I often like to tackle issues that deal with the psychological aspects of society and human emotion as well as movies and book characters.
In Batman's extensive rogues gallery, it's easy to pay so much attention to the more outlandish villains he has to offer. Every villain within the Batman universe has a certain amount of realism to him or her, which complements Batman's character nicely, but there are also several villains that are so realistic, it can almost be disturbing just how much they mirror real-life monsters in our own society. The following are my thoughts on who are the most realistic villains in Batman lore.
Now, please keep in mind, that some of these characters may embark on outlandish plans and situations that seem very fantastical and not all that realistic. The primary focus of this article will be the psychological aspects of the character and the motives that drive them to commit their crimes that are also very indicative of what drive real-life criminals and monsters.
Most Realistic Batman Villains
- Victor Zsasz
- The Riddler
- Hugo Strange
1. Victor Zsasz
Victor Zsasz gets my pick for the most realistic villain in all of Batman's extensive comics and novels because he is simply a serial killer who targets everyone. A true sociopath, he has no motive aside from his lust for blood and to rack up his body count each and every day. He sees people in society as mindless zombies who are infected with life and need to be cured of it by being slaughtered. To this end, Zsasz believes he is actually helping people escape from the relentless misery of life when he kills them.
The most disturbing aspect of this character is that his motive is his own self-inflicted scars that he uses as tally marks for his victims; every time he kills, he puts a mark on his own body as a testament to his work. He is such a disturbing and realistic villain because he aims only to kill and has no true targets aside from people in general, making everyone in society a potential victim. Some of the worst serial killers and mass murderers in our society have stayed out of prison for such extended periods of time because they simply killed random people who had no association to them whatsoever, making them difficult to track.
Several other serial killers in our world have also been known to concoct truly outlandish justifications for their actions just as Victor Zsasz has. All this contributes to Zsasz's realism and makes him all the more disturbing. We have had serial killers plague our society for no real motive other than their lust for blood, had no specific targets, and made disturbing justifications for their actions. Zsasz is a real life monster and his very appearance harkens not that of a super villain with powers, but a deeply disturbed man with hundreds of self-inflicted scars, one for each of his victims.
2. The Riddler
The Riddler, also known as Edward Nigma is also a very realistic villain in the sense that he embodies many of the traits that plague actual criminals in real life. Nigma is characterized by his love and need for attention and feeding his massive ego through leaving self-incriminating clues. He commits various crimes but is almost incapable of not leaving some form of evidence that points towards his involvement. Why though? It's because the Riddler wants everyone, especially the police and Batman, to know that he committed the crime and take all the glory.
In Nigma's mind, where's the point of committing incredibly clever, complex, and elaborate crimes if I can't take any credit for it? He must make it known that it was him that made such an ingenious plan, crime, riddle, or trap and it is him that should be glorified and not any other suspect that the police might have on their list. While this will more often than not result in Riddler getting arrested, he will be happy as long as he gets the attention and glorification he deserves.
Basically, Riddler is a psychopathic narcissist who would risk getting caught by the police if it means that everyone knows of his genius. Many criminals in our world also embody these same characteristics such as Ted Bundy and the Zodiac. They both committed a series of homicides and enjoyed in playing games with the authorities; thumbing their nose in the fact that they were able to get away with so much. The Riddler is more or less the same and, while he theatrics and crimes are a little out there, his very methods of playing games with the police and his own psychological demons of being a narcissist all contribute to the realism that the character holds.
Thomas Elliot, Hush, is another great Batman villain for his realism, but he is also overlooked many times as well. The story of Hush is one that is battered with negative feelings of hatred, anger, and extreme jealousy towards Bruce Wayne, his former friend in childhood. Elliot basically hates Bruce Wayne because he believes he is living a life so much better than his own, even though they are both born from extremely wealthy parents. However, where they differed is in the nature of their parents; Bruce had two loving parents while Elliot grew up with a sadistic, abusive, and alcoholic father and an emotionally distant mother who refused to protect her son from his father because she enjoyed the luxuries she reaped from living with her rich spouse.
The story ends up with Elliot attempting to murder his parents by snapping the cable breaks to their car, which kills the father, but the mother survived due to the surgical skills of Thomas Wayne, Bruce's father. Ever since then, Elliott saw Bruce and his family as selfish people who lived the life that he believed should've been his and robbed him of his chance to finally be rid of his parents and enjoy in their fortune for himself. Years later, his mother would finally perish, but at that point, Elliot was already consumed by his incredible anger and hatred towards Bruce Wayne and becomes obsessed with destroying his life.
Elliot is a villain who is motivated by anger, hatred, and jealousy towards an individual he believes has everything he should've had in his life. He takes all his life's problems and faults and places them on another person and seeks to destroy that person as a way of dealing with his own problems and to ultimately get what he wants, independent of what it would cost others. He is a self-loathing bully, bitter with insecurities and anger, and puts them all on Bruce Wayne because he had the life Elliot dreamed of having while living with his abusive and distant parents.
Many criminals in real life are characterized by these same feelings and begin to commit crimes and even resort to murder because they have disoriented feelings towards individuals. People have murdered their spouses or partners simply because they believe they were cheating on them or their friends because they were jealous of the lives they led. The negative feelings and emotions that consume Elliot are all too real in our own society that it causes many people to become consumed by them as well and become criminals and killers.
Arnold Wesker, the ventriloquist, is an especially interesting villain because many do not actually see him as one, but a victim of his dummy, Scarface. In an ironic twist, it seems that Scarface is the actual brains behind Wesker's crimes while Wesker himself is the metaphoric dummy taking orders from the literal dummy. Wesker is a criminal who, like villains such as Two-Face, suffers from a multiple personality disorder. However, unlike other villains, Wesker embodies this disorder in his dummy Scarface and acts as if the dummy has taken on a life of its own. The truly disturbing factor in all these aspects lies within the vision of Scarface actually talking. Wesker does such an amazing job of being a ventriloquist that Scarface does appear to actually be talking while Arnold does not seem to be even moving his mouth.
So, basically, Wesker is simply a regular man who suffers from a realistic disorder and uses a dummy to personify it. He himself truly believes that Scarface is alive as his multiple personalities make it impossible for him to distinguish what is truly happening. The realism in Wesker of course stems from the fact that he suffered from a multiple personality disorder as some criminals have, but unlike villains such as Two-Face, uses another item to personify it in.
In some ways, this is very indicative of Son of Sam, a serial killer who murdered several women and blamed it on a dog, informing police that the dog told him to do it. Wesker himself blames another force and dilutes himself into truly believing that Scarface is telling him what to do and is the brains behind his crimes. Overall, he is a highly realistic villain with a real life symptom and embodies it in a fashion that other criminals in our own society have as well.
5. Hugo Strange
The last villain on my list is a sadistic man in a position of power, Hugo Strange. Strange is often renowned in Batman's rouges gallery as one of the first to actually deduce the hero's identity. This deduction is owed partially to Strange's own obsession with the hero and his longing to replace him as Gotham's protector. He sees the legend that the hero has accumulated over the years and lusts to have such a calling behind his name for his own purposes. To this end, he will often exploit his position and resources as a professor and conduct inhuman experiments dealing with genetics and other sciences to destroy Batman and replace him.
Here is a villain that is motivated by a figure of press and authority, Batman, and obsesses with becoming somebody indicative of that to gain prestige and fame. Many criminals in our society are motivated by a lust to become somebody important and focus on an external figure as a motivation; they wish to become somebody famous and will look upon somebody as such and wish to inherit the fame they have. Along with this, many criminals are also in positions of power and will abuse such power in their attempts to further their own agenda and gain something for themselves.
Stange is someone who has no powers beyond his incredible intelligence and natural talent at manipulation and experimentation. He is someone who wants more out of his life and looks upon somebody famous as a focus to become and lets it consume his life to the point that it turns him into a criminal. He will abuse the power and authority he has already been given to obtain more and more, but will eventually just lose it all as a direct result of his obsession. Many criminals have a lot to begin with, but will eventually lose it all after abusing their luxuries to obtain more to simply gratify themselves.
That is my list for what I believe are five of the most realistic Batman villains in their motifs and their psychological factors. Most Batman villains have a certain degree of realism in their characters, which adds to their disturbing psyches, but I believe these five are the most realistic of them all. Of course, this is just my opinion and many will undoubtedly have their own takes, so please don't hesitate to leave a comment and let me know. I hope you enjoyed the article regardless though. Take care everyone.
Cole Ellis on March 24, 2020:
ok if ima be honest joker and two face could happen cause someone as insane as joker and a man gets burned and belames it on someone so goes mad could be very realistic. Just my opinion
JellyBean on June 04, 2019:
I only knew one person on this list. Sry, I'm a Marvel fan. LoL
Geekdom on November 06, 2012:
Great list. Although not a popular villain (ok he is kind of ridiculous) Calendar Man has a very real feel to him.
Dominique L from Oregon on July 16, 2012:
Well done Hub. I do think Ventriloquist is a hard sell and would have gone with Two-Face in that position, as I think his form of multiple personality disorder is more common (though not as interesting, I agree).
But I would like to point out Roman Sionis. I think he's probably right up there with Zsasz (whom I totally agree is the most realistic), because, like Zsasz, Black Mask exists now in a couple places in the world, in the form of every dictator who slaughters his people to shore up his own power and to flatter his own vanity. Though that may work only in my head.
Thefilmguy24 on July 16, 2012:
I can see a "Hush" movie version in the Batman universe, but I don't think a live action would do it justice. I think that an animated film would suit it better like "Under The Red Hood" did with the death of Tony Todd. I never knew much about Hush, but he is a complex and damaged character which I also believe that he is not really a criminal in a sense. He may commit crimes to get even with Wayne, but he does so because of his damaged psyche, he's just a bitter and jealous man. I agree with you that comics are now embracing more of a realistic tone to the stories and I'm fine with that. Great article though. Very interesting how you compared them to some of our own infamous criminals. Keep up the great writing.
thejokethatkills (author) on July 16, 2012:
Thanks a lot. I think that some of these are becoming more popular in time as many comics are now embracing the idea of realism a little bit more.
Sunny_S from United Kingdom on July 16, 2012:
Amazing Hub. Most people dismiss Hush as a villain, I think a movie should be made out of them two. The game Arkham City had Dr. Strange in it but it would've been better to have all the villains, I mean all of them haha