Batman is beloved because he’s vulnerable. Though he has all the trappings of a luxurious life, he spends his days seeking to justify his existence and crawl out of the hole left by his parents. When he falls, he gets back up. With Batman, it’s not a question of if he’ll run into trouble, but how he’ll respond to it.
On most days, he is the victor and protector of Gotham. On rare occasions, however, his way of life is threatened by villains seeking to overthrow his guardianship. Some enemies simply got in a few extra punches or threw him off his game, but a select few have thrashed Batman to his core. These beatdowns serve as stains on the Dark Knight’s otherwise sterling reputation. Though Batman has been beaten many times, it’s important to remember Harvey Dent’s immortal words: “the night is always darkest before the dawn.”
Here are 15 Supervillains Who Beat Batman:
15 Ra's Al Ghul
The man who trained Batman in the martial arts has humbled his student on more than a few occasions. While popularized as a high-brow tactician and anarchist in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, the Ra’s Al Ghul frequently found on comic panels is a fierce warrior who can go toe-to-toe with just about anyone.
In Batman 244, Bruce Wayne’s chickens come home to roost in the aptly titled, Batman: The Demon Lives Again. This devilish moniker refers to Ra’s Al Ghul, whose name literally translates to “Demon’s Head.” High atop the Al Ghul ski-resort/evil headquarters, a shirtless Ra’s goes into overdrive and charges at Batman. “I’ve never hit any man harder…and he didn’t blink!” Talia al Ghul pleads with Batman to flee the scene, but not before her father hoists the Caped Crusader above his head and hurls him into a gondola lift. Broken by his wily teacher, Batman lays unconscious and defeated amid the snowy landscape.
14 The Reaper
Fans of Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm will recognize similarities between the villain of the animated film and his death-bringing comic counterpart, the Reaper. With a fleshless skull shrouded in darkness, the Reaper is a lesser known but still menacing villain in Batman’s Rogues Gallery. Armed with two scimitar-like scythes, the Reaper does his best to bring the Dark Knight to an early grave.
It’s not just the Reaper’s blades that worry Batman, but his unpredictable fighting style and host of guns. Unsurprisingly, their first fight ends with the Caped Crusader fleeing the scene and becoming so desperate that he partners with Joe Chill, the executioner of his parents, to stop the Reaper. Death makes cowards of us all, but the Reaper totally compromises Batman’s moral code. While the Dark Knight ultimately profited from his alliance with the convicted murderer, Joe Chill paid the ultimate price and took a bullet to the head from one of the Reaper’s deadly weapons.
13 Red Hood
Much is made about the power of Batman’s prep time. Because he’s a mortal man without superhero serum, he’s reliant on his physical capabilities, technological devices, and mental acuity. When Bruce Wayne has enough time to think, he can beat just about anyone. One man knows the true extent of Batman’s preparation: Jason Todd. Having spent some quality time in the afterlife before being returned to the world via a Lazarus pit, the erstwhile Robin shuffles off his boyish identity and becomes the menacing Red Hood.
Armed with a gun and fueled by a righteous anger, the new and improved Jason Todd beats Batman into submission and stands over his body as the victor. “You failed, Batman! You failed me!” Likely in tears under the red hood, Todd clutches his old partner’s utility belt while aiming a pistol directly at his face. Despite having Batman down for the count, Nightwing swoops in to help save the day. Close call.
12 The Court of Owls
There are two ways to defeat Batman. Physical trauma is the obvious way to break him, but there is a more lethal form of punishment to be unleashed. Like Kryptonite against Superman, sustained psychological warfare is the most devastating avenue to defeating the Bat. The Court of Owls are masters of this insidious psychosis, and when they identify Bruce Wayne as a threat to their ancient control over Gotham, they dig their claws into the core of his being.
In what may be the darkest tale of Batman’s life, The Court of Owls subject him to all manner of physical and emotional torture. Trapped in a maze deep below the streets of Gotham, Batman becomes a rat in the Owls’ labyrinth. As he desperately seeks escape, the Dark Knight hallucinates and seemingly becomes a shrill owl himself. The Court, a subterranean parliament of Gotham’s elite, screech down at him (“His spine! Heee-heeee…pull his spine!”) as they turn to their youngest member to determine his fate. The masked, blonde child gazes down at the broken Batman saying, “Hurt him…more.” However sadistic the nocturnal bureaucrats may be, the instrument of the Owls’ destruction is the most vicious of all...
As the oldest and richest gang in Gotham, the Court of Owls have been around for centuries. As such, they have established the Talons, a lethal cabal of assassins to safeguard their best interests. This team of killers largely consist of young children abducted from the circus and brainwashed into becoming undead, automaton-like murderers.
During the trials and tribulations of Batman at the hand of the Court, one Talon is responsible for nearly killing the Dark Knight. Watching the Caped Crusader suffer in the maze, the assassin follows him into a trippy hall of portraits where Batman screams, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening to you!” Talon then stabs Batman from behind, his sharp blade bursting clean through his stomach. With a gaping wound and a fried mind, Batman then stumbles into the Court of Owls’ view, where Talon continues slicing him with his sword and roundhouse kicking him through walls. Though the Dark Knight manages to execute a daring escape, the army of Talons remains stronger than ever.
As a dramatic inversion of Batman, the tragic figure of Prometheus presents a serious threat to the Dark Knight. Enraged by the death of his parents at the hand of law enforcement, Prometheus vows to fight the law with the same intensity that Batman seeks to uphold it. Backed by ludicrous sums of money (thanks to blackmailing the mob), Prometheus trains diligently and becomes the bane of police officers and military men across America. Armed with an all-powerful helmet, Prometheus earns god-like powers that give him the strength of the best fighters on Earth. It’s no wonder, then, that when he breaks into in the Justice League Watchtower, he single-handedly beats the majority of the team.
Batman takes the majority of the shellacking, as Prometheus runs the Dark Knight into the ground. It was the first showdown between the two orphans, and Prometheus the Fire-Bringer takes the victory without much effort.
9 The Joker
If Talon and the Court of Owls issued the most sinister beatdown on Batman, then the Joker of Endgame takes the cake for most unrelenting violence. This six-issue story arc from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo depicts the Batman and Joker rivalry in the most gruesome of ways. Indeed, the Clown Prince of Crime kisses restraint goodbye in favor of explosive retribution that sees him carve Batman up like a pumpkin.
It all starts with the Joker dismantling Batman’s most prized possessions. He breaks into the Batcave, reminisces at Bruce Wayne’s legendary trophies, then sneaks up on a shotgun-wielding Alfred and slices off his hand. The war has started, and throughout the Endgame finale, Batman is gutted with knives, stabbed (in the eye!) with the Joker’s calling card, and ultimately crushed by the falling stalactites of the Batcave. This is the Joker in full berserker mode, turning his seemingly eternal enemy into dust.
8 Mutant Leader
Frank Miller revels in the darkness. That’s partially what makes Miller such a dynamic writer, because he knows that the Caped Crusader must suffer before reaching his apotheosis. He never makes it easy for his vigilante subject, and in The Dark Knight Returns, Miller allows Batman to be routed more than once. In his more grizzled and gray form, an older Bruce Wayne fights one-on-one with the Mutant Leader after taking on his animalistic lackeys.
Faster, stronger and more bloodthirsty than Batman, this beast-like sewer-dweller crushes the Dark Knight without reprieve. In addition to breaking his bones, the feral Mutant Leader smashes Batman with a blunt instrument and beats him to within an inch of his life. If it weren’t for the heroic rescue of Carrie Kelley’s Robin, Batman would’ve surely been left for dead, if not devoured by the cannibalistic Mutant Leader himself. Indeed, the villain had been fairly open about his desire to dine on Commissioner Gordon’s corpse with a side dish of Batman’s heart. Lovely.
Only Arnold Schwarzenegger can take down the Predator. While investigating the mysterious death of a Gotham City boxer, Batman finds himself embroiled in a battle with a nearly invincible enemy. Hot on the trail of the local murder, the Dark Knight follows the clues to a sketchy scrapyard. There, the Predator unleashes his fury and trounces Batman in an instant. All of Batman’s stealthy abilities are rendered useless in the face of the creature’s ultra-advanced technology. The “fight” is so devastating that it renders Batman useless until the final scenes of the crossover.
While healing alongside the doting care of Alfred, Bruce Wayne is forced to build an exoskeleton suit to rival that of his alien enemy. While the armor gives Batman the upper hand in the final showdown, the death of the first Predator paves the way for the invasion of many more, the subject of parts two and three of the Dave Gibbons-penned crossover series.
6 The Bronze Tiger
There are a lot of ways to beat Batman. Some are bloody, some are psychological, and others are simply demeaning. For Ben Turner, a distinctly mortal man with a flair for the martial arts, a swift kick is the ultimate way to humiliate the Dark Knight. After having his mind melded by the eternal meddler, Ra’s Al Ghul, Ben Turner taps into his fighter persona, the Bronze Tiger, and takes the battle to Batman’s door.
Let’s be real: if the Bronze Tiger showed up with those striped tights and leonine head, you’d be terrified. Batman is menacing enough, but the Bronze Tiger looks like bad voodoo come to life. With a quick jab, a loud “Bap!” and a direct “Thood,” the Bronze Tiger literally kicks the wind out Batman. As Batman gasps for air, hunched over like a kid who fell from the monkey bars, the narration affirms, “Darkness clouds his vision…his temples pound…he struggles to remain standing – and fails.” The Bronze Tiger may not be a platinum member of the Rogues Gallery, but his kicking maneuvers deserve a medal.
As we gear up for Ben Affleck’s directorial vision of The Batman, it’s time for a brief history lesson on Deathstroke’s fighting record against the Dark Knight. We’ve seen the menacing test footage of Joe Manganiello’s dual-wielding slasher, and there’s good reason he should be feared. With the help of his enhanced physical abilities, Deathstroke has clobbered Batman time and time again.
Indeed, Slade Wilson is no average man. He’s a supervillain who possesses almost total control of his brain power, has greater physical strength than small armies of men, and can heal like a god. Therefore, no matter how prepared Batman may be for battle, Deathstroke will always prove to be a more than worthy nemesis. This harsh reality is displayed in full in Deathstroke #8 and #9¸ when Slade Wilson whips Batman into bookshelves and leaves him unconscious. Deathstroke has personally manhandled the whole of the Justice League, so if Ben Affleck looks to faithfully adapt the source material, this villain will push Batman to the brink of destruction.
Has Batman ever taken a knee to the head? You bet, and one man who can take credit is Jeffrey Franklin Burr, aka Kobra. Born to comics creator Jack Kirby in 1976, Mr. Burr possesses one of the weirdest backstories in the whole of DC. Born as one half of a pair of Siamese twins, he was abducted by the Cult of the Kobra, a group of religious acolytes who believed little Jeffrey Burr would become lord of the known universe. Unsurprisingly to all involved, boy wonder became a twisted terrorist bent on driving the world back to the stone age.
How did he and Batman meet? Envious of Ra’s Al Ghul, Kobra tried his hand at making Lazarus Pits of his own. This was the location of Kobra’s first fight against Batman, one that saw the Dark Knight take quite the beating. Indeed, Kobra joins a fairly elite club for individuals who have taken down Batman with their bare hands (and knees).
3 Grendel Prime
It’s one thing to land a punch on Batman, as so many heroes and villains have done, but it’s an entirely different feat to outsmart the World’s Greatest Detective. Grendel Prime is chief among all foes to have deflected Batman’s most clever attacks. In Batman-Grendel II: Devil’s Bones, the vicious antagonist counters everything thrown at him and more, gravely injuring Batman to the precipice of his mortality.
During a terribly-timed “villains” exhibit at the local Gotham art gallery, Grendel Prime arrives on the scene and unleashes total chaos. After he stabs a police officer clean through the neck, Batman descends into the arena and immediately takes a straight shot to the chest. This sends the Dark Knight reeling, confirming that Grendel Prime will not go quietly into that good night. After each of Batman’s strategies fail, he reaches for Grendel’s face and slices open his arm on the villain’s spiked shoulder. With his arm torn asunder, Batman bleeds out and turns ashen in seconds, leaving Grendel unscathed.
It was a sacrifice of epic proportions. In his final battle against the god-like Darkseid, Batman not only surrendered his life, but he abandoned his long-held principles against murder. Throughout Grant Morrison’s Batman RIP, the very nature of the Dark Knight’s moral code is deconstructed. Having endured Darkseid’s physical and mental torture, Batman is pushed to his wit’s end, where he threatens to break his “solemn vow about firearms.”
Armed with a lethal bullet fit to destroy Darkseid, Batman waxes poetical about the gravity of his impending violent decision: “But for you, I’m making a once-in-a-lifetime exception. A gun and a bullet, Darkseid.” Boom! Though he gets the shot off in time, Darkseid’s Omega Beams fry Batman and end his life in an instant. The Dark Knight paid the ultimate price for breaking his one rule, and the closing panel of Superman clutching Bruce Wayne’s charred body is an image few will forget.
While The Dark Knight Rises did an admirable job showcasing Bane’s upheaval of Gotham, his journey in the comics is far more impressive. Though he’s best remembered for breaking Bruce Wayne’s back, his method for doing so is strategic, brilliant and ultimately terrifying. He's a beast of a man, Bane, but he doesn't get enough credit for his approach to the art of war. After all, Bane’s understanding of Batman’s weaknesses helped guarantee his eventual victory, and by opening the floodgates of Arkham Asylum and forcing Batman to chase them down one by one, he drove the Dark Knight to the point of exhaustion.
As Bruce convalesced at Wayne Manor, Bane prepared to deliver the coup de grace to his enfeebled foe. Breaking into the mansion, the venom-fueled hulk chased the Caped Crusader into the bowels of the Batcave, where he resoundingly defeated him. Hoisting Bruce over his head, he thrust the man onto his outstretched knee and shattered his spine, leaving Batman out of commission for an extended period of time.
As a callback to this famous story arc, the latest issues of DC's Rebirth initiative are promising to bring this brutal confrontation to life once again. Time will tell if the Dark Knight will make good on his promise to "break your [Bane's] damn back", but either way, we're looking forward to the rematch.
Which other notable villains beat Batman? Let us know in the comments!