes. Even Blackbeard's date and place of birth cannot be determined with any degree of certainty, so to make such a bold statement about an aspect of his life and character that generations of historians have been unable to agree on is a grave error.