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So I was reading Living Between Wednesday’s Justify Your Existence column and I just couldn’t help myself. Red rag to a bull.

This is the first installment of our Mindless response, an attempt to justify the existence of each and every one of those limbo bound characters: rogue’s reviews, on the crash cart!

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Dr No-Face really is a gift, isn’t he? The name’s a little hokey, but that’s not much of a problem, in fact my take on the character would position hir as someone who had very little use for names. I imagine the appellation hailing from the press as part of an effort to create a knowable tabloid entity, rather than being the character’s self-designated super villain identity. Seems to me that Batman would simply refer to hir as No-Face as a matter of convenience and conventionality, after all, bat-foes have those sorts of names, don’t they?

Subtracting the “Dr” makes sense to me on a number of levels. First and foremost it’s superfluous, the detritus of the naming conventions of another era, and just adds drag. Secondly and on a related point, No-Face is a clearer expression of the character as I conceive of hir (more on that below). Thirdly it echoes a character we all know and love (Two Face for all you slower Mindlesses), and consequently provides a light sprinkling of instant gravitas. And finally I’m just used the idea that No-Face is a threatening dude because my kid likes to watch Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, in which a mystical bath house is at one point besieged by a scary monster-chappie who goes by the same name.

But why no true name? It comes down to the conceptual basis on which I would want to build the character. With the Question, Ditko removed the face in an effort to symbolically excise the character’s subjectivity. The Question doesn’t deal in partiality, s/he doesn’t have a point of view. In Ditko’s schema the Question is a purely objective force, not merely an agent of objectivist justice, but it’s very manifestation (there might well be a philosophical contradiction at work in this analysis, but this isn’t the time or the place for that discussion). Something like that would probably work here – No-Face as the embodiment of some evil morality – but I’d prefer to go with something purer and more obvious.

In the Living Between Wednesdays article Johnathan (yes, that’s how you spell his name, apparently. Unusual) puts forward the idea that No-Face should be found threatening famous faces with vials of acid, and disfiguring beauties, I’m down with that as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. It’s more like a signpost, a direction of travel. The question is begged: why? Because he lost his face so no-one else is allowed to keep theirs either? That might have been satisfactory back in the 50s or whenever it was that No-Face made his first appearance, but it’s a bit slight, a bit bland, and crucially doesn’t leave much room for a grander vision – themes on an epic scale worthy of the Batman*.

*Okay, not everything has to be about epic scales, but I think No-face warrants this treatment. I’ll get to the question of more trivial villains my next post

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If No-Face is about anything, then surely he’s about identity. A villain themed around identity is a bloody no-brainer for a superhero comic. Identity is, afterall, a theme that riddles the entire genre, even if it seldom gets the 5 star treatment (Hey, it’s superhero comics, what does?). The Face is shorthand for the self (see two face’s split personality for genre based evidence), and a guy with no face, well surely he’s about the negation of the self? Of course he’s not interested in names, in fact you would probably want to rework his origin to make it very unclear exactly who this character was originally, before the tragic accident. Or was it an elaborate hoax*, a performance, a way of demonstrating some demented principle (shit, I’m tripling my sentence subjects. Out, Steve Ditko!)? Was there ever a Dr Paul Dent?

*Dr Paul Dent? Surely the coincidence embodied by that surname suggests something fishy?

This is another case of a supervillain who looks better without a psychological explanation, or at least could function very well without one. I hope we’ve all adjusted to this notion now. The villain without rational or irrational motive has long been a staple of horror, and has certainly cropped up in other genres, most recently and notably in the biggest movie of last year. The one with the superhero in it. How better to manifest the horror of No-Face than to paint the character as a kind of existential void? We don’t know who ze is, why ze does what ze does, and ultimately what ze wants. This isn’t like my thinking for the Riddler, I’m not gunning for mystery here, there should be something nightmarish about this blank creature, the feeling that if you peer too closely at that horrific, empty face you might not be able to turn away for fear of leaving something important behind.

So yes, No-Face could threaten beauties with razors, but that would be the soft stuff. I see the character operating on a higher level, as a kind of black hole for the soul. Hir schemes (for lack of a better word – did Sadako have a scheme?) would involve the dissolution of personality, full frontal assaults on the self, not entirely unlike the events of RIP. Superheroes, with their god-like super-identities, would naturally attract this kind of villain, but I like the idea that No-face’s plans wouldn’t normally run to large scale attacks on the population. If you want someone to enslave the souls of a world you’ve got Darkseid. You could play No-Face in a more subtle way when it comes to Gotham’s ordinary citizenry. A writer could, for example, simply take care to frame the contemporary Gothamite’s consumerist lifestyle as essentially empty when No-face is around. Not in an effort to make a political point, but as a way of making the reader uncomfortable, and submerging them in No-Face’s world. A world of faceless crowds and empty streets, of starless skies and abandoned skyscrapers.

I imagine him not to have henchmen, but instead to rely on bizarre sleeper agents who all of a sudden start to demonstrate radically altered personalities, values and moralities when called upon to act in No-Face’s interests, and then just as suddenly revert back to their everyday selves, with no memory of their actions. Perhaps they do their best to hide their faces when acting out his wishes, perhaps they alter their appearance in strange and disturbing ways, whatever, it should be as if they’ve suffered a kind of non-sequiter of the self. I like the idea of his helpers splaying the fingers of one hand across their faces, their eyes peering out from between the cracks. Creepy.

The other thing that strikes me as a no-brainer is that No-Face would as a matter of course know all about any and all superheroes’ secret identities. Not as the product of investigation (well maybe ostensibly) but simply because that’s how it should be. What would be particularly fun here would be to bring back those stories where Batman’s secret identity is exposed and he has to find some convincing way of re-establishing it. With the advent of realism that kind of plot has largely gone out the window, but I feel sure it could be made to work, the trick would be in keeping it believable and yet enjoyably absurd. I don’t suppose, however, that simply exposing secret identities would be No-face’s endgame.

But what would his endgame look like? All sorts of things. Crikey, you could have so much fun. How about a plotline where Bats attempts to take down No-face but it ultimately turns out that No-Face has somehow managed to switch identities with the Caped Crusader and Batman has to find his way back to to his superheroic persona? Or, I dunno, maybe No-Face manages to convince the world, and Batman, that Batman has never existed ala Amy’s first 666 arc, the story culminating with Bruce battling his way back into being? The arc could begin with Batman simply trying to stare down No-Face. Wrong move.

No-face should possess a kind of physical intangibility to go along with his existential ghostliness. I don’t mean literally, he’s not Shadow Cat, but nevertheless he should be difficult to get hold of. Just when you think you’ve got him captured, turns out you’re holding a trench coat stuffed with a mannequin. The guy in the shadows is a defaced (I do mean literally) corpse, that sort of thing. It should certainly be the case that ze’s almost supernaturally elusive. In fact this elusiveness should even stretch to hir voice and mannerisms: sometimes ze sounds like a woman, other times a man, other times ze doesn’t speak at all, and other times ze only signs, or uses semaphore. Actually, I’d like to go even further: perhaps he only talks when he’s wearing a mask. Ah, and maybe the masks dictate a personality. This could get very weird indeed – scary in a Lynchian way. Imagine an issue where No-face is permanently wearing one of those glasses, nose, mustache get-ups – what the fuck kind of personality does one of those freaky things prescribe?

The question of a costume has me slightly stumped. While I can see an argument for eschewing an identifiable look beyond the blank visage and instead have the character simply don a series of plot specific outfits (aviation hats, frilly dresses, Robin costumes, surgeon’s smocks, business suits, etc…), I must say that the idea of occasionally coming back to a set of core visual motifs does appeal. Whether they would add up to a costume, or a number of thematically linked outfits ala the Riddler’s various get-ups, I’m not sure. Something as simple as a plain black badge might do the trick. Whatever the case, it seems to me that the character must remain consistently creepy. No-Face as I’ve conceived of hir is inherently disturbing; ze represents the dark side of losing one’s sense of self. This isn’t the blissful dissolution of personality to be found on the Eed-up dancefloor, or in deep meditation, this is the terror that underpins death and madness and disease. This is the guy without a face you know from horror films and your own nightmares.

No-Face? I think No-Face is the real deal. A serious villain waiting to happen.

no face is creepy

Next time: The Signal Man

21 Responses to “Rogue’s Reviews: the also-rans”

  1. Juan Arteaga Says:

    No-Face could be shit stains in the pants scary. I imagine that when the jig is up, Batman has stopped his plans, the whole GCPD is looking for him and he has to hide, he simply stops being himself. He hitchhikes a ride with a nice man, then he murders him halfway to his home and becomes him. He arrives at the other guy’s home with a false face, kisses the wife, eats dinner and puts the kids to bed. And he just lives like that for months at a time. He goes to work, he visits the relatives, he pays for college. He lives as somebody else until his next scheme is ready. Then he puts on hit hat, he puts on a coat and walks out for cigarettes never to return. That, or he kills everyone. Whatever is creepier.

  2. Zom Says:

    Yep, sounds like the sort of thing he’d do

  3. Gil Jaysmith Says:

    Dammit, is that the faceless photographs guy from Sapphire & Steel? Like you needed to add to the terror of No-Face by recalling one of the most terrifying things there’s ever been on television ;-)

  4. Zom Says:

    I suspect so, although I just picked it up randomly through a Google search.

    Bob Temuka filled me in on the true horror of the episode.

  5. HitTheTargets Says:

    The recent Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum introduced an all-new No-Face. Well, I actually don’t remember off hand, it coulda just been a guy without a face who wasn’t a Question. Regardless, he was the kind of humdrum villain that gets tossed out when the writer wants to ape the old formula of one gimmick defining every aspect of a character, but does too much work with the origin and not enough in the present.

    Sure, you could say that Harvey Dent cheated on his high school and college sweethearts, making him a two-time two-timer, but wouldn’t you rather see him toss his trick coin around a bit? And anyway, the new No-Face seems pretty harmless; he paints himself new faces instead of trying to destroy famous ones.

    Come to think of it, I’d love to see your take on the character trying twice as hard to kill Two-Face for the simple reason that he’s got two faces to kill.

  6. ahaman85@yahoo.com Says:

    “The other thing that strikes me as a no-brainer is that No-Face would as a matter of course know all about any and all superheroes’ secret identities. Not as the product of investigation (well maybe ostensibly) but simply because that’s how it should be. What would be particularly fun here would be to bring back those stories where Batman’s secret identity is exposed and he has to find some convincing way of re-establishing it. With the advent of realism that kind of plot has largely gone out the window, but I feel sure it could be made to work, the trick would be in keeping it believable and yet enjoyably absurd. I don’t suppose, however, that simply exposing secret identities would be No-face’s endgame.

    But what would his endgame look like? All sorts of things. Crikey, you could have so much fun. How about a plotline where Bats attempts to take down No-face but it ultimately turns out that No-Face has somehow managed to switch identities with the Caped Crusader and Batman has to find his way back to to his superheroic persona? Or, I dunno, maybe No-Face manages to convince the world, and Batman, that Batman has never existed ala Amy’s first 666 arc, the story culminating with Bruce battling his way back into being? The arc could begin with Batman simply trying to stare down No-Face. Wrong move.”

    To quoth the Morrison:

    “Thogal peels back the soul to its radiant black core.”

    It seems like this is sort of Batman v. Pinhead sort of battle. Or, sort of a much more refined version of Dr. Hurt.

    Which is well and good, but something of it has the stench of Onslaught and Styfe of the X-men comics.

    The “villian-plus” syndrome: which if handled poorly could actually be a case of diminishing returns.

    However, this is a damn good villian-plus if anything.

  7. Zom Says:

    It seems like this is sort of Batman v. Pinhead sort of battle. Or, sort of a much more refined version of Dr. Hurt.

    Not sure what you mean

    Which is well and good, but something of it has the stench of Onslaught and Styfe of the X-men comics.

    Ummm… to expand please

  8. adam aaron Says:

    “It seems like this is sort of Batman v. Pinhead sort of battle. Or, sort of a much more refined version of Dr. Hurt.”

    “Not sure what you mean”

    Sure, I’ll gladly explain as best I can. As the above article pictures one of the possible illustrations of Dr.No-Face, the character could be the next ultimate evil master-mind, a la Dr. Hurt. But with the villain actually being the embodiment of the annihilation of personality that Batman may have experienced during the thogal ritual. The whole thing reminded me of the character and themes (bondage, annihilation of identity, some one locked in a dusty room with a demonic character sitting in a chair who says, “Welcome!” etc.) of the first Hellraiser.

    Or rather a Mr. Quimper style batman villain who is tumbling over the Dark Knight’s personality in a space-time washer and dryer (which I guess Darksied did already). Or the Mason Lang’s Barbelith encounter sequence.

    But, in truth it the thing you describe is only a more refined aesthetic vision of a Dr. Hurt style villain. Nothing wrong with that since, as you guys have pointed out in the prismatic age article, that in some ways surface aesthetic is all that really matters in a Batman story, and the villains are merely hall of mirrors reflection of Batman himself.

    In fact I would love to see Morrison reunite with Jon J. Muth and give us such a take.

    “Which is well and good, but something of it has the stench of Onslaught and Styfe of the X-men comics.
    “mmm… to expand please”
    Well, Mr. No-face has the potential to be a great Batman master-mind, but he is also so generic that he reminds me of increasing generic X-Men villains who just variations of guys in armor, design-wise. Who begin as something mysterious but whom ultimately just have the same plan as every other villain, while at the same time never delighting us as something as fearless and absurd as Magneto, master of magnetism, the unstoppable, Juggernaut, or the slimy Sauron, would.

    And it could follow the “lame pay-off rule: Onslaught is Xavier/Magneto, Stryfe is Cable, and Mr. No-face is…

    …Madonna?

  9. Zom Says:

    Ah, it’s you, Adam!

    I can see how one could get a little carried away with the character’s look and how that might tempt one to play him as a Pinhead analogue, but it’s pretty far from my intention here, and to honest to my mind completely wrong for any Batman comic I’d want to read*. Hellraiser is extremely loaded stuff sexually, and Pinhead is definitely a guy with motivations (demonic pleasure seeker). He tears souls apart for fun and jollies, he oozes personality, in fact Hellraiser generally throbs with meaning, it offers a universe with a ground even if that ground isn’t very nice, and that’s just about the opposite of what I’m getting at.

    Also, you need to be careful when you talk about “you guys”. We don’t all share the same opinions, and while I think there is some mileage in the bat-rogues as distorted aspects of the bat-psyche take, I’m not sure that I’d commit myself to it wholeheartedly. The most I’d be prepared to say is that it has it’s uses.

    Finally, not sure what’s so blandly generic about the No-Face that I’ve described. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a villain quite like him.

    *I know we’ve gone near these waters with the Spider Slayer review, but my intention was always that that stuff be played subtly. In fact the primary purpose wasn’t the revamp at all, it was to try and tease to the surface the just why it is that Spider Man has always made me uncomfortable: rogue’s review as therapy. I appreciate, however, that no-one other than me was to know that!

  10. adam aaron Says:

    Sorry about the “you’s guys” thing. But I was in New Jersey last week (yuck, yuck).

    Also, rereading the article, I realized I missed the comment about “Dr. Paul Dent.”

  11. Zom Says:

    On the “you guys” thing, I’m not just reminding you, Adam, so don’t take it personally. I’m taking the opportunity to remind everyone. People often conflate our opinions when discussing the views of the Mindless Ones.

  12. Damn the Torpedos Says:

    Since we’ve been talking about David Lapham recently, it’s worth pointing out that No-Face, as envisioned by Zom, bears some similarity to the villain of Lapham’s Batman: City of Crime. Don’t want to spoil things for people who haven’t yet read the most underrated Batman graphic novel out there, but the anonymity of city life and the tenuousness of personal identity figure very prominently in the work.

  13. Zom Says:

    Interesting

  14. Juan Arteaga Says:

    Oh yeah, I didn’t mention it, but No-Face made me think of Lapham’s The Body too. I was even going to say that No-Face could be the sort of leader of the Body, and then that The Hand and Clan Foot were part of the whole thing but that was too Voltron for my tastes. Still, I think No-Face and The Body do have certain points in common, they have different approaches and goals about it. They are different animals in the end.

  15. The Satrap Says:

    …the thing you describe is only a more refined aesthetic vision of a Dr. Hurt style villain…

    This “only” reminds me of Grant´s assertion in the Martian Manhunter comments thread* that the movie Alien was “just” a haunted ship story. Is Hurt really that similar to what is being proposed here? RIP was in a sense a very typical superhero story because it focused on that most venerable convention of the genre, the big traumatic experience that shapes and gives birth to the hero. The stories involving No-Face on the other hand could conceivably have him/her imitate, “erase” and otherwise vandalise the most trivial personality traits of his victims.

    Also, Hurt was quite explicit about his willingness to break Batman in order to destroy him, whereas No-Face´s attitude towards Bats could be more ambiguous, perhaps with a hint of the Joker´s willingness to make him “loosen up”, in this case by making Bruce let go of this or that aspect of the altogether too self-serious Wayne-Batman gestalt.

    This isn’t the blissful dissolution of personality to be found on the Eed-up dancefloor, or in deep meditation…

    If I understand correctly, this loss of self would not stem from, say, the recognition of the mutual dependence of everything or any such beloved mystical motif, it would be the result of a genuinely daemonic contempt for Being. Nobody is a “substance”, everybody is up for grabs, No-Face seems to be saying.

    Basically, I like this pitch a lot. A clever high-concept providing the scaffolding for some potentially very creepy stories.

    *: my reply to that otherwise lovely post made me sound like an unreconstructed arsehole, incidentally, repetitious and pompous. Bad, bad Satrap.

  16. The Satrap Says:

    And since I like the pitch, here´s some fanfic wank…

    …No-Face’s world. A world of faceless crowds…

    This suggests a sequence with the villain as the POV character (which maybe could be extended to full issue length, “the Trials of No-Face” or whatever), where s/he walks through a crowded street at night, hidden beneath a fedora, registering every face and every mannerism s/he sees, to the point of being almost overwhelmed by so much individuality. But No-Face eventually gets his/her shit together, by “deconstructing” these individuals, first imagining them with swapped heads, then swapping specific facial traits, then moving on to completely rearranged faces (imagining somebody whose visage were a collection of different noses or whatever). In the end, the only memory left of the stroll is a jumbled up collection of disguise accessories littering the streets, evidence of the arbitrariness and worthlessness of the self.

    It could be an entirely wordless comic, which I´m always partial to.

  17. Zom Says:

    Maybe a bit too poncy for a Batman comic, though. ;)

    You fancy taking on any of these (or other) also-rans, Trappers? I’ve kinda bagsyed the Hangman and the Wheel, but Signal Man is driving me nuts; thought he’d be easy to unpick/flesh out, turns out I can’t come up with anything.

  18. The Satrap Says:

    Why, it´s a Darque story, like the Darque Knight, Do You See? Anyway, “poncy” is my middle name.

    Another thing about No-Face: the idea of facelessness was mentioned in that Scarecrow review I wrote a while ago. However, the SC as envisioned there and this pitch for No-Face couldn´t be more different. Facelessness for NF would be the ideal state, while I took the fact that the SC looks like a stick figure to indicate his parasitic need for psychic “food”, his incompleteness.

    RE: Signal Man. It sounds really tempting, and since I lean far too heavily towards the Darque it would be good to tackle a cheery Silver Age villain for a change. I´ll see what I can do.

  19. Zom Says:

    Cheery is definitely what I’m thinking

  20. grant Says:

    Link No-Face to them starfish-lookin’ cyclopean aliens. They cover faces and erase identity, too! Starro.

    I don’t mean within a story, but maybe as an unspoken, unrevealed back-story. An aesthetic sense. A yearning for the colony… let’s start with the mechanisms of celebrity!

    Potential for fights with Anarky, too. Or at least being a polar opposite – no individual rights at all.

    Something in me wants this No-Face to be dressed like whatever’s on the cover of Vogue or GQ… whatever “everyone” is wearing.

    (And for the record, I don’t think you’re pompous or rude at all, Satrap.)

  21. Chris Says:

    Reminds me of The Face from Sandman Mystery Theatre and the Sandman-Starman crossover issues. Quite an interesting villain with pretty much the same idea behind it. Too bad the writers never had a chance to really develop the character.

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