Jeremy explores many topics as he juggles his passion for writing with his career as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
Batman Villains Throughout History
Batman has fascinated fans ever since his 1939 comic debut. Since then, the masked vigilante has become the star of DC, as he manages to be a leading member of the Justice League despite not actually having superpowers. Once referred to by Superman as "the most dangerous man alive," Batman combats crime with his Olympian physique, unparalleled intellect, and a heap of gadgets obtained through his Bruce Wayne alter-ego's wealth.
But as much as we enjoy seeing Batman physically battle his foes, we all enjoy the back-and-forth philosophical clashes against his mightiest enemies. Batman villains are often sympathetic characters whose tragic backstories make them as relatable as the Caped Crusader himself. For almost a decade, we've seen the best and worst criminals of Gotham; which evildoers intrigue us the most? With a hint of author bias, these are the ten best Batman villains! Various spoilers, including the Red Hood's identity, ahead.
Real name: Selina Kyle
From a lead in Batman Returns to her own Halle Berry film to her side role in The Dark Knight Rises, Catwoman has long been a prominent figure in both Batman comics and film. Often portrayed as a thief, Catwoman's cat-burgling often crosses paths with Batman's law enforcement, but the two share a long history of romance. Compared to the rest of Gotham's villain's tendency for violence, Catwoman's pilfering isn't the real threat, and she'll sometimes go out of her way to help someone being assaulted.
Her fluctuating hero-villain status, long history with Bruce (the two have even been engaged in the comics), and seductive powers make Catwoman a Batman staple and the usual choice for who Batman romances. Quick quiz: does Selina have superpowers? Nope! Just like Batman, Catwoman's almost-supernatural abilities stem from her agility and array of weapons.
9. The Riddler
Real name: Edward E. Nigma
Batman's as renowned for his detective skills as for his brawling, and few villains can test his mental capacities like the Riddler. Edward Nigma doesn't have as powerful an origin story as most other Batman rogues, but he's simply a fun villain who provides engaging puzzles for Batman (and us) to ponder.
The Riddler always leaves clues at the scenes of his crimes, and despite this self-destructing quirk (way to leave buckets of evidence, Riddler), Nigma is arguably Batman's smartest rival, capable of identifying Bruce's identity through sheer logic and deduction. An entertaining foe who typically skirts the lighter side of Batman's villains (but can be quite brutal at times), Riddler always puts on a good show.
Real name: Harvey Dent
Simple concept, fun execution. Harvey "Two-Face" Dent believes the only fair decision-maker is pure, unaltered chance. Thus, his cruel actions are influenced by nothing more than a coin-flip. He's as likely to spare your life as to blow your brains out with the toss of a dime, and when that coin flips, we're all on the edge of our seats waiting to see which side comes up.
More than that, Harvey used to be an honest, well-intentioned district attorney. Depending on which continuity you're following, various actions scar half his body and set him on a path of crime—a haunting reminder to Batman that the horrors of Gotham can turn a good man into a monster.
7. Mr. Freeze
Real name: Victor Fries
Although other antagonists have received the spotlight in recent years, Mr. Freeze remains the classic tragic Batman villain. After a lab accident introduced the need for his signature suit and placed his wife into a cryogenic frozen-state, Mr. Freeze turned to villainy. Mr. Freeze's obsession with raising funds is surprisingly relatable—he really just wants to cure his wife.
Mr. Freeze offers more than simple muscles like Bane or Killer Croc, he's a man with wrong actions but good intentions, an interesting dynamic that occasionally has us rooting for the not-always-cold-hearted villain.
6. Talia al Ghul
Real name: Still Talia al Ghul
The daughter of criminal mastermind Ra's al Ghul (in himself a worthy villain), Talia al Ghul continuously proves an unpredictable villain bearing a complicated history with Batman. Like him, she wields no actual superpowers (although her family controls the infamous Lazarus Pits, which can grant eternal youth), but she's a skilled physical combatant trained by the League of Assassins.
More than that, Talia and Bruce have a complex attraction to each other. Think Catwoman, but instead of anti-hero, Talia remains a villain at heart, willfully drugging Bruce to steal his DNA and bear a child against his will. Villains often try to strike at Batman's friends to psychologically injure him; Talia went so far as to create Batman's son (Damian Wayne) and train him to hate his father. Talia also plays an interesting role in the fifth season of Arrow, a fellow DC show that heavily borrows from Batman's lore.
5. Deathstroke (Slade)
Real name: Slade Wilson
A villain famous enough to land leading roles in spin-off DC series like Teen Titans and Arrow, Deathstroke has long remained one of Batman's most dangerous foes. He's a mercenary at heart, meaning he usually follows the money, occasionally even bringing him to Batman's side. However, Deathstroke errs towards the side of revenge and villainy, and with his blend of both brain and brawn, he rivals Batman in both mind and muscle.
Deathstroke's physical abilities are enhanced due to a serum he ingested (similar to Marvel's Captain America), and he's simply an expert warrior regardless. Proficient in hand-to-hand combat, swordplay, and gunslinging, Deathstroke bears Batman's skill alongside a willingness to kill. Slade's defeated Batman before, and with his impressive powers and tactics, many fans believe he'd win a straight-up brawl again.
4. Harley Quinn
Real name: Harleen Quinzel
Despite having been introduced relatively recently, in the popular Batman: The Animated Series cartoon, Harly has since become a DC staple. The partner/minion/love interest of the Joker, Harley supplements his schemes while further demonstrating his cruelty, as his constant abuse towards her offers a rarely-seen glimpse of an ongoing unhealthy relationship.
Harley's probably the most down-to-earth Batman villainess yet; she doesn't have the plant or cat affinities of Poison Ivy and Catwoman; she's just an unhinged girl who wants to have fun. But despite her chaotic nature, Harley's also surprisingly intelligent (having earned a psychology Ph.D.) and rivals the Bat-family in hand-to-hand combat, having even defeated Nightwing in a street fight. Surprisingly capable both physically and mentally, Harley showcases both the fun and trauma to be had from a pleasure-seeking lifestyle.
Real name: Thomas Wayne Jr.
With shifting origins and powers (sometimes he has superhuman abilities, other times not), Owlman is sometimes depicted as Bruce's brother. But regardless of which exact Owlman you're experiencing, he represents an "evil Batman" who fights using a genius-level intellect and suit filled to the brim with deadly gadgets.
Owlman served as the main antagonist of a highly-recommended animated film, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, where his sinister and calculating plans almost wiped out the entire universe. Where Batman believes in right and wrong, Owlman believes in choice, and when he learns about the existence of the multiverse, Owlman feels that nothing matters anymore. After all, with every decision made, there will simply exist an alternative world where the other choice was enacted. Owlman's cold, fearless presence and nihilistic perspective make him one of the most intimidating and thought-provoking Batman antagonists yet.
2. Red Hood
Real name: Jason Todd
Many of the best Batman villains find ways to attack Bruce's personal life, but the villainous Red Hood is Bruce's personal life. For the uninitiated, Batman has trained several Robins. His first Boy Wonder, Dick Grayson, eventually grew up and went solo as Nightwing, leading Batman to take Jason Todd under his wing. Todd was a more violent youth than Grayson, but Batman kept him in check and raised him as his partner. Tragically, the Joker eventually kidnapped, tortured, and killed Todd, a pivotal moment in comic history, especially since the fans voted for the lethal outcome!
Todd's death greatly disturbed Batman, but unbeknownst to the Dark Knight, Ra's al Ghul secretly stole Jason's body and resurrected him with the Lazarus Pit. Alive and more unstable than ever, Jason harbored the belief that Batman's ethical code against killing let lunatics like the Joker run free, and that crime couldn't be prevented, just controlled. Thus, he became an anti-hero crime lord in the hopes of minimizing the damage to Gotham. Jason forgives Bruce for not saving him (realizing Bruce tried his best), but doesn't understand why he lets a maniac like the Joker live. Intelligent, powerful, Jason offers perhaps the best sympathetic villain yet—after all, he might be right, maybe things really would be better off if Batman killed Joker (a concept the infamous The Killing Joke storyline ponders).
1. The Joker
Real name: Unknown
Some think he's completely insane. Others think he's the only one who really understands life. As Batman skews the line between heroism and insanity, the Joker represents the worst traits of Batman. Both feel separated from the public at large, are chased after by women, and demonstrate incredible intellect—but Joker uses his brains for twisted and sometimes pointless evil. With his unpredictable yet brilliant schemes, Batman never seems to really beat the Joker—just temporarily quell him. It's said that other Gotham criminals tell Joker stories to scare each other, because they all know that when it comes to malicious mayhem, no one exceeds the Clown Prince of Crime.
Don't believe me? Here's a rundown on the Joker's five most evil acts, including literally throwing babies to distract and murder people, raping his own henchman's wife, and skinning a minion who displeased him. Not to mention his constant mistreatment cycle towards Harley, who unfortunately continuously falls for the "kind" phase of Joker's abuse.
Future of Batman
Although DC's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League films were met with mixed reactions, fans remain hopeful for the next Caped Crusader movie. We'll undoubtedly see more of the Dark Knight on the silver screen, but in the meantime, you can satisfy your Bat-cravings with lesser-known (but still worthy) animated films like Batman: Under the Red Hood and Son of Batman.
Hopefully, upcoming titles will share the spotlight among some of today's underrated villains, but for now, give them credit by voting for your favorite, and I'll see you at our next DC countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill