In Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s iconic Batman stories, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, Batman narrates saying that a man’s enemies define him. As a man with a lot of enemies, Batman has a lot of definitions. Each one of Batman’s massive rogues gallery says something about him; they are a reflection of what he would be if he lost control. Here are ten villains that define Batman.
- Mr. Freeze (Frozen)
Victor Fries is stuck in a moment; the moment that he has his wife suspended in to keep her alive until he can cure her. Victor cannot move on, in the same way that Bruce struggles to move on from his parents’ death. As we will see multiple times in this article, a lot of Bruce and Batman are defined by the death of Thomas and Martha (Yes I said her name, are we best friends now?) Wayne. This much is obvious if you know anything about the Batman mythos, but there is a difference between Bruce and Victor: The Waynes are dead and Nora’s death is suspended. Bruce is forced to accept his parents’ death, while Victor clings to the hope that he can prevent her death. Victor, the once brilliant scientist, is driven to madness because of this, showing how one difference could have changed everything for Batman.
7. Joker (Madness)
Joker shows the idea that one bad day can push a man too far and make him unrecognizable, not unlike Mr freeze before him, but Joker is true uncontrollable madness. While Batman only has bad days, he maintains his sanity. Joker has become the most iconic villain of the DC universe, and the Batman villain that is almost as popular as the Dark Knight himself. He is what Batman could be if he lost control over his mind. If you need convincing of that, remember that Batman (in the way only Batman could) once created a backup identity in the event that he went crazy, Batman Zur-en-arrh. Batman Zur-en-arrh is “what you get when you take Bruce out of the equation,” and he is crazy (Batman #679). This Batman comes into play because Bruce wants to understand the Joker (I wonder why he included purple in his new suit…). Still, in the end, Batman and Bruce come back and fend off the madness yet again.
- Solomon Grundy (Brute Strength)
Solomon Grundy is a reflection of the brute strength that Batman maintains to keep himself on par with the other heroes of the DCU. He also shows the relentless determination to keep coming back no matter how many times he’s been knocked down. Grundy literally can’t die, but his zombification has left his mind wanting to experience death, which what batman fights so hard to avoid each night in Gotham. Batman needs to preserve the mind and body of the Greatest Detective and the physical might of The Batman. Which do you believe is a worse curse: wanting to die to end the pain of life or living a life of pain in order to continue and save others? (Let me know in the comments)
- Catwoman (Criminal)
Catwoman is a criminal, but for a good reason. She steals for the poor, particularly female orphans, a latex suit Robin Hood if you will. Just like Robin Hood, there are those who see her as a villain and those who see her as a hero. The same is true about Batman. If you just look at Batman: Dark Victory you see this dichotomy in the views of Jim Gordon and Janice Porter. Jim, as you may know, sees Batman as a hero, someone he can trust outside of the law to help him catch criminals. Janice Porter, on the other hand, sees Batman as a hindrance to the investigation and a criminal. Batman and Catwoman are simultaneously heroes and vigilantes, depending on the perspective. Bruce luckily has the wealth that allows him to become Batman each night, but if he were like Catwoman, a poor orphan, would he end up going down the same path? Batman bends the rules for Catwoman more than any other villain on this list because Catwoman is the one that he was the closest to becoming.
- Penguin (Wealth)
Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot is an affluent man that uses his wealth to gain power for villainy. Batman is the similar way, but their approach is what differentiates them. Penguin often uses his money to buy officials and goons that make him untouchable. Penguin corrupts the people around him, shielding himself with his lackeys. Batman uses his money to enhance himself to fight his own battles as a force for positive change. He inspires people to believe in Gotham. Both men start in a similar position, but Batman puts it on himself to act, while Penguin hides behind a wall of corruption.
3. Bane (Drug Use)
Bane is a villain that supplements his strength with an equally empowering and corrupting drug called Venom. He allows it to take him over and be as destructive as necessary to achieve his goals no matter the toll. Batman is the same, to an extent. Before Bane got ahold of the drug, Batman became addicted to the enhancing drug after he failed to save a child’s life. As Evan Narcisse said in an article on Kotaku, “Guilt’s a key component of the Batman construct that orphan Bruce Wayne built. As a psychological identity, it’s very much the work of a boy who felt he couldn’t do enough.” (If you haven’t read Batman: Venom Narcisse does a great job explaining it in that article). But, Batman being Batman, he kicked his addiction and moved on. While Bane embraces Venom and all that it brings, Batman knows he can’t be the hero he needs to be while under the influence of Venom.
- Scarecrow (Fear)
Dr. Jonathan Crane is a psychologist-turned-villain when he develops his fear toxin to show victims their worst nightmares to disable them with terror. Batman, again, is very similar, where the thought and legend of him are meant to deter criminal activity. Both Scarecrow and Batman use fear as a weapon, but the difference is intended victims. As a villain Batman would rival Scarecrow in his ability to strike fear in the hearts of all who live in Gotham, he could run it, but chooses not to. He has dealt with his fear and harnessed it.
- Two-Face (Duality and Justice)
Harvey Dent was one the District Attorney hell-bent on cleaning the street of Gotham of the major mob families. He believed in the law, and people believed in Harvey Dent. That is until acid burnt Dent down the middle splitting him into two personalities, the old Harvey and Two-Face. Two-Face is literally split down the middle making him the embodiment of the dualism between Batman and Bruce Wayne. Both Two-Face and Batman are obsessed with the idea of justice, but their motivation comes from different sources. Where Two-Face deals justice to avenge himself and bases it on chance (the flip of a coin) regardless of the person’s innocence, Batman and Bruce Wayne demand justice for the innocent affected by the same criminals that took his parents. Two-faced is obsessed with justice for himself, but Batman understands that it isn’t about him, and that’s why he can put his life on the line for the Gotham he believes can exist.
Batman is a complex character. He is a man that has moved on from a traumatic moment that he could have been frozen in; that could have driven him mad. He has built his mind and his body, stayed a hero, and used his wealth for good. He has conquered drugs, fear, and the struggle of being two people. He is both Batman and Bruce Wayne, Gotham’s Dark Knight, determined to the idea of justice for the people of Gotham.