The Ninjabot

Shadows of the Bat: The Ten Greatest Bat-Villains So Far

Posted on October 25, 2013 at 5:32 pm by Tyler Waterman

Recently, a conversation on twitter drew my attention back to two articles written by my compatriots here at Geek Legacy, our Editor-in-Chief Dave Edmundson, and my podcast co-host Jeff Mueller. The articles shared the same title, a title very relevant to my interests: Top 10 Batman Villains. (You can read Dave’s here, and Jeff’s here… and you should!)

Now, I remember reading these last year, and I can still recall where I tended to agree or disagree, but a great deal changes in a year, especially when it comes to Batman’s villains. Going back and reading it now I instantly found myself formulating my own list, and thinking about where the rankings would stand now. Once that ball started rolling, it wasn’t about to stop, and after several contemplative days I’ve arrived at a list of my own.

As you read this, keep in mind the title of this list. It isn’t favorite villains; it’s greatest. The distinction is important for understanding the logic behind my selections. The greatest Bat-villains are the ones that have taken the most from him, those that have pierced the armor and left scars in their wake. It is because of this strict criteria that you won’t see several fan (and personal) favorite Bat-rogues on this list. While I have a great fondness for the likes of Riddler, Mr. Freeze and Killer Croc, the fact is they simply don’t have enough successes against the Bat to make this list. Keep in mind, however, the last two words as well. These are the current standings;  every villain missing from this list is just one great victory away from finding themselves here. This will always be a list that evolves, just as Batman’s villains do. (For example, I suspect very strongly that by the end of Snyder and Capullo’s Zero Year the Riddler will have risen quite high in the rankings.)

With all that being said, I present to you:

The Ten Greatest Batman Villains So Far

#10: Black Mask 

8BlackMask

In the beginning, Black Mask was little more than Penguin-lite. Roman Sionis had the twisted origin and villainous gimmick necessary to run a crime empire in Gotham, but for years did little more than pull various heists until Batman eventually toppled him. However, patience is a virtue, and by the time War Games came and went Black Mask suddenly became a man who tortured a Robin (hey, Steph counts), dominated Gotham crime and even had an Amazo for while. While Sionis is gone, Jeremiah Arkham has lived up to the name, premiering by freeing and subduing every villain in Arkham, and now appears even more powerful in the New 52, with the mask giving him the ability to control minds. Regardless of who’s behind it, whenever you see the Black Mask you can be sure a great deal of death will come with it.

#9: Scarecrow

9Scarecrow

Scarecrow, like the Penguin, makes this list due more to consistency than individual achievements, but that isn’t to say he isn’t successful. In a way, Scarecrow has more successes against Batman than anyone on this list. After all, while everyone above may have bigger claims, none have reduced the Batman himself to a quivering mess more than Jonathan Crane. Crane tests Batman’s mind, will and resolve more than any riddle or joke, and his last encounter left Batman so wounded and broken he was nearly killed by street thugs before a timely save from Damian. Batman uses fear as his cloak, but Scarecrow wields it as a weapon, and the clash between the two is one of Batman’s most consistently difficult (and fascinating) challenges.

#8: Penguin

10Penguin

You can’t measure the Penguin’s success with a number. You wouldn’t want to, to be honest; his individual battles with Batman have rarely gone well for him. But Oswald Cobblepot is by no means an unsuccessful criminal. The Penguin makes this list because he runs the most consistently dominant criminal empire in Gotham, where he moves millions of dollars daily while making and breaking lives on a whim, and does all of this on Batman’s doorstep. The Iceburg Casino is a shining beacon of crime floating in Gotham’s lap, yet rarely can Batman do more than break in and scowl. Almost every aspect of crime in Gotham operates in the shadows not occupied by a Bat of some kind, but the Penguin’s crimes run out of the same public place, 24 hours a day, while simultaneously welcoming Gotham’s grandparents to come play nickel slots. That’s a true badass right there. Until the day comes that Batman tears it all down, Penguin and his public empire deserve a spot on this list.

#7: Hush

7Hush

Identity theft is a serious crime. Thousands of people have found their lives turned upside down simply because someone of ill intent was able to put together their social security number and those three digits on the back of their credit card. So imagine how bad identity theft can be if someone steals your face! That’s what Tommy Elliot has done to Bruce Wayne, and it’s what lands him on my list.  Many villains have come close to killing Bruce Wayne; Hush nearly became him. What’s more, Hush sits in a prison cell as we speak, wearing Bruce’s face and knowing all of his secrets; love him or hate him, that fact alone cements Hush as one of Batman’s biggest threats. DC’s Dan DiDio confirmed that DC has “big plans for Hush,” and when that day comes, I suspect Tommy Elliot will climb even higher on this list.

#6:  Owlman (Lincoln March/Thomas Wayne Jr.)

6Owlman

Does the presence of a new villain this high on the list strike you as madness? Then you weren’t paying attention during the Night of Owls. This iteration of Owlman may not have the legacy of someone like Scarecrow or Penguin, but he took more from Batman in one battle than either of them ever have. There is nothing more important to Batman than Gotham. Bruce himself makes it clear during the entire conflict with the Court of Owls that realizing he doesn’t know Gotham the way he thought he always had was the hardest thing he’s ever had to come to terms with, and Owlman was the true puppeteer behind all of it. But while Owlman would have made my list just for that, he gets as high as he is because of what he actually took from Batman: faith in his family. Owlman makes a bold (and very possible) claim to be Thomas Wayne Jr., the younger brother Bruce thought died when he was very young. While the truth of that claim remains to be seen, Owlman simultaneously shook Bruce’s faith in his city and his family, the two greatest sources of strength Batman has, and the two places no one ever suspected Bruce could be hurt. If his premier was that significant, I fear for his inevitable return, and deep down I suspect Bruce does as well.

#5: Two-Face

5TwoFace

It’s easy to think of Batman as the perfect crimefighter. While there have been many losses in Batman’s history, even when a villain wins a battle, Batman always wins the war. But no matter how many times he stops his schemes, ends his plots, and locks him away, Batman will never truly win against Two-Face. Harvey Dent is Batman’s ultimate failure. While it appears Two-Face’s origin has changed a bit in the New 52, Long Halloween will always be Harvey’s origin to me, and that entire story is nothing but the slow progression of the time Batman failed to win. Did he save the day? Yes. But no part of that tale felt like a win, and in fact was nothing more than the loss of the only person who ever represented as much a threat to crime in Gotham as Batman himself. While Two-Face’s scarred half may be his frigtening side, the side that’s still Harvey Dent will forever represent Batman’s greatest loss, and forever makes Two-Face one of Batman’s greatest rogues.

#4: Bane

4Bane

To every one of you who was surprised to see Bane this high on the list, for shame. No, that’s not fair… it’s not your fault. You’re the victim of DC’s misuse for years of one of Batman’s very greatest foes. You’re recalling the years where Bane became a muscle-bound idiot, a Venom-pumping bruiser, and more henchman than mastermind. But that is not Bane. Bane is the man who deduced Batman’s identity from little more than body language and sixth sense. Bane is the man who beat Batman nearly to death in his own living room. Bane’s greatest victory is always considered to be breaking Batman’s spine, but that’s not actually true. Bane did what no other villain has ever been able to do: he convinced Bruce Wayne he could no longer be Batman. He chased him from the cave and from Gotham itself, and nearly ended the legacy of the Bat. And since the New 52 appears to have returned Bane back to his mastermind status, and Forever Evil is building him up even more, I suspect Batman is in for another world of hurt sometime soon.

#3: Doctor Hurt

3Hurt

The key to Batman’s success is preparation. Batman is able to defeat the myriad foes he must face because, for the most part, he knows them better than they know themselves. But how does one prepare for Simon Hurt when you can’t even be sure who, or what, he is? Hurt may indeed be just a deranged psychologist, but it’s just as likely he’s the Devil, or he’s Barbatos, or perhaps an agent of Darkseid. It’s also possible he could be who he truly claims to be: Thomas Wayne himself. But whoever Hurt is, he’s one of Batman’s greatest threats. He broke Batman’s mind and left him wandering the streets of Gotham. He ruined the Wayne name in Gotham, convincing everyone the Waynes were secretly devil worshipers and murderous perverts, and then nearly drove the entire city mad. He stole Wayne Manor, made his headquarters in the Batcave, and shot Dick Grayson point blank in the back of the head. That is one hell of a resume! Now, Hurt is supposedly buried alive and dosed with Joker gas, but the last time he was believed dead it turned out he was just moonlighting as Mexico’s greatest crimelord. Considering that’s what he does on vacation, I find it hard to believe Hurt is gone, and I can only imagine the horror he’ll unleash on Batman next.

#2: Joker

2Joker

Do I really need to explain this one? While he makes the list at number two, I have no qualms with the dozens of lists that put him at number one. The Joker is the near-perfect adversary for the Batman. He’s madness where Batman seeks patterns. He’s chaos where Batman seeks order. The Joker’s intent isn’t the perfect crime, or the biggest score; he’s locked himself in a deadly dance with the Dark Knight, and continuing that struggle is all that matters to him, and this is what makes him so much more dangerous than all the rogues below him. And, since “damage done” is so important to this list, his spot at the top was ensured. He’s crippled a Batgirl. He’s nearly broken James Gordon more than once. He’s poisoned and tortured nearly everyone Batman cares about, even Alfred. His last appearance caused all of Batman’s allies to question their trust in Bruce, something no one has ever really done. And of course, he’s killed a Robin. Regardless of it being the least popular Robin, or that Jason came back, he’s done what only one other person could do. If Batman is all that is good, Joker is all that is bad, and if you really believe he died at the end of Death of the Family than you’re just as crazy as he is.

#1: Ra’s and Talia al Ghul

1AlGhuls

When I first took on the task of creating this ranking, I had Ra’s and Talia listed separately on the list. However, as I started to flesh out my reasoning for where everyone fell in the order, it became more and more apparent to me that separating the two failed to do either justice. To be clear, of the two al Ghuls, I consider Talia to be the greatest villain Batman has ever faced. She has taken everything from him. She destroyed his city. She tore down his tower, his company, and destroyed the mission he set out to achieve with Batman, Incorporated. She broke his heart, and his mind. But all of this is nothing compared to the one fact that rises her above everyone else: she killed his son. So why isn’t Talia sitting alone at number one? Because none of the horrible achievements she obtained at the head of Leviathan would have been possible without Ra’s al Ghul. Ra’s is Batman’s perfect villain, even moreso than Joker. While Joker may be the opposite side of the coin, Ra’s and Batman aren’t very far removed. Remember, Ra’s doesn’t consider himself a villain. To Ra’s, he’s a crusader, determined to use his near-limitless resources to make the world a better place, just like Batman himself. All that differs between the two is the way they seek to achieve it. Where Batman is determined to help people rise above the criminals among them and become the society they deserve, Ra’s has given up on the people, and believes the best course of action is to start over from scratch. They both uphold the tenants of justice, honor, and the potential for humanity, they just seek completely different methods to achieve them. The perfect Batman rival, and the even more perfect daughter who can add “scorned lover” to her list of motivations? Doesn’t get any more dangerous than that.

Talia achieved greater damage to Batman than Ra’s ever has, but without Ra’s there is no Talia, and not just in a genetic sense. What Talia proved is that Ra’s most dangerous ability is to develop even greater dangers than himself, and considering what the finale of Batman Incorporated left at his disposal, that’s a terrifying notion indeed.

There you have it, what I consider to be the most accurate and up-to-date power ranking of Batman’s greatest rogues. Of course, that’s until someone does something even more terrible to the Dark Knight sometime soon, and we have to revisit this again… which I’ll be happy to do. Agree with my logic, or think I’m crazy? Someone you feel is missing, or too high? Let me know in the comments, and let this neverending Bat-debate continue!

You can find Tyler eagerly awaiting the next terrible thing that will require a face-punch from Batman on twitter at @BatmanIncVP

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