When it comes to mainstream superheroes, you don’t get much scarier than Batman. While he’s far from the only superhero who models himself after a creepy-crawling critter that most people aren’t happy to find in their attic, Batman knowingly embraces the most menacing aspects of his totem animal. Between flying through the night and preying on his criminal victims, just about the only thing Batman doesn’t do is drink their blood… well, except in that one story, which we’ll get to here in a bit.
In any case, though Batman is usually a hero whose moral values are a major part of how he operates — with a “no-killing” code being one of his fundamental rules in most portrayals of the character — he’s also a vigilante who uses the shadows to his advantage, singling out the fears and insecurities of his enemies and violently interrogating them when he feels it’s necessary. They say that criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, but let’s face it, Batman can be pretty scary sometimes. Here are 15 Times That Batman Was Completely Terrifying.
15. The Last Moments of The Killing Joke
Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke is probably the defining Joker story of the modern era, and it’s no surprise that it finally was adapted to animation this year. By showing the Joker at his absolute worst, and at the same time showing glimpses of a more tragic backstory, it gives us a better understanding of the Joker’s psychology than almost any other story to date. The book examines the twisted relationship between Batman and the Joker, what it means to both of them, and questions how different the two really are.
The ending of the book also has one of the scariest Batman moments ever written. Two different interpretations exist, and while both differ tremendously in regard to future stories — either the Joker is alive, or he isn’t — both versions are equally disturbing.
Here’s what we know for sure. At the climax, after all of the atrocities that the Joker has committed to Barbara Gordon, Jim Gordon, and so many others, the clown-faced mass murderer tells a joke… and Batman laughs with him. What happens afterward is up to the reader. In the panel above, the in-continuity explanation is that Batman is grabbing the Joker’s shoulder, as the two enemies share a laugh together for the first time. Alternatively, many readers believe that he’s grabbing Joker’s throat, and that this story is intended to be seen as the final moment between the two adversaries. Batman has finally been pushed too far, and so he snaps, strangling the Joker to death. Either way, this moment of total instability is terrifying to see from a normally calculated figure like Batman.
14. That Time He Became a Vampire
We did mention the whole drinking blood thing…
Considering that Batman has existed for three quarters of a century, it was only a matter of time before someone wrote this story. Luckily, it occurs in an alternate universe, so we still get to read human Batman stories today. Nonetheless, the Batman and Dracula Trilogy stands out as the one story that finally transformed Bruce Wayne into a true creature of the night.
In the first part of the trilogy, Batman discovers that Dracula is real, alive, and preying on homeless people in Gotham. Surely enough, Batman ends up getting bitten and transformed into a vampire, which gives him the strength to defeat Dracula’s horde. He lures Dracula’s forces to Wayne Manor, impales Dracula on a tree, and then becomes the new leader of the vampires. By the third part of the trilogy, Batman is busy murdering and drinking the blood of all of his old enemies, until he finally kills himself by exposing himself to sunlight.
13. Batman Begins: The First Appearance of Batman
One of the common complaints about the Burton/Schumacher Batman movies was always how robotic Batman was: bulky, armored in rubber so thick that he couldn’t turn his head, and usually marching down streets like a Bat-Terminator. The Batman in the ’90s films was a sharp contrast to the fluid, stealthy movements of the comic book and animated versions of Batman, which disappointed many fans.
The big opening reveal of the Dark Knight in Batman Begins forever changed the paradigm. For the first time, Batman was portrayed less like a super-cop and more like an invisible monster, lurking in the shadows, pouncing upon Falcone’s thugs and tearing them away into unknown fates as the remaining ones fired into the darkness. The most menacing moment, of course, is when a thug screams “Where are you?!” and Batman hangs behind him and gently whispers, “Here.”
This all culminates in the scene where Batman rips Falcone from the car, announces his name, and then chains the mob boss to a searchlight. This was a Batman who had come from a horror movie, not a superhero flick, and it made for one of the most memorable scenes in any comic book movie to date.
12. Batman Begins – “Swear to ME!”
Luckily for, Batman Begins was filled with scary Batman moments, and we’re just gonna roll right into its next insanely freaky excerpt. Christian Bale’s Batman electrifies the screen whenever he appears, more like a wild animal than a man, forming a sharp contrast to the movie’s very human and vulnerable Bruce Wayne. But as threatening as Batman may be when he’s beating up criminals, he’s a hell of a lot scarier when he’s interrogating them.
When Batman interrogates Flass (who swears to god that he’s telling the truth) and growls the now-famous line “Swear to me!,” it’s a moment that is as terrifying for the audience as it is for the crooked detective. In that moment, it’s clear just how much Bruce’s Batman personality pushes him to the brink. All of the rage and inner torment that Bruce has ever experienced is seeping through his pores, and his voice is no longer fully human. Re-watching Batman Begins, it’s worth noting how perfect Bale’s Batman voice is here. Though it became too exaggerated in the film’s sequels, his Batman Begins voice struck the perfect balance between man and beast.
11. The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh
Batman is so composed and methodical that sometimes it’s easy to forget just how tangled his mind really is. After all, it takes a lot for someone to get in a bat-costume and beat up criminals, and even more for that person to devote their entire adult life to something as impossible as eradicating crime, much less having the dedication to actually be successful at it.
At one point, Bruce Wayne volunteers for an isolation experiment, wherein Dr. Simon Hurt implants a post-hypnotic trigger into his mind: the phrase “Zur-En-Arrh,” which is a mishearing that Bruce had of his father’s final words — “They’d probably throw Zorro in Arkham” — before the man was murdered. Later on, the Black Glove uses the Zur-En-Arrh trigger against Batman, combined with a cocktail of drugs, resulting in an irrational and amnesiac Bruce Wayne becoming lost in Gotham’s back alleys. Bruce ends up putting together a rather odd Batman costume and calling himself the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, hallucinating a character called Bat-Mite, and causing all kinds of other crazy happenings. This brightly-colored Batman is far more violent and dangerous than his regular counterpart, though luckily Bruce is soon snapped out of it.
10. Dark Knight Returns
Frank Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns, one of the most influential comic books of the 1980s, tells the story of what happens to Gotham when Batman disappears… and then, when he comes back. But his return, though needed, isn’t a glowing, radiant sun in the sky — it’s a lightning bolt, striking down on the forces that have corrupted the city ever since he vanished.
During Batman’s decade of retirement, Gotham is overrun by a gang of “mutants,” widespread corruption spreads, and the United States prepares for WWIII with the Soviet Union. Superman is now the government’s loyal lapdog. Finally, Bruce Wayne decides he’s seen enough and becomes Batman once more, hitting the streets with grim vengeance, leaving blood and broken bones in his wake. The epic finale has Batman don an armored suit in a violent confrontation against Superman that served as inspiration for this year’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Though the comic’s portrayal of Superman is lacking, the battle itself is unforgettable, and it’s no surprise that it finally made it to the big screen.
9. Locking up KGBeast
Speaking of Cold War Batman stories, another of the Caped Crusader’s darker moments was in Batman #420, where his actions clearly violated his usual no-killing code. The story pits the Dark Knight against a villain named KGBeast, a brutal Soviet assassin sent to kill ten government officials, including the president of the United States. KGBeast proves to be Batman’s equal, succeeding at assassinating almost all of his targets, at one point poisoning an entire banquet of 100 people just to knock out the one he’s aiming for. Even when Batman gets KGBeast’s hand tangled up in the bat rope, the assassin grabs an axe and chops it off, later replacing it with a cybernetic machine gun. It’s pretty clear that there’s no stopping this guy, and even if Batman does manage to capture him, he’ll only be shipped back to the Soviet Union and released.
Finally, Batman ends up leading KGBeast to the sewers of Gotham. At this point, Batman does the unthinkable: he locks KGBeast up in an underground room, with no sources of water or food, and walks away.
8. Batman Begins – The Fear Gas Hallucination
When you take a figure like Batman, who uses fear to strike at the hearts of his enemies, and pair him off against Scarecrow, a villain who achieves his crimes through the use of fear gas, there’s two things that everyone wants to know: first, what does the fear gas do to Batman, and second, what does Batman look like to someone under the influence of the fear gas? Since Scarecrow had been rumored to appear in a movie since 1997, fans had been waiting to see both these things come to life on the big screen, and Batman Begins delivered.
The movie shows a few glimpses of Batman via fear gas hallucinations, both of which are suitably demonic. In one, we see him flying over the Narrows with glowing eyes, looking like his namesake. The scarier and more memorable hallucination, however, is the one that Scarecrow himself experiences when Batman douses him with his own fear gas. Batman’s interrogation techniques are scary enough, but when complemented by the monstrous visage above, it takes on a whole other level. It’s not so surprising that Crane goes crazy and starts riding a horse through Gotham soon afterward.
7. The Death of Abattoir
Now, an important disclaimer here: this Batman isn’t Bruce Wayne. See, in the comics, when Bane breaks Bruce Wayne’s back over his knee just as he does Dark Knight Rises, it knocks the Caped Crusader out of commission for a while. In the void left by Wayne’s absence, a new man must take up the cape and cowl, and that Batman ends up being Jean-Paul Valley, formerly known as the assassin, Azrael.
Azrael ends up being pretty far from an ideal Batman, employing violent techniques that Bruce Wayne would’ve never been okay with. In fact, Azrael goes kind of crazy — and increasingly delusional. This culminates in his murder of the serial killer Abattoir, when Az-Bat allows the villain to fall to his death in a vat of molten metal, a la Terminator 2, an action which also indirectly results in the death of one of Abattoir’s prisoners, who is trapped inside a secret torture chamber.
6. JLA: Tower of Babel
Of course Az-Bat is nuts, but even regular old Bruce Wayne has a dark side. Really, his coldhearted calculations about everyone around him sometimes seem a bit more supervillainous than superheroic. This trait comes to the forefront in the Justice League story Tower of Babel, wherein Ra’s al Ghul steals Batman’s personal files, and finds to his pleasure that the Dark Knight keeps meticulous records of how to take down each of his Justice League allies. Ra’s uses these exact methods to bring down every member of the Justice League. Thanks, Batman.
Of course, Batman would never have employed these methods except in an emergency, but it’s pretty creepy that he has them, especially considering their violent severity. The assassination tactics that Batman devises include the use of the Scarecrow’s fear gas to make Aquaman aquaphobic, trapping Wonder Woman in an infinite combat scenario in a virtual reality, a specially-designed bullet that will cause the Flash to have super-fast seizures, as well as freezing Plastic Man with liquid nitrogen and breaking him to pieces. Dirty tactics, for sure.
5. The Dark Knight – That NSA-Style Supercomputer
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is a post-9/11 movie in every way, unafraid to address political issues relevant to today’s world. The Dark Knight, in particular, showcases the battle between Batman and the Joker as a battle of ideologies as much as it is a battle of fists: the conflict between order and chaos, controlled violence vs. free violence. While Batman is obviously the more heroic of the two figures (though you’ll see some articles which claim the Joker is the real hero, if you look for them), he still comes out of the movie with some pretty serious dents in his moral armor, and some big questions to answer to.
The Harvey Dent lie, of course, becomes a big part of the third movie. But Batman’s biggest, scariest moment in the film is when he reveals to Lucius Fox that he’s got a secret sonar supercomputer capable of spying on the entire city through people’s cell phones. Lucius immediately proclaims that once the task is done, he’ll resign, since he believes no man should have access to such an enormous violation of people’s privacy… but he doesn’t have to quit, as it turns out, since the computer self-destructs once the Joker is defeated, presumably since Batman agrees that it’s too dangerous to exist.
But nonetheless, it is a violation of privacy, and Batman is guilty of committing it. Sure, it helped him defeat the Joker — because it was in Batman’s hands — but imagine if someone like Bane had found it? Scary stuff, Bruce.
4. The Entirety of Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth
If you want to get a glimpse into what it’s like spending a night in Batman’s mind — or the mind of one of his psychopathic bad guys — then read Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth, the trippy, horrifying 1989 graphic novel by Grant Morrison (no surprise there) and Dave McKean. Deeply symbolic, nightmarish, and surreal, with some of the most mesmerizing artwork ever to be featured in a comic book, Arkham Asylum tells the story of what happens when Arkham’s inmates take over the loony bin, and Batman goes in to investigate, only to have trouble finding his way out again.
Arkham Asylum is notable for its unique characterizations of Batman’s rogues gallery, especially the Joker and Two Face, but it’s stark depiction of Batman himself earns a second glance at well. More than perhaps any other work, Arkham Asylum shows a Dark Knight who could very easily be one of the inmates himself, with a climax that implies that maybe Batman fits better in Arkham’s walls than he does in the outside world. Stark, emotionally repressed, and always lurking in the background as a shadow instead of a musclebound hero, Arkham Asylum provides a deeply uncomfortable look at an iconic character.
3. Batman: Year One – The Dinner Party
When it comes to classic Batman moments, this one earns a top spot on every list for being simultaneously scary, heroic, and totally badass. In Batman: Year One, Batman makes his grand entrance into the Gotham scene an unforgettable way, by dropping in uninvited to a dinner party held for all of the dirty aristocrats, politicians, and mob bosses that collectively own Gotham City and have turned it into a cesspool of corruption. As these powerful figures smugly discuss how this rumored “Batman” figure could probably be politically advantageous for them, Batman cuts out the electricity, and drops into the party. Standing like an ominous demon opening the gates of Hell, Batman gives the men a brief, iconic speech that none of them will ever forget:
“Ladies. Gentleman. You have eaten well. You’ve eaten Gotham’s wealth. Its spirit. Your feast is nearly over. From this moment on — none of you are safe.”
2. Mask of the Phantasm: The First Time He Puts On the Cowl
There are few things that the fan base collectively revere as much as Batman: The Animated Series. With its stark colors, dark deco backgrounds and tremendous writing, this cartoon is one of the most influential of all time, arguably having created more fans of the Dark Knight than almost any other media depiction. But the high point of the cartoon came not on TV, but in the feature film inspired by it: Mask of the Phantasm.
Alternating between a present day storyline, wherein a figure called the Phantasm is murdering aging mob figures, and a storyline in the past that shows how Bruce Wayne’s love for a woman named Andrea Beaumont almost led him away from becoming Batman, Mask of the Phantasm is a unique depiction of Batman’s origins. Unlike most versions of the story, wherein Bruce’s evolution into the cape and cowl is presented in a more positive light, Mask of the Phantasm dares to show us a Bruce Wayne who came within inches of having a normal life, falling in love with Andrea, and actually being happy… only to have it snatched away by fate.
So when the movie finally depicts the outrageously epic moment wherein Bruce Wayne dons the mask of Batman for the first time, with the music swelling, it’s not a triumphant one. As he puts the cowl over his head, Bruce, the man, is forever surrendering himself to Batman, the icon. In doing this, he forgoes any chance at the happy life that he may have had otherwise. In this moment, Bruce Wayne is abandoned, and only Batman remains. It’s no surprise that, upon first seeing the Dark Knight, even Alfred is startled.
1. Batman is Transformed into Bat-Baby
But honestly, as terrifying as many of these moments may be, there’s really nothing scarier — or more bizarre —than the Caped Crusader being transformed into a toddler, and still being dedicated enough to continue his war on crime. This is the result of a villainous scientist of the Pre-Crisis DC sort hitting Batman with some funky sci-fi gun that de-ages him into a younger form. Luckily, Bat-Baby retains his adult intellect, strength, and agility, so he’s able to continue being the vigilante he was before… once he makes a costume that fits his new size.
Sure, sure, it’s funny. Hilarious, even. But imagine, for a second, what this would look like in real life. Imagine seeing Bat-Baby crash through the skylight in those dumb black overalls and having him kick you in the face with those little shoes. Imagine him making threats or interrogating you in an obnoxiously squeaky little voice, as Robin stands in the background snickering. Seriously, Bat-Baby. If that’s not nightmare fuel, then we don’t know what is.
Luckily, the whole Bat-Baby incident was short lived. Ah, gotta love those good old Pre-Crisis days.
Did we neglect to mention your favorite scary-as-hell moment from the Dark Knight? Let us know in the comments.