Okay, I’m going to try something a little different here. Instead of looking at a movie or an episode, I’m going to be looking at a character and (over)analysing him. Since it’s a character that’s appeared in more than one form of media, I’ll be comparing and contrasting how he’s been portrayed in those different media.
Which character am I going to look at today? Why, Mr. Toad. No, not the Wind in the Willows guy, though he is inspired by that character. No, this Mr. Toad is a recent Batman villain. Now, you might say “Doesn’t Batman already have a villain inspired by a kids’ book? The Mad Hatter?’ Well, Toad is pretty similar to that guy, but there are some differences.
Some context first: a while ago in the Batman comics, Bruce Wayne was apparently killed by Darkseid (that’s a story for another article), and this meant former Robin Dick Grayson had to take over as Batman. Also, filling in for Robin was Damian Wayne, the son of Batman and Talia Al Ghul (boy, that Batman’s a hit with the ladies). Dick and Damian’s adventures as Batman and Robin were shown in a comic called…Batman and Robin, written by Grant Morrison, known for the eerie Arkham Asylum: Serious House on Serious Earth.
One of the first new villains of that series was an utter batshit bonkers weirdo called Professor Pyg. Based on the play Pygmalion and Momus’ song Pygmalism, Pyg was an insane surgeon who wore a pig’s mask, lobotomised and mutilated people to make them his mindless “Dollotrons” and spoke in weird non-sequiturs. But hey, what do you expect from the guy who had Batman stab his hand with a shard of glass and had Clayface moan about how his “skin was sick.” Morrison has issues.
Pyg, however, was not the first villain to appear in this series. That honour goes to his lackey, Mr. Toad.
Now this is a pretty striking image. He calls himself Mr. Toad and has a toad-like appearance, but given that he’s almost the same size as Batman, he looks like a harlequin fetus and later on is shown to have fingernails, he isn’t a toad but rather a deformed human. He is revealed to be a circus freak, after all.
Unlike the aforementioned Mad Hatter, who chose to take on the guise of Carroll’s haberdasher, this poor man was likely born with a resemblance to a children’s book character. He’s the type of character you take one look at and you immediately want to know his story. Given that he talks in circus slang – how former acrobat Dick Grayson deduces he was from a freak shown –he’s spent a lot of time at that freak show. Maybe he has a similar story to Batman Returns’ Penguin; he was raised at the circus because his real parents abandoned him there? Or maybe like the Elephant Man, he found it hard to find employment and proposed he become a freak himself? Given the fact he opens the story driving recklessly and boasting about evading the police, he seems to have embraced his resemblance to Mr. Toad. Still, I must admit I did have some pity for him, and while he didn’t make as big an impact as the demented Pyg, I wanted to see more of him.
Sadly, he died in the very next issue, murdered by who was later revealed to be the Joker. A shame really; given how the Mad Hatter is constantly written as a creepy sex offender as opposed to just someone who likes hats, it would have been nice to have at least one decent, mildly sympathetic book-based villain in Batman’s rogues gallery.
This, however, was not the last we’d see of Mr. Toad. He and his boss Pyg not only made cameos in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but were spawnable characters in the DC-based game Scribblenauts Unmasked as well.
And of course, we can’t forget his biggest role ever, as Pyg’s main henchman in the CGI Batman toon Beware the Batman.
Beware the Batman attempted to differentiate itself from previous adaptations of the Dark Knight, but how it went about it was sometimes quite questionable. For example, you want to replace Robin with DC heroine Katana? Fine. But making Alfred one of the main heroes, and a bulky Hitman lookalike whose just as tough as Batman to boot? All I can say to that is, yeeeah.
One way the show tried to be different was to utilise more obscure Batman villains, rather than just rely on the old standbys like Joker, Penguin etc. Okay, that’s something I can accept. We can’t have Riddler and Freeze all the time, it’s time for some fresh blood! Even then, they made some rather iffy choices. Instead of the Joker, the main villain of this series is this dude named Anarky, and like Andrew Scott’s Moriarty, he’s a lame ripoff of the Joker and the Riddler with the charisma of neither. Let me put it this way: you can replace all of Anarky’s dialogue with this song and he’d be much less annoying.
Having Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad on this show was another arbitrary decision, given that their original story wasn’t really that kid-friendly, and thus they would have to be changed heavily so as not to frighten the tiny tots. And changed they were. Gone was the squealing, mutilating Pyg of the funny pages, as Beware the Batman introduced a refined, sophisticated Pyg, dedicated to getting revenge on those who harmed animals and who was voiced by Raj’s dad from The Big Bang Theory.
Since Pyg changed, Toad (voiced by Udo Kier) changed too, rather greatly I might add. How? He was no longer a deformed human, but a full-fledged anthropomorphic toad with a long tongue and a sonic croak. Yes, he has a sonic croak.
The Toad in the comics was drawn as being grotesque, but this Toad is made to look cute with his little cap and Scrooge McDuck-esque spats over bare feet. This does make him seem a little less believable and more silly than sympathetic. Still, I guess his design still works in a way; he stands out due to the juxtaposition of having something that wouldn’t look out of place in an actual Wind in the Willows adaptation walking around dark, dingy Gotham. And maybe it’s better that he isn’t human; the human characters in this show look like living action figures, while Toad looks much better and even has some good expressions:
I suppose I shouldn’t like this show’s version of Pyg and Toad as much as I do. I hated it when they made Dracula all fluffy-wuffy, and surely this is a similar case? No, actually, Pyg and Toad are probably the most entertaining villains in the whole show, definitely getting some of the best lines. When the cops arrive, Toad says “Phooey and fiddlesticks” and Pyg replies, “Language, Mr. Toad.”
Pyg and Toad made four significant appearances in the show; in their first episode, they went after millionaires who ruined an animal habitat, in their second, they attacked the fashion industry. Later, they fought against other villains to kill Batman so they could get a reward from Ra’s Al Ghul. Toad’s most significant appearance though, was when he and Pyg created this show’s version of Man-Bat by screwing around with Kirk Langstrom’s research to create a formula to turn people into animal-human hybrids. Pyg then tried to use said formula on some women in order to get Mr. Toad laid, but sadly, never got the chance.
Toad is definitely more significant in the show than in the comics, and this greater significance seems to have even affected Pyg himself. For not only is this Toad inspired by Wind in the Willows, Batman (who is the Bruce Wayne Batman) says Pyg is inspired by the book too. That’s odd since I don’t remember any pigs in Wind in the Willows aside from Ratty saying he was one for forgetting about Mole’s home. Come to think of it, it is strange that a Wind in the Willows henchman doesn’t have a Wind in the Willows boss. Joker has clown henchmen, Mr. Freeze has henchmen in parkas…you’d think if Pyg was going to have Mr. Toad working for him, Pyg’s persona would be another Willows character. Badger might be a good choice. Or how about the Piper at the Gates of Dawn, given how much he wants to protect animals? Hell, they actually have a 1900s motorcar as opposed to the slightly more modern one Toad had in the comics.
Like the comics, there is a sense this Toad has a story that isn’t being told. He is an anthropomorphic toad with a sonic croak, and no explanation is given as to why he is that way (at least as far as I know, I haven’t seen all the episodes). What’s more, he and Pyg seem to have something more than the usual villain-lackey relationship. The show’s creators even said they had based the two on Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd from James Bond.
In the first episode, Mr. Toad knocks out Alfred, believing him to be Bruce Wayne. A more orthodox villain boss would have clonked Toad on the head and called him an idiot, but Pyg instead reminds Toad he should have gotten his eyes checked, his voice having genuine concern. On two occasions, people have hurt Toad, and Pyg got enraged at those people for harming poor lil’ Toady. They are shown having tea and biscuits, and of course, Pyg promises to make Toad a wife. Their relationship seems a bit more father and son than villain and sidekick (appropriate, since the original Mr. Toad was apparently inspired by Kenneth Grahame’s own delinquent son).
Maybe that’s actually the case then? Professor Pyg was, after all, named for a character who created a woman from clay. Maybe he created Toad? Okay, he didn’t have a formula for turning people into animal-human hybrids until after messing with Man-Bat’s research, and Toad was an anthropomorphic toad then. Maybe then, Pyg created Toad through some other method he has been unable to duplicate? Something akin to the movie Splice, where he’s formed from splicing toad and human DNA?
There have been other anthropomorphic animal villains in the DC universe; Green Lantern villain Shark was a normal shark that evolved due to radiation. So perhaps something similar happened to Toad? He was a normal toad who became anthropomorphic after his habitat got polluted, Pyg found him and took pity on him and thus gave him asylum and taught him how to speak and drive? And maybe that sonic croak came from the mutation as well? That could work. A similar thing happened in the show with Metamorpho, and it could make Toad sympathetic.
But then again, maybe we shouldn’t be making him sympathetic when this happens in the show:
Nonetheless, Mr. Toad was interesting in his very short comic appearance, and was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise mediocre cartoon. He’s no Joker or Two-Face, but still an amusing little baddy.