BG Roundtable: Best Batman Villain

by Betsy

Batman is widely considered to have the best Rogue's Gallery of any comic book character. Between the Joker, the Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Catwoman, and more, the Dark Knight has his work cut out for him when it comes to keeping the streets of Gotham City safe. This, of course, begs the question - who is the best Batman villian? I rounded up the rogues of the Bad Genious to find out the answer.

Ever contrary, Tim kicked things off by saying, "I'm something of an exception to the 'Batman has awesome villains' consensus. He's got a lot of memorable ones, sure, but the ones that actually threaten him, as opposed to being a bit of entertaining run-around fodder is - I think - a little scarce."

Your Friendly Neighborhood Editor was about to wing a batarang right at Tim's head when he thought better of this stance and continued. "I do like me some Joker though. And Riddler, for all his uselessness. But number one? Mister Freeze."

"Admittedly, this is thanks to the awesome Batman '90s animated series and it shows that the quality of his character varies greatly with how much the writers play to those strengths. But if they do? Wow. Creepy as hell. Intelligent. Driven. Focused. In a gallery of insane rogues, he stands out as remarkably sane. Evil? Perhaps, but always with a touch of ambiguity. Check out Gotham Central 1; he takes the time after being surprised by a pair of police officers to teach one of them the meaning of loss by killing his partner. He's not driven by sadism or malice, but rather by the desire to share his vision of the world. He's right, you see. We just can't see it. In that way he's very much like the best characterizations of the Joker, but where the big J is insane and irrational, Mister Freeze's twisted world view is made all the more sinister by the fact that he is very much compos mentis. Brrr."

Matt was quick to agree. "I don't follow the Batman books all that much but I do have a soft spot for Mr. Freeze. He has more of a hero-like origin, he tried to save his wife with cryogenics. An explosion involving his cryogenic formula, transformed him into Mr. Freeze. But instead of using his gifts heroically he decided to live a life of crime. I also like that he has to wear a cool-looking special armor suit to keep his body at a cold temperature in order to survive. He had a fantastic episode in the first Batman: The Animated Series which made me a fan of the character."

I've got to put in my own vote here for another chilly Batman villain: The Penguin. The Penguin is different from other Bat villains in that he is not crazy. I mean, granted, he dresses like a penguin and has a thing for umbrellas, but he's not a homicidal maniac; he is the gentleman of crime. But if I'm really being honest, part of the reason that the Penguin is my favorite Bat baddie is much the same as the reason that the Penguins are my favorite hockey team. I just think penguins are adorable. That's why I absolutely hated Danny DeVito's interpretation of The Penguin, but also found myself saying, "Aw!" when his penguin army invaded Gotham City. Is that a girly answer, or what?

Chris has trouble making up his mind on this one. "Favorite Bat villain, huh?" he muses. "My first instinct is to say Joker, because he seems like the one who's been fleshed out the most and is the most interesting. But that seems like such a standard answer. Then there's Ra's al Ghul, who is a very complex character, but I haven't had that much experience with him. Now that the Riddler has "switched sides," he makes for an interesting foil to Batman. Is Catwoman considered a villain still? The complicated relationship she has with Batman makes for some very unusual stories."

At this point, Your Friendly Neighborhood Editor picks up her batarang again, telling Chris to make up his mind.

"Overall, I guess I'd have to go with Joker: psychotic, frightening, and he knows how to push Bruce's buttons."

Doug immediately (albeit reluctantly) agreed. "As much as I keep trying to come up with a not-so-obvious answer, my favorite Bat villain is the Joker. I mean, come on, he’s definitely Batman’s #1 enemy. However, I think he’s been ridiculously over-exposed in the past 15 years or so, and I’d really prefer it if DC didn’t loan the Joker out as a nemesis to the likes of Robin and Azrael. And while we’re at it, Ra’s al Ghul could have used a much longer vacation than the one he got after his supposed death."

Doug then picked up his cane and told me all about the problems with "these kids today."

Liana loves the Joker too, but she prefers a different interpretation of the Clown Prince of Crime. "When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things was hiding from my annoying little brother and watching the old '60s Batman show on the little tv down in our Queens basement. That show, to me at the time, was about the coolest thing going. My favorite episodes were those staring Cesar Romero as The Joker. Considering how tamed down the characters were from the comic series (something I did not know at the time) and how corny it all was, this silly version of the Joker managed to maintain his essence (minus the homicidal maniac bit) and, for many people, actually provides the definitive version of the character (minus the homicidal maniac bit). Cesar Romero's cackle and creepy painted-over mustache kept the Joker menacing and unrepentant, and it's his particular portrayal that is my favorite Bat villain."

Indeed, it seems that while everybody loves a clown (so why don't you?), everybody loves a slightly different version of The Joker. Take Dan, for example.

"I like Joker. Especially in Batman: The Animated Series Joker. He's funny. And has the same voice as Luke Skywalker. The end." When asked to expand upon that a bit, Dan added, "My favorite Bat villain, by far, is the Joker. The wacky-crazy Joker of Batman The Animated Series, more so than the scary-crazy Joker of the comics. There's just something a little bit freeing with the madcap cartoon version. He's loony but funny. Crazy but not completely homicidal. Luke Skywalker sounding but less whiny. Maybe Dark Knight will change my mind on scary-crazy Joker being the weaker version. I can't wait to find out this weekend."

So, it's settled, then: The Joker is the greatest Bat bad-guy of all time.

Ah, not so fast! First, we need to hear from our resident Bat expert, a man who is about to get a Batman tattoo, Kach.

Kach begins with a history lesson. "In 1989, Tim Burton unleashed the "Bat-Phenomenon" upon our collective brainmeats. During that summer, Batman became fully ingrained into popular culture. You could not walk 2 blocks without seeing someone donning the Bat-Symbol upon their chest. Even the campy television series from the '60s made its return to syndication and was heavily watched by people all over again. The Batman animated series which followed broke so much ground that it is now considered a milestone in animation."

"It took one man less than 10 years to destroy all of that, along with Batman's good name: Joel Schumacher. Schumacher, along with screenwriting sidekick Akiva Goldsman, turned Batman from the dark, Gothic, tough-as-nails vigilante who we'd last seen in Batman Returns into a whiny, love-sick, media darling who had his own Bat-credit card."

Suddenly, nipples & codpieces were added to the costumes, allowing Schumacher to continue his fetish obsessions on film, He also brought the acting talents of Chris O'Donnell & Alicia Silverstone into the mix, and this did not just signify the death knell for their prospective careers, but also killed the Batman film franchise. For years afterwards, a Batman movie, or even any other superhero movie, became a pipe-dream."

Don't hold back, Kach! Tell us how you really feel.

"I cannot think of any villain in Batman's rogue gallery who has done that much damage to the character in that short an amount of time. I mean, Batman bounced back from having his back broken by Bane in far less time than it took his film career to rebound in 2005."

"So, Batman's worst villain in my book: Joel Schumacher."

There you have it! Some of the worst villains can't be found in Arkham.


Vocal Minority said...

I to agree that Joel Schumacher is probably Batman's Greatest threat.

It's nice that DC have been sparing with his appearances too.

Betsy said...

Yeah, Kach obviously had the right answer. Poor George Clooney. It's a good thing he can take comfort in my arms.

KACH! said...

If this was a perfect world & Joel Schumacher did not exist, I would have probably gone with Bane, specifically from "Batman: TAS".

Jon Quixote said...

I somehow missed this roundtable.

I would have been tempted to say Harvey Two-Face, but I don't know if I've ever read a truly great Two-Face story. LONG HALLOWEEN is awesome, but flawed. I think I like Two-Face more as a concept than in execution. Hopefully THE DARK KNIGHT changes that.

My vote goes to Ra's Al Ghul - he's the only Batman villain that I know I actually get excited about. And I like the variety he brings to Batman's adventures.

Brandon said...

I also missed the roundtable too, but my favorite villain has always been the Riddler. It's not for any particular story, but I think there is a lot of potential with the character. Plus, I like to leave clues of my crimes at the scene.