Well after more than a year away, and LOTS of life changes, I’m back to finish what I started. I’ve missed this so much. Let’s get back to it.
The finale of the Greatest Rogues Galleries countdown as voted on by you the readers…and it’s really no surprise that it was none other than the Caped Crusader, Batman. He’s almost universally regarded as having the best villains in not just comics, but in pop culture as a whole.
As if there was anywhere else to start on a list of Batman villains than his nemesis, the Clown Prince of Crime himself, the Joker. Rarely is a villain so singularly focused on wreaking havoc on a hero. He is responsible for the torture and death of second Robin, Jason Todd, and the paralysis of Barbara Gordon, just to make Batman and his ally Jim Gordon suffer. The Joker swings back-and-forth between calculated and methodical to erratic and spontaneous. This is really the only thing that makes him such a threat to Batman, because physically and mentally, the Joker is no match for the Dark Knight. But the fact that he’s completely unpredictable, makes him impossible to figure out. It has been discussed at length that in many ways Batman and Joker are really just two sides of the same coin…and whether either of them could exist without the other. Which just makes their relationship even more interesting and dynamic.
Ever since her creation as a sidekick for the Joker in the incredible Batman: The Animated Series cartoon, Harley Quinn has been an extremely popular and beloved character in the DC universe. So great was her popularity that she was quickly adapted into the comic universe as well. Originally the psychologist assigned to the Joker at Arkham Asylum, Dr. Harleen Quinzel, due to a significant amount of manipulation on his part, becomes obsessed with the Joker, leading her to help him escape and becoming his new sidekick/punching bag. While she is utterly devoted to him, he sees her simply as a pawn to control, using her to do his bidding so he can pull the strings from a position of safety, a shield to keep Batman busy, and just straight up physically and emotionally abusing her on a constant basis. In recent years, she has become somewhat of an anti-hero, as a member of the Suicide Squad, but her obsession with the Clown Prince of Crime has yet to be fully broken.
One of the most complex and interesting relationships in comics is that of Batman and Catwoman. He stands for order and justice…she stands for, well, nothing but herself really. With Batman being the greatest detective and crime fighter, and Catwoman being the world’s greatest thief, one would think they would be firmly entrenched as adversaries. But with Selina Kyle showing occasional flashes of goodness and with her crimes being typically on the smaller scale, focusing on burglary, she has remained on the Dark Knight’s radar, but rarely does he go out of his way to stop her. They have also worked together on multiple occasions, with her even taking a few forays into anti-hero territory, and have an undeniable, intense sexual tension that makes their relationship so compelling.
Another incredibly developed villain in the Caped Crusader’s rogues gallery. Once the DA of Gotham City, Harvey Dent worked closely with Batman and Commissioner Jim Gordon to crack down on crime in their city (never more on display than in the fabulous graphic novel The Long Halloween). As a way of striking back, one of Gotham’s major organized crime leaders, Sal Maroni, throws sulfuric acid in Dent’s face, permanently disfiguring the left half of his face and eventually driving him insane. He became obsessed with duality and develops a form of split personality disorder, though both personalities seem to exist simultaneously and are aware of the other…and both hating Batman (the Two-Face half for his constant interference in his schemes, and the Harvey Dent side for his imagined betrayal of Batman leaving him as the vulnerable member of their alliance). This has lead to yet another great relationship between Batman and his villain, because while Batman has to stop Two-Face, he wants to do so in a way that doesn’t hurt the old Harvey Dent, who he believes (some of the time) is still there and can be redeemed.
While the Oswald Cobblepot doesn’t have the intricate relationship with the Dark Knight as the previous villains have, he has remained a major, compelling member of his rogues gallery. Coming from a very wealthy family and using that inherited wealth to create a criminal empire, the Penguin is simply a real-world type gangster, gun runner, and thief, with a violent temper and an arsenal of weaponized umbrellas. The Penguin may not seem like much of an opponent for Batman. But he is a criminal mastermind and a rather large coward, continually running away while Batman takes out his crew, leaving him to live to fight another day.
Convinced of his own intellectual superiority, Edward Nigma is obsessed with proving he is smarter than Batman who is regarded as a genius and the “world’s greatest detective,” so he often tries to put Batman in deathtraps that he believes are unbeatable. Due to his overestimation of his own brilliance, this is never the case. And also due to his compulsion to leave riddles at the scene of his crimes, he many times is the cause of his own defeat. Despite this, the Riddler has proven to be one of the most intelligent, logical adversaries of the Caped Crusader even deducing Batman’s secret identity in the Hush story arc.
Formerly a brilliant psychologist and biochemist, Jonathan Crane is obsessed with the concept of fear. His obsession led him to perform dangerous fear-inducing experiments on his patients and students, leading to his termination and the murders of those responsible. This sends him down a path of a career criminal. While not a particularly physically formidable opponent for Batman, the Scarecrow’s fear toxin has been an incredible tool used to explore the tortured psyche of Bruce Wayne.
With a body pushed to near human peak levels, genius level intellect, and an iron will forged in the dark, almost unbearable conditions of a Santa Prisca prison, the man known as Bane is easily one of Batman’s more formidable opponents. He is the Caped Crusader’s equal in almost every regard, and that’s before his strength, speed, and stamina are pushed to superhuman levels by the drug known as Venom. Most recognizable as the “man that broke the Bat” when, during the Knightfall story arc, he exhausted Batman (from breaking out all of his villains from Arkham Asylum), deduced his secret identity, and then ambushed him inside Wayne Manor, leading to Bane breaking Batman’s back. While Batman eventually recovered and defeated him, Bane has remained a consistent thorn in his side ever since.
Due to the resurrective properties of the Lazarus Pits, Ra’s al Ghul has been the leader of the ancient order of the League of Assassins for centuries. A master strategist, swordsman, hand-to-hand combatant, and alchemist that has perfected his skills over hundreds of years, al Ghul is among the most dangerous villains in Batman’s rogues gallery. The League’s purpose is to infiltrate and destroy decadent centers of civilization…with Gotham as a primary target. While Ra’s al Ghul is very much an adversary to the Dark Knight, he also holds Batman in high regard for his ability, respectfully referring to him as “Detective.” Ra’s respects his ability so much that he wishes for Batman to take his place as the head of the League. Batman is also in love with Ra’s daughter Talia, who eventually becomes the mother of his son, Damian Wayne.
Easily one of the most sympathetic villains in comics, Victor Fries, a cryogenics expert, cryogenically freezes his terminally ill wife, Nora, to buy him time to find a cure. During an experiment, something goes wrong and his body’s physiology is reversed so that he must remain in freezing temperatures to stay alive. To accomplish this, he creates a refrigerated containment suit. Driven by his obsession to save his wife, he also develops a Freeze Gun that instantly freezes objects to sub-zero temperatures, and sets out on committing crimes to fund his research. This leads him into constant conflict with Batman. With his tragic origins and motivations, and cool (no pun intended) abilities, Mr. Freeze has become a popular and endearing villain of the Dark Knight.
There you have it folks. The greatest rogues galleries in comics. I promise to be around more often. No more year long breaks. I’ve got lots more to say and as long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing. See you next time.