Comics thrive on rebooting, updating, and reinterpreting characters, titles, and even whole universes. Adaptations and reinventions are not inherently less creative than the creation of new characters. But for every successful or innovative reinterpretation there are many that use an existing property for seemingly no reason and offer nothing more than another vacuous zombification of popular culture. Such was the fate of Batman franchise character Lonnie Machin/Anarky in his first live-action appearance.
Originally a nuanced philosopher-warrior with an alternate take on social justice to his fellow Gotham vigilantes, the then 12-year-old Machin/Anarky was introduced in Detective Comics 608 and 609 (1989) by writer Alan Grant and artist Norm Breyfogle. Never an especially prominent character, Machin made relatively few appearances in the intervening years before the short-lived Anarky series of 1997 and 1999. Economic, political and philosophical commentaries were worked into the narratives and articulated directly to audiences via the iconic panels of Machin explaining concepts to his dog Yap. Although Machin regularly acted as the antagonist for other title characters, he remained a heroic figure albeit one who operated explicitly outside of the Batman Family. This position set up an interesting dynamic that placed Batman and his followers as their own kind of establishment who essentially reinforced the status quo and censured alternative vigilantisms.
For the 2015 season of CW’s Arrow (2012-ongoing), Machin is reinterpreted as a callous sadomasochist whose revolutionary overtones serve as nothing more than a veneer for violence. Gone are Machin’s relative youth and thematic complexity. This televisual portrayal strongly suggests that the sole inspiration was the use of the Anarky name to rather facilely signify a man obsessed with chaos and disorder – the opposite to the ultra-rationalist reformer of the original comics. Illustrating the fact that film and television portrayals now often feed back into comics, Machin’s reintroduction after DC’s ‘Rebirth’ event, while not as extreme as Arrow, likewise depicts another intellectually diminished version of the character.
Turning Machin/Anarky into an otherwise generic villain or a violent, ineffectual antagonist has two major implications: firstly, it deprives the stories of the ability to readily engage with the range of philosophical issues embodied by the character; and secondly, it has the effect of further marginalizing and maligning anti-establishment politics.