Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday Makeover: Cap'n Fear

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

Cap'n Fear first appeared in 1995's Detective Comics #687.  No one knows who he really was or why he decided to become a techno-pirate and spend every day speaking like it was Talk Like a Pirate Day.  But he did, and it actually seemed to be working out pretty well for him, plundering yacht parties and fancy cruises.  At least until he hit one that had Bruce Wayne as a guest.  Then Batman and Robin were on his tail, and while he was surprisingly able to capture Batman, Robin managed to capture his "digital parrot" (every techno-pirate supervillain needs one), and hacking into it's memory banks was able to discover his hideout.  Cap'n Fear then lead Robin to the buoy where he'd stranded Batman to die, but with the aid of some sharks, Batman had managed to escape his bondage.  A fight ensued and Cap'n Fear fell overboard and was swept away by the tide and presumed dead.  Which of course means that he reappeared a few years later to help with a prison break from Blackgate Penitentiary, where he screwed over the convicts and stole their money.  Then he was never seen or heard from again.

Let's start with the good.  I actually kind of like the idea of a "techno-pirate" supervillain.  Batman as swashbuckling adventurer has a long history in the comics, even if it hasn't gotten a lot of play in recent years.  So Cap'n Fear provides an opportunity for more of those lighthearted action adventure stories, and I'm ok with that.  And I actually really like his costume.  From the robotic eye patch, to the skull mask, to the traditional pirate hat, cap, gloves, and boots it all just works in a way that a lot of theme villains don't.  He's clearly a pirate and he's clearly into technology.  And he's going to say "Arrrrr" a lot.  And that's ok with me too.

But that said, Cap'n Fear is still a pretty flawed character, or at least an incomplete one.  He has absolutely no backstory.  Why does he dress and talk like a pirate?  How does he keep his ship hidden during the day (even his crew doesn't know)? What's his name?  Where did he come from?  Is there any reason beyond money that he's targeting yacht parties?  All of these questions need answers if Cap'n Fear is really going to stand a chance of earning a place in Batman's rogues gallery.  I actually don't mind that he was caught because he has a robot parrot recording everything he says, but that implies a pathology to what he's doing.  If he's just a guy who picked pirates as a theme then it's incredibly stupid for him to record his crimes.  But if there's actually some motivation for becoming Cap'n Fear then it becomes a fatal flaw, a compulsion.  And every good villain has one of those.

As I see it there are really two ways to go with Cap'n Fear.  The first is to really embrace the whole techno-pirate vibe.  Give him a laser sword, maybe his ship can fly and he's a sky pirate, go crazy with it.  When you want a fast paced adventure story with lots of gadgets, then Cap'n Fear is your guy.  Down that road are probably a lot of puns and story titles like "In the Grip of Cap'n Fear."  The other road involves making him primarily a Robin villain.  In truth Batman spends the majority of Cap'n Fears only solo story tied to a buoy waiting to die.  Robin does most of the heavy lifting.  This would almost guarantee Cap'n Fear would at least appear more often (Robin has pretty consistently had a solo title for the last 20 years, and still doesn't have a very big rogues gallery of his own), but it also pretty much forces him into a villain ghetto: Robin can fight Batman villains, but generally speaking the reverse doesn't happen.  This route would also undoubtedly have even more puns.  The choice is yours (and now I think I may need to do Robin villain month).

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