Unless you’ve been living under a rock in a fallout bunker hidden 50 miles underground for the last 75 years, you know who Batman is. Even if you do live in such extreme conditions, you’ve at least heard of him. At this point the Caped Crusader is so overexposed in pop culture and mainstream media that the idea of him being anything less than an invincible, omnipotent brooder is almost laughable. But comic book readers know that this isn’t always the case. Batman is only human, perhaps the most succinctly human in comic book lore. And as a highly-fallible mortal, Batman has eaten a loss more times than most of DC’s top-tier heroes.
Normally this shouldn’t matter as these defeats tend to build character and develop narrative, but there are some losses so spectacular, cutting, and personal that one begins to question why Batman is held up in such high regard when he can be brought so low and in such a devastating fashion. Even other heroes have taken Batman to school and shown him the price he pays to be a man standing among gods. From his worst failure coming back to haunt him to his greatest foe constantly one-upping him, here are Batman’s 15 most embarrassing defeats.
15. HAL JORDAN
To say Batman and Hal Jordan had a strenuous relationship after the latter’s murderous incarnation as Parallax would be an understatement. Batman never fully trusted the Green Lantern after he was resurrected and the tension between the two finally became physical in Green Lantern: Rebirth when Jordan decides he’s had enough of Batman’s paranoia and delivers a mean right hook to the Dark Knight’s jaw.
Batman drops like a sack of potatoes and Guy Gardner, who Batman had done virtually the same thing to in Justice League #5, grins in delighted satisfaction. With Guy in the peanut gallery and his pride on the line, the fact that Batman was brought down with a single punch from just a regular human makes this one of his most humiliating losses.
Due to their polar opposite ideologies and approaches to crimefighting, Batman versus Superman has been one of the most hotly debated battle in pop culture’s eyes since their inceptions. So much so that they even made a horrible movie about it. But deep down, anyone familiar with either of these characters knows that at the end of the day, the answer is clear.
As if to make it painfully obvious, when Superman is controlled by Maxwell Lord in Infinite Crisis, he fights Batman as if he were fighting Brainiac — in a no-holds-barred death brawl. Which he wins handily, leaving Batman a broken, bleeding mess. This proves that Superman always could have beaten Batman, he just never considered his friend enough of a threat that he needed to go all-out on him. Ouch.
Normally, there would be no shame from dying at the hands of one of DC’s deadliest threats, but Batman’s apparent murder in Final Crisis was an embarrassing situation for two reasons. The first was that Darkseid’s power forced Batman to break one of his cardinal rules. To combat his opponent’s awesome strength, Batman uses a gun loaded with a radion bullet, the very thing he has forbidden himself and his friends from using.
Unfortunately, he brought a gun to an Omega Beam fight and gets blasted, leading to the second reason why the fight was an embarrassment. Batman is an impressive man but a man nonetheless. He came out of the shadows to try and threaten a literal deity and got destroyed for his troubles. It would have been Darwinian if he hadn’t actually been thrown back in time and replaced with a clone.
12. THE MUTANT LEADER
There are very few times when you can call Batman outright stupid, but this loss in the pages of Frank Miller’s laudable The Dark Knight Returns is one of them. After retiring and building up a decade’s worth of ring rust, Batman somehow believes he’s capable of taking on the unnamed leader of the Mutant gang, who goads him into coming out of the Batmobile to fight him one-on-one.
The burly behemoth brings Batman to the brink of death with his sheer physical strength and youthful energy. The Mutant Leader is only stopped by a well-placed distraction from Carrie Kelly which allows Batman to leave the fight with his life. Though he would avenge himself in their rematch with superior strategy and planning, the Mutant Leader made it very clear in this initial encounter just who the stronger man was.
11. WONDER WOMAN
There are many words to describe how Batman fared against Wonder Woman in their fight in Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia. Victorious is not one of them. Trounced is more apt, or maybe demolished. After following a murderous woman to Wonder Woman’s home only to find her under the Princess of Themyscira’s protection, Batman gets in one punch to Wonder Woman’s unbreakable bracelets before she punches him clean off her balcony.
In the ensuing battle, Batman manages to get in some vague offense, but he’s clearly in over his head. Wonder Woman stomps on his head and demands his submission which, after only a brief few moments, he gives. When a fight ends with one side prostrated with their hands clasped, you know it was a one-sided ordeal.
Dick Grayson holds the distinction of being both the original Robin and the first Robin to abandon Batman to move on and develop his own superhero persona, a tradition which has continued through virtually each incarnation of Batman’s sidekick. A fight between Nightwing and Batman had been inevitable since their split, if for no other reason than to prove that Nightwing had completely emerged from his mentor’s shadow. And in Nightwing #30, the powder keg exploded and the two had a shirtless brawl in the batcave.
Despite his superior skills, Batman is overcome by Dick’s pure aggression and ruthless drive. Leaving Batman in a heap, Nightwing walks away dropping the quick taunt of “I win” back at Bruce before he leaves. Truly, the student had become the teacher and it was a lesson Batman wouldn’t soon forget.
Holding the distinction of being one of the DC Universe’s deadliest assassins, Deathstroke is one of the few humans that Batman considers capable of beating him in hand-to-hand combat. It’s one thing to beat Batman, but it’s quite another to beat Batman on his home turf, inside of two pages, and while trash-talking him the whole time. But that’s precisely what Slade Wilson does in Deathstroke #9.
While fighting Batman on the ledges of a Gotham high-rise, Deathstroke makes it unequivocally clear that he is stronger, faster, and more vicious than Batman could ever be while he unceremoniously hands the Dark Knight his own butt on a silver platter. Deathstroke leaves Batman draped over the side of the building, proclaiming him to be just an ordinary man trying to find his place in an extraordinary world — one of the most cutting insults to Batman in comic history.
8. SGT. FRANK PRATT
Some of Batman’s core villains are the most dangerous people on the planet. Some of them have shattering and divisive beliefs that challenge Batman’s faith in his own way of doing things. Some of them are just trigger happy cops who straight up shoot Batman in the chest. The leader of Gotham’s gung-ho SWAT team, insultingly nicknamed “Lunatic Gestapo” by Commissioner Gordon, Sgt. Branden was known for his shoot-first-ask-never mentality and his passionate hatred of vigilantes and had followers like Frank Pratt to back him up.
His encounter with Batman in Batman: Dark Victory culminates with him putting a bullet in Batman’s armor at point blank range and holding the downed Dark Knight at gunpoint. Though Pratt is then immediately killed by the Hangman, it was a stark reminder that anyone with a gun, decent aim, and the resolve can take down Batman with relative ease.
7. RED HOOD
Like The Joker, Red Hood’s presence in the waking world is a humiliation to Batman, a constant reminder of his failure to save Jason Todd’s life. Unlike The Joker, Red Hood has a win over Batman under his belt. After his resurrection and the reveal of Red Hood’s identity, Batman attempts to stop Jason from murdering Joker only to find that he’s been played. Jason anticipated Batman’s interference and set multiple traps to incapacitate his former mentor while he pounds on the Dark Knight.
The fight ends with the iconic image of Red Hood standing over Batman, gun aimed pointedly between the Caped Crusader’s eyes. Granted, Jason relents and instead forces Batman into an ultimatum which he, of course, finds a way out of, but for a brief moment, Batman’s life was in Jason’s hands, an embarrassing mirror to how Jason died in the first place.
The fact that Grant Morrison’s Prometheus beat Batman is not in and of itself humiliating. Prometheus went on the beat virtually the entire Justice League, Batman was simply no exception. What was embarrassing about Batman’s loss was how Prometheus fought him. The villain’s helmet electronically gives its wearer access to the skills of the greatest martial artists of all-time, essentially making Batman’s years of training and hard work obsolete.
Prometheus is able to counter all of Batman’s moves with a computer program that lets him skip over all the steps Batman took to become the crimefighter he trained to be. What better message to enforce that everything Batman is can be transferred onto a disk? And even more humiliating? Prometheus is ultimately defeated by Batman’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Catwoman.
5. LADY SHIVA
Lady Shiva is one of the most enigmatic and deadly characters DC ever created. She’s so skilled and proficient as both a fighter and a killer that she once fought Batman and Nightwing at the same time without breaking a sweat. The only reason both men were able to leave the encounter with their lives was Robin jumping in at the last moment to ever-so-slightly tip the scales in the mens’ favor.
Even more humiliating than almost losing a three-on-one fight would be when Batman humbly asked for Shiva’s help recovering from his devastating loss to Bane. Her idea of helping? Framing him for the murder of an armless martial artist so the sensei’s students seek violence vengeance against the Caped Crusader. Even when she’s helping him, Shiva can’t help but mess with and humiliate Batman.
As unarguably Batman’s greatest villain, it’s somewhat surprising that Joker has never bested Batman in a physical contest. However, Joker’s victories are more subtle and personal than a punch to the jaw. As the total opposite of Batman in every way, every breath the Joker takes is a hilarious defeat of the Caped Crusader’s ideology. He can’t kill Joker, so everyone the Clown Prince of Crime kills, maims, and mutilates is due to Batman’s failure to find a solution to Joker’s psychological issues.
As if to emphasize the point, most of Joker’s significant victims comprise of Batman’s inner circle, including Jason Todd, Barbara Gordon, and Commissioner Gordon. As his most hated and dangerously personal enemy, the Joker’s mere existence is nothing but a horrifying embarrassment to Batman.
3. THE REAPER
One of Batman’s least known villains also has the one of the greatest victories over him, namely robbing him of his long-desired vengeance. Batman’s first fight with the Reaper went so badly that he had to enlist the aid of Joe Chill, the man who killed his parents. If that wasn’t humbling enough, during the ensuing battle, Reaper mercilessly gunned Chill down in front of Batman, forever sealing Batman’s greatest wish beyond the mortal veil.
Though Batman would of course beat Reaper in the subsequent fight, Reaper ultimately had the last laugh as he dropped to his own death, preventing Batman from finding even a small sliver of direct closure for his parents’ deaths. Though Reaper has never held a distinct spot in Batman’s rogues gallery, he does hold a special, embarrassing victory over the Dark Knight.
2. DEACON BLACKFIRE
Batman religiously adheres to one basic rule when it comes to crimefighting: Don’t kill anyone. It’s what separates him from the scum he fights. So logically, the worst, most humiliating thing a villain can do to Batman is to force him to break that rule. Enter Deacon Blackfire who, during Batman: The Cult, brainwashes Batman and indoctrinates him into his murder cult.
After finally breaking through the mind control, Batman realizes that he’s killed for Blackfire, breaking his moral and spiritual code. Batman beats Blackfire and turns his cult against him, but Batman has already crossed his famously uncrossable line and, in his own words, there’s no coming back from it. Think back to every time he told Damian or Jason not to kill and then realize he’s being a huge hypocrite each time and then you’ll understand just how humiliating this must have been for Batman.
Batman’s most embarrassing defeat is also his most iconic. Bane doesn’t just outmatch Batman, he destroys him, shattering his back in the famously cringe-inducing panel. On top of that, he capitalizes of a physically and emotionally drained Batman, one he created by breaking open Arkham Asylum and setting Batman’s greatest foes free on Gotham. Never before or since has Batman seemed so frustratingly human.
Perhaps the most humiliating aspect of this defeat was that Bane was essentially using Batman’s own methods against him. Bane had the detective skills to deduce Batman’s identity, the strategic mind to lay several traps simultaneously, and the physical prowess and fighting skill to go hand-to-hand with one of the best combatants in the DC Universe. In a way, Batman was completely broken by himself.
Did we miss any other times Batman was humiliated by his foes? Let us know in the comments section!
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