Top 10 Batman Villains (Complete List)
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A good superhero will only remain interesting if they have a strong line-up of villains to face off against month to month. This is one of the many reasons why Spider-Man consistently outsells Captain America, The Hulk and Iron Man. And since Batman is the worlds greatest superhero character it stands to reason that he has the most interesting bad guys as well!
After scouring through the long list of memorable characters, I’ve compiled and ranked the ten most interesting, memorable and strongest bad guys that Batman has ever faced. Since there’s plenty to say about each one, this list will be split over three entries, so stay tuned: same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!
10. Joe Chill
Even though he was featured in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, most people familiar with the Dark Knight’s rogue’s gallery will remain unaware of this figure. Lacking the bright costumes, extravagant gimmicks and off-the-wall personalities that hold his company, Chill has become little more than a footnote in the Batman mythology. Yet he remains one of the most important figures in the comic. Joe Chill is the mugger who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents and set him on the path to become Batman.
Of course, that wasn’t the only time Chill has appeared in the Batman comics. Over the years Batman has had more than one run in with his parent’s murderer and these stories have been focused on the character and his psychology rather detective work and crazy showdowns. In one instance, written in the late 1940s, Batman had been tracking down the leader of a local crime family only to find that Chill had climbed the ranks of organised crime and was now the leader. In the conclusion of the story Batman was faced with the opportunity to exact his revenge, but before his decision was revealed another assailant intervened and prevented the reader from learning if Batman would break his one rule.
Other appearances have happened, often in non-canon stories, but the character has never been confirmed dead. The stage is still set for Batman to confront his darkest demon, the one man who set into motion Bruce Wayne’s path.
Hush in one of the few villains introduced in the past decade that’s made their mark on the franchise and managed to become part of the regular line-up – in part due to Jim Lee’s fantastic artwork on the original story arc.
In the original story, Loebb wrote a twisting, turning story focusing on the mystery behind this new figure (although any reader with two functioning brain cells could work it out quickly in spite of the endless red herrings thrown their way). It began with a number of Batman’s regular enemies acting outside of their usual M.O.’s and a shadowy figure that was acutely aware of each of Batman’s weaknesses. Around this time Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend, Thomas Elliot, re-entered his life.
As children, Wayne and Elliot were each other’s only real friends. Both were from wealthy families and had an interest in strategy games. When a traffic accident puts both of Elliot’s parents in the emergency room, Thomas Wayne only manages to save his mother. Enraged with Bruce, Thomas Elliot disappeared from his life. It is later revealed that Elliot was in a sociopath, and orchestrated the accident in order to claim his inheritance early, and was now responsible for caring for his mother.
Reaching adulthood, Elliot became a ground breaking neurosurgeon but still secretly wanted to destroy Bruce Wayne. Learning he is also Batman, he concocts a scheme worthy of the master strategist. He easily manipulates a group of villains to wear Batman down – Poison Ivy took control of both Catwoman and Superman, whilst Killer Croc, The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Riddler, Solomon Grundy, The Scarecrow, Clayface, Two-Face and Ra’s al Ghul filled out the rest.
The battle took Batman through a gauntlet of his enemies before confronting Thomas Elliot aka Hush, sporting a trench coat, duel pistols and bandages around his face, but like any good villain he escaped to fight again. He has made several appearances since that saw him reteam with The Joker, literally steal Catwoman’s heart and adopt Bruce Waynes’ face, but none of these stories have matched the expectations the first story gave us.
8. Victor Zsasz
Whilst the Joker and The Scarecrow fill the pages of Batman’s more horror inclined stories well, none of the bad-guys he faces are genuinely scary – except for Victor Zsasz. ‘The Butcher’, as he has also been known – doesn’t go for elaborate schemes and riddles or death-rays – he murders people with a knife because it liberates them from a pointless life.
Having both earned and inherited a massive fortune at the age of 25, the affluent Zsasz had his own company and a life of leisure. When his parents died in a boating accident, he fell into a deep depression that led to gambling addiction. Losing all his money to The Penguin, he sought to end his life by jumping off Gotham Bridge. On the way a homeless man attacked him because Victor couldn’t give him money. Disarming the hobo’s knife, Zsasz looked into the mans eyes and saw that his life was empty, leading him to stab the man to death as a ‘gift’.
Driven insane by his losses and the experience with the homeless man, Victor Zsasz came to see all people as ‘zombies’ leading empty lives, whom he would ‘liberate’ from their meaningless existence by stabbing them to death. With each new victim he would then mark himself with a scar to tally the souls he’s ‘set free’.
Being tall, strong and extremely flexible (traits he’s developed during long bouts in isolation in Arkham) he is capable of going toe-to-toe with Batman long enough to escape, but the real threat of Zsasz is that he is totally indiscriminate as to who his victims are. Left to his own devices Victor Zsasz will continue to murder any and all who he happens upon, making him one of the deadliest foes Batman has to contend with.
7. Harley Quinn
Quite unusually, Harley Quinn started out as a character on the Saturday morning cartoon ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ before crossing over into the comics where she’s become one of Batman’s most popular characters.
Originally acting as The Joker’s wacky sidekick, her character was further developed with an engaging backstory. A trained acrobat turned psychologist, she was completing her studies at Arkham Asylum when she encountered The Joker. During patient interviews with him, Dr. Harlan Quinzel was manipulated into assisting with an escape attempt. Renaming herself Harley Quinn, she donned her jester’s outfit and joined his gang, becoming his girlfriend.
Although she was and is fanatically devoted to The Joker (or ‘Puddin’) and seeks to please him any way she can, he is highly manipulative and very often abusive, both verbally and physically. No matter how often he harms her or leaves her behind, she still finds herself drawn back to him and often makes excuses for his behaviour on his behalf. Her frequent team-mate Poison Ivy attempts to help her out of the abusive relationship, but she’s often facing a losing battle.
With her acrobatic skills, giant hammer, pet hyena’s and madcap antics, Harley Quinn has proven herself a decent rival for Batman whether she’s acting solo or on behalf of ‘Mister J.’
6. Ra’s al Ghul
Ra’s al Ghul, which translates to The Demon’s Head, made his first appearance in comics in the early 1970s, making him one of the few good things to come out of this era. Although his intentions were not yet made clear, Batman eventually deduced his villainous ploy. Ra’s aspires to a world kept in perfect harmony, and his method of achieving this is to wipe out large portions of humanity through a variety of means, such as biological warfare. Being capable of resurrection through the use of mysterious Lazarus Pits, this is a goal he’s pursued for many centuries with the aid of his League of Assassins.
All this spells out a rather generic arch-villain, but what separate Ra’s out is the relationship he shares with Batman. Both characters hold each other in high regard. Ra’s al Ghul always refers to Batman as ‘Detective’ as a mark of respect for his abilities, and the hero never goes into conflict with The Demon lightly.
Cementing his importance in the world of Batman, Bruce Wayne also has a complicated relationship with Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, Talia, with whom he has had a son. Damien Wayne, raised as an assassin, has recently taken on the role of Robin in an attempt to rehabilitate him, meaning that the interests of Ra’s al Ghul is never far away.
Harvey Dent has been on the bad guy roster since right back at the beginning, turning up in 1944 and created by Bob Kane himself. Since then he’s gone through very little change, unlike many of the other regular villains. As a result he’s always been a good go-to opponent to fill out the roster when needed. The concept behind him – obsessed with duality – can be worked into many scenarios and his unpredictable nature keeps him interesting.
For his strongest moments as a character you have to wind the clock back a long while. Harvey Dent (originally Harvey Kent until people kept asking if he was related to Superman) was a friend to Bruce Wayne and an ally to Batman, working closely with him to bring down the mob. Doused with acid during a trail, half his face was scarred and his mind damaged, bringing out his split personality. Batman has always shouldered much guilt for not being to prevent this attack on the attorney.
Two-Face has also made a mark in other media. His incarnation in the Animated Series was an early episode that marked the series as something better than the average Saturday morning cartoon as it depicted Dent as a realistic character who was mentally disturbed by his transformation. His re-imagining in ‘The Dark Knight’ was also an effective, more realistic take on the character.
Even a decade after his first appearance Bane still hasn’t made the jump into being a household name. That’s likely to change next year as soon as Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is released, in which awesome actor Tom Hardy will play him. Not helping matters is his poor usage in films thus far: in ‘Batman and Robin’ he was a moronic mute oaf in a rubber muscle suit.
The actual character couldn’t be more different. Arriving in the late 90’s as a major part of the prolonged ‘Knightfall’ story arc, his backstory seemed quite generic. Part of an experiment to create a super-soldier, a serum called ‘Venom’ increased his mass and strength. What separated him out from being a genericthug was his high intelligence.
Orchestrating a mass break-out from Arkham Asylum was the first part of his plan. Releasing all the maniacs Batman had put away forced the Dark Knight through a gauntlet of his enemies. Bane pulled the strings from afar, working Batman into one battle after another until the hero was physically and psychologically exhausted. Then, having deduced Batman’s true identity and his weaknesses Bane struck in a place Batman never expected: Wayne Manor. Beating him down, Bane finished the fight by snapping Batman’s spine over his knee, putting him out of commission for years.
Batman views the world in a black and white way – he and his team are good, The Joker, The Penguin and the rest are bad. Catwoman has become the exception to this viewpoint, walking the line between hero and villain.
Before becoming ‘Catwoman’, the character was simply Selina Kyle, a femme fatale who was revealed to be the cat-burglar who’d been dubbed ‘The Cat’. Shortly after she obtained her more familiar title and costume and became a regular feature and remained a popular character for the early decades of the series. Although she disappeared from the page for most of the 50s and 60s due to her violations of the Comics Code Authority guidelines, she was already one of the most familiar comic characters worldwide and made her comeback not long after.
Armed with her iconic whip and wide range of form-fitting outfits, Catwoman is topped by only The Joker as a well known Batman villain and has made appearances in almost every media. Whether it was the 1964 campy television series, Burton’s gothic recreation or the realistic Nolan reboot she has been as essential as Batman himself. One could say that she’s the only other Batman character to get her own movie, but let’s forget that ever happened.
Her role in the series has been elevated in the past twenty years with her one line of comics which recast her as an anti-hero who stole from the rich and powerful while keeping the streets clear. As a result, Batman sought her out as an ally just as often as an enemy, with them becoming romantically involved in 2001. The complexity of their relationship eventually got in the way and Catwoman is now reteamed with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn in the Gotham Sirens series. She’s also been involved in the new Batman Incorporated team and remains a distant love interest for Batman despite her criminal associations.
2. The Riddler
Edward Nigma aka ‘The Riddler’ made his first appearance in the 1948 and although he’s been a staple of the series and one of the most familiar characters to wider audiences, both writers and other villains have often regulated him to second-stringer status. Like many of the best Batman enemies he doesn’t actually have any special abilities beyond his intellect.
The Riddler’s modus operandi is also his greatest weakness – due to suffering from an obsessive compulsion to solve puzzles and test others ability to do so he always leaves clues and riddles for Batman and the police to solve to catch him. Although he frequently brags about his intellectual superiority to Batman, it never takes very long for the Dark Knight to track him down.
In recent days The Riddler has turned his attention to the other side of crime, going into business as a Private Investigator andusing his decoding ability to solve mysteries. Although this may have made a great spin-off, he has recently returned to his criminal ways. Nonetheless, The Riddler remains the most under-utilised of the Batman villains (possibly because writing all those puzzle scenarios would be a headache), and whilst many hoped to see him in Nolan’s next Batman movie, those hopes have been dashed. His promised larger role in the upcoming ‘Arkham Asylum’ game does bode well for fans of the green-garbed lunatic.
1. The Joker
What a shock, the Batman’s arch-nemesis manages to find himself at the top of the list. Considering that he was intended to be a one-off disposable villain that Batman encountered very early in his run, it’s surprising that the character eventually became the pop-culture icon he is today. The Joker has evolved over the decades along with Batman, turning from a clown-themed prankster and petty criminal to a pure sociopathic mass murderer.
Even with those labels, which are common parlance in the media, The Joker remains unpredictable ensuring that he remains an interesting read. Even at times when the readers and characters feel as though they’ve got the full story, The Joker always has a marked ace up his sleeve. At times it seems as those he’s giving us a peek through the wall around him, at the person underneath, but its always a ploy or a moment that will be quickly undone when he overcompensates for a moment of weakness. Most notable of these moments occurs as part of one of the Arkham Asylum mini-series, when a guard attempts to aggravate Joker by taunting him with the name of his lost son.
His relationship with Batman is the driving force for both characters in the modern era. The Joker spends his time trying to push Batman over the edge. More than just opposing ideologies, The Joker would consider his greatest victory forcing the Dark Knight to kill him, breaking his one guiding rule. Batman has come close to ending the mad clown – the brutal attack that left Barbara Gordon (Batgirl at the time) paralysed while he tortured Commissioner Gordon and the vicious murder of the second Robin, Jason Todd, are the most memorable moments in The Joker’s sordid history.
Best Story: ‘The Killing Joke’. Comic legend Alan Moore gives The Joker a full back story, adding more to the mystery rather than diminishing it.