It’s been said over and over that Batman’s greatest strength is his incredible rogue’s gallery. This is probably because it’s true — over the course of the past 77 years and across comics, movies, and television, the Dark Knight has collected some of the most memorable and formidable villains in superhero history, with titans like the Joker, the Riddler, and Two-Face, to name just a few.
Unfortunately, that long career is a double-edged sword, providing ample opportunity for boring, bizarre, and just plain stupid miscreants to pollute the streets of Gotham with uninspired storylines and outrageous costumes. None of this is to say that these characters are completely worthless; any character can shine, given the right story, and some of these characters have been used well in properties like the Arkham video games or Batman: The Brave and the Bold. But when it comes to basic character design, reinforcing core themes of the Batman universe, or consistently presenting interesting challenges to the Caped Crusader, these jokers (pun absolutely intended) just can’t keep up with the competition.
Here are the 12 Worst Batman Villains Of All Time.
12. Doctor Doom
No, not that Doctor Doom. Latverian dictator Victor von Doom and onetime smuggler Doctor Doom (whose sole appearance in Detective Comics #158 doesn’t bother to give him an actual name) might share a fascination with alliterative names, but that’s where the similarities end. Where Victor Von Doom rules an entire country and battles titans like the Fantastic Four and the X-Men with his genius intellect, techno-sorcery, and inhuman force of will, Batman’s Doctor Doom unsuccessfully attempted to steal a sarcophagus and escaped by diving into the ocean and hiding under a dock.
Doctor Doom did get a chance to redeem himself by being one of the few Batman villains to successfully infiltrate the Bat Cave, but promptly wasted this opportunity by deciding to fight Batman and Robin using their own trophies rather than asserting his own identity. Eventually, the smuggler tossed a live grenade the Caped Crusader had on display, hiding inside the stolen sarcophagus that Commissioner Gordon let the heroes keep as a trophy. Unfortunately, Doom’s plan backfired; his own grenade sealed the sarcophagus shut, causing him to suffocate. Since Batman and Robin decided to keep the sarcophagus as a trophy, technically Doctor Doom has spent more time in Batman comics as a trophy than as a villain.
Probably the most famous villain on this list, Victor Zsasz is a serial killer who derives an almost religious satisfaction from murder and carves notches on himself for every victim that he kills…and that’s it. The best Batman villains have gimmicks that are both incorporated into their personal psychosis and help them fight Batman. Penguin’s fixation with trick umbrellas is another reminder of the high society that spurned him, but also lets him shoot bullets and fire at Batman. Joker’s clown and party-gag theme is the perfect expression of his terrifying amoral nihilism and gives him an arsenal of wacky gadgets like acid-spewing trick flowers and booby-trapped jack-in-the-boxes. Zsazs’ gimmick, which boils down to “I’m a crazy murderer,” is not only comparatively boring, but makes him one of the least capable Batman villains in a fight.
There’s never a question of whether or not Zsasz can subdue Batman, unless Batman’s been severely injured, which isn’t a good trait for a villain to have. Batman has fought powerhouses like Darkseid, Vandal Savage, and even Superman — some guy with a knife just isn’t a credible threat to him anymore.
Underworld organizer turned prison lawyer turned henchman, the fittingly named Birdy Colossimo took quite a winding path through life before finally settling into a comfortable position as the bird-themed lieutenant to Bane during the acclaimed Knightfall storyline. At first glance, Bird seems like a character ripe with potential, but rather than committing fully to the bird theme with a crazy flying suit or serving as a behind-bars antagonist that uses his knowledge of the law and the underworld to orchestrate prison breakouts, he’s content to dress as a matador and sneak around with his pet falcon Talon.
Unlike most of the other villains on this list, Bird would actually be a much better character if he was more of a joke. Instead, he strains all credulity by giving Batman a difficult fight, and even manages to defeat a Robin — Tim Drake, no less — with nothing but some awkward punching and a bird. It’s fine for a villain to show up a hero (Bird’s boss, Bane, is an excellent example of how to do that right) but if the villain isn’t credible, it undermines the story. And “credible” is one of the least appropriate adjectives for Mr. Colossimo.
Kite and crime aficionado Charles Brown is such a joke that it feels cruel just describing him. Kite-Man is a really good hang-glider pilot in a silly costume, who at one point actually got stuck in a tree. Cue head shaking.
That criminal resume is less threatening than most of the normal crooks Gotham’s police department deals with on a daily basis, who at least have guns they can protect themselves with and whose crimes don’t live and die based on the direction of the wind. Perhaps the most that can be said for Kite-Man is that he did manage to reduce Batman to his level: in the villain’s first two appearances, Batman was forced to don a kite of his own to track him down and defeat him.
8. Polka-Dot Man
Abner Krill, aka Polka-Dot Man (or Mr. Polka-Dot, in his early appearances) may lack the intelligence, depth, gravitas, and intimidating appearance of basically all other Batman villains, but at least he’s not short on gadgetry, as each dot on his gaudy costume can be peeled off and turned into a different weapon.
Unfortunately for Polka-Dot Man, Batman and Robin were able to track him down by cleverly deducing the common theme connecting all of his crimes (hint: it’s dots), and after Batman punched him in the jaw, the speckled criminal disappeared until a gritty reboot in the 1990s. This version of Polka-Dot Man had fallen on hard times, keeping his costume but ditching the dot-based arsenal that almost made him interesting. Instead, Polka-Dot Man decided a baseball bat was all that he needed to get back on his feet, which is ironic, given that Gotham detective Harvey Bullock would go on to use a baseball bat to beat him into unconsciousness.
7. Ten-Eyed Man
More than any other character on this list, Ten-Eyed Man feels like he was invented on a dare, the dare in question being “make a worse version of Daredevil.” Vietnam veteran Phillip Reardon may have lost his vision in an industrial accident after the war, but the best mobster surgery money can buy, combined with lazy writing, allowed his vision to be restored by reconnecting his optic nerves to cells in his fingertips, theoretically trading in two eyes for ten.
Sharp-eyed readers (again, pun absolutely intended) may have already realized the problems of having extremely sensitive optic nerves attached to appendages that are used almost solely for touching things, but Ten-Eyed Man didn’t seem to notice, as he celebrated his recovered vision by creating a costume that physically hurts to look at. His fight with Batman goes about as well as one would expect — Batman has beaten seasoned martial artists and assassins with ease, and they didn’t have to choose between making a fist or being able to see.
6. Crazy Quilt
It’s a bad sign when the best thing about a villain is that he isn’t simply named “Quilt Man.” Crazy Quilt certainly lives up to his name; former painter and master thief Paul Dekker was blinded by a gunshot during a robbery gone wrong, but managed to regain his vision through an experimental procedure with the side-effect of only being able to see in bright, disorienting colors, which drove him mad. Between Crazy Quilt and Ten-Eyed Man, it seems safe to say that Gotham City is the worst place in comic books to go blind.
Unfortunately for any comic book fans looking forward to crimes based around multilayered textiles, Crazy Quilt’s best capers involved the use of a helmet that hypnotized people with bright flashes of color. Otherwise, the brightly-colored criminal preferred to commit petty vandalism, like his threats to rob Gotham City of color by dyeing several flags and paintings white. Even here, Crazy-Quilt proved incompetent, using an easily removable water-soluble dye. The stains on Gotham’s paintings might be gone, but the shame of forcing Batman to waste his time with Crazy Quilt will last forever.
Shocking “costume” aside, Bruno’s debut in the excellent Dark Knight Returns (Batman v Superman‘s biggest source of inspiration) didn’t raise too many eyebrows — in the context of the story, where a gang called the Mutants had split off into dozens of outlandish, frequently political offshoots, Bruno’s attire (as well as the more traditional Brownshirts of her henchmen) made a certain amount of sense. After all, when you’re competing with gangs like The Nixons and the Sons of Batman, you need to do something to stand out.
But Bruno’s re-emergence in All-Star Batman and Robin was catastrophic, as it revealed that the Nazi imagery, rather than an attention-grabbing gimmick, had been part of the character from the beginning. This raises multiple questions: has Bruno always dressed in Nazi iconography to rob liquor stores? Does she get along with villains other than the Joker who might take issue with symbols of national socialism? What exactly are the swastikas on her chest and butt — are they tattoos? Red body tape? Paint? Perhaps most importantly, especially given how most female characters in All-Star Batman and Robin are treated, are readers meant to feel a sense of attraction to this character? These questions, like so many others raised during the abysmal run of All-Star Batman and Robin, thankfully remain unanswered, and we’re just fine with that.
4. Condiment King
Created as a parody of the “______-Man” style villain that so defined Batman runs of the 1950s and 1960s, Condiment King technically isn’t actually a villain. Comedian Buddy Standler, along with fellow comedians Harry Loomis and Lisa Lorraine, were brainwashed into becoming pathetic villains by the Joker in retaliation for rejecting his act at a comedy contest, and after the police discovered Joker’s plot, Condiment King was free to go. However, Condiment King remains one of the worst antagonists in Batman’s rogue’s gallery, not because of what little harm he did, but because of what he could have been.
So many of the goofy Batman villains Condiment King mocks — including several on this list — were just as let down by bad writing as they were by their absurd costumes and gimmicks. Condiment King was created for Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series, one of the best interpretations of Batman ever made. The fact that such talented writers chose to simply mock goofy Batman villains rather than try and make one interesting and complex is beyond disappointing, and Condiment King’s presence serves as an irritating reminder of what could have been.
As easy as it is to mock the bizarre, nonsensical stories and characters of the Silver Age of comics, at least they didn’t come off as pretentious and pandering. The same, sadly, cannot be said for Anarky, a walking representation of many of the worst tropes of comics in the early 1990s. Everything from his name to his holier-than-thou radical anti-hero shtick to the wannabe V for Vendetta costume comes off as juvenile and simplistic masquerading as something deep and meaningful.
Even his secret identity — a 12 year old boy named Lonnie Machin inspired by a secret book to fight all forms of injustice in Gotham City, even Batman–is so clearly aimed at disaffected teenagers that it cheapens the rest of the character. Later iterations, which ditched the unoriginal costume and focused more on a super genius hacker-based angle, were far less grating, but the damage from his disastrous introduction had already been done.
2. Sterling Silversmith
Polka-Dot Man and Kite Man might be silly, but they took their gimmicks and ran with them. The same cannot be said for Sterling Silversmith, a silver smuggler whose gimmick — he loves silver — is not only stupid, but executed poorly and unimaginatively.
Instead of some silver-based gadgets or a silver robot, Silversmith’s claim to fame is an ordinary white suit with a silver alloy woven in that bafflingly renders him bulletproof. The only upside to ridiculous Batman villains is that they’re at least visually interesting, even in a morbid sense. Sterling Silversmith fails to entertain even on this basic level. It seems safe to say we won’t be seeing this guy in Ben Affleck’s upcoming solo movie.
1. Azrael Batman
The acclaimed Batman story Knightfall puts the caped crusader through the wringer. New supercriminal Bane arrives in Gotham, determined to break Batman, and ingeniously orchestrates a mass breakout of Arkham Asylum, forcing Batman to forego rest and sleep as he hunts down the escapees. Meanwhile, Bane discovers that Batman is Bruce Wayne and formulates a plan. When Batman is at his lowest, he strikes, destroying him in close combat and rendering him a paraplegic by breaking his back. It’s an incredibly powerful moment that is forever ingrained in the mythology of the Dark Knight.
What happens afterwards, on the other hand, is less so, almost entirely due to who Batman chooses as his replacement: homicidal zealot with voices in his head that tell him what to do turned very slightly less homicidal crimefighter with voices in his head that tell him what to do Jean-Paul Valley, also known as Azrael. Azrael Batman embraces the edginess of the 1990s in ways that Anarky could only dream of — donning a Liefeldian new Batsuit featuring thigh pouches, knife fingers, and a flamethrower — and begins waging a new war on crime that’s about as grim and brutal as one might expect.
Azrael Batman’s corruption is treated like a massive shock, but fails completely because of how blindingly obvious it is that Azrael Batman is a terrible, terrible idea. Azrael Batman isn’t at the top of the list because his visual design is awful or his grimdark edge has aged poorly, although neither helps his case. He’s terrible because the poor writing surrounding his character made Batman take almost a year to realize what most people realized in about two seconds. No amount of dodging polka-dot weapons or silver jacketed smugglers ever made Batman look so stupid, an unforgivable crime in our eyes.
Did we leave off your most hated Batman baddie? Let us know in the comments section.
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