You’d be hard pressed to find a comic book fan who disagrees that Batman undoubtedly has one of the best -- if not the best -- rogue's galleries of any comic book character. Whereas most heroes have an arch-nemesis and a small handful of memorable foes to match, Batman’s list of compelling, iconic villains is seemingly endless, with characters old and new alike quickly etching their way into popular culture. But what exactly is it that makes Batman’s villains so great?
In addition to being fun conceptually, there’s almost always an effort to establish a specific psychology for each of his enemies, not only making them feel like actual characters rather than gimmicky “monster of the week” villains, but playing into the explicitly psychological nature of Batman as a character. The twisted mind of a villain isn’t always the most stable place however, making many of his foes disturbing on a very human level. While these villains can range from monstrous, superpowered creatures to sadistic serial killers, almost all of them deal in fear and dread -- which is likely why Gotham City is always portrayed as such a dark, grim place. Of all of Gotham’s villains, here are the 15 we think are the absolute creepiest, ranked.
15 DOCTOR PHOSPHORUS
The unfortunate victim of an accident involving a leaky nuclear reactor and a deadly dose of radioactive sand, Dr. Alex Sartorius -- under his newfound alias Doctor Phosphorus -- made it his mission to track down and kill everyone responsible for his gruesome fate, and honestly, it’s hard to blame him.
Left with perpetually burning skin following the accident, Sartorius emits a fiery greenish-yellow glow, with his translucent skin fully revealing the skeleton beneath. With a design disturbing enough to make David Cronenberg jealous, Doctor Phosphorus’ powers are perhaps even more terrifying than his appearance. Able to burn enemies with his sizzling skin, Doctor Phosphorus is also able to manipulate various forms of radiation and can emit toxic fumes, which combined with his uncontrollable rage, ensures a truly terrible death for his victims.
Desperate to put a stop to his impending deafness, brilliant scientist Dr. Kirk Langstrom develops a serum designed to emulate a bat’s sonar abilities -- only for it to turn him into a giant, monstrous bat instead. Granted several bat-based abilities including flight and echolocation, it’s Man-Bat’s enhanced strength, speed and stamina that make him an imminent threat to Batman, as well as Gotham at large.
Stripped of all human intelligence during his transformations, Man-Bat frequently wreaks havoc throughout Gotham until Batman finds a way to restore the rampaging creature to his human form. While Langstrom often shows regret and sadness over the carnage his transformations bring, he also appears to be hopelessly dependent on the serum, making the cycle of destruction destined to continue. It’s also worth mentioning here that Man-Bat also provides one of the most memorable video game jump scares in recent memory in Batman: Arkham Knight.
13 KILLER CROC
Born with atavistic genes resembling those of his reptilian ancestors, Waylon Jones’ intimidating appearance and rough upbringing pretty much guaranteed he’d become a supervillain at some point. An iconic Bat-villain to those familiar with the Caped Crusader, Croc’s depictions in the comics have ranged from a relatively sympathetic and misunderstood villain (as seen in The New 52 and Rebirth), to a relentless, murderous psychopath -- and it’s the latter that solidifies Killer Croc as one of Batman’s creepiest villains.
Often acting on pure instinct, Killer Croc is no stranger to cannibalism, gleefully devouring those foolish enough to make him angry. Just the idea of Killer Croc lurking around the sewers in pursuit of his next victim is enough to send a shiver down your spine, ensuring him a spot on this list.
Sometimes the creepiest villains are the ones that share a close personal relationship with our hero, and Hush is no exception. A childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, Thomas Elliot’s friendly veneer effectively hid his burgeoning psychopathy. Cutting the brakes on his parents’ car in the hopes of gaining their inheritance, Elliot became infuriated with the Waynes after Bruce’s father managed to save his mother’s life in surgery.
Further embittered by Bruce’s inheritance following his parents’ deaths, Elliot embarked on a crusade to destroy Bruce after discovering his identity as Batman. Wearing bandages over his face, Hush manipulates many of Batman’s villains into making his life a living hell, before eventually being thwarted. It’s later revealed however, that Hush’s bandages conceal an even darker secret -- he’s been performing plastic surgery on himself to become identical to Bruce Wayne, further complicating the billionaire’s life.
11 THE VENTRILOQUIST/SCARFACE
Although three characters have taken on the Ventriloquist mantle over the years, Arnold Wesker, the first incarnation of the character, is certainly the most memorable. Born and raised in the mafia, Wesker begins to develop a severe case of dissociative identity disorder after witnessing his mother’s death at the hands of a rival gang.
Using Scarface – a gangster-themed puppet made of wood from Blackgate’s gallows -- The Ventriloquist uses his mind to pull off elaborate crimes. What’s most striking about the character though is just how different the reserved, mild-mannered Wesker is from his puppet, with the two often coming into conflict with each other. Although it’s been long assumed that Wesker’s mental illness is the sole reason for Scarface’s existence, it’s also been hinted that something more supernatural is going on with the puppet -- and honestly, it’s hard to say which scenario is more terrifying.
10 JANE DOE
Debuting in the pages of Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, Jane Doe is a ruthless serial killer with the ability to transform into her victims. Able to shapeshift, mimic voices and quickly embody the personality, skills and quirks of others, Doe is incredibly hard to trace, making her a formidable foe. Claiming to feel “incomplete” and “empty”, Doe’s obsession with impersonation stems from her desire to live other people’s lives -- a claim bolstered by her complete anonymity and apparent lack of identity.
Scarred and disfigured with blood red skin to match, Jane Doe’s natural appearance is strangely reminiscent of Red Skull, but the character still manages to be even more frightening in someone else’s skin than her own. Managing to shoot Commissioner Gordon three times after infiltrating his office amongst other grisly crimes, Jane Doe’s talents are both impressive and incredibly alarming.
9 MAD HATTER
Dating all the way back to 1948’s Batman #49, Jervis Tetch, aka Mad Hatter, is easily one of the most unstable and delusional villains in Batman’s entire rogues gallery. Although many of his earlier appearances made the character out to be somewhat laughable, it seems the character has been handled with much more care in recent years, turning him into a truly creepy villain.
Obsessed with Alice in Wonderland, Tetch can frequently be found kidnapping women, attempting to force them to become his new “Alice”, often killing them after they fail to live up to his impossible standards. When he’s not searching for his latest Alice however, he’s manipulating others with his powerful mind control technology, even using it to commit mass murder as seen in Batman: The Dark Knight #8, where he forces an entire train full of people to commit suicide.
8 DOCTOR HURT
After appearing as an unnamed character in 1963’s Batman #156, Dr. Simon Hurt resurfaced as a major villain for the Caped Crusader back in 2008. Able to manipulate the psychology of others as well as use his genius to create copies of Batman, Hurt is hellbent on destroying every aspect of Bruce Wayne’s life. Attempting to destroy the Waynes’ reputation, as well as hoping to murder Batman and replace him with a twisted copy, Hurt claims to be Thomas Wayne -- a devil-worshipping ancestor of Bruce who was shunned by his family for his Satanic activities.
This account isn’t reliable however, and it’s even been alluded to that Hurt could be a demon known as Barbatos, the Devil himself, or even a new host to Darkseid -- and it’s this air of mystery surrounding Doctor Hurt that makes the character such a chilling addition to Batman’s list of villains.
7 DOCTOR DEATH
Despite being known as the first classic supervillain to face off against Batman in 1939’s Detective Comics #29, it’s actually Doctor Death’s New 52 reboot that manages to land the character on this list. Introduced in the “Zero Year” storyline as a bitter ex-Wayne Enterprises employee, Death doses several citizens of Gotham with a serum that forces unstoppable bone growth, killing them in horrific fashion.
With a personal grudge against Bruce Wayne, who he holds responsible for his son’s death, Doctor Death initially intended to use the serum to cure all weakness, testing the formula on himself in the process. Unable to make it work as intended however, Death is content with pursuing brutal and indiscriminate vengeance instead. What really pushes the character over the edge is his gruesome look: long, thin bones, disgusting gnarled teeth and piercing eyes.
6 CALENDAR MAN
While Calendar Man is just as likely to appear on a different list as one of Batman’s lamest villains, Calendar Man is nothing less than completely disturbing. A serial killer obsessed with dates and holidays, Julian Gregory Day was initially an absurd gimmick of a villain, but the depths of the character’s depravity and darkness eventually began to rise to the surface.
Memorable primarily for his creepy Silence of the Lambs-reminiscent role in The Long Halloween, Calendar Man’s most harrowing appearance is actually in the video game Batman: Arkham City, in which the player can visit the villain on certain real-world holidays, where he’ll proceed to vividly describe a gruesome act he committed on that particular date. As if that wasn’t chilling enough, following Rebirth, Calendar Man now ages with the seasons, reaching old age in the winter before emerging from his skin-husk in spring as a new man.
5 CORNELIUS STIRK
One of Batman’s lesser known villains despite his infamously vile agenda, Cornelius Stirk is a deranged killer like many others in Batman’s rogues gallery, with one distinct difference: he’s also a cannibal. Able to induce fear and panic in his victims by telepathically projecting hallucinations, Cornelius Stirk can also lull his prey into a false sense of security using the same method and is generally about as insane as they come.
Falsely believing that he requires the nutrients from human hearts in order to sustain himself, Stirk comes to the conclusion that the organs are best prepared in a marinade of norepinephrine -- meaning he needs to terrify his victims before death. Despite his depraved habits however, Cornelius Stirk is insistent that he doesn’t have a stomach for violence.
4 VICTOR ZSASZ
It’s often said that the monster we fear most is actually humanity itself, and that’s certainly true of Victor Zsasz. Perhaps the most infamous serial killer in Batman’s rogues gallery, Victor Zsasz is the classic combination of dangerous and insane. Often described as the personification of evil, Zsasz not only relishes his sadistic killings, but actually sees them as a gift to his victims. Regarding existence as completely meaningless, Zsasz believes his victims have been freed from life -- which may explain his proclivity for targeting young women and other innocents.
Carving a tally mark into his flesh for each person he’s killed, it’s clear from a glance that Zsasz’s murders number in the hundreds. With no superpowers or enhanced abilities to draw from, it’s Zsasz’s sharp albeit damaged mind, skill with blades and utter relentlessness that make him a persistent obstacle for Batman to overcome.
3 PROFESSOR PYG
Debuting in Batman #666, it’s clear that Professor Pyg was intended to be the stuff of nightmares from the outset. A mad surgeon donning a pig mask and a surgical apron, Professor Pyg is completely divorced from reality. Hellbent on creating Dollotrons -- humans who’ve been mutilated and turned into grotesque, mindless drones complete with a surgically attached doll mask -- the only thing more horrifying than Pyg himself is the idea of being transformed into one of his minions.
Although Pyg remains a relatively recent Batman villain -- only being introduced by creator Grant Morrison in 2007 -- he’s become something of a fan favorite thanks to the character’s spine-tingling creep factor and over-the-top madness. There’s just something so genuinely repulsive about the Dollotrons’ fate that it’s sure to mess with your head -- and that’s what’s sure to give Professor Pyg staying power for years to come.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Master of Fear himself easily stands as one of Batman’s most petrifying foes. Even ignoring his Fear Toxin for a second, the image of a deranged criminal donning the guise of a sinister scarecrow alone is enough to make some shudder. Take his burlap aesthetic and combine it with his potent fear toxin however, and you have one of the most memorably macabre villains in comic book history.
Able to inject his victims with a chemical that induces horrifying hallucinations, Scarecrow can get in your head like no other villain can. Creating a twisted, hellish dreamscape in the minds of his enemies, stories featuring Scarecrow are often loaded with complete and utter nightmare fuel. Whether it’s the demonic Batman in Batman Begins, the diner scene in Batman: Arkham Knight or pretty much every time he shows up in the comics, the sheer terror Scarecrow leaves in his wake translates perfectly across all mediums.
1 THE JOKER
Sure, it may seem like the obvious choice, but of all the fearsome baddies Bats has come up against over the years, none have managed to leave the mental and emotional scars that Joker has. Truly sadistic with a sick sense of humor, Joker’s penchant for laughing heartily while committing the darkest crimes imaginable allows him to burrow under the skin of readers like no other villain.
Adding to his creep factor is the mystery behind his identity and origin, and while several pseudo-backstories have been given over the years, none of these are considered canon and merely add to the character’s disturbing legend. Whether or not he’s the ages-old Pale Man of Gotham, the wise-cracking prankster of Batman’s early years or the tragic, failed comedian of The Killing Joke is ultimately unimportant -- the Joker is a terrifying, unstoppable force of nature, and that’s all we need to know.