In honor of the Dark Knight’s 80th Anniversary, we’re taking a look at the best villains in Batman’s extensive rogues gallery.
A hero is defined by his villains and the challenges he faces. Batman is one of the few heroes where everyone can name off a list of their favorite villains. Iron Man and Captain America may be in the spotlight right now, but few people could name more than three of their comic book villains. Batman, however, has become so ingrained in our culture that everyone knows his rogues gallery. People will even argue over who plays some of the characters better. We’ve compiled a list of his top 10 villains as well as some honorable mentions in honor of the Caped Crusader’s 80th Anniversary. Check them out below.
Darkseid – The only villain to ever kill Batman, though much more of a Superman/Justice League villain.
Killer Croc – When given the right backstory, Croc, aka Waylon Jones, is a truly tragic figure, which makes him one of the best.
Mr. Freeze – The animated series helped redefine this character, and in doing so, made him one of Batman’s most tragic enemies–but also one of his most dangerous.
Clayface – A villain who can change their form to anyone or anything is always interesting.
Edward Nigma is always entertaining as his crimes always include a puzzle which tests Batman’s intellect. There are few villains who constantly appeal to the detective nature of the Dark Knight, and having an established villain that is literally centered around that idea is integral to maintaining this element of the character. The Riddler is also intriguing because he’s one of the villains who is a clear example of someone tortured by the darkness inside them. He’s proven plenty of times that he could commit the perfect crime and get away scot free. But his compulsion, based on either a history of abuse or a deep sadomasochism disorder, is not only his constant downfall, but what makes him so interesting.
Penguin was often little more than a joke until more recent years when his backstory was updated to show a more fleshed out character. Oswald Cobblepot’s family was once as rich as the Wayne family but fell apart due to shady business dealings and greed. Oswald has long yearned for wealth and power and in recent years (and various adaptations of the character), has found fortune in running a club called the Iceberg Lounge. The Lounge is a front for his backdoor illegal business dealings and mob activity, and at times, Penguin has found a way to survive in Gotham by feeding Batman and the GCPD information to take down his own enemies. He may not always look or sound like a worthy opponent to most, but he’s as conniving and dangerous as any brute villain or disfigured foe.
- Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy has usually been looked at as just a sex symbol–a “femme fatale” who is a warning to men of the dangers of women. In more recent years, that idea has been embraced in a way to show that women are just as powerful as men. Her story isn’t a cautionary tale but a warning that if you cross a woman, she can destroy you just as easily as any man. Add to that the fact that she has helped empower her fellow female characters, even if it’s for evil means, and she makes a formidable adversary for the Caped Crusader.
Two-Face/Harvey Dent is always intriguing due to his tragic nature. Once a pillar of the community and a chance at hope for a dark city, he’s now just as bad as those he once put away in jail. In more recent years, the character’s backstory has been developed to show that Harvey always dealt with mental illness and a darkness within him, and in doing so, it’s made him an even stronger character. The idea of a man’s struggle with these two sides of himself being played out for all the world to see is something we can all relate to because it’s a struggle we’ve all faced before. But for Harvey, those two sides are ever present in his bodily features, and he can’t hide from them no matter how hard he tries.
- Hugo Strange
Hugo Strange doesn’t have any powers. He doesn’t go out in some costume and rob banks. He doesn’t even usually plan on world domination. What makes Hugo Strange a great villain is that he’s just a purely evil man who uses his power to harm others. He’s a doctor who doesn’t care about what happens to his patients and is willing to torture and mutilate people to get what he wants. He wants power and control by any means necessary. He’s real and frightening, and the worst part is that he usually knows Batman’s true identity.
It’s almost hard to include Catwoman on this list because she’s often played as an anti-hero and more recently has been confirmed as Bruce’s one true love. But her evil streak is what makes her even more interesting and the relationship with Bruce/Batman more complex. Catwoman knows what she’s doing is usually wrong, but she usually does it for the greater good: giving money she receives from stolen items to charities, saving animals from places and people who seek to harm them, or protecting women from evil men. There’s a lot of good in what she does, but there are lines that she crosses that Batman can’t. That’s what makes her intriguing and what makes the dance of lover and enemy with Batman a cat-and-mouse game we love coming back to again and again.
The films have not been good to Bane. Used as a thug with super strength in Batman and Robin and a pawn in a larger revenge plot in Dark Knight Rises, the true backstory for Bane is intriguing and compelling. Sentenced to a life in prison as a child due to the crimes of his father, Eduardo Dorrance spent his entire childhood and early adult life reading and working out. He was able to receive a classical education from fellow inmates (including a Jesuit priest) and became the smartest and toughest man in the prison. He is eventually nicknamed Bane by other inmates.
Bane would later be used in experiments and drug trials by the men who ran the prison and became a test subject for the drug Venom. The drug gave Bane increased physical strength, but his body began to depend on it to survive. Bane escapes prison and heads to Gotham to take on the Batman who he believes is a personification of the demonic bat creature that haunted his dreams as a child. Bane enacted a plan to wear Batman down by releasing all of enemies from prisons and Arkham before facing him one-on-one and breaking Batman’s back. Bane has always been one of the best enemies because he’s not just brute strength, he’s an intelligent and conniving villain who knows what buttons to push to get what he wants. Hopefully one day we can see the true Bane in full force on screen. But for now, Tom Hardy isn’t that bad.
While only introduced in 2003, Hush has easily become one of the best Batman villains of all time. Created by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, the character followed a similar path to Bane’s introduction, using Batman’s Rogues gallery to help weaken and distract him while his true plan came together. Every time he has shown up it has led to a major change in Bruce Wayne’s life, either through death, destruction, or an internal realization. Hush, like so many of Batman’s villains, is who Bruce could have become if given a darker path. All of this makes him increasingly intriguing and makes you yearn for him to appear again.
- Ra’s al Ghul
While only recently becoming a more well-known villain in the wider scope of Batman stories thanks to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Arrow, and the Gotham TV Series, Ra’s al Ghul has been around since 1971. The Demon’s Head is the leader of the League of Assassins and father to one of Bruce Wayne’s major love interests, Talia al Ghul. He has lived for hundreds of years thanks to the help of Lazarus Pits, restorative chemical pools which heal any wounds or sicknesses sustained by human beings. They give those that enter them the chance at immortality and can even revive someone from death.
What makes Ra’s truly great is the fact that he knows who Bruce is. He knows that Bruce is a good man, and while they have differing views on how to save the world, he views him as a worthy adversary. Ra’s is also willing to help Bruce at times because to him, Bruce isn’t just an adversary but a sort of sparring partner. In a way, he yearns for Bruce to change sides and to see the world as he does and in the end, become his heir. He’s intriguing, incredibly dangerous, practically immortal, leads a League of Assassins, and is one of the few villains who can find ways of outsmarting Batman at times.
There’s no denying that Joker is the greatest Batman villain of all time. Some may argue that he’s one of the greatest villains ever created. What truly makes Joker great is that he is the ultimate antithesis of the Dark Knight. He’s a villain that is nothing but anarchy and madness, whereas Batman is the master planner that will always go to any lengths to stop evil. Joker has brought Batman and his entire Batfamily to the lowest of their lows and then pushed them further into darkness. He’s responsible for killing the second Robin, Jason Todd. He shot, paralyzed, and raped Barbara Gordon and then kidnapped Commissioner Gordon, stripped him naked, and made him view pictures of it all. He killed Commissioner Gordon’s second wife, Detective Sarah Essen. He’s tortured nearly every member of the Batfamily.
Joker is a killing force that could only be stopped by Batman, but Batman refuses to kill. While he has left Joker to die, the Clown Prince of Crime always seems to find a way back. In the end, that’s what makes Batman one of the greatest heroes. He refuses to lower himself to Joker’s level and kill him because in doing so, he becomes just as evil as everyone he’s fought against. You have to set rules for yourself, ideals that you are unwilling to ever go against. For Batman, the highest of those is his dedication to never taking a life. It’s what makes him the hero we all love.
Written by Alex Lancaster
(Alex is a life long film fan, and has dedicated his life to watching, making and obsessing over films. His favorite film is Big Fish, and he despises Avatar. He has a 4 year old son. And a bad habit of saying more than he needs to. Follow @alex5348 on Twitter)