Rogues and riddles

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Ever since he was little, my brother has liked fictional villains better than heroes. It’s one of the many, many things  — like being dog people, or the fact that I am a terrible driver — that we agree on. We never really bought into the rigid moralities of the heroes we saw in cartoons; no, us nerdy, insufferably smartass Orriss children have always preferred to invest in their intelligent, manipulative, sometimes crazy foes. 

Take, for instance, our favorite superhero. As a child, I spent many lazy summer hours parked on the couch, watching reruns of  “Batman: The Animated Series” and cataloguing the Caped Crusader’s colorful, varied rogues gallery with my little brother. Research soon turned into rankings: I went to bat for Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, while Jeremy preferred The Scarecrow and The Riddler (“because he TESTS your WITS, Grace!”). 

Since Jeremy and I, like our parents, are both severely allergic to losing arguments, it is our unspoken, sacred sibling agreement that these arguments have still never officially been resolved.  

We had designated “movie nights” where we ate pizza and watched “Batman and Robin” with the kind of utmost sincerity that only children are capable of. We read IGN top ten lists as if they were religious texts. And somewhere in between analyzing every villain’s batshit plots to kill Batman and concluding that The Penguin sucked, we became best friends.

My brother and I enjoy villains from all types of places, but for me, Batman’s antagonists will always be my favorite. They make me think of watching my brother play Batman video games while we talked about our days at school; of our shared awe over watching Heath Ledger play the Joker; of laughing until we cried about how dumb “Suicide Squad” was (Jeremy’s favorite line in the movie is: “Here comes Slipknot, the man who can climb anything.” Slipknot dies about five minutes after this line is spoken).

I took these things for granted until I left for college; turns out superhero cartoons aren’t as much fun when you watch them alone. I didn’t realize, until I was living by myself, that our niche interest in comic book villains, like so many other things we’ve since become obsessed with, were a testament to the ease with which we have always gotten along. My childhood bickering with my brother over why Poison Ivy could or couldn’t beat up Two-Face was really just our way of saying “I love you.” 

Perhaps this is why, even though I’m now old enough to legally drink, I’m still ridiculously invested in arguments about which Batman villain is the coolest. It’s not because maniacs in cheesy Halloween costumes fighting a man dressed as a giant rodent are objectively the greatest things on earth (although, come on, they’re still pretty awesome). It’s because in every exaggerated, maniacal laugh, I can hear our younger selves giggling at the fact that Calendar Man is a real Batman villain, and with every new iteration of the Dark Knight’s fiercest foes, I have something new to bicker with my brother about — even if we now have to bicker over text instead of side by side on our couch. 

I’ve been worried for a while  that we’ll eventually graduate from wanting to watch every cartoon-villain-of-the-week try to defeat Batman. After all, we’re both in college now, we’ve both had jobs, we’re both adults. I’m struck often by how much we’ve both grown up since those summer days where we’d mainline Kraft Mac and Cheese and watch cartoons. Perhaps there will soon come a time when we’ll grow old enough to finally lock our favorite villains up in Arkham Asylum for good and learn to argue about bigger things.

But, as any good Batman fan knows, there’s no way to keep anyone from escaping Arkham Asylum — someone gets out, like, literally every five minutes. And my brother and I deciding to grow up is about as likely as Poison Ivy deciding to set fire to a greenhouse. Jeremy summed it up best recently when he called me immediately after seeing “Joker” (even though we live in different time zones now). 

He told me it wasn’t perfect, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as I said it had been — using the same exasperated voice he’d always used to lecture me about why Ra’s al Ghul was not that boring. I laughed and asked him if he was sad I didn’t like it.

“Of course not,” he said. “It’s just fun to argue about.” 

Grace Orriss is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].