To hear those words uttered unto you “meant your ass,” as Sam Jackson’s Jules Winnfield might have put it. Though the demented Batman villain Lazlo Valentin a/k/a Professor Pyg wouldn’t see it that way. In the professor’s eyes, he was doing you and humanity the highest service: taking away our ugliness and making us all vessels of beauty, or…well…perfection, whatever of course Pyg’s idea of perfection even was. I think we’re all still trying to figure that out. Maybe the good professor himself is, too.
So yeah, I’m a Professor Pyg fan. He’s an abominable (in all the right ways), depraved creation and an instant icon in Batman’s pantheon of rogues, courtesy of Mr. Grant Morrison (a name that has been popping up more than usual of late with all the happenings over at DC Studios). So I guess this article is part love letter to the character, part expression of hope against hope that he shows up either somewhere in Matt Reeve’s Batverse or James Gunn’s DCU…or maybe even both?? As long as he’s done right, keeping in mind that the phrase “done right” is pretty subjective, to be sure.
For the uninitiated, I guess a brief background of the character is in order. Grant Morrison drew inspiration from the story of Pygmalion, which explores, among others, the themes of obsession and creation. As for the name “Pyg”…well, you can see where he got that from.
To keep things simple, I won’t go into an extensive history of his various iterations from his debut in 2007 through his reimagining in 2011. In short, Lazlo Valentin was a scientist under the employ of a corrupt division of the U.N. and lost his mind through experimentation with a substance he was working on. What resulted was a brain chemistry close to that of an Alzheimer’s patient, and from there Lazlo developed a bit of paranoid schizophrenia. And so–this is the abridged version–he went ahead and kind of rearranged his own face, as you do, donned a pig mask and apron (a good psycho is a sanitary psycho) and through hideous surgical procedures recreated innocent victims (and any perceived enemies, I’m pretty sure) as mindless “dollotrons” who did his bidding. Basically, he would create something like a synthetic face and more or less melt it onto the victim’s actual face, and….the minute details of the whole process were kind of left to the imagination. What was left was a figure certain to curdle our blood and quicken the beatings of our hearts (thank you, Mary Shelley): pretty much a doll come to life, the face looking just kind of wrong and melty.
Thus being reborn Professor Pyg, Valentin embarked on his own personal mission to make humanity “perfect.” “Pyg will make you perfect” became his mantra. It became entrenched in his blood, mind, and spirit. He lived it, much to the greater misfortune of society at large.
So, Professor Pyg is downright disturbing, and I’d wager he is more demented than the likes of the Joker. At least with the Joker you have some kind of super intelligence or super sanity at play with quite a bit of meticulousness in the planning and carrying out of his psychotic pranks; don’t get me wrong, Joker is plenty chaotic and unpredictable, but Pyg is a different breed. The dude’s a planner, and he can run himself a gang, but he’s also kind of a mess. He’s kind of like Leatherface (the Gunnar Hansen Leatherface) if he were a higher functioning mentally handicapped lunatic. As Pyg recreates his victims in his desired image, he bellows his dialogue, a lot of which is this strange half-realized poetic verse. One can imagine it punctuated by this kind of unhinged shrieking and squealing quality. And in what I am sure is a deliberate writer’s choice, what exactly Pyg is trying to say is lost on the audience at times. It’s that “crazy-person speak” that Morrison somehow captures pretty dang perfectly. Morrison gives us the essence of a truly mentally ill human being, this perfect balance of machiavellian villainy and unbridled, bloody randomness.
I have yet to see him done justice in live action. That’s my opinion. I think he’d be ideally placed in Matt Reeves’s vision of Gotham City. As a main villain? I don’t think so. But he’d make for a pretty memorable key player in the vast ensemble that populates Gotham; give him roughly around the same amount of screen time as you did Penguin. If there are still plans for an Arkham-centered series on HBO, then featuring Valentin on it seems a foregone conclusion. Maybe he’s not yet a fully realized Pyg (like Barry Keoghan’s Joker is not yet a fully realized Joker), but by the time the series ends, he’s there, or at least well, well on his way. Pyg vibes perfectly with the more horrific elements of what Reeves and company are doing. That is not to say he cannot thrive in the larger DCU. If he were to be included there, I’m confident he’d get the proper treatment. James Gunn seems to be assembling a hell of a team over there, and his plan sounds utterly glorious.
Wherever Professor Pyg emerges, assuming that he does, I eagerly await the moment when we hear those now iconic words uttered out loud: “Pyg will make you perfect.” Seriously, this already iconic Batman villain has the potential to stand aside Freddy, Jason, Michael, Pinhead, and Leatherface as a cinematic horror icon, too. That quote can become etched in movie history. It really can.
When a great character is realized, I just have to talk about it from time to time.
Thanks for reading.