A lot of old comic book characters look like jokes by modern standards. That’s understandable. Many of those comics were written as a form of disposable entertainment for children. Why would anyone assume some ridiculous joke of a villain would somehow keep popping up decades later? Sometimes these joke characters get some serious backstory. Take the Calculator. At one time, he was a guy with a giant calculator costume that pressed the buttons on his chest for a wide variety of reasons. Why would anyone take that guy seriously? Well, someone later made him basically the villainous version of DC’s heroic information broker Oracle.
But then there are some where not much can be done, so why not embrace that anyway? I bring you this week’s entry…Kite Man.
Kite Man made his first appearance in Batman #133 in August of 1960. A creation of writer Bill Finger and artist Dick Sprang, he was a guy in a green jumpsuit who used giant kites as hang-gliders in order commit various crimes along with other kite-related weapons. As near as I can make out, he wasn’t given a real name (but that was true for a lot of villains back then), and he didn’t appear a second time until Len Wein used him in Batman #315. That was September of 1979, so the character disappeared for nearly twenty years. He’d get a name (“Chuck”) in Hawkman #4 by Tony Isabella as a tribute to Peanuts character Charlie Brown who famously lost many a kite to a kite-eating tree. Worth noting that Chuck even dropped one of Charlie Brown’s catchphrases–“Rats”–when he too got stuck in a tree.
So, really, this guy is a joke, right? Everyone basically understands that Kite Man is not to be taken seriously?
Well…yes, and that may be the point. Kite Man is not a character anyone takes seriously. I read through the DC Elseworlds zombie epic DCeased where the zombie Kite Man splatted against the Invisible Jet being flown by the Damien Wayne Batman, causing Damien, Wonder Woman Cassie Sandmark, and Jon Kent Superman to all bust out laughing. I can see Damien laughing off such a pathetic end, but Cassie and Jon too? Especially Jon? That seems harsh.
Ah, but like I said, Kite Man’s pathetic nature seems to be the point right now. When writer Tom King started his own Batman run, he basically decided to put Kite Man into every storyarc…often by showing him failing miserably and getting caught despite this bravado he kept tossing out with his own catchphrase of “Hell yeah!” Kite Man would show up to commit some crime, only to be caught rather easily by whatever member of the Bat-family was nearby. One storyline, late in the run, showed Kite Man was the last villains standing when Bane took over the city. Batman and his allies had been chased out. Arkham inmates were being brainwashed into being Bane’s loyal servants and the city’s new police and ambulance service by Psycho Pirate, and there was Kite Man, thinking that maybe, just maybe, this one was going to be his time to shine after all the abuse and humiliation he’d gone through…only to be captured by Bane’s forces a full page later.
Considering King ended that run with Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, and Kite Man (in his civilian identity of Charles Brown), all sitting down together to enjoy a baseball game on a bar’s TV, with Kite Man basically not knowing who his companions were, well…it made some sense.
But here’s the thing, and this is the sort of stuff that makes King a divisive writer. People either like what he does with characters or they really, really don’t. I do. And he actually gave Kite Man the most unexpected twist of all: a tragic backstory.
King did a storyarc called “The War of Jokes and Riddles,” a flashback story set early in Batman’s career when the Joker and the Riddler went to war with each other over the right to kill Batman. Joker had lost his laugh at some point, Riddler thought he had the right because he was just plain smarter than everyone else–and King’s take on the Riddler is the Riddler really is smarter than everyone else–and they made allies out of the other Gotham baddies and went to war. Kite Man was mostly on the sidelines, a divorced dad trying his best to be a good rather while having a lot of knowledge about wind and air currents. Even then, people saw Kite Man as a joke and no one payed him much attention, making him the last of the baddies to be recruited.
By the by, Riddler’s claim to the right to kill Batman was he was the smartest, but the Joker’s claim was simple: “I’m the Joker.”
And then Kite Man got a tragic backstory when the Riddler poisoned Kite Man’s son with toxins on a kite string, killing the boy, and when Batman finally opted to help the Riddler beat the Joker’s people (a last resort to stop the violence), he also recruited Kite Man to set up a trap to take out the rest of Riddler’s allies because who in their right mind would suspect freakin’ Kite Man of being the key to anyone’s victory. And yes, the trap used a lot of kites. Kite Man’s “Hell yeah!” got a lot less enthusiastic, and the fact he was avenging a dead son by helping Batman defeat the Riddler was the sort of thing that I am sure the reader saw coming as much as the Riddler did.
Regardless, the revamp of Kite Man probably explains why the HBO Max animated Harley Quinn series pulled Kite Man out as well as voiced by comedian Matt Oberg, portraying him as a loser (the non-superpowered son of two superhuman villains), keeping the “Hell yeah!” catchphrase, and was a man who somehow still nearly won Poison Ivy’s heart before she realized that she was actually in love with Harley, but she was reluctant to do anything about it because she really, really didn’t want to hurt Kite Man. Yes, the wedding didn’t go off, but Kite Man more or less rebounded with Golden Glider and seems to be doing OK.
He did well enough that he got his own spin-off: Kite Man: Hell Yeah!
Will Kite Man ever be a winner? You know, I highly doubt it.