I've been a Batman fan since before I can remember. He's always been one hero that I can relate to in many ways and he always has the absolute best toys! Over the years, some amazing villains have graced the screen and comic books opposite the Dark Knight. The Joker, Clayface, Killer Croc, Ra's al Ghul, The Penguin and many others make up perhaps the greatest "Rogues Gallery" of comic-dom. You certainly don't see people dressing up as Parasite. (Sorry, Superman.) There's always been a great discussion as to who is the greatest villain that Batman has ever faced. Some say that the Clown Prince of Crime is the greatest, while others contend that Bane is the only one to break the Bat. I'm going to take my top five picks for "greatest Bat-villain" and rank them for you.
Before I begin, I'd like to thank some awesome co-conspirators from the Moviepilot community. A shout-out goes to Johnathan E. Weaver II, Mark Robirds, Tom Perkins, Tj Smith, Fergus Coyle, Cole Zweber, Errol Teichert, John Carter, Adam Bosher, Kyle Skillings, and Shadan Syed for their input into who they thought was the greatest opponent of the Dark Knight. Now, on to my top five!
5. Scarecrow (a.k.a. Jonathan Crane)
Introduced in 1941 (World's Finest Comics #3), he only appeared in two comic books till the '60s. He's since then become a common character in the Batman mythology, but always seems to be a little underrated. We all know about his fear toxin, but, he is also a master of hand-to-hand combat. His "violent dancing" is a combination of Crane Kung-fu and Zui quan. This combined with his scythe create a lethal combination in and of themselves. He has a dizzying intellect, even though he's one of the maddest characters in the Gallery. He often quotes nursery rhymes and poems, and is much like a fear-themed Joker.
Scarecrow makes this list for this reason: he can defeat the Dark Knight psychologically. His fear toxin has so often left Bruce inoperable, and quite honestly, terrified. While this is not entirely on topic, Scarecrow's gas has been powerful enough to affect Kryptonians. The only thing that Crane truly fears is the Batman himself, and because of his obsession with fear, confrontations are often sought after. He fears the Bat, so he wants to face the Bat. And, if the Dark Knight isn't prepared, he loses to Scarecrow. Crane is not a villain that can be beaten with fists. If you recall the film Batman Begins, Crane nearly defeated the Bat, and wasn't anywhere near him. The Scarecrow is unpredictable, sadistic, and equipped with a weapon that is almost unstoppable.
4. Ra's al Ghul (League of Assassins)
The Demon's Head, the centuries-old assassin, Ra's is perhaps one of Batman's deadliest foes. He is a master of all forms of martial arts, as well as hand-held weaponry. His access to the Lazarus Pits have granted him unnaturally long life, with some reports putting him at over 700 years old. His knowledge spans centuries, and his wisdom and instinct are un-paralleled. He's a relatively newer villain, first appearing in Batman #232: Daughter of the Demon (1971), but ever since, he and his League of Shadows have wreaked havoc on Batman, Gotham, and the world. Some of the greatest warriors and assassin's have fought under Ra's, including his two daughters Talia and Nyssa, Lady Shiva, Bane, Malcolm Merlyn, Cassandra Cain, Bronze Tiger, and Ebeneezer Darrk.
Ra's is so dangerous because of his skill in combat, and how long his reach is. The League is around the globe, with powerful agents in every city, behind every corner. Batman was not trained by Ra's in the comic books, though in the Chris Nolan films he was taught by the Demon's Head. Most of the members of the League, however, are able to take the Bat on in a one-on-one fight and hold their own. Ra's has defeated Batman numerous times in hand-to-hand combat, as well as sword fights. Because of his vast wealth and power, he can infiltrate whatever circle of influence he wants. He is merciless, ancient, and nearly unstoppable, and if he is stopped, someone will rise to take his place.
The man who broke the Bat is not to be taken lightly. Born in a prison on Santa Prisca, before he ever acquired the Venom used to make him insanely strong, Bane was a master of eight languages, and multiple fighting styles. He deduced, not discovered, Batman's identity within a year, and Ra's al Ghul said that Bane "has a mind equal to the greatest he has known (Batman)". Bane uses calm and peace to create havoc. He is almost always serene, which creates a frightening effect in his opponents. It doesn't hurt also that with the Venom, he can lift up to 15 tons. Since 1995, Bane has stopped using the addictive poison, but is still one of the toughest villains in the comic universe.
Bane simply is the strongest opponent that Batman has fought. He's the only villain to put Bruce on the ground. Whereas some have temporarily stopped or defeated Batman, Bane broke his back. Granted, Bruce was sick, but, I don't think that it would have been hard for Bane to crush Batman had he been well. Bane's mind is comparable to that of the Bat's, and his cunning is beyond compare. While some would argue that Bane just needs to be disconnected from his Venom tank, remember that he doesn't use it anymore. Combine this intelligence with superior strength and skill, and Bane is one villain that could consistently defeat Batman.
2. The Joker
Now, why isn't our Clown Prince of Crime #1? We'll get to that. With the previous villains, they all could do one thing really well. Some could defeat the Bat mentally, while some could out-fight him. With our last two, we see a shift. The Joker and our Number One can defeat Batman in multiple ways. The others can as well, but they're more known for physically beating or psychologically defeating Batman. With the Joker, we see a whole new level of crazy.
The Joker was first seen Batman #1 of 1940. He's basically been there from the very beginning. Not much introduction is necessary for this character. He's another one with genius-level intellect, and master skills in hand-to-hand combat. What sets the Joker apart is his insanity. It's not just like an obsession with fear, or a disorder as it is the embodiment of chaos. He originally was just a heartless psycopath with a very unique calling card. Over the years, he's gone many a change, but he's always stayed Batman's top enemy. Insanity versus Order, Good versus Evil, Batman versus the Joker. Joker has always acted as a sort of reverse Batman. Whereas Bane is like a Batman who was a villain, Joker is like everything that the Batman is not.
He has not only beaten the Batman in combat, but he has shattered the man behind the mask. The Joker killed Jason Todd (A Death in the Family, 1989) in brutal fashion. It changed Batman into something much darker than had really been seen before. Jason's death affected him as much as his parent's death did. Speaking of, that too might have been the Joker's doing, depending on which story you read. The Joker also paralyzed Barbara Gordon and drove James Gordon insane in The Killing Joke (1988). And everything he did in The Killing Joke was just to prove that one bad day could drive a man to madness. The Joker is one villain that Batman could not do without.
1. The Court of Owls
No pun intended, but who on earth are they? The Court is a centuries old organization who has manipulated Gotham city and ruled the lives of the people in the city. They have only been around for four years, having kicked off the New 52 Batman series (Batman #1). They consist of some of the oldest and wealthiest families in the city, except of course, for the Waynes. Their weapon is the Talon, an undead super-soldier used to assassinate targets. Most of the city, including Bruce Wayne, think that they are just a myth, something out of a nursery rhyme:
Beware the Court of Owls, that watches all the time,
Ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch, behind granite and lime.
They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed.
Speak not a whispered word about them, or they'll send the Talon for your head.
If anyone does something outside the plan of the Court, they send a Talon to assassinate the perpetrator. The Waynes have always been plagued by the Court, and in one night, Batman, and the entire Bat-family were nearly defeated. The Talons themselves are nearly unstoppable, feel no pain, and have regenerative abilities. Their fighting skill is enough to put Batman on his heels, and it takes a powerful cryogenic agent to stop them. And, there are hundreds of them. The Court itself has unlimited funds, and can shut down any enterprise that a Wayne, or anyone else tries to start. They already know who Bruce Wayne is, and in one night they nearly destroy Wayne Manor, and invade the Batcave. Talons are sent out to kill dozens of people in Gotham, including Commissioner Gordon. Every member of the Bat-family is sent to protect who they can, and each one is given a run for their money as they try to fight an unstoppable force. They never really defeat the Court, but they just stop them for the time being. The Court is the greatest opponent to Batman, in my opinion, because they target every aspect of the Bat. At one point, he's captured by the Court, and is psychologically tortured. The entire idea of owls and bats is that of fear. Owls eat bats, and the Owls certainly scare Bruce on several occasions. The Court almost successfully infiltrates the Wayne family numerous times with Talons. They physically beat him. Bruce is stabbed multiple times, thrown off a skyscraper, and has to resort to a Hulkbuster-style suit to ward the Talons off in the Batcave.Honorable Mentions:
The Riddler (Edward Nigma) for always keeping the Bat on his toes with outlandish riddles and puzzles that push the Dark Knight to his mental limits.Talia al Ghul for being one of the only ladies to truly steal Bruce Wayne's heart. She also dumped Damien on Bruce, so, that's almost worth a number one spot right there.An earthquake. No joke, inNo Man's Land
(1999), a massive earthquake hit Gotham city. As John Carter so eloquently explained it to me:"The Caped Crusader is put to the ultimate test. It is a travesty that shatters Gotham, but there is no one to blame. There is no villainous mastermind for Batman to defeat. The best part is that he had no way to prepare. He couldn't prepare. There is no gadget in his belt that could solve his problems. He is pushed to his limits."
In conclusion, every one of these villains or organizations have given Batman a tough fight, and even beaten him in many cases. In the end, however, Batman always wins out, as he should. Good always ends up winning over evil. I hope that you've enjoyed my list, and I certainly hope that you'll discuss any thought you had in the comments section.