Batman Villains 101
Most people are familiar with Batman in some form, be it the 1960s television series, the animated cartoon, the comic books, or the various big screen adaptations. With Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises opening this weekend, it only brings The Dark Knight back into the public eye, not that he ever really left.
As we all know, Bane is the chief bad guy in the next movie installment, with Catwoman also taking on a prominent role. Unless you’re a hardcore Batman fan, you probably don’t know all the various villains that Gotham’s hero has encountered. So to fill that void, we present this Batman Villains primer. It lists all the major foes, plus a few minor ones and one or two newer ones. It’s certainly not a complete list of adversaries, but it’s probably more than you ever wanted to know.
Real name: Unknown
First Appearance: 1940
Abilities: High intelligence, skilled chemist, access to a variety of gadgets, experience in hand to hand combat, joker venom.
We start with the supervillain widely considered to be Batman’s archenemy. The Joker is a master criminal with a clown-like appearance portrayed as a violent sociopath who murders people for his own amusement. His portrayal has morphed a bit over time, from the campy Cesar Romero version in the 1960s television show, to the vicious, calculating and psychopathic killer we see from Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Other notable performances include Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman and Mark Hamill in Batman: The Animated Series.
Real name: Selina Kyle
First Appearance: 1940
Abilities: Peak athlete, Expert burglar, steel spring-loaded climbing pitons, razor-sharp retractable claws, wields an assortment of bullwhips and cat o’ nine tails as gymnastic equipment.
Technically, there have been a number of Catwoman characters in the Batman Universe, but the original and most widely known is Selina Kyle. A whip-carrying burglar with a taste for high stake thefts, writers have attributed her activities and costumed identity as a response to a history of abuse. More anti-hero rather villainess, she straddles the border between good and evil including being one of Batman’s most enduring love interests. Most famously portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, she was also played by a trio of women on the 1960s TV Series (Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, and Eartha Kitt), plus was featured in a standalone film with Halle Berry. The latter was not a Selina Kyle Catwoman, however, and bore little resemblance to the comic book character. Anne Hathaway will be the new cat chick.
Real name: Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot
First Appearance: 1941
Abilities: Criminal genius, Assorted bird-related paraphernalia, deadly ‘trick’ umbrellas, vast underworld connections, skilled in organized leadership, expert in judo.
The Penguin is a short, chubby man who wears a tuxedo, top hat, and monocle. A mobster-type criminal, he fancies himself a “gentleman of crime” and unlike most Batman villains, he does not theme his crimes around a psychotic obsession. The Penguin does however possess a few eccentricities. He is known for his love of birds and his high-tech umbrellas that serve some specialized function. Although a second-string villain for many years, actor Burgess Meredith popularized the Penguin in the 1960s Batman TV Series, partially because of his signature “waugh waugh” squawking laughter. The character was popular enough to be featured in Batman Returns and was played by Danny DeVito. In more recent storylines, The Penguin becomes a nightclub owner engaging in more quiet criminal activity who Batman tolerates as a source of criminal underworld information.
Real name: Edward Nashton (Sometimes uses Nigma/Nygma)
First Appearance: 1948
Abilities: Genius-level deductive reasoning, vast esoteric knowledge.
Known for his purple domino mask and green, question mark-covered costume, either as a skintight catsuit or a business suit and bowler hat, the Riddler is obsessed with riddles, puzzles, and word games. He delights in forewarning police and Batman of his capers by sending them complex clues. Like most Batman villains, the Riddler has become a darker, more three-dimensional character in recent years. Whereas he was once portrayed as a playful but sane criminal trickster, he is now the victim of an intense obsessive compulsion. The Riddler was popularized by Frank Gorshin’s over-the-top, Emmy-nominated portrayal in the 1960s Batman television series and later played by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever. Batman: The Animated Series preferred to show the character as a calmer, intellectual egotist, more obsessed with proving his own cleverness than in creating puzzles. In the current animated series The Batman, The Riddler is presented in a sinister and Gothic fashion with a love of crime and a taste for computer hacking.
Real name: Harvey Dent
First Appearance: 1942
Abilities: Extensive knowledge of law enforcement, experienced hand-to-hand combatant.
Harvey Dent was originally Gotham City’s district attorney, but after being scarred for life, moved to a life of crime. He was nicknamed “Apollo” by the media, because he was charming, good-looking, and seemingly untouchable. He was dedicated to his job of upholding law and order, and became one of the first supporters, allies, and even friends of the Batman. With Batman and Commissioner James Gordon he formed a triumvirate to bring down crime. The alliance ended tragically when acid scarred the left side of his face and his left hand. Dent descended into madness and became obsessed with duality and opposites, and developed a second persona, the villainous Two-Face. At all times, he carries a double-sided coin with one side scarred. Two-Face has appeared twice in the movies, first by Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever, and later by Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight. Billy Dee Williams played Harvey Dent in the original Batman, but never morphed into Two-Face.
Real name: Dr. Jonathan Crane
First Appearance: 1941
Abilities: Well-educated on the psychology of fear, develops various tools which induce crippling fear, may transform under duress into the monstrous “Scarebeast,” gaining superhuman strength, endurance, and a more potent hallucinogen.
The Scarecrow and his lanky appearance and surname were inspired by Ichabod Crane of the horror fable The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He is a mentally unstable former psychologist, who uses a variety of drugs and psychological tactics to exploit the fears and phobias of his adversaries. He does not commit his crimes for wealth, but rather as a form of “research” to further study the effects of fear on humans, making the innocent citizens of Gotham his unwilling guinea pigs. In the film Batman Begins, he was played by Cillian Murphy, who reprised the role for The Dark Knight.
Real name: Pamela Lillian Isley
First Appearance: 1966
Abilities: Expertise in botany and toxicology, plant manipulation, can secrete various floral toxins to injure or intoxicate, immunity to all toxins, bacteria, and viruses, semi-mystical connection to the plant world through a force called the Green.
Poison Ivy is depicted as one of the world’s most prominent eco-terrorists, as she is obsessed with plants, botany, and environmentalism. She uses toxins from plants and her own bloodstream for her criminal activities, which are usually aimed at protecting the natural environment. Maybe she’s just a real liberal democrat? She can also create love potions that ensnare Batman and other strong-willed individuals. Though she tends to work alone, fellow villain Harley Quinn is a recurring partner-in-crime and possibly her only human friend. She was played by Uma Thurman in the disastrous Batman & Robin.
Real name: Dr. Victor Fries
First Appearance: 1959
Abilities: Genius-level intelligence, expert in cryogenics, wields a Freeze Gun and wears a suit that keeps his body temperature below freezing and enhances his strength.
Dr. Victor Fries (Fries is pronounced “freeze”) was an accomplished scientist until a fateful accident at the lab. Fries fell in love with a young woman named Nora and soon married her. She was diagnosed with a fatal disease known as MacGregor’s Syndrome. Fries, sickened with sorrow, attempted to save her using cryogenic technology. However, the experiment went terribly wrong and Fries’ equipment malfunctioned, consuming him and his lab in an explosion of ice. He somehow survived, but now his body could only survive at sub-zero temperatures, and Nora’s condition was now even more serious. In an effort to continue his wife’s treatment, he constructed a suit which would now protect him in his altered state. He has an obsession with ice and the need to build a criminal empire to raise research funds by robbing banks and the sort. Most notably portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Batman & Robin.
Real name: Unknown
First Appearance: 1993
Abilities: Peak human physical condition — when using Venom, superhuman strength, high intelligence, escapologist, skilled in hand to hand combat, expert strategist.
Bane spent his childhood in a hellish prison where he develops superhuman strength through a forced experiment involving the drug Venom. Although his dependency on Venom is an immense weakness, Bane has become one of Batman’s most intelligent and physically powerful foes. Although primarily a villain, Bane is a complex character and has worked to take down drug lords. Despite their history, he has sometimes had Batman’s financial backing and direct assistance. Pro-wrestler Jeep Swenson played him in the film Batman & Robin, although the depiction was more simplistic and thug-like than his comic book counterpart. Tom Hardy will play him in The Dark Knight Rises.
Real name: Harleen Francis Quinzel
First Appearance: 1992
Abilities: High intelligence, superhuman agility and strength, immunity to toxins, psychologist, skilled gymnast.
Harley Quinn first appeared in the Batman: The Animated Series where she served as a humorous female sidekick to the Joker. She was depicted as a character completely devoted to the Joker and totally oblivious to his psychotic nature and his obvious lack of affection for her. She was originally an Arkham Asylum psychiatrist who fell in love with the Joker. Although she often is depicted as his sidekick, she will venture off on her own as well. And just in case you were wondering, yes her name is a play on the word “harlequin.”
Real name: Ra’s al Ghul (or Rā’s al Ghūl)
First Appearance: 1971
Abilities: Immortality, master of combat.
Ra’s al Ghul is Arabic for “the ghoul’s head” and is an international terrorist and assassin whose ultimate goal is a world in perfect environmental balance. He believes that the best way to achieve this balance is to eliminate most of humanity. He is aided in this quest by the Lazarus Pits, reservoirs of rejuvenating chemicals that restore the dying to life; these pits have granted him a lifespan of several hundred years. He considers Batman his worthiest opponent, and has frequently sought to make The Dark Knight his successor. He is one of the few criminals in Batman’s rogues gallery to have deduced his secret identity as Bruce Wayne. For his own part, Batman’s opposition to Ra’s is complicated by his love for the villain’s daughter, Talia. Liam Neeson portrayed him in Batman Begins.
Real name: Jervis Tetch
First Appearance: 1948
Abilities: Technological mind-control devices.
The Mad Hatter was modelled after The Hatter from Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Tetch is fascinated with hats of all shapes and sizes, as well as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass, particularly favoring the chapter “A Mad Tea Party.” He is obsessive-compulsive, highly delusional, suffers from psychotic manic depression, and can even sometimes be homicidal. The delusions he exhibits combined with his thought process are the typical characteristics of schizophrenia. Not that he’s been diagnosed as such. Predictably he quotes and associates with Carroll’s Wonderland novels, but he often fails to discern between these stories and reality. He will also go to insane lengths to get what he wants.
Real name: Matthew Hagen
First Appearance: 1961
Abilities: Clayface can manipulate his physical features to make himself look like nearly anyone or anything, superhuman level strength.
The second Clayface, Matt Hagen, was a treasure hunter who finds a mysterious radioactive pool of protoplasm in a cave. Immersing himself in it, he is transformed into a malleable clay-like form which could be shaped into almost anything he desires. This is only a temporary effect, however, requiring him to return to the pool periodically in order to maintain use of his powers. He eventually copies the pool’s protoplasmic jelly by chemistry studies, although the artificial proptoplasm only allows him five hours of Clayface powers compared to the full two days of the pools.
Real name: Waylon Jones
First Appearance: 1983
Abilities: Croc has some experience at street fighting and wrestling, but he is nowhere near as proficient as Batman.
Killer Croc was born with a medical condition that caused him to grow progressively more like a crocodile, hence his name. His mother died in childbirth, and his father abandoned him. Jones was raised by his aunt, but her persistent drinking prevented him from growing up in an ideal household. As a teenager, Croc had no friends, and was the object of ridicule of those who knew him. By the time he reached adulthood, Waylon found work wrestling alligators. It was at this point that he began referring to himself as Killer Croc. Even then, his strength level was greatly beyond that of a normal human. Croc realized that there was more money to be made in crime, so he set out to become Gotham’s most powerful underground figure.
Real name: Floyd Lawton
First Appearance: 1950
Abilities: Expert marksmen/assassin.
Deadshot is a hired assassin, regularly boasting to “never miss,” even though he once accidentally shot his brother in the head. He is capable of using a large variety of weapons, but prefers using a pair of silenced, wrist-mounted guns. He initially appeared in Gotham City as a new crimefighter, but was revealed to be an enemy of Batman when he attempted to replace The Dark Knight. When this plan failed, he attempted to become king of Gotham’s Underworld. He now often appears as a hired gun for anyone willing to pay.
Real name: Garfield Lynns
First Appearance: 1966
Abilities: Expert in pyrotechnics and explosives.
Lynns was originally a pyrotechnic expert for motion pictures, but became a victim of Gotham City’s severe poverty and turned to crime, displaying signs of pyromania. Lynns took up arson as a hobby, but it soon turned to an obsession; he believes he can see visions in the flames. Inspired by actual fireflies, he built a suit and became a professional arsonist.
Real name: Thomas Elliot
First Appearance: 2003
Abilities: Thomas Elliot is a neurologist possessing a genius level intellect.
Born a child of wealth and privilege, young Tommy Elliot became close friends with Bruce Wayne. A short time later, Bruce’s parents met an untimely demise at the whim of a mugger’s bullet. Tommy discovered that Bruce had inherited the entire Wayne family fortune. Jealous of his affluent friend, Tommy crafted a scheme to earn his own fortune. He severed the brake lines to his parents’ car, sending the vehicle caroming off the side of the road. Tommy’s father was instantly killed, but his mother managed to survive. Tommy eventually came into possession of the fortune that he so desperately wanted, but he had to wait years, watching his mother suffer and ultimately succumb to cancer. Twisted by his own avarice, he inwardly blamed Bruce Wayne for his perceived “good fortune” – a mentality that would one day fuel an elaborate plot to destroy Bruce Wayne altogether.