In the early ‘90s, there was no better superhero cartoon than Batman: The Animated Series. With its dark, noir artistic design and its great vocal talents by the likes of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, it was a mature production for its time. Once the rousing theme, scored by Danny Elfman (who had perfected it in the film starring Michael Keaton) hit, you were instantly sucked into a gritty world of good versus evil, where a masked vigilante hero battled a Rogue Gallery of villains.
And what villains they were. Throughout the series we were treated to some of the most dynamic interpretations of his classic foes. Minor characters like Mr. Freeze were given touching backstories, and nefarious crime lords like The Joker were spurred to the heights of maniacal mischief. Amidst the villains that Batman squared off against, some were deadly, and some were just lame. Every episode was devoted to a distinct villains’ dastardly plans, and the deadlier the villains, the higher the stakes. The only poor episodes revolved around lame villains who the Dark Knight expertly bested. We’ve ranked 15 of them from the most deadly to the most lame, but ultimately we’ll let you be the judge.
15. KILLER CROC
There’s nothing vaguely threatening about Killer Croc, unless you think that a professional wrestler turning to a life of crime is in anyway terrifying. Before getting in the ring, he was being forced to live in Miami, Florida as a carnival sideshow freak. Eventually however, joining the Wrestling Federation seemed to be a better fit and he became known as the “meanest dude in wrestling”, or more importantly, the lamest villain on this list.
While other villains have used every conceivable death trap, contraption, or mind manipulation to entrap or kill Batman, Killer Croc tried to hit him with a rock. A really big rock, but still just a rock. Even when he tried to start his own gang and go after Batman, Bane was able to beat him to a pulp (a creature with a combination of reptilian and human DNA, purportedly stronger than Batman).
Was Two-Face ever really considered deadly? A district attorney turned sociopath, his entire persona was wrapped up in dueling personalities which, while good for a chuckle or two in dialogue, never manifested into anything particularly threatening against Batman. For a majority of the series, he was concerned with Rupert Thorne, and the two of them duked it out as one would-be criminal against another fighting over turf.
He was constantly outsmarted by Batman, and was rarely considered the equal of his peers, which included the likes of Joker, Penguin, and The Riddler, all considered to be diabolical masterminds. Every plan he ever had was thwarted (including trying to strike a deal with the then Police Commissioner Gil Mason to frame Commissioner Gordon), and resulted either in imprisonment or disgrace.
All Oswald Cobblepot wanted was to be liked. He wanted to be sophisticated, debonair, and revered as a gentleman criminal. That’s probably why he tried to steal the Vonalster Faberge Egg, where he first encountered Batman. He was thwarted and sent to prison. Later, after he’d escaped, his next heist was a pair of endangered Condors from the Gotham Zoo. Maybe because he’s the Penguin he was naturally inclined to steal aviary treasures, but can we take any guy seriously who flees the scene of the crime on his umbrella?
To be fair, at one point he actually tries to steal the Batmobile by kidnapping the daughter of Batman’s mechanic, but he couldn’t float away from that one. When a villain’s weather deterrent is his most intimidating piece of weaponry, there’s no way they can be considered anything but lame.
Bane is considered a henchman much more than a main villain. A South American assassin chemically enhanced with Venom serum, he was renowned to be physically stronger than Batman himself. Like the start of most good ideas, the Cuban government used him as the test subject for a super soldier project, because using only the most dangerous criminals from Pena Duro prison is super practical. Shockingly, Bane, one such inmate, stole the formula for Venom and fled to the states, eventually demanding five million bucks per hit.
He mostly contracted to Rupert Thorne, who he one day hoped to usurp as the head of organized crime in Gotham. But he was always obsessed with Batman, even going so far as to kidnap Robin to get his attention. One carefully aimed Batarang took out his Venom provider, though, and big bad Bane was rendered useless.
Imagine if a well respected actor used an anti-aging cream to stay youthful forever, but instead of using pancake makeup they turned into the pancake. That’s about how you get to Clayface, once Matt Hagen before he was exposed to the chemical Renuyu. It’s not his fault — he was in a terrible car accident that destroyed his matinee idol looks, and when a corrupt scientist came along promising him a return to his former glory, he took it.
The stuff proved to be addicting, however, and Hagen tried to steal a large supply of it from Roland Daggett’s factory. He’s stopped by several henchman, however, who dump an entire vat of it on his face which saturates every cell in his body. Now he’s a walking lump of clay that can manifest into any shape it wants. This made him deadly but not, as it turned out, impervious to water.
10. RED CLAW
Much like Harley Quinn, Red Claw was a villain created specifically for the series. She was a femme fatale, like Poison Ivy, and head of the crime organization Multigon. Its archetype a sort of rip off of The Hand from Daredevil lore, the agenda of Multigon is unknown, but all the members bear a tattoo of a red claw on their shoulders, and spend their time kidnapping world leaders for large sums of cash.
Unlike Penguin, Two-Face, and other two bit villains, Red Claw had the cajones to steal things like plague viruses to unleash on Gotham, or activation codes for missiles from the British government, and had a fairly tight knit cohort of minions to do it with. She actually succeeds in launching a strike towards London, but Batman brings the missiles down with the Batwing. She escaped to cause havoc elsewhere.
There’s been some debate over the years about whether or not Catwoman can actually be considered a villain, considering she helps rescue Batman about as many times as she tries to harm him. Most of the time, she’s just minding her own business, vacillating between breaking pets out of facilities run by Roland Daggett who injects them with strange toxins, or robbing museums of priceless jewels. An exceptional thief, Batman always manages to be waiting for her, ready to begrudgingly bring her to justice.
Her deadliness comes in part from her skill at subterfuge, her acumen bringing her above lackey status (but just below that of criminal mastermind), and also due to her skill in combat. Where it shines involves Batman’s soft spot for Catwoman/her alter ego Selina Kyle, making her able to manipulate him in ways no other villain can without force.
8. THE RIDDLER
Hell hath no fury like a nerd scorned. Once a brilliant computer software designer for Competitron named Edward Nygma, he turned to a life of crime after his former boss took credit for the success of his games. Fired and swindled out of millions, Edward became The Riddler and kidnapped his former boss, leaving clues for Batman of where to locate him before he was killed.
Though he was an evil mastermind with a sizeable intellect, he wasn’t prepared to match wits with the Dark Knight, who always ended up solving his riddles and foiling his plans. This didn’t stop him from trying to continuously design the perfect trap that Batman couldn’t escape from. His penchant for creating mind altering realities in which to place his enemies makes him one of the more creative villains in the series.
7. THE MAD HATTER
A fanciful villain with a taste for theater, the foolery of The Mad Hatter’s get up and obsession with Alice in Wonderland only bellied his sinister interest in mind control. Once a meek, nerdy scientist named Jervis Tetch who, in ultimate “nice guy” fashion wigged out when a coworker (appropriately named Alice) wouldn’t go out with him, resorted to mind manipulation to get what he wanted. This didn’t work so well either, but he did almost succeed in getting to guys to almost jump from a bridge to their deaths, which caught the attention of Batman.
The Mad Hatter can make people do pretty much anything when they’re wearing his special hats with a playing card (mind control chip) wedged into the hatband, and occasionally with small dolls. He’s even successfully put Bats in a coma where he was trapped in a whimsical dream world. Love makes you do crazy things.
6. MR. FREEZE
Though most of the villains in Batman’s rogues gallery are certifiably insane, many of them still have plenty of emotional depth, which Batman sometimes uses to his advantage when outsmarting them. This is harder to do with Mr. Freeze once Victor Fries, a great scientist for GothCorp, now criminal after a tragic accident that left his once terminally ill wife cryogenically frozen in a coffin of ice indefinitely. The CEO was none too pleased that he was using GothCorp funds to try to save his wife, and kicked Victor into a vat of chemicals.
In a cryo suit specifically designed to regulate his temperature at zero degrees celsius, he organized a gang of henchmen and repeatedly raided GothCorp, which got him on Batman’s radar. He was able to best him many times over the course of their fights, usually with some sort of ice weapon.
5. R’AS AL GHUL
If Batman chose to give in to his darker side and become a villain, he might closely resemble R’as Al Ghul, a 600-year old terrorist that has used the centuries to become an expert scientist, warrior and multi-millionaire. In the 14th century he stumbled on Lazarus, which stopped the aging process and rejuvenated his body for hundreds of years. Not a fan of technology, he formed the Society of Shadows and with it, planned to rid the world of anything Earth harming and technologically toxic.
R’as Al Ghul thought big. He wasn’t just concerned with Gotham; his sights were on world cleansing. At one point, he planned to detonate Lazarus Pits around the world to return it to its natural form. He had the means, intellect and resources to be one of Batman’s most dangerous enemies.
4. THE PHANTASM
One of the more enigmatic and mysterious of Batman’s foes, the identity of The Phantasm eluded the Caped Crusader for some time. Depicted like the Grim Reaper, with a scythe-bladed gauntlet and a death mask, The Phantasm went on a killing spree in Gotham, taking out many of its known criminal syndicates. They were often mistaken for Batman, jeopardizing the Dark Knight’s role as protector of Gotham.
Not only is The Phantasm physically able to compete with Batman, but their ability to frame Batman for murder makes it difficult for him to operate as an enforcer of justice. When their identity is revealed to be Andrea Beaumont, his former fiance, it is all the harder to bring her to justice for her crimes.
3. POISON IVY
Once a renowned botanist, Dr. Pamela Isley led a double life as Poison Ivy, a villain whose only interest was protecting plant life. Never interested in money, power, or murder like her peers in the rogues gallery, she only sought revenge against those who harmed members of the arboreal community. Because her manner of revenge was often brutal, she frequently found herself in Arkham Asylum.
Unlike most of Batman’s enemies, Poison Ivy was the villain that had the closest abilities to superpowers. She has power over many varieties of plant life, and is able to make them do her bidding. At one point, she was even turning ecological wrongdoers into plants themselves. She’s immune to toxins (she can transmit them through a single kiss), and she secretes pheromones that make her (or her plant helpers) irresistible to men.
They say there’s nothing to fear but fear itself, and Scarecrow took that to heart. Once a professor at the University of Gotham named Jonathan Crane, he was obsessed since childhood with the fears and phobias of others. He often tried to terrify his students, inducing in them their worst fears. This practice ultimately got him fired, and shortly thereafter he became the criminal Scarecrow, who used nerve agents and a series of chemicals to strike fear into the citizens of Gotham quite literally.
Scarecrow had plans to cover all of Gotham with his specially formulated fear gas, but Batman foiled his attempts. On one such occasion, while locked in Arkham with Scarecrow, Batman got hit with a dose of fear gas and began having delusions involving the death of his parents and other nightmarish scenarios. He was able to defeat Scarecrow, but it revealed one of Batman’s greatest weaknesses.
1. THE JOKER
The Joker is considered Batman’s deadliest enemy, and is the foe he’s faced the most throughout his crimefighting career. The Joker has made it his life’s purpose to both take over Gotham City and break Batman emotionally and physically. Once a criminal involved in robbing Ace Chemicals, this resulted in Batman pushing him into a vat of chemicals.
While there is seemingly no rhyme or reason to The Joker’s schemes, they’re almost always the punchline to some joke of his. They range from trying to mind control his way into winning a comedy trophy to pointing nukes at the Mayor of Gotham’s house. While it’s difficult to predict his next move, his insanity isn’t in question. That, combined with his resources being as infinite as his hatred for Batman, makes him the deadliest villain in the series.
Do you agree or disagree with the ranking? Let us know in the comments!
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