July 21, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #305: The Harpy

Maxie Zeus had this girlfriend once...

As Jimmy Impossible and I work our way through the DCAU, one thing that pops up again and again is my much more extensive knowledge of various DC Comics characters compared to Jimmy.  And that means we get occasions like his utter surprise to learn Maxie Zeus was not invented for Batrman the Animated Series.  Maxie only appeared on one episode of the show, but he has appeared in a number of Batman comics.  Quite frankly, I think he’s one of Batman’s lamer reoccurring enemies.

Did you know he had a girlfriend once?  And she became the Harpy?

Now, the Harpy I am referring to appeared in a grand total of one storyline that ran for all of two issues in 1992.  So, this won’t be a particularly long article.  However, even when I read the issues in question when they were new I thought she was kinda lame, so she must have stuck out in my head for some reason.  I had been reading the Batman title for a while under writer Alan Grant, starting with the issue that showed Tim Drake in the new Robin costume for the very first time.

However, Harpy first appeared in Batman #481, the first issue in a run started by writer Doug Moench with artwork by Jim Aparo.  Aparo’s work I generally liked.  Moench’s work at that point I was unfamiliar with.  And…as it was, I wasn’t going to be much of a fan of Moench’s work.  He had this habit of writing Batman stories where at least one character annoyed the hell out of me for some reason (sometimes it was Robin), and after Aparo left and Kelley Jones took over, there was a penchant for Batman having supernatural opponents for some reason.  Then we’d get weird stories like Joker summoning Etrigan the Demon to do his dirty work because of course the Joker knows how to do that.

All that’s neither here nor there.  This was my first exposure to Moench’s work, and I think I know why it didn’t sit well with me since this was my first story from him.

Anyway, Maxie Zeus was always one of Batman’s, shall we say, less impressive enemies.  A mob boss who, for some reason, thought he was the Greek god Zeus, sometimes carrying a cattleprod, but never being all that imposing an opponent.  And somehow this loony got himself a girlfriend named Iris Phelios.  After Batman captured Maxie (again), Iris went down to talk to his gang, trying to set things up according to Maxie’s wishes.  But she was just some woman, so the goons beat her up and sent her on her way.

And then she went insane herself, got a bird-themed costume, came back as the Harpy, and now all of a sudden she could fight and get even against the goons on behalf of her lord Maxie because of course she would have the exact same sort of mental disorder Maxie would.

From there, she went off to challenge Batman, lost, and…disappeared.  Not even Moench, who had a good, long run on various Batman titles, seems to have brought her back.  It’s just as well.  My own suspension of disbelief couldn’t really go along with this one, where the (as I recall) mousy girlfriend suddenly could swoop around on ropes and glider wings and prove a deadly fighter just because she took a few too many hits to the head.  And her mental disorder was the same as her boyfriend’s?  Again, that didn’t seem very likely.  I was glad to see the last of her.

And if that’s my first experience with Moench’s writing, you can probably see why it left a sore taste in my mouth even as I (for reasons I do not even attempt to explain aside from being a Batman fan) continued to buy the book he wrote.  I was much happier with Chuck Dixon over on Detective Comics or the aforementioned Alan Grant on the new Shadow of the Bat title.

That said, the name “Harpy” isn’t exactly one that wouldn’t appear in other places.  DC has had a few Harpies over the years.  Some were ripped straight from Greek myth to stymie Wonder Woman.  The World War I pilot character Enemy Ace had a woman by that name that caused him problems.  And then there’s this single panel I found when doing a Google Image search for Iris Phelios’s version:

So, Black Canary fought a Harpy too?

However, this week, I just wanted to point out that a crappy villain can sometimes go back to the void from whence she came, and we need never worry about her again.

Jimmy would never have believed me if I told her she was real, after all…