Gotham City is not a safe place to live, but it’s not just because of random street thugs or organized crime. It’s home to psychopaths and monsters of a particularly colorful variety. Luckily, the Dark Knight shines as a beacon of hope for its law abiding citizens, keeping them safe from the twisted threats that lurk in the city’s darkest recesses. With Batman’s 75th anniversary hitting this year, CBR News has been counting down the protector of Gotham’s toughest foes. Yesterday we counted down #20-11, and today we hit the Top 10 featuring the some of the most repulsive and calculating villains in all of comics.
10. Talia Al Ghul
First appearance “Detective Comics” #411 (1971)
Created by Dennis O’Neil, Bob Brown and Dick Giordano
Ra’s Al Ghul’s deadly offspring is such a great villain because it’s impossible to know if she wants to win the Dark Knight’s heart or stab him in it. Talia is the classic femme fatale, a mysterious beauty who exists to befuddle Batman’s sensibilities. She has often thwarted her father’s plans because of her love for Bruce Wayne, but just as often she enacts plots and schemes just as evil and deadly as her father’s. Do not judge Talia on her soft beauty; she is a very real threat to Batman’s extended family, a black widow who is always three steps ahead of her opponents; anyone who has outwitted both Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul is worthy of respect. Her greatest and most vile scheme was to secretly use Batman’s genetic material to create an offspring. Talia raised their “son” to become the world’s greatest assassin before the child rebelled and joined his father in Gotham City. Damian Wayne became an indispensable ally to Batman and a beloved son before Talia had him murdered, further solidifying her as one of Batman’s greatest adversaries. No villain on this list made it more personal than the master manipulator, Talia Al Ghul.
First appearance “Batman: Vengeance of Bane” #1 (1993)
Created by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench and Graham Nolan
Most of Batman’s classic foes match wits with the Dark Knight, but when it comes down to it, the majority of them are also no match for him physically. Those few villains that can overpower or match strength with Batman aren’t anywhere near the hero’s level of cunning. That dichotomy was the hard and fast rule of Bat-villainy until Bane. Bane was a master strategist and a brilliant killer who trained himself to peak physical perfection and beyond through the use of an experimental steroid called Venom. When fans first met Bane, a ‘roided up bundle of angry muscle in a luchador mask was an odd and unsettling sight, but Bane soon proved his worth in the annals of the all-time Bat foes when he did the unthinkable. First, Bane defeated Batman with cunning by using his detective skills to track down Batman’s identity and the Batcave. Then, Bane freed every costumed criminal in Gotham. Batman exhausted himself by rounding up the rogues, and when he was at the pinnacle of exhaustion, Batman retired to the Cave only to find Bane waiting for him. The villain used a back breaker that would have made Dean Malenko jealous, and broke Batman’s spine. This moment became the most iconic Bat moment of the ’90s and still resonates in popular culture today. “The Dark Knight Rises” presented a very different sort of Bane as played by Tom Hardy. Hardy’s Bane was a cerebral nihilist whose presence was enough to make audiences squirm. With his emotionless electric voice and coiled strength, Hardy’s Bane became a Bat foe for a new generation. Bane will always be the only multi-dimensional Bat foe that can challenge both Batman’s mind and his body.
First appearance “World’s Finest Comics” #3 (1941)
Created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane
One of Batman’s most visually stunning foes, Scarecrow is a nightmare come to life, a madman who wishes to live in a world of broken, insane people. To the Scarecrow, the insane are his toys, phobias are his paints and the world is his dark canvas on which to create landscapes of madness. One of Batman’s earliest costumed foes, the Scarecrow was pretty horrific even by modern standards; one can imagine how fearsome he must have seemed back in the Golden Age. Jonathan Crane was ten steps beyond that one teacher whose class you never wanted to end up in, an arrogant educator with a god complex who felt it was his right to experiment with madness. When Cillian Murphy donned the burlap mask of Jonathan Crane in “Batman Begins,” the actor brought the legacy of the Scarecrow to the next level. Murphy solidified what generations of comic fans already knew — Scarecrow was a twisted madman drawn to terror like a moth to flame. From his Golden Age beginnings, to his Legion of Doom Days on “Super Friends,” to the New 52, Scarecrow remains one of Batman’s most twisted and disturbing foes.
7. Harley Quinn
First appearance “Batman: The Animated Series” episode “Joker’s Favor”(1992)
First comic appearance “The Batman Adventures” #12 (1993)
Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm
Possibly, the most famous comic character that didn’t originate in the comics, Harley Quinn has gone on to become one of Gotham’s greatest femme fatales since her first television appearance in 1992. Linearly, a late comer to Batman’s rogues, Harleen Quinzel is currently one of DC Comics’ most iconic and recognizable (if twisted) faces. It’s hard to take two steps at a comic convention without running into a Harley, whether it’s the old school animated Harley, Nurse Harley from the “Arkham” series of video games, or modern goth diva Harley from the pages of the New 52. Harley is a living testament to the Joker’s legacy. A once accomplished psycho therapist, Harley was twisted into the Joker’s image after just a few sessions with the madman. Harley’s ever changing relationship with the Joker, her deep and abiding friendship with fellow rogue Poison Ivy, and a cunning mind that can almost outwit Batman makes Harley the greatest modern addition to Batman’s personal desperadoes. Currently starring in her second solo title, Harley was one of DC’s biggest breakout stars of 2013. Quinn’s distinctively squeaked exclamation of “puddin'” in reference to her beloved Mr. J has almost become as iconic as the Joker’s laugh.
First appearance Detective Comics #140 (1948)
Created by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang
The Riddler is a villain that owes his entire legacy to the manic and fevered performance of the first actor who portrayed him. The Riddler first appeared in 1948 in a throwaway story in “Detective Comics” #140. Without Frank Gorshin, Edward Nigma would have remained a garishly clad footnote in Bat history, but because of the masterful character actor’s physical and manic performance, the Riddler became one of the most iconic Bat villains in history. After Gorshin, the Riddler became a mainstay in Batman and across other DC Comics titles. Appearing as a member of the Legion of Doom in “Super Friends,” the Riddler and his famous question mark-laden jump suit have become an indelible part of DC history. The character is able to conform to any story writers want to place him in. If Bane is Batman’s perfect physical match, the Riddler is perhaps the greatest foil for Batman’s mind (save for perhaps one other villain we’ll get to shortly). One of the greatest uses for the Riddler in recent history is when Nigma reformed and became a private detective just to prove he could solve crimes faster than Batman. Sadly, this period didn’t last nearly as long as it should have given the stellar dichotomy with Batman, but it did solidify that Nigma is a mental match for any of DC’s brilliant detectives. “Batman” writer Scott Snyder is currently doing an amazing job of incorporating the Riddler into the “New 52” and no matter what changes in the ever amorphous world of superhero comics, there will always be a Riddler demanding that Batman “Riddle me this.”
5. Joe Chill
First Appearance “Detective Comics” #33 (1939), Named: “Batman” #47 (1948)
The scum that started it all. The man who stepped out of the shadows and inadvertently, in one act of senseless brutality, created one of the greatest characters of modern fiction, the catalyst for a legend, Joe Chill. When Chill murdered Thomas and Martha Wayne, he became the face of crime, the poster child for everything Bruce Wayne swore to eradicate. Some of Chill’s most memorable appearances have been in other media, from the disquieting portrayal of the killer by Richard Brake in “Batman Begins,” to a memorable appearance on the usually farcical “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.” In this latter, it came to light that Chill was responsible for forging Batman by murdering his parents and, needless to say, the other villains on this list were not pleased. Chill even played a major role in, of all places, 1985’s “Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians'” episode entitled “The Fear,” in which the criminal’s act is shown off camera in the usually saccharine realm of Saturday morning television. This episode marked the first time Batman’s origin appeared on TV. The villains on this list continually plague the Dark Knight, but Chill’s one act of selfish violence marks him as the most important rogue in the overall mythos of Batman.
First appearance “Detective Comics” #58 (1941)
Created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane
At times he has been the most pathetic Bat villain and at others the deadliest, vacillating between hapless loser and ruthless gangster. One thing has remained consistent with Oswald Cobblepot — where there has been a Batman, there has been a Penguin. The Penguin has constantly appeared in all Bat media from comics, to daily strips, to cartoons, to films, to video games. His trademark top hat, monocle, carrot-like nose, and umbrellas have been a constant part of the Batman mythos almost from the beginning. Other than the villain’s Tim Burton “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” period of the early ’90s, the character has remained almost unchanged through eight decades. These days, Oswald Cobblepot is the biggest gangster in Gotham City, a ruthless crime lord that is not to be trifled with unless someone wants their family to be found impaled on umbrellas. The Penguin has been able to change motivations (if not appearance) with the times and can fit into any story from light children’s fare to hard boiled crime dramas; the Penguin’s special brand of villainy is eternal.
3. Ra’s Al Ghul
First Appearance: “Batman” #232 (1971)
Created by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams
Ra’s Al Ghul was arguably Batman’s first “adult” super-villain. Having more in common with Bond villains Goldfinger and Blofeld than he did the Joker or the Penguin, Ra’s was introduced as an environmental terrorist, a despotic madman who wanted to destroy the world and remake it in his own image. At the time his first appearance, most of Batman’s rogues were content to befuddle Batman with their gimmicky crimes, but Ra’s upped the ante, adding an element of geo-political villainy that made him a very different type of enemy. Ra’s was one of the first Bat foes to expand Batman’s world well beyond Gotham City and was a bridge character leading Batman out of the gimmicky Silver Age into a new, more sophisticated era of storytelling. When Warner Bros. wanted to reboot their Bat-franchise in “Batman Beyond” they turned to Ra’s, as played by Liam Neeson, to give audiences a taste of the unfamiliar and the sophisticated beyond the more familiar cadre of rogues. Whenever Ra’s shows up in a “Batman” comic, fans know the creators have just upped the ante and that the story in their hands will have serious repercussions. Ra’s also brought with him story elements and characters that would become a major part of the DC Universe, including his femme fatale daughter Talia and the League of Assassins (or Shadows). Heck, Ra’s’ League has fueled both “Batman Begins” and the hit “Arrow” television series currently airing on The CW. Ra’s name carries enough weight that even the mere mention of it on “Arrow” was enough to make even the most hardened fans gasp.
First appearance “Detective Comics” #66 (1942)
Created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane
Batman’s most tragic foe, Harvey Dent is second only to you know who on the all-time great Bat villains list. When a vicious gangster threw acid in the face of district attorney Harvey Dent, a truly Shakespearian evil was born. The other Bat villains were born bad, but Harvey could have been even a greater force for good than Batman himself if fate swung another way. Two-Face is figure made of irony, a man who once fought for justice and now serves as a symbol that the world is not fair or just in any way. Two-Face’s finest hour was as the main focus of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” in which the director crafted a superhero film structured like a Greek tragedy with Harvey Dent as the tragic hero who falls from the greatest heights a man can plummet. Like Oedipus, Two-Face is a villainous reminder of the unfairness of a cold world, that even a man with great intentions can become a great villain, leaving Batman to pick up the pieces. Two-Face is the only villain Batman must fight with a tear in his eye.
First appearance “Batman” #1 (1940)
Created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger and Bob Kane
While few would argue the Joker isn’t the greatest Batman villain of all time, some would lobby to name the Clown Prince of Crime is to be the single greatest villain in all of comics. The Joker is the yin to Batman’s yang, the chaos to Batman’s order. He is the dark reflection of what happens when a man stops caring and starts to think that the whole world is a punchline. Through the years, the Joker has always been Batman’s most persistent foe, from the noir laden evil of his early appearances, to his campy capers and crimes of the Silver Age, to his murderous revival in the early Bronze Age, the Joker has always been there, testing Batman and making the Dark Knight the greatest hero in fiction. After all, only the greatest hero could hope to contain the hurricane of chaos that is the Joker. Many actors have brought the Joker to life in unforgettable performances over the decades from Cesar Romero in the ’60s, to Mark Hammil on “Batman: The Animated Series” and Brent Spiner on “Young Justice,” to Jack Nicholson’s brilliant performance in 1989’s “Batman.” Many fans would call the late Heath Ledger’s final performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” the definitive take on the character, but one thing is certain. Everyone who has have donned the make-up or lent their voice to the Joker has become synonymous with the legend of evil that is embodied in the garish purple suit and red lips of madness that is the Joker. As a new cinematic Batman is on the horizon, and a new television show featuring Gotham’s bravest detectives and most dastardly foes prepares to hit the smalls screen, it is only a matter of time before that chilling laughter is heard again by audiences eager to follow the dark deeds of Batman’s greatest villain, the shadow of humanity’s dark intent, the Joker.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more coverage of Batman and his 75th anniversary.