Monday, November 18, 2013

Batman's Weirdest Villains: Mr. Camera

Batman's Weirdest Villains

Real Name:  Harry Sims

Powers / Skills: Mr. Camera has the ability to take photographs, although the evidence suggests he is not very good at it.  He sometimes shines flashbulbs or other bright lights into people's eyes to temporarily blind them

Weird Obsession:  Mr. Camera is mildly obsessed with cameras and photography, but not overpoweringly so.  If there is a photography exhibit, film convention, or some other camera and photography themed event in Gotham City, he will be sure to try and rob it.  But if there is not, he'll be perfectly happy robbing a jewelry store or a bank.

First Appearance: "The Boy Wonder Confesses" in Batman #81

Published in 1954, "The Boy Wonder Confesses" begins with Dick Grayson revealing to his classmates that he is really Robin the Boy Wonder!  At first, the kids don't believe him, but then he "proves" he is Robin, by walking a tightrope and doing some aerial gymnastics.  Which doesn't really make any sense, because before Dick Grayson was orphaned, he was a trapeze artist with his family, "The Flying Graysons."  So his classmates should expect him to be able to do all of that stuff anyway.  The news that Grayson is Robin quickly makes the news, which is followed by reporters speculating that is Dick Grayson is Robin, then his foster parent Bruce Wayne must really be Batman!

I love those bat-shaped narration boxes.  I can't help but hear the voice of William Dozier in my head when I read therm.
We are then treated to a series of flashbacks that explain just what prompted this shocking confession.  It seems that Batman and Robin had been having a series of run-ins with a criminal known as "Mr. Camera," so-called because he wore a helmet shaped like a giant camera on his head.   Mr. Camera committed several robberies, and escaped from the Dynamic Duo each time.

It's seems crazy, but shining a light in someone's eyes was a popular move among the super-villain crowd back in the day.  Links to more examples: Batman and Robin have a rainbow shone in their faces, and  Jimmy Olsen getting attacked by a flashbulb gun.
Batman anticipated that Mr. Camera would attempt to steal a new 3-D camera that was going to be demonstrated in a movie theater during the movie's intermission, so he arranged to have Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson in the audience.  When Mr. Camera struck the theater, Bruce and Dick snuck into the alley behind the theater and changed their clothes, becoming Batman and Robin.  They then attempted to capture Mr. Camera and his gang, but Mr. Camera escaped again.  However, Batman and Robin then made a disturbing discovery.  It turned out that Mr. Camera had a camera hidden in the alley, set-up to take pictures automatically, which may have gotten pictures of Bruce and Dick changing into Batman and Robin.  Worse, Mr. Camera retrieved the film before he escaped. That film could prove to the world that Bruce Wayne is Batman, which would be very bad.  Or, it could prove to the world that Bruce Wayne takes his clothes off with young boys in dark alleys.  That would probably be pretty bad, too.  Thus, the Caped Crusaders then have to race against time to capture the criminal before he has a chance to develop the film. 

What's never explained is just why Mr. Camera had this camera hidden in the alley to begin with.  Was he hoping to get a shot of a hobo peeing on the wall, or something?  The world may never know.

Crime scene photos?  Check.  Photography equipment?  Check.  Giant movie projector and film reels?  Check.  Cuckoo clock?  Check.  Wait... a cuckoo clock?  Who put that crazy thing there?
Wasting no time, Batman and Robin quickly track Mr. Camera to his hideout.  His hideout is pretty interesting, it's full of camera and photography equipment, including a giant, 20 foot tall movie projector.  It also has one wall labeled "Crime Gallery" that appears to be covered with framed crime scene photos.  Mr. Camera does his best to defeat Batman, by shining an extra hot light bulb at him.  Batman responds by punching him in the face.  Mr. Camera is finally captured.  He didn't have time to develop the film, but he did manage to hide it somewhere before he went to his hideout.  So Batman and Robin are pretty much screwed.  Even though Mr. Camera is going to jail, eventually he will get out, and when he does, he will develop the film and discover exactly what it is that Batman and Robin do in dark alleys.

Batman and Robin then spent the next nine months searching for that film, without any success.  Then, Batman receives a letter from jail, written by Mr. Camera!  "Dear Batman," it read.  "A friend of mine gets out next month.  I told him where to find the film.  He knows what to do with it!  So long, chump!"  Signed, "Mr. Camera."  The heat is on, now!  Batman comes up with a bizarre plan.  He will intentionally have Dick Grayson reveal to the world that he is Robin, which will convince everyone that Bruce Wayne is Batman!  He will then DISPROVE that Bruce is Batman!  By doing this, he believes that no one will believe Mr. Camera's photographic evidence when it is revealed in one month.  Does that even make sense?  No, not really, but let's see the whole plan before we decide for sure.

Step 1:  Bruce Wayne will be wandering around on the streets, being hounded by reporters who think he is Batman.

Step 2: Robin will be seen standing on a nearby rooftop, when the Batplane lands on the roof of a tall building near Bruce Wayne.  This will prove to the reporters that Robin is not flying the plane.  WHAT THE REPORTERS DON'T KNOW:  Robin is piloting the plane, using a remote control!

"There's BATMAN -- and I've landed the plane the way he wanted, now I'm to stay here and expose myself!"
Don't do it, Robin!
Step 3. Batman will be seen on the top of the building that the plane landed on.  Bruce Wayne then has a conversation with Batman, using a bullhorn that he just happened to be carrying.  WHAT THE REPORTERS DON'T KNOW:  "Batman" is really a snowman that Bruce dressed up in a Batman costume, and Batman's voice is really Bruce Wayne using ventriloquism!

Step 4:  The plane flies away, and the reporters go to the rooftop, to make sure "Batman" was not really a dummy with a phonograph recording of Batman's voice.  They find no evidence of a dummy with a phonograph inside it, which apparently proves that Bruce Wayne is not Batman!   WHAT THE REPORTERS DON'T KNOW:  The snowman had a small termite explosive inside it set to a timer, which melted it away!  Plus, it was wearing a "self-disintegrating" Batman costume, which is the real reason no evidence was left behind!

Step 5:  Tell the reporters that Robin and  Dick Grayson teamed up on a hoax that Dick Grayson was Robin, in order for Dick to impress a girl.

Step 6: PROBLEM SOLVED.  The next day, the newspaper reads, "Once again, Bruce Wayne proves conclusively he is not Batman."  So when the photographs are released of Bruce and Dick in the alley, no one will believe them, because Bruce just proved he was not Batman a month earlier.  Now it make sense, right?  Right?

Investigative journalism is not what it used to be.
In the final twist to the story, Robin finally recovers and develops Mr. Camera's film, only to find out it was badly underexposed, and the figures in the picture could not even be made out.  Because apparently Mr. Camera's love of photography didn't extend to him actually being any good at it!  Come to think of it, we never did get an "origin" story for Mr. Camera, maybe his sub-par photography is at the root of his obsession.  As a boy, Mr. Camera desperately wanted to be a famous photographer, but he was just terrible at it.  Eventually, this triggered a full-blown mental-break, and he started wearing a camera on his head.

It seems like most Batman villains are only in jail or prison for a few days or weeks before they escape and start committing crimes again.  Gotham city must have the worst guarded penal system in the USA.  But I guess even a poorly guarded prison is enough for a criminal whose only skill is wearing a giant camera on his head, because that was the last anyone saw from Mr. Camera for nearly 60 years.

One of Mr. Camera's cameo appearances on Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
He reemerged in 2010 for a couple of cameos on the cartoon Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and finally returned to comic books in issue 14 of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold comic book.  In "Captured by Mr. Camera," The Huntress is being stalked by Mr. Camera.  In this story, Mr. Camera has upgraded his camera helmet for the 21st century, and can now use it to see the signal from any digital camera anywhere in the world.  Traffic cams, cell phones, webcams, department store security cameras, etc..., they are all at his disposal.  Worse, he has become obsessed with the Huntress, and has used his camera mastery to find out her secret identity of Helena Bertinelli.  He attacks her in her office at Gotham University using a hypnotic flash bulb to temporarily paralyze her.  He then gets down on his knees and asks her to marry him.  Then Batman crashes through the window and beats the crap out of him.

Mr. Camera's helmet is smashed and broken, but he tries to use it anyway. The helmet misfires, and the video feed from every camera in the world beams directly into his brain.  The information overload causes Mr. Camera to go insane.  The final panels show a straight-jacketed Mr. Camera talking to himself in his cell in Arkham Asylum.  His dialogue?  "I... spy... I spy with... my little eye... someone... named... WAYNE."  This is a great ending, setting up Mr. Camera to be a much more formidable opponent in the future.  Or at least it would have, if the Brave and the Bold comic had not been cancelled.  And I for one, am not looking forward to Mr. Camera being introduced into the New 52.  With his camera obsession, and the New 52's need to make all of their villains "edgy" and "extreme," they'll probably  turn him into a child pornographer or something.  No thanks, I'll pass on that.

Final Analysis:
Even though he only made one appearance in regular Batman comics continuity (Batman: The Brave and the Bold stuff basically exists in it's own, separate universe), Mr. Camera made a big impression.  It's pretty hard to forget a guy with a giant camera on his head.  The fact that he wasn't particularly good at what he did, and his only "weapons" were flashbulbs, makes him even more of an oddball treat.   Thus, Mr. Camera easily joins the wacky ranks of "Batman's Weirdest Villains."


Spoon - I Turn My Camera On

A Flock Of Seagulls - Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)

The Vapors - Turning Japanese

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