5 best Batman villains ever, ranked

Is Batman the greatest character in comic book history? Sure, yes. The Dark Knight is one of the genre’s most complex and layered figures, a fascinating study of trauma, grief, and unwavering loyalty. Batman’s stories, set against the bleak backdrop of the morally bankrupt cesspool that is Gotham City, are about the struggle to save a corrupt city from itself. Gotham is set to descend into chaos and madness, often led by one or more of Batman’s most iconic villains.

In fact, what makes the Caped Crusader such a fascinating and enduring figure is his collection of deranged enemies, all of whom have a tight grip on the city, even from the confines of Arkham’s walls. Batman’s villains are dark reflections of the Dark Knight, representing the darkest corners of his broken and dangerous psyche. Perhaps this is what sets him apart from the usual brand of ultra-ridiculous comic book villains. Batman’s enemies have a lot in common, but they also have something that many other comics don’t: gravitas. And while Arkham Asylum has more than its fair share of notable residents, some stand out as some of the best Batman villains of all time.

5. Penguin

Oswald Cobblepot is smiling while Batman is on his knees in DC Comics.
Image used with permission of the copyright holder

Many may dismiss Oswald Cobblepot as one of Batman’s weakest villains. He may not represent the same threat as some of the Cape Crusader’s most notable foes, but Oswald is no pushover. Throughout decades of comic book continuity, he has proven to be a dangerous threat to Batman, ruling the Gotham underworld through a mixture of wealth and good, old-fashioned violence.

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The Penguin is one of Batman’s best enemies. The self-proclaimed “Gentleman of Crime” is stylish and memorable, an iconic figure of the Dark Knight’s lore and a part of the fabric of Gotham. On top of all that, the Penguin has the rare distinction of being completely healthy, which makes his dynamic with Batman unique. The two have been sometimes reluctant allies, with the Caped Crusader using Oswald’s Iceberg Lounge as a front to gather underworld information. The Penguin is a survivor, resourceful, and cunning individual who understands that Gotham is a playground and is more than happy to use every piece of equipment available to him.

4. Two faced

Split image of Harvey having acid thrown in his face and being scarred as Two-Face in the comics.
Image used with permission of the copyright holder

Without a doubt, Harvey Dent is the most tragic of Batman’s villains. Once a talented and promising district attorney, Dent was disfigured after an attack by mob boss Salvatore Maroni. Descending into madness, Harvey adopts the Two-Face persona, channeling his dangerous and murderous tendencies into the criminal world he once tried to eliminate.

Like most of Batman’s famous villains, Two-Face has an elegance to him; In their case, it suffers from the concept of duality. Decades of comic book lore have seen him go from tragic foe to disgraced hero. However, he remains firmly on the wrong side of the law, thus always standing at odds with Batman and his indestructible moral code. Most impressively, Two-Face uses his expertise in the law to fool and manipulate the system, taking advantage of its weaknesses to further corrupt it. In many ways, he is Batman’s worst nightmare, a dangerous and highly intelligent manipulator who can destabilize Gotham City overnight without firing a single shot.

3. Catwoman

Catwoman raises her whip in the 1990s Catwoman comic book.
Image used with permission of the copyright holder

Leave it to Batman to have his most meaningful romantic relationship with a criminal. The world’s most notorious cat burglar is the great love of Batman’s life, with the two having a complex love-hate relationship spanning decades. Through it all, Catwoman remains elusive and mysterious, a creature of the shadows whose mysterious nature both fascinates and intrigues Batman.

Catwoman’s threat lies in her ability to force Batman to ignore his otherwise unwavering code. When she’s on the scene, the Caped Crusader About Loses focus and abandons his all-consuming mission. Catwoman’s hostility is towards those in power, especially those who abuse their power under the guise of law and order. She cannot understand Batman’s continued faith in a city that is not ready for change, even though she respects his enduring commitment. But at the end of the day, Catwoman has no loyalty to herself. He is always on his side, and no batsman can ever change that.

2. Ra’s al-Ghul

Ra's al Ghul in the DC Comics with his arms outstretched while two ninjas jump behind him.
Image used with permission of the copyright holder

All hail the demon’s head! Ra’s al Ghul is, arguably and perhaps controversially, Batman’s greatest rival. A seemingly immortal criminal mastermind and head of the League of Assassins, Ra’s’ reach extends far beyond Gotham. Unlike some of Batman’s other enemies, who cannot see beyond the boundaries of his hellish island, Ra’s is international. He has eyes and ears everywhere, controlling a vast global network that often points its significant resources toward Gotham, a city he believes to be beyond salvation.

Unlike other totalitarian villains, Ra’s has a deep commitment to his dogma. His obsessions are similar to Batman’s, but their methods couldn’t be more different. Perhaps most interesting is the respect Ra’s and Batman share for each other; Ra’s also refers to Batman as “the Detective” as a sign of respect and often says that he is not only a worthy opponent, but the only one capable of carrying on his legacy. Ra’s is a dangerous and constant threat, a figure who challenges Batman in every way.

1. Joker

The Joker is laughing hysterically in the comic book panel.
DC Comics

Few other comic villains – indeed, few comic book characters – have reached the same level of recognition and admiration as the Joker Prince of Crime. The Joker is Batman’s archenemy, a man who acts as the antithesis of everything the Caped Crusader stands for. The Joker is the epitome of paradox, a violent and anarchic criminal mastermind with a sadistic sense of humor who uses Gotham as his playground.

Mystery surrounds the Joker’s background and motives, making him all the more dangerous – and fascinating. Even Batman doesn’t claim to fully understand her notoriously troubled mind. The Joker has little use for money or influence; Instead, he wants complete chaos, acting as an unpredictable and inevitable force of nature. Batman understands that he will never be able to stop the Joker, and knows that he is tied in a constant dance with him. For his part, the Joker is completely obsessed with the Caped Crusader, to the extent that every move he makes is a precise and calculated attempt to provoke his foe into breaking his moral code. But Batman would never do that, and the Joker would live to laugh another day.

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