It’s the dawn of 1966 and a truly glorious era for superhero funnybooks. The Fantastic Four were up against the planet-devouring power of Galactus, Captain America had run afoul of the ferocious feet of Batroc the Leaper, and the mighty Thor was reeling from a disastrous defeat at the hands of Hercules.
Meanwhile, over on the DC side of the street, the Caped Crusader had come up against the greatest adversary of his crimefighting career…
…the Monarch of Menace.
What’s that, you say? You’ve never heard of the guy? But that’s impossible!
With his fast food mascot motif and arsenal of bat-befouling devices, the Monarch had the rare distinction — through the power of backstory cranked out on the fly — of being the One Villain That Got Away.
So profound was the Dark Knight’s humiliation that even hearing the word “king” stung him to the quick, and he even dedicated a corner of his cluttered cave to a shrine of vengeance against the Monarch.
Perhaps suspecting that his triumph over the Bat was a lucky break, the Monarch decamped with his loot to a secret jungle base. There, surrounded by a circle of henchmen who resembled a gaggle of ‘roided up Roger McGuinns, he spent his days subjecting his teenage son to all manner of humiliations. Overcome with daddy issues and chafing beneath the jester costume he was forced to wear, the younger Monarch decided to usurp his father’s crown by waging his own crime (against fashion) spree.
Sadly, adolescent resentment turned out to be no substitute for a proper supervillain training regimen, and the false Monarch (which I guess would be a “Viceroy,” technically) was easily thwarted by Robin.
Dragged back to dank, vermin-infested lair inhabited by two masked vigilantes known for their physical violence skills, Monarch Junior experienced a really, really sincere change of heart about pursuing a career as a costumed crook. As a reward for his contrition, the Dynamic Duo granted the youngster the honor of being the bait used to lure his pa out of hiding and into a fin-gloved fist.
Having analyzed the gear captured from the Monarch’s son, Batman easily bypassed the villain’s bag of tricks to deliver some long deferred payback-a-la-chin. Sent off to a dank, roach-infested prison inhabited by all manner of sociopathic criminals, Monarch Junior expressed a really, really sincere desire to walk in his captor’s heroic footsteps.
“Your dad has been sent up for life, your surrogate family has been locked up with him, your home and assets have been seized, and you’ve been incarcerated in a strange city. Your future is wide open, son! Make the most of it!”
“Oh, I will, Batman…..I will.”
The Monarch of Menace is a perfect example of the class of interchangeable villains that populated Batman’s rogues’ gallery in the first half of the Silver Age — a slice of high concept fluff to be inserted into a stock narrative and then be quickly forgotten. There’s nothing about his methods or motivation that adds any form of unique spin to the story, and his role could have been just as easily been filled by Killer Moth, Firebug, or Calendar Man.
The only mildly interesting thing about him is that DC decided to bring him back fifteen years later in Batman #336 (June 1981). In that tale, the resurfaced Monarch took advantage of Batman’s extended absence to run a reverse “Spanish prisoner” scam on a group of fellow supervillainous also-rans. Claiming that he had the Dark Knight captive, he threatened to release his prisoner unless the other crooks slipped him a percentage of their ill-gotten gains.
An ambitious and pretty cagey con, to be sure, but also one that fell apart when a returned Batman infiltrated the group and gassed the Monarch with his own trick cape.
Okay, so it’s no Watchmen, but it is an entertaining done-in-one story that featured some sweet art by José Luis García-López and a little face time for a few of the lesser lights in Batman’s rogues’ gallery.