I love a good doppelganger.
Or a bad one, more accurately, I suppose.
Think about nearly any hero and I bet they have a dark double. Superman has Bizarro. Captain America has Master Man or Anti-Cap or Protocide. Green Lantern has Sinestro. Iron Man has Crimson Dynamo or Titanium Man. Martian Manhunter has white Martians. Darkhawk has Portal or Evilhawk. And so on.
But truly, no one does doppelgangers better than Batman. Which makes sense, right? If you ask most comic fans who has the best villains in the game, you get one of two answers: Batman or Spider-Man. And if they choose Spider-Man, chances are better than good they’ll say Batman is a close second.
What sets Batman’s dark doubles apart, besides their sheer number, is how they mirror different aspects of the hero. In the case of Captain America, his doubles are generally shield wielders who are either Americans gone too far or representatives of other countries/ideologies in opposition to America. In the case of Green Lantern, it is a ring wielder powered not by will but by an arguably less healthy and pure human drive. And so on.
For Bats though, there is more depth.
To just address it at the top, yes Man-Bat is a sort of doppelganger. But mostly that’s just because of the bat part. If Kurt Langstrom and the Dark Knight didn’t share that animal totem, Man-Bat would be more likely to be filed with villains like Spidey’s the Lizard—a tragic victim of serum that was supposed to help him and instead morphed him into a monster. He does crimes as a result but he has no particular dedication or system to those criminal acts to really reflect Batman’s commitment or drive.
The real juicy doubles are the human beings.
Batman, essentially, has picked up one a decade since the 50’s—with the exception of the 70’s?—that has uniquely reflected different aspects of the Dark Knight.
Killer Moth, the first such figure, was unveiled in the 1950’s and was immediately labeled the Criminal Batman. On a surface level, Moth doubled Batman by having such aptly named possessions like a Moth Signal—to allow criminals to call out for his help—and a Moth Cave—as a hideout, of course. However, Moth runs a bit deeper than that. As Batman is dedicated to preventing the innocents in Gotham from meeting harm at the hands of the criminal element, Moth is dedicated to preventing criminals from getting pinched by Batman. Batman is dedicated to fighting crime because the goal is his reward while Moth does what he does to make a buck so what for Batman is a mission, for Moth is just an occupation.
The 60’s brought Owlman, the Batman of a different Earth where good is evil and vice versa. The most compelling version of the character was unveiled in the 90’s in the EARTH-2 graphic novel from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. He is the intelligent planner, the man who is ready for anything, except he has zero morality, zero loyalty. He prepares to defeat his teammates not as a last resort but just because he might enjoy the rush of betraying them someday.
Wrath came along in the 80’s and was the most exact mirroring to date. His parents were criminals killed by the Lieutenant Gordon, not high society types slain by a mugger. His goal was the destruction of Gotham’s police force culminating in the death of Gordon himself. So he was a Batman figure dedicated to chaos who’s biggest enemy was arguably Batman’s strongest non-costumed ally.
In the 90’s, Prometheus took this ball and really ran with it. In the same way that Batman had been elevated to “Bat-God” by Morrison’s run on JLA, Prometheus had a Wrath-like origin but ambition to spare. He has the mirror of the Batman who could toe to toe with white Martians, Dr. Destiny, the Key, and Darkseid. He could take any hero and had the drive to. Also, whereas Batman is a largely grim dispenser of justice, Prometheus was nearly joyful in his attacks on the Justice League.
The naughty aughties (better know, perhaps, as the 2000’s) bequeathed us Hush but we will talk more about him in a moment.
Instead we jump to Talon, the mirror of the 2010’s. Like Batman, Talon fights for the soul of Gotham. Unlike Batman, Talon’s dedication is not in the name of the average person but rather to secure it for a secret society of plutocrats who have little interest in anything but continuing to exert their own will. Talon also claims to be Bruce Wayne’s heretofore unrevealed brother, which, if true, makes him a genetic mirror as well.
This brings us back to Hush. Hush in and of himself is not much of a Batman mirror. What he is, however, is a Bruce Wayne double. He is a boy who left the city after tragedy returning to Gotham as a man triumphant. However, for Wayne, he strives for a frivolous reputation that keeps others from looking too long or deeply into him. For Thomas Elliott though, he cannot help but demand the spotlight, returning to Gotham as not just a surgeon but one of the greatest surgeons in the world. He uses his money not to good covertly but to do evil covertly. And, to really complete the mirroring, he eventually gets plastic surgery to render himself a near identical in physical appearance to Bruce Wayne.
Black Mask is, similarly, a Bruce Wayne doppelganger. A member of Gotham’s society who’s family got money through criminal acts not altruistic pursuits, Black Mask grew up with both parents and hated his father. As a result, as an adult, he kills his father, dons a mask made of dear old dad’s casket and really steps up the family’s operations. As Wayne’s double, he had all of Bruce’s connections, all of Bruce’s money, but it was all built on a life of crime. Black Mask is a Bruce Wayne who cares more about money and power than he does about what those gifts of birth can do to help others.
I sometimes like to imagine what my doppelganger might be like. I figure he would have to have a long flowing mane of hair to stand opposite to my shaved pate. He might be a therapist in the Hugo Strange mold, a villain uses his gifts to manipulate and conquer others instead of helping.
Might he not have panic attacks? Would he ever worry about his weight? About losing what little looks he has? Is he confident in all the ways I’m not? Does he never worry if he is a good enough dad or husband?
Is he out there, writing about anime, perhaps? Or small press books that I haven’t even hear of yet? Does he land all his pitches? Does he love each piece he finishes? Does he always feel like a good writer, not just a lucky one?
Does he have a costume yet? If he does, do I need one too? Do I have to fight him at some point? I must, right?
Eventually, I stop thinking about the hypothetical him. Doppelgangers are great in comics, far less fun when it comes to real life.