WARNING: The following contains spoilers for DC Comics' ongoing Batman series by Tom King and Mikel Janin.
Throughout decades of crises in the Dark Knight's life, his rogues' gallery has grown exponentially. It's become filled with some profoundly sadistic individuals, so much so that some fans would argue to the bone that Bruce Wayne has the nastiest, meanest villains in all of comics.
It's hard to deny this when you've got someone like Joker as your archnemesis. Apart from being a mass murderer and terrorist, he's done terrible things to Bruce, from the murder of Jason Todd to the assault on Barbara Gordon, so it's no surprise he's touted as the Caped Crusader's greatest enemy, a popular opinion among many.
However, as Tom King has illustrated since taking over the Batman solo title since DC Rebirth, if you're looking for the Bat's most cerebral villain, one who has matched him mentally and physically over the years, his greatest opposition isn't the Clown Prince of Crime, it's Bane.
THE BRUTE EQUIVALENT
We agree Joker has taken the Bat to the cleaners at times, but only one man has truly broken him. Bane's back-breaking exploits in Knightfall stand as the Dark Knight's greatest defeat in combat, and one which almost drove him to retirement (not to mention it almost shattered the symbol of the Bat-family when Azrael took over).
Twenty-five years later, King continues to show Bane is his true equal in the field as a wrestler and martial artist, with arcs like "I Am Suicide" pushing Batman to the limit in Santa Prisca. With or without his size-altering drug, Venom, the villain often pummels and constricts the Bat, because he's adapted from years of fighting. He's learned and evolved with each meeting, because he doesn't just see it as a brawl, it's a dance to him. That's why he deconstructs and studies Batman's every move, as Bane knows he'll never kill a villain, which allows him to prepare for their next inevitable tango.
Batman #59, which brings the Bat to Arkham to dish out a beating on Bane, proves why he's physically a genius, as he opts not to engage, but to submit and allow Bruce to beat him senseless, pretending to be drugged. It's all tactics for a bigger endgame, and Bane is all too ready to sacrifice his body now for what's to come later. And that makes him even more dangerous than the Joker -- he's not rash, impulsive or emotional. Bane is methodical, cold and calculating, and when it comes to a fight, he's patient, ready to lose the battle to win the war.