Few… scratch that, no other super hero has been blessed with such a seemingly endless supply of such colorful and captivating villains against which to match whits as The Batman! You can walk up to the Average Joe on the street and surely they can rattle off a list of at least five of them! You can’t do that with Superman or Spider-Man. Batman’s enemies, thanks to various media adaptations over several generations, have transcended the comic book “ghetto” and embedded their place in pop culture along with their famous foil.
Everyone has their favorites, and as with most of the types of articles I’m sure to hear about how everyone’s opinion is different than mine, but these ten, I believe are the most worthy to be singled out. So take a look and you can let me know what you think afterwards.
10. The Penguin
Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot III is arguably Batman’s second most recognizable foe, thanks largely to live action turns by Burgess Meredeth and Danny DeVito. However, let’s face it, he’s kind of just a fat guy with an umbrella fetish. He’s been reinterpreted a few ways– the DeVito (by way of Tim Burton) version was a mutant– but largely, he’s just… a crook. He’s perfectly sane, versus the bulk of Batman’s Rogues, who all battle their own mental demons. I like his present role as a crime boss. It’s the only way to really make the character work and seem like a viable threat. He’s an icon, but in this day and age, he’s been pretty overshadowed by some of Batman’s more mentally disturbed foes.
9. Black Mask
Black Mask has been responsible for some of the most disturbing scenes in the Bat World in recent years. First of all, his mask is carved from his mother’s coffin. He also looooves torture! He murdered Batman’s underworld operative Orpheus and tortured Robin (Stephanie Brown) for information on Batman’s plans. Then, once he had his information, went to torture her some more, just for fun, only to find she’d escaped. After another battle, she fled only to seemingly die from the injuries she’d sustained. (It was later revealed that her death was faked.)
After learning Catwoman’s secret identity, he kidnapped her sister, Maggie and her husband, Simon. He tortured the brother-in-law in front of his wife until he died, then he force fed her his eyeball, driving her insane. Catwoman kills him (twice!), but during ‘Blackest Night’, he is reanimated as a Black Lantern and attempts to go after Maggie, in a mental hospital, in order to torture her some more! Bastard!
Jonathan Crane had a terrible childhood, born out of wedlock and raised by his fanatically religious grandmother who tortured him relentlessly, going so far as to lock him in an abandoned church filled with crows. This, however awakened his fascination with fear. He was constantly ridiculed in school because of his lanky frame which led to him causing the death of a girl who’d taunted him and paralyzing her boyfriend, who had also been in on the prank. He then murdered his grandmother, although I can’t blame him there.
In college, he studied psychology and chemistry and invented his signature toxin, which caused those exposed to it to experience their greatest fear. He used it on his mentor, Professor Bramowitz, whose reaction was so intense he died as a result. After a brief stint as a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, Crane became The Scarecrow full time and devoted his life to crime and most importantly, fear! It’s no wonder he was recruited to serve as a Yellow Lantern, the galactic avatars of fear!
7. Mister Freeze
Another villain with a tragic past, Victor Fries was an outcast who’d never known love or compassion until he met his beloved Nora. The pair married and Fries went to work at a drug company called GothCorp, run by Ferris Boyle. After Nora became stricken with a deadly illness, Fries used GothCorp equipment to place her in cryogenic suspended animation. When Boyle found out, he had his men disconnect the equipment. Victor fought with them, and was engulfed in freezing chemicals and believed dead. In reality, his body was transformed, so that it could no longer survive in temperatures above freezing. He managed to keep Nora frozen, then built a refrigerated suit to keep himself alive and an ice gun to embark upon a career in crime as Mister Freeze! In truth, he only did it to raise the money needed to save Nora, but crime is crime and his actions drew the attention of Batman, who foiled his attempt to kill Ferris Boyle. During the scuffle, Freeze’s own action resulted in Nora’s death! Even so, he blamed Batman and swore revenge.
He’s also pretty much the only villain on this list that comes close to having anything resembling super powers.
6. The Riddler & Hush (tie)
The Riddler is one of Batman’s most recognized enemies, possibly due to Frank Gorshin’s manic portrayal of the character on the 60s ‘Batman’ TV series and other subsequent adaptations. But he hasn’t necessarily been the most compelling villain in the comics. (Many writers disliked having to come up with riddles he uses to confound Batman.) Things changed in the popular ‘Hush’ storyline, which also introduced Hush, a.k.a. Thomas Elliot, a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, who was his exact emotional opposite. Elliot hated his parents and attempted to kill them by tampering with their brakes, so he could inherit their money and live in luxury. Unfortunately, he only half succeeded, killing only his father. His mother’s life was saved by Thomas Wayne, leading to Elliot’s lifelong grudge against the Waynes, especially after Bruce adopted his foppish playboy persona to obscure his role as Batman.
The Riddler and Hush become allies after The Riddler immerses himself in a Lazarus Pit and in a fit of sanity, deduces that Bruce Wayne is secretly Batman. The pair hatch an elaborate scheme which involves employing the majority of Batman’s foes as well as turning a few of his allies like Superman and The Huntress against him. Clayface impersonates Jason Todd, the deceased second Robin, to capture current Robin, Tim Drake. To throw readers off-track, Thomas Elliot is seemingly killed toward the beginning of the Hush storyline, only to be revealed at the end, before being shot by Harvey Dent and toppling off a bridge.
He returns several times after that, savagely beating his former ally The Riddler, driving The Joker out of town, temporarily killing Poison Ivy, framing Alfred for murder and cutting out Catwoman’s heart! (She is cryogenically frozen by Mr. Freeze and left at Gotham General Hospital.) He is seemingly killed repeatedly only to return time after time.
Both villains will surely return to baffle Batman and his fellow DC heroes in the future!
Raised from childhood in a prison, Bane worked out relentlessly and read every book he could lay his hands on. He carried a teddy bear around with him, which secretly concealed a knife, which he used to commit his first murder at the age of eight! From childhood, he experienced nightmares of a bat creature. Upon reaching adulthood, he is selected to test a new drug called Venom, which had killed all previous test subjects. Venom vastly increases his strength, but Bane found that he needed to pump it directly into his brain every 12 hours. He escapes the prison and heads to Gotham City, with his eye set on Batman, whom he believes is connected to the bat in his nightmares. He blows up the walls to Arkham Asylum, freeing the majority of Batman’s foes. It takes three months for Batman to round them all up, but by then he is exhausted. It is then that Bane strikes, ambushing him in the Batcave and breaking his spine!
Bane eventually overcame his Venom addiction and basically reforms. Unfortunately, most likely due to editorial oversight, his status as either villain or reformed-villain has fluctuated from appearance to appearance.
Even so, he “broke the bat” and achieved media coverage outside of the comic realm and has been adapted to the big screen twice, in 1997’s ‘Batman & Robin’ and again this year, portrayed by Tom Hardy, in ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘.
Young whipper snappers may not recall this, but once upon a time Catwoman was an out-and-out villain; one of Batman’s most persistent and ruthless, in fact! She debuted in 1940’s ‘Batman’ #1. Going by the name The Cat, she was a ruthless femme fatale, with an affinity for high stakes theft! Immediately, there is chemistry between herself and Batman, with Robin accusing Batman of willingly letting The Cat escape after her crime is thwarted. She returned to challenge the Dynamic Duo in both ‘Batman’ #2 and #3. In 1951, she reformed but over the years, she would ping pong constantly between a life of crime and honesty.
Her origin would also fluctuate. At one point, she was revealed to be a flight attendant who suffered from amnesia. In other tales, she was a wealthy but bored socialite who became a thief for excitement. In ‘Batman: Year One’ she was a hardened prostitute. In the movie ‘Batman Returns,’ she was an abused secretary. Not quite nine lives, but close!
For more than a decade now, she’s been cast more as an antihero than a villain. Batman freely allows her to commit her robberies, knowing that she typically targets other criminals and quite often anonymously donates her spoils to charity. She has frequently fought by his side against Gotham’s nastier criminals and even saved the Justice League from the villain Prometheus.
But ask anyone on the street to name one female super villain and you’re going to get one answer: “Catwoman!”
Two-Face is one of Batman’s more personal foes. He was once Harvey Dent, crusading district attorney of Gotham City and one of Bruce Wayne’s best friends, until crime boss Sal Maroni threw acid on the left side of his face. Two-Face became unhinged and obsessed with the number two and duality. He based his decisions on the flip of a two-headed coin, with one side scratched with an X. If the damaged side landed heads up, he would commit evil. If the undamaged side landed heads up, he would commit good.
At one point, Two-Face killed one of his henchmen, Willis Todd, who turned out to be the father of the second Robin, Jason Todd.
Early in his career, he actually had his face, and therefore his sanity, restored. Other characters stepped up as new versions of Two-Face. This device was recently utilized once more in modern continuity with Dent actually becoming a vigilante protector of Gotham, to atone for his years as a villain. But eventually, the Two-Face persona returns as a separate personality. He scarred his own restored face with acid and returned to the role of Two-Face permanently. He continues to plague Batman and his allies consistently.
2. Ra’s al Ghul
No other villain in Batman’s Rogues Gallery is as cunning and intelligent as Ra’s al Ghul, whose name means “demon’s head” in Arabic. He is an Eco-terrorist who wants to restore the world to a state of perfect environmental balance. That means wiping out most of humanity. He usually employs biological weapons, like engineered viruses in his plots. He actually greatly respects Batman, whom he affectionately calls “Detective” and selects him to serve as his daughter, Talia’s mate, and therefore his heir. (The pair did, in fact, sire a son, Damien, the current Robin.)
In one particularly note-worthy story, ‘Tower of Babel,’ Ra’s hacked Batman’s contingency plans to take down the various members of the Justice League, resulting in the Dark Knight being ousted from the team.
Ra’s al Ghul is repeatedly killed in his quests, typically falling victim to whatever horror he intended to unleash upon humanity, but is each time resurrected using his Lazarus Pits, underground springs that can heal one even from the great beyond. As such, his exact age is unknown, with it being listed as anywhere from 400 to 700 years. (The Pits have been used to cure The Riddler’s cancer and to restore Black Canary’s Canary Cry, which she’d lost after being injured by a criminal years earlier.) When you can’t die, you can prove to be a pretty persistent foe!
1. The Joker
Though Ra’s al Ghul may be more of an equal match for Batman in terms of intelligence and physical ability, no other villain has plagued him more relentlessly and ruthlessly than The Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime’s true name is unknown (it may be Jack Napier) and he has had several origins over the years, but the one most likely is that he was a failed standup comic, who agrees to commit a robbery at the Acme Chemical Plant, disguised as The Red Hood. The robbery is foiled by Batman and The Red Hood topples into a vat of chemicals. He is washed out a drainage pipe and winds up in a ditch, where he realizes that his skin is now chalk white, his hair is green and his red lips are permanently pulled back in a rictus. He returns home to find his pregnant wife dead from an accidental electrocution! The two events drive him hopelessly insane and he goes on to become Batman’s greatest foe.
Over the years, his persona has wildly varied, from brutal and sadistic, to whimsical and comedic. He is responsible for paralyzing Barbara Gordon and killing both Jason Todd and Sarah Gordon, wife of Commissioner Jim Gordon. He drives psychiatrist Harleen Quinzell insane, making her his devoted moll Harley Quinn. He also tapped the powers of Mr. Mxyzptlk to create Bizarro.
And that’s just scratching the surface! The Joker is arguably comics’ most recognizable and popular super villain. He has appeared in nearly every media adaptation of Batman. In 2009, Heath Ledger won a posthumous Academy Award for his portrayal in ‘The Dark Knight,’ although other actors have also received acclaim for their portrayals including (but certainly not limited to) Caesar Romero in the 1960s ‘Batman’ tv show, Jack Nicholson in 1989’s ‘Batman’ movie and Mark Hamill on ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ and ‘Justice League.’ In comics, Joker isn’t relegated to battling just Batman, having taken on nearly every hero in the company’s roster, including the Justice League! He’s even headlined his own books in the past.
Everyone knows The Joker! He has to be the hands-down most famous villain there is. And Batman gets him all to himself! Lucky guy!
And there you have it! Did I include your favorite Batfoe? Please comment below!