There’s definitely no shortage of D-List characters in the DC Universe, so it is admittedly difficult to settle on one from so many choices. While I occasionally try to focus on characters that are still relatively relevant, that isn’t the primary purpose of this column. Coincidentally, as I tried to decide who to spotlight for December’s article, a writer at DC helped solidify my decision.
Kite Man has never been a particularly threatening villain, but he is uniquely amusing. For decades, he had no official origin, any depth, and was greatly underutilized. Recently, however, all of that changed…sort of. This month, we’ve got sufficient wind to welcome Kite Man to the D-List.
Kite Man first appeared in Batman vol. 1 #133 in August 1960. Created by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang, the villain used a box kite to drop tear gas on a group of rich people atop an expensive penthouse. He then used a kite filled with compressed air to glide over the attendees and grab an expensive ruby. Although Batman and Robin arrived, they failed to apprehend Kite Man (his villainy went over their heads) [ed note: I love you, Jonathan.].
While that situation might sound ridiculous, Kite Man’s kite use was quite ingenious; he used kites to firebomb a gold refinery, steal an expensive painting, and break a criminal out of jail. A multitude of miscreants actually revered Kite Man, so the villain formed his own gang. Those thugs helped Kite Man capture Batman, but rather than kill him, the villains decided to trap the hero in their hideout. Of course, Robin found their location, and the dynamic duo defeated Kite Man and his crew.
Surely Batman wasn’t going to be killed by a D-Lister such as Kite Man, but it was funny to see that the villain actually had the chance. As potentially interesting, but certainly campy, as Kite Man was, he would not appear in a new story again for nearly two decades (sounds like he had no strings attached). Upon his return, Kite Man rigged kites to spray nerve gas at police and stole a large amount of money. Although he secured the cash, he didn’t count on a hang-gliding Batman to stop him. (where does he get those wonderful toys?)
While Kite Man wasn’t exactly a large-scale threat, his creativity with kites was entertaining. Perhaps writers at DC didn’t think so, because his appearances were minor at best (DC was stringing him along for years). Kite Man was defeated by Zatanna, entered the Olympics but was never shown competing, and he was eventually killed by a mobster. I shouldn’t be surprised that Kite Man was never taken seriously, because his name was eventually revealed to be Charles Brown (what a blockhead).
Shortly after DC launched “Rebirth,” Kite Man began to be featured more prominently, although exclusively, in the latest volume of Batman. Still not an adept fighter, Kite Man was beaten on multiple occasions by the titular hero. Would this Kite-themed crook be a joke for the rest of his existence? (The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.) In a spectacular origin story, current Batman writer, Tom King, said…sort of.
Charles Brown had a son also named Charles, and the elder Brown wanted to instill the same love of kites in the young boy. Unfortunately, Brown became involved in a war between Joker and Riddler, and Nigma targeted Brown’s child. The boy flew one of his father’s kites in a local park, but unbeknownst to Charles or his son, Riddler had poisoned the kite string. A slow-acting poison, Charles later arrived at a hospital just in time to watch his son die. In response, Brown constructed a suit, donned the name Kite Man, and vowed to exact revenge on Riddler by working for Joker.
The origin that King granted Kite Man was very tragic, and it gave Brown the perfect motivation to become a supervillain. While Kite Man’s codename and gimmick surely haven’t instilled a sense of dread within the citizens of Gotham, at least there was an understandable and emotional attachment to his seemingly silly name. Although the majority of Joker’s henchmen were defeated by Riddler’s gang, Kite Man refused to give up, and became the last remaining villain who fought alongside the clown prince of crime.
Brown was beaten by Batman and taken into custody, where both the hero and Riddler interrogated him until he revealed the location of Joker’s hideout. Unfortunately, it was on the 73rd floor of a skyscraper, and all practical entrances were booby-trapped. Proving his usefulness, Brown supplied Batman and Nigma’s gang with hang-gliders. In one of the most fantastic images to ever grace a comic book, this kite-army broke through the windows of the skyscraper, and Riddler knocked the Joker unconscious. Finished with this ruse, Batman had Kite Man spring their trap; Brown had attached jet-propelled inverse parachutes to each hang-glider. With the push of a button, Kite Man sent Riddler’s gang out of the window into high altitude, and Alfred apprehended all of the villains with the Bat Blimp. (Brown really told them to go fly a kite.)
Kite Man has never been a particularly successful criminal, but I now view Charles Brown much differently than I did mere months ago. For decades, this guy seemed like just another lame villain, but King gave Kite Man depth, relatability, and tragic circumstances; Charles Brown was quickly transformed into a sympathetic villain. This is the kind of writing that truly enhances my love for D-List characters, and further proves that even the seemingly lamest characters have potential for greatness (and let’s be real, no one says, “Benjamin Franklin, hell yeah”).
Outside of DC comics, Kite Man has appeared in the cartoon, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, where he was given a less tragic and sillier origin, and he appeared briefly in The Lego Batman Movie. Will Kite Man ever be featured as a primary antagonist in a film, or receive a solo comic book series? Probably not, but his painful past has certainly made him a more compelling character, so I hope that Kite Man continues to ride the winds through the DC Universe for years to come.