Every hero needs someone to poke at their flaws while putting innocent people in the way of danger. From infamous clowns to mysterious masked quiz makers, Batman has a slew of villains that test his moral and physical strength. These villains are just as important to the criminal community of Gotham City as they are to the existence of Batman.
There are some bad guys and gals that have gone toe-to-toe with Batman since the first issue back in 1939, and we've found what makes six of these villains in Batman's rouges' gallery the best foils to our Dark Knight. From the failings of a mentor to the complicated relationship that tests Batman's abilities as a hero, here is what you can take away from Batman's greatest foes.
The failings of a teacher
As the second pupil under Batman, Jason Todd is vengeance without limitations. Donning the alias of the Red Hood, Todd becomes a brutal and vicious crimefighter, seeking revenge on Batman for not avenging his death and failing as a mentor. Red Hood is the darkness the Dark Knight could be if he went all the way and killed those he fought. Unlike Dick Grayson, who represented an evolved and lighter side of Bruce, Jason Todd is the opposite, embodying the brutality while relishing in isolation.
By splitting a character’s personality into two parts, you can examine the shortcomings of their personality and create a villain who embodies those dueling morals that the hero faces each time they engage with a criminal. Jason Todd as the Red Hood also creates tension between himself and Batman through their shared relationship. Batman represents the father figure that failed his son.
'Batman: Under the Red Hood' Credit: DC Comics
Create an empathic and tragic villain
Although Mr. Freeze can be seen as a second-tier villain who reveals something deeper about Batman’s psyche, he is still a complex villain that is more tragic than malicious.
The introduction of Nora Fries in Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero gives Freeze an overarching purpose that most comic-book villains lack. Freeze and Batman both are driven by a need to conquer death and protect the ones they love. One just goes about it in a way that is a bit too cruel for the average person.
Creating empathy for a villain is about highlighting their motivation and their justification for their actions. Mr. Freeze wants to save Nora at any cost, sacrificing himself in the Harley Quinn animated series to give Nora his life so she could live. The deeply tragic villain highlights the other side of the coin that Batman could become if his desire overpowered his morals.
'Gotham Knights' Credit: WB Games
Break the supervillain mold
Most villains are masters of chaos that are hungry for power. Bane, however, wants complete freedom and equality. The emotional and intelligent bad guy is easy to make fun of, becoming a parody character in the Harley Quinn animated series, but he is still the man who escaped the Pit and often beats Batman close to an inch of his life. When he isn’t breaking Batman’s back, Bane is endlessly emotionally tormenting people with his wit, pushing everyone to the brink of their psyche.
Bane is Batman’s liberation. Known as “The Man who Broke Bat,” Bane forces Batman to reevaluate everything he stands for by constantly breaking down Batman’s morality with strength and depravity. How far would Batman go to uphold the inequality of urban life, to restore order to a classist system that favors men like Bruce Wayne?
'The Dark Knight Rises' Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
The hero turned villain
For the greater part of The Dark Knight , Harvey Dent is a hero—one who doesn’t need to hide in the shadows to be Gotham’s symbol for justice and hope. As he loses his grasp on his identity as the city’s White Knight, he begins to transform into a terrifying and tragic villain that wants order on his terms.
Harvey’s descent into madness serves as the cruel commentary of Batman’s story: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Similar to Mr. Freeze, Harvey (also known as Two-Face) wants to protect the city, but he’ll go just a step further than Batman would like, pointing a gun at a henchman's head in a confession. His good and evil nature are at war with each other, manifesting in his burnt appearance as he gives in to his worse tendencies.
'The Dark Knight' Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
A lover who is both good and bad for the hero
Catwoman has been causing problems for Gotham, Bruce Wayne, and Batman since the very beginning of the franchise. The woman dressed in a vinyl-clad catsuit lurks in and out of the moral shadows like no one else. The duality of Catwoman is a perfect match for Bruce’s own, tempting him to follow her into the darkness.
What makes Catwoman an interesting villain is that her sense of survival is strong. She has helped the Dark Knight more than once to protect Gotham from becoming uninhabitable. She wants the thrill of the steal, the thrill of being chased. If that’s gone, then her thrills are gone, too.
The Cat’s and Bat’s relationship allows space for more. They admire each other for their skills and differing perspectives on life. They allow each other to grow, using their minor faults to push the other past the traumas that inhibit them from moving forward. With Catwoman, Batsy isn’t a brooding loner who is overshadowed by the death of his parents. Instead, he is a man with a woman by his side that will kick the living shit out of anyone who stands in their way.
'The Batman' Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Write the perfect foil for the hero
Every hero needs a villain that tests the boundaries of the hero’s moral code. While Batman is vengeance on a search for order, Joker is chaos, creating trouble for the simple joy of it.
The relationship between Batman and Joker is one that is codependent—Batman needs Joker to create chaos so he can bring order, and the Joker needs Batman to prove that morality and decency are ridiculous lies with no basis. In reality, it's fun entertainment. It’s like an unhealthy relationship that keeps poking at the other’s fundamental flaws. Batman won’t kill Joker because of his strict “no-kill” rule, and the Joker mocks the Bat because the only way the chaos will end is if the Clown Prince of Crime is killed.
The Joker is a true agent of chaos, taking out anyone because he can and wants to. His madness is infectious.
If there is anything we can learn from this arch-nemesis relationship, it's that one needs the other to flourish. The darkness and seriousness of Batman are tested by the unsettling brightness of Joker.
'The Dark Knight' Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Villains come in all different shapes and forms. Some have powers that make them hungry for more, while others just use their intelligence to create unnerving anarchy. As long as the Bat is still around, there will always be someone to question his sense of justice.
When you are creating your hero, understand the things that drive them and the boundaries to their efforts. Then, create a villain that crosses those boundaries with the hopes of liberating themselves and their cause. Create controlled chaos that ties the hero and villain together for life.
Do you have a favorite Batman villain? Let us know why they are your favorite in the comments below!