Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hat Whack

(Warning: contains last-page spoiler image for "Secret Six" #1.)

As a villain, the Mad Hatter never struck me as all that menacing -- at best, a little odd, but never creepy or scary like the Joker. I mean, look at the guy:

Just some homely dude with Veddy British orthadonture and foppish taste in clothing. In fact, I'm not sure this isn't Willy Wonka. He just looks kinda... stupid. And that's the version without the outsize handlebar moustache!

The first time I saw the Mad Hatter smoking a hookah it was in "Arkham Asylum."

I have to say, it impressed me not a whit. It was too mannered, too much like an affectation. Like he was only doing it because he wanted Batman to see him doing it. I was certain that as soon as Grant Morrison's hysterical drama queen Batman had flounced tearfully out of the Hatter's sight, the Hatter would start hacking and coughing, and then he'd dig in his pockets for an Altoid to get the taste out of his mouth.

And then I read "Secret Six" #1. The team is looking for someone who can combat Doctor Psycho. In the last few pages, Catman enters a house with a Red Queen door knocker and we see all kinds of Wonderland accoutrements strewn within. Smoke curls into frame. Well, I knew it was going to be the Mad Hatter, and I thought, "For Christ's sake, he's on the hookah again? What the hell ever, DC Comics. Listen, I don't mind reading about the Hatter but don't bother trying to convince me he's a decent threat." And I sighed a jaded, world-weary sigh, and turned to the last page...

...and saw this:

Jesus Burger-Flipping Christ! It's the Nude Hatter! It's getting HAT in here, so take off all your clothes! He's in the buff, he's in his birthday suit, he's in the altogether! Yeah, yeah, the hookah is decorated with human skulls, I can see that, who cares. The Mad Hatter is starkers! Not to mention his expression. Look at 'im! That feller ain't right in the head! The long, chipped fingernails and toenails are a beautiful touch. Very Howard Hughes.

And, lest we forget, the hat. The hat can be a tricky accessory when you're drawing the Mad Hatter. Make it too small and he looks ordinary; make it too tall and he looks like he got lost en route to a rave party, circa 1991. The proportions in this instance are just right. And the entire image, spooky though it may be, would lose all its punch if he wasn't wearing that hat. I mean, he has to wear the hat since he's the Mad Hatter, but here's the deal: his nudity combined with the hat somehow makes him seem twice as nude. It's genius.

I yelped the first time I saw this. Seriously. I couldn't help it, the image was just that disturbing to me. I can't remember the last time a comic book has provoked that kind of reaction in me. Creepy movies can do that to me (saw the J-Horror film "Pulse" tonight and I was yelping like a mo-fo) but a comic? Pretty much never. Mad Hatter, I tip my cap to you!


Scipio said...

So, one of the most effective costumes you've ever seen was

none at all...?

Oh, the Comic Book Irony.

Anonymous said...

Well, there's the hat.

I gotta agree, that's an effective portrait of "bat-shit insane" if I ever did see one. The splayed toes in the foreground really sell it.

Still, I suspect more affectation in the absurdly stacked crockery. There's no way that stuff's not super-glued.

Or maybe crraaazy-glued...

Anonymous said...

well what about the fact that he sits on a pile of hats, it seems like a nice touch to me.

Derek said...

You know, when I first saw this page, I barely noticed the hat. It's just sort of part of the character to me.

But you made me take a closer look, and holy cripes, that's a scary hat.

The size and position of it makes it ominous and threatening. It looms. It looks like it contains the dark secrets of a world we can't comprehend...


What happened to the hopeless (and twisted) romantic from the Batman Animated Series? This guy would give American McGee nightmares.