The Batman TV show of the 1960s has gone down as the stuff of legend in the world of pop culture. Unlike some of the other action shows of the ’60s and ’70s, Batman didn’t take itself seriously at all. The series embraced its campiness and made itself into something of a self aware meta-comedy.
Part of what made the show so iconic were its villains: the colorful characters who played antagonist to the Dynamic Duo were composed of both rogues taken from previous Batman lore, as well as a handful of new evildoers created specifically for the show. These guys were legendary; Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin are still, to this day, considered by many to be the best actors to ever play their respective characters. Over the course of three seasons the show had no shortage of villains. But which one is the best?
In order to count as a “major” villain of the show, the character must have either appeared in prior Batman comics or had to have been featured in more than a single two-episode arc on the show. Let’s get right down to it: here’s Every ’60s Batman Villain, Ranked.
Honorable Mention – Dozens of Memorable One-Off Villains
Sadly, many of the villains created originally for the show only appeared in a single episode. As much as we’d like to include them all in our rankings, the brevity of their story lines means that it wouldn’t be fair to compare them with the likes of Egghead or Catwoman. That said, some of these new villains were fantastic, and deserve an honorable mention!
Perhaps the greatest of these one-off villains was Roddy McDowall as The Bookworm. This villain was a lot like the Riddler, but with a literature theme. What truly made this character stand out was McDowall’s performance; the charismatic British actor was a treat to watch as the nerdy and hilarious villain.
Then there was Louie the Lilac, a ’20s-style gangster who wore a purple suit and was a dealer of illegal perfumes. Louie was played by the legendary TV star Milton Berle; the character’s sinister plot involved cornering the flower market of Gotham and turning animals from the local zoo into new types of perfume.
Let’s also not forget about Siren (played by Joan Collins), a villain whose voice had hypnotic affects on men whenever she used a certain tone of voice. Or there was Black Widow (not that one), an evil genius who used her brilliant inventions to rob banks. These are just a few of the many great enemies created for the show!
15. Killer Moth
Killer Moth is a villain that was too “out there” for the 66 Batman. Despite the fact that he has come to be known as one of the Dark Knight’s lamest foes over the years, Drury Walker (aka Killer Moth) has a much bigger tie to Batgirl. The character debuted in Batman #63, made a second appearance a few years later, and then was quickly forgotten to the dustbin of other failed Batman villains.
In 1967, Killer Moth returned to the fray when DC needed a villain for the story that introduced the new Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. In both her first comic book appearance and the TV short that brought her to the Adam West universe, Killer Moth acted as the primary antagonist. He was the perfect villain for this type of story; the villain didn’t have any complex origins and wasn’t completely ingrained into the lore.
Instead, Killer Moth was able to play second fiddle to the hero without any controversy. This was probably for the better… even in a show that featured such ridiculousness as the Joker and Batman competing in a surfing contest, the writers couldn’t find a way to make this one work.
14. Clock King
Much like Killer Moth, Clock King has been reduced to the laughingstock of the DC Universe. William Tockman was a man who struggled to take care of his deathly ill sister. One day, Tockman’s doctor informed him that he himself was terminally ill. Fearing what would happen to his sister after he was gone, the man turned to a life of crime before getting caught by the Green Arrow. While he was in prison, Tockman’s sister passed away, further driving him insane and making him fully commit to a life of crime. Clock King didn’t have any powers for his first few appearances; the character was later short-term precognitive abilities.
In the ’66 Batman show, the Clock King was given drastically different origins. The character who appeared in this show was named Morris Tetch; a criminal mastermind who was unhealthily obsessed with all things clock-related.
He disguises himself as an artist in order to steal a large collection of clock-themed art. Later, he tries to steal Bruce Wayne’s collection of old pocket watches and the world’s first atomic-powered clock. The Clock King wasn’t a terrible villain by any means, but much like his comic book counterpart there was nothing that made Tetch stand out in Batman’s already large and memorable collection of rogues.
13. Lord Marmaduke Ffogg
Lord Marmaduke Ffogg is something that could only come out of this show. Ffogg and his sister, Lady Penelope Peasoup, are two wealthy aristocrats of Gotham City who have a dark secret. The pair used their wealth to create a finishing school for the young women of Gotham. However, this school was actually just a front for the villains to train new thieves. Ffogg gets his name from the thick fog he uses as a getaway device whenever he flees the scene of a crime.
Ffogg isn’t really that bad. He’s just a little much for even this show. For starters, he dresses like he’s straight out of the late 1800s; anyone who’s ever seen Mad Men knows this was the time of sharp business suits for the period’s elite.
Also, Ffogg is a self-saboteur! He has an entire army of thieves at his disposal, yet he and his sister commit the crimes themselves? The only disguise he uses for his alter ego is giving himself a limp and a different style of outfit. It’s no surprise that Batman and Robin figure out Ffogg’s plot with ease.
12. Freddy the Fence
Freddy the Fence was a rare character in this legendary show. While there were many recurring heroes and villains during Batman‘s initial run, Freddy was the only minor character to make multiple appearances. The fiend was the owner of French Freddy’s Fencing Academy in Gotham City, however he had a much more sinister side: he teamed up with two of the Dynamic Duo’s most powerful enemies at different points during the series.
Freddy the Fence’s first appearance comes with the two-part story “Catwoman Goes to College” and “Batman Displays His Knowledge.” Here, he is shown as an acquaintance of Batman’s feline foe, allowing her to use his fencing studio’s basement as a hideout and informing her that the diamonds she had stolen were actually fakes.
Freddy returned in season three to help Minerva hide Bruce Wayne’s collection of rare diamonds after they had been stolen. However, he tried to flee town with the stolen goods and was apprehended by Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara. There was nothing really that memorable about Freddy other than his outrageous name, but it was still cool to see a minor character reappear across different seasons of the show.
11. False Face
The Dynamic Duo sure have a lot of “face” villains. Believe it or not, this character was actually the inspiration for the modern-day characters of Black Mask and Clayface. False Face’s first and only appearance in the classic Batman comics happened in 1958, when the villain used his copycat talents to impersonate various Gotham citizens and commit a string of robberies across the city. When he was finally caught, he was revealed to be a toothless old man. The original False Face was never seen again, but another character bearing the mantle would appear in the pages of Birds of Prey.
The iteration of False Face who appeared on the Adam West Batman show was near-identical to the one who appeared in the comics. The character’s true identity was never revealed. Instead, he was always seen in a realistic plastic mask. Whenever he needed to disguise himself, False Face would add accessories on top of his “real” face. Of course, when the villain was impersonating a well-known character of the show (like Commissioner Gordon or Chief O’Hara) his masks suddenly became more realistic, since the show would just have the original actors play their own duplicates.
10. Mr. Freeze
It’s going to take everything in our power here not to make some Schwarzenegger-esque joke about ice…Up until the ’90s Mr. Freeze was considered as a C-list villain at best. The concept behind the character was a good one, but one that had also been overplayed time and time again; just how many villains can you have with an ice ray? Besides, DC already had a flagship frosty villain in Captain Cold. With Batman: The Animated Series the character of Victor Fries took on new life as one of DC’s best.
The version that showed up in the ’60s show, however, is much more reminiscent of the one that appeared in the monstrosity that was Batman & Robin. Of course Mr. Freeze was going to be campier in this show, but the villain just never really resonated.
When he first showed up (played by George Sanders) Fries looked like a normal man in a retro-future space suit that kept his body temperature at -50 degrees. In his second outing (now portrayed by Otto Preminger) the character appeared to be ripped right out of Joel Schumacher’s failed movie. Mr. Freeze had an overly complicated suit, a thick German accent, a bald blue face, and tried to turn Gotham City into an icy wasteland.
9. Marsha, Queen of Diamonds
Another character created specifically for the show was Marsha, Queen of Diamonds. Portrayed by The Adams Family‘s Morticia herself, Carolyn Jones, Marsha was a bad guy who was completely obsessed with her namesake jewel. When she discovers that the Caped Crusader’s Batcomputer is powered by the mother of all diamonds, she brainwashes Chief O’Hara and Commissioner Gordon, and forces Batman to marry her if he ever wants to see his friends set free.
She later returned to team up with the Penguin in a three-part story that had the two running a phony movie studio which they would use as an excuse to travel to different “filming locations” (and then rob them).
Marsha, Queen of Diamonds was one of the rare villains created for the show who was actually a formidable foe for the Dynamic Duo. Very few characters that are original to Batman ’66 make more than a single appearance and if they do, they usually play second fiddle to a “better” villain. Marsha, however, doesn’t play second fiddle even to the mighty Penguin. The character as a whole may be a little on-the-nose for her time as far as social parodies are concerned, but her sly charm and unique schemes give her a spot among the best of the best within this show.
8. The Mad Hatter
The Mad Hatter fits into the world of the ’60s Batman particularly well. Jervis Tetch has been around since the late 1940s, antagonizing the Dynamic Duo with his eccentric traps and schemes based around the character from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland novels. The Mad Hatter is usually portrayed as an insane character who belongs in an asylum.
The ’60s show took the Mad Hatter in a different direction, basing him off of the “imposter” Hatter of the ’50s, who wore a gaudy mustache and had an affinity for stealing people’s hats. He would often knock his opponents out with a beam of hypnosis that sprouted from the top of his own headwear. The piece he sought most, however, was the Dark Knight’s cape and cowl (which he went to extreme lengths to obtain in the show). He even went as far as to encase Batman in plaster and spray his cowl with radioactive material in an attempt to get him to take it off!
Holy thematic copout, Batman! The gun-slinging villain Shame was created mostly as an excuse for the show to play around with a Western setting. In season two, Shame and his gang of criminals (Okie Annie, Messy James, and Calamity Jan) attempt to build a lightning-fast truck that’s even more powerful than the Batmobile. In their second appearance, the gang tries to rob a train in true Old West fashion. Shame is often found at his hideout within an abandoned Western-themed amusement park.
What makes Shame such a fun character is the fact that he’s played by the legendary Cliff Robertson. Also known for playing Uncle Ben in the original Spider-Man films, Robertson is an incredible actor. You can tell just how much fun he had as Shame; the villain talks like an old-time cowboy and always walks around with an overly serious expression on his face. How Robertson was able to play this character completely straight is a mystery!
Shame also gets some of the better one-liners in the show, such as when he tries to kiss Okie Annie only to be interrupted by her mother. He grumpily remarks, “Why couldn’t you have been born an orphan?” Shame is funny, well-acted, and has a memorable theme, putting him up there with the greatest characters of the show.
6. King Tut
King Tut was one of those characters who lived on long after his final appearance on the show. William McElroy was a professor of Egyptology at Yale before a severe blow to the head scrambled his brain and made him believe that he was the reincarnation of King Tut. Now he believes that Gotham City (which he mistakes for Thebes). As you may have guessed, King Tut’s entire motif was Ancient Egypt; he dressed like a Pharaoh, praised the Egyptian Gods, and had hideouts adorned in hieroglyphics. There is some debate as to whether or not this character was the inspiration for Maximilian Zeus, a Batman villain who debuted in the late ’70s and believed he was the Greek God reborn.
King Tut was everything you could possible want out of a villain: he had the zany schemes and the thematically-appropriate henchmen. His feelings could also turn on a dime, veering from anger to joy to sadness on a moment’s whim. Surprisingly King Tut was one of only two villains from this show to discover Batman’s secret identity. Thankfully for the Caped Crusader, Tut was struck in the head by falling debris and reverted back to William McElroy before he could reveal this information. Also, he made Batman dance. Enough said!
You know a character is a good on when they can be played by three different actresses and still be considered one of the best of the show! The combined acting prowess of Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, and Eartha Kitt is unlikely to ever be topped. Newmar was by far the biggest contributor to the role, as she played the character for two of the show’s three seasons; she finally left she was replaced by Kitt in season three. The role of Catwoman in Batman: The Movie was supposed to be Newmar’s as well, but scheduling conflicts caused the showrunners to cast Lee Meriwether instead.
You all know the drill: Catwoman is a villain who has an on-again, off-again relationship with both Batman and Bruce Wayne in between her crime sprees. Often neither character is aware of the other’s true identity and end up falling for each other twice-over!
Batman‘s version of Selina Kyle (although she’s never called that on the show) would throw some meows and spats into her dialogue every now and then, and would turn her voice into a deep purr whenever she wanted to woo the Dark Knight. Then of course, there was her signature phrase “Purrrfect!” Perhaps the greatest thing about the character was that each actress was able to keep to the core of the character while at the same time putting their own small twist on the role.
4. The Riddler
Riddle me this, Batman: what do you call a villain who leaves his own clues behind for his enemies to find? Yeah, the Riddler isn’t exactly the most practical criminal in the world. He basically lays his entire plan out for Batman in hopes of finally proving once and for all that he is the superior mind. Edward Nygma has been locked in a duel of wits with Batman ever since his first appearance in 1948; since then he has been re-imagined time and time again in order to fit in with the Batman comics of the time.
That said, nothing can ever touch Frank Gorshin’s version of the character. The Riddler we saw in the ’60s looked like a comic book character come to life! The way he cartoonishly walked across the screen accompanied by his giddy laugh is an image that has been ingrained into fans’ minds. The Riddler was not all fun and games, however; Gorshin could turn from cartoon villain to suave criminal mastermind without even breaking stride. Watching the actor play this character is a real treat to watch, and could put a smile on even the grimmest of faces.
Sadly, contract negotiations broke down between Gorshin and the studio, meaning that he was replaced by a different actor for the entirety of season two before making a grand reappearance in the show’s third and final season.
As far as original characters are concerned, you simply cannot top Egghead in the ’60s Batman universe. This criminal mastermind was the epitome of the show; pun after corny pun spouted out of his egg-shaped head as he would match wits with the Dynamic Duo. Egghead always wore a white suit over a yellow shirt (get it?) and constantly boasted about what an “egg-cellent” villain he was. Best of all, he was played by legendary horror icon Vincent Price.
Much like Cliff Robertson, you can tell how much Price enjoyed playing this character. Egghead’s egotistical nature and off-the-wall plans allowed the actor to ham it up as much as he possibly could, with hilarious results. Good lord, we actually got to see the master of horror get into an egg-throwing fight with a man dressed up like a giant bat! Naturally Price got to use his iconic voice for the role (although he spoke in a higher, more Skeletor-like pitch).
2. The Joker
The Joker is Batman’s greatest villain. Whenever the Joker is involved, something big is about to go down! This means that every director or showrunner needs to leave their own mark on the character’s history via their vision. 66’s Batman had Cesar Romero. This star of the silver screen was featured in many films of Hollywood’s Golden Age as a charismatic and charming Spanish heartthrob. Who would have thought that a villainous clown would eventually become the biggest part of his legacy?
The Joker of the original Batman series shows you just how pliable the character really is; nowadays the Clown Prince of Crime is the epitome of evil, completely sadistic, and almost demonic at times. Back in the ’60s the Joker just wanted to rob banks, take over the city, and shock people with his joy buzzers! Romero absolutely nailed the characterization of the villain (especially the laugh and the voice). Even the fact that he refused to shave his famous mustache (and instead just had them paint over it) is something that is completely in line with the character!
1. The Penguin
Yep, the Penguin appeared in more episodes of the ’66 show than any other Batman villain. This may come as a surprise, as in recent years the character has struggled to fit in with the serious and gritty tone of the comic books and films. Try as you might, but there’s only so sinister you can make a short guy in a tuxedo with a monocle and pipe look. We say, “why do you even need to try?” The best version of the Penguin was the one that was the most over-the-top!
Where do we even begin with Oswald Cobblepot in this series? Burgess Meredith completely owned the role of the Penguin; the villain knew how to work a room with his charm and then turn around and berate his bumbling henchmen when they’d make a mistake. Donning a prosthetic nose, the actor completely looked the part- monocles, cigarette holders, and top hats were outdated in the ’60s, but Meredith made them work. What put this villain completely over the top is his voice, which resembled a squawking bird whenever he mumbles or laughs. He’s also the villain that the other Batman villains feared; whenever he would team up with one of the Dynamic Duo’s other rogues there was little argument as to who was calling the shots (even if it was just implied). All of the above reasons make the Penguin the best villain to come out of the the cultural icon that is Batman ’66.
Did your favorite Batman character make it into the top ten? Let us know in the comments!
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