When it comes to the supervillains of DC, it doesn’t get any better than Batman villains. Representing the diabolical best of the dim, gritty, and disturbing playground of Gotham City, these delinquents stand in perfect opposition to the crime-fighting Caped Crusader; whereas the world of Superman is exemplified by shining heroics.
Batman’s is defined by the evildoers that terrorize it from within its deepest shadows. What makes them stand out is that they are all just a few shades of grey away from the Dark Knight himself. That, and they enjoy dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight.
Updated on May 8th, 2021 by Melody MacReady: As the years go by, love for some famous characters dwindle while fans discover their love for other characters. This is definitely the case for Batman villains; over the years, other foes in Batman’s roster have garnered new fans to make them as iconic as the Joker. Meanwhile, some have lost their luster and are not on top anymore. Still, there are plenty of Batman villains who remain as iconic as ever and that is unlikely to change in the future. Whether it is through comics, video games, movies, or shows: some Batman villains will always remain the popular favorites.
15 Killer Croc
When written right, Killer Croc is as good as Batman villains come. As of late, the character has been reduced to a large mutated reptile with little ambition beyond eating Batman. However, in his debut, Killer Croc started off as a far more interesting villain, so much so that some believe his backstory was the true inspiration for Tim Burton’s Penguin in Batman Returns.
When Waylon Jones was born with a rare scaly skin condition and relentlessly abused, it was only natural he’d become a murdering psychopathic cannibal. After a quick stint finding acceptance with a traveling circus, he ended up in Gotham City. By letting his condition dictate his life, Croc has transformed himself into one truly scary rogue.
14 Black Mask
Born Roman Sionis, he was the by-product of self-absorbed wealthy parents who cared more about their social standing than his well-being. Because of this, he became obsessed with the idea of masks. After killing them both, he not only inherited the family fortune but took the opportunity to forge a new identity by carving a black mask out of his father’s casket and becoming a leader of Gotham’s crime world.
While many of Batman’s villains resort to over-the-top dramatics and wacky gimmicks to fuel their crimes, the Black Mask retains a creepy dignity rooted in good old-fashioned sadism and the use of a well-fired gun.
Any superhero who’s worth his cape has got at least one shape-shifting villain. For Batman, it’s Clayface, a hulking mud monster with the ability to reshape his body, turn his limbs into a menagerie of weapons, look like anyone he chooses, and render nearly all forms of physical attack useless by melting.
Though his backstory is as shifty as he is, Clayface has provided Batman with a compelling enemy since the ’40s. However, the best and most tragic version of the character comes from the ’90s Batman: The Animated Series, which fused his past comic counterparts and ended up becoming the visual template for future appearances.
12 Poison Ivy
Those who’ve been punished by 1997’s Batman & Robin may have forgotten that the eco-terrorist, Poison Ivy, is one of the most iconic Batman villains. With her ability to pretty much do whatever she wants with plants, this Gotham City siren is a lethal foe. She can entice any man to do her bidding, even Superman.
After being forced to consume – or was injected with, depending on the origin story – a poisonous plant, she grows into the ravenous Poison Ivy, obsessed with protecting the planet’s plant life. While this may seem like a noble cause, but she plans to do so by eliminating all human life, forcing Batman to intervene.
11 The Penguin
Batman villain campiness at its best, the Penguin has been a long-time mainstay in the Caped Crusader’s rogues gallery. Having debuted in 1941’s Detective Comics #58, Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot III originally got his start as your run-of-the-mill crook. Over the many years, the character evolved into a notorious Gotham crimelord.
Despite being the grotesque face of the city’s criminal underworld, Penguin has also shown a practical, sometimes even quasi-legitimate business side, committing his treacherous acts less out of a need to wreak havoc and more out of a pursuit for personal and financial gain. Adding to his dangerousness, the man of a thousand umbrellas has displayed refined intelligence and sophistication.
Though he began as a Teen Titans villain, Deathstroke has evolved to become a Batman villain after the likes of Batman: Arkham Origins and more recent comics. He is one of the few fighters to win against Batman multiple times. Slade Wilson was the subject of a failed super-soldier project that turned him into the world’s greatest assassin.
Deathstroke’s rivalry with Batman has had several incarnations. Usually, though, it involves Deathstroke being paid to kill the Bat or getting payback for a previous defeat. Deathstroke is unrelenting when he has a target and his tactical abilities match that of Batman which is why he is even capable of defeating heroes like the Flash.
9 Mr. Freeze
He could care less about riches or power, despite all outward appearances, he isn’t a cold-blooded killer at heart but is instead one of the most tragic Batman villains. All Mr. Freeze cares about is saving his sick wife, Nora. After the gifted scientist Victor Fries’s wife contracts a rare terminal illness, he puts her into cryostasis. Interference from the company’s corrupt owner leads to Fries being transformed by his own technology.
Now Fries cannot live outside of sub-zero temperatures or the special suit he develops. The willingness to commit terrible crimes has earned Freeze the title as one of the top Batman villains; not because he is evil but precisely the opposite. He’s just a desperate man trying to get his wife back by any means, even if that means fighting Batman.
The result of an abusive upbringing that left him forever traumatized, an unhinged Dr. Jonathan Crane still somehow managed to become a professor of psychology and a clinical psychologist. However, after firing a gun in class, he’s dismissed, driving him to become the Master of Fear.
Equipped with a terror-inducing gas that forces victims to face their worst fears, the Scarecrow preys on the citizens of Gotham with a commandeering creepiness. Though fear may be Batman’s greatest crime-fighting tool in striking terror in the hearts of criminals, he has met his match in Scarecrow’s abilities to release its dreadful powers.
7 Hugo Strange
One of Batman’s earliest adversaries, Hugo Strange made his debut in 1940’s Detective Comics #36. As far as backstories go, Strange’s is a mystery. He pretty much just appeared on the scene and started creating problems from day one. Since then, he’s become an iconic foe for his appearances in the comics, games, and even TV shows.
He’s definitely insane, but he’s also incredibly smart, being one of the few to surmise Batman’s secret identity. If that’s not enough, Batman himself has called this villain the most dangerous man in the world. Which is terrifying coming from a man who was once called the same by Superman.
The pinnacle of physical and mental criminality, he is literally the Bane of Batman’s existence. The by-product of a hard life spent growing up in a corrupt prison, he spends his youth killing people using a knife concealed in a teddy bear. After nearly dying from an experimental super-soldier program that hooks him on Venom and lets him escape his confinements, Bane sets his sights on Gotham.
Not only is Bane a titan of a metahuman but he is a strategic and tactical genius. This is how he was able to infamously defeat Batman and break his back. Bane has since evolved into one of the deadliest DC villains ever made in recent years due to his relentlessness.
5 The Riddler
The Riddler seems to be in a class of villain all his own. He’s not exactly scary or brutal – at least most of the time – but rather a playful addition to the otherwise dark, gritty world of Batman. At his best, this enigmatic evildoer is a riddling madman hellbent on pitting his wits against the world’s greatest detective.
At worst, his intelligence and obsession to take down Batman allow him to keep up with the Gotham Guardian. His manipulations throughout Batman: Hush and his disastrous reign in Batman: Zero Year are proof positive that the Riddler can be terrifyingly deadly.
4 Harley Quinn
Rounding out the Gotham City Sirens is the bubbly, psychotic killer, Harley Quinn. It’s quite a testament that a sidekick who got her start on a children’s animated TV show has quickly become one of the top Batman’s most popular associates. Originally intended as a one-off for the Batman: The Animated Series episode Joker’s Favor.
The character was such an overnight hit that she was brought back several more times. From there she broke into comics, quickly becoming a best-seller. A solo series followed, along with a spin-off comic with the aforementioned Sirens. To top off her mallet-wielding success, Margot Robbie’s portrayal in the DC Extended Universe has turned the character into a movie star.
The former White Knight of Gotham, Two-Face is perhaps the most tragic character Batman has faced. At one time he was the city’s righteous crime-fighting District Attorney; he becomes horrifically disfigured after a vindictive mob boss throws acid on his face. His already split personality transforms him into Two-Face: a man obsessed with duality and chance via a coin flip.
Due to the unpredictability of his coin, neither fans nor Batman can ever be certain how the villain will act. What’s more, he is one of the few friends and confidants Bruce Wayne ever had, adding a personal touch to their encounters. Overall, few have embodied the dichotomy of good and evil like Harvey Dent, save for perhaps the Knight of Vengeance himself. Representing both the best and worst of Gotham, Two-Face and Batman are two sides of the same coin.
2 Ra’s Al Ghul
While most of Batman’s villains limit their criminal scope to Gotham City, Ra’s Al Ghul operates on a whole other level. A super-intelligent, mystical international assassin, the Demon’s Head adds some much-needed gravitas to the rogue gallery. Ra’s is a man sick of the worst crimes of humanity and seeks to use genocide as a means to restart the world.
On top of that, he respects Batman, so much so he is constantly trying to convince the Caped Crusader to succeed him as the leader of the League of Assassins and marry his daughter: Talia Al Ghul. After his rise in popularity due to Batman Begins, Ra’s Al Ghul has become a bit of an overused cliche puppet master character.
Sherlock Holmes has Professor James Moriarty while Batman is treated to the Joker. Joker is everything Batman is and isn’t. They are both broken minds, victims of their harsh lives who see Gotham as broken. While Batman sees it as something to fix, Joker sees it as a hilarious joke that’s earned his chaos and destruction.
Joker and Batman have been rivals for many decades going back to the 1940s. He’s had a plethora of origin stories as well as portrayals of him as a mystery man with no identity. Their battles have ranged from cute and colorful adventures to deep, dark, and even disturbing conflicts. From comics to movies and video games, the Joker will always be there to give Batman a hard time.
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