Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Top 10 Batman Villains

Batman. Everyone loves Batman, right? He's the definitive hero to some, but above all else, he's just a plain badass to many. A symbol of a man that can become a hero without any super powers. A man who is able to solve crimes and save the day with his mind alone. He's a hero that I should rightfully love, and yet I don't hold that much affection towards him. I think Batman as a media icon is overexposed and hasn't really been in anything truly spectacular since 2008. He's had his time, but now it's time for a new icon to fill his space (Rocket Raccoon anyone...?) But while I may not have that much affection for Batman now, I LOVE his rogues, his villains, the people that constantly push him to his limit. I love everything about them and I love how each of them is visually interesting, has a distinct personality, and has a clear motivation and persona. So today, I'm going to rank my own personal list for the best Batman villains. I'm taking int consideration their appearances in comics, tv, film, video games, anything that's related to Batman. There's a lot of villains to go through, so let's start this list off. This is the Top 10 Batman Villains!

10) Owlman
Owlman is a very big technicality on this list in the fact that he isn't technically a part of Batman's rogues gallery. In fact, he's more of a JUstice League threat more than anything else. However, I put Owlman at number 10 because he's essentially an evil Batman. In the comics, there are multiple universes that exist on different frequencies, and one of them is Earth 3, a place where East is West and all of Earth's mightiest heroes and Earth's most feared villains. On Earth 3, the Crime Syndicate is in charge of the world, and their Batman analog is Thomas Wayne Jr., aka Owlman.

So Owlman is pretty much an evil Batman. He takes all of Batman's ideals and gives a dark twist to all of them. Both of them want Gotham to be a peaceful city, but Owlman makes Gotham peaceful out of fear. He controls every part of the city so that it all is completely orderly and works like a machine. The reason why he makes it on to this list though is that he represents one of the core questions that surround the Batman mythos. People say that Batman is just crazy enough to wear a bat suit and fly around Gotham, but at the end of the day he means well for the city. One question that gets asked a lot though is what would happen if Batman strayed from the law? What if he finally lost it and went over the edge in his actions? What if Batman became more villainous in accomplishing his goals? You'd get Owlman, that's what would happen. Owlman will always represent just what Batman would be like if he ever went down the path of evil, and no one ever wants to go up against an evil Batman.

9) Two Face
I know a lot of people are going to be rather taken aback at Two Face being so low on this list, but hear me out. First off, I think that Two Face is a phenomenal idea for a character. The entire point of Batman's existence is to make sure that no one has to go through the suffering that he felt when his parents died. He wants to try and prevent anyone else from feeling that pain, but Two Face is a representation of his failure. Harvey Dent was one of Bruce Wayne's best friends, but when Batman fails to save him in an accident, he becomes both physically and mentally scarred, creating the Two Face persona. From then on, whenever Batman encounters Two Face, he boths wants to try and stop him, yet also try and save him and bring back Harvey Dent.

Boom! Great character creation and gives great pathos to Harvey as well as Bruce. What's my problem with the character though? Two Face is good as a representation of Batman's failures, but as a villain, he's very unimpressive. I ranked this list on four categories; connection to Batman, design, accomplishments, and personality. The first two are there in spades, but as for his accomplishments, besides being a constant reminder to Batman, what has Two Face done to really merit his position as one of Batman's head villains? What is his "Killing Joke"? Yeah he's done a few things, but he exists mostly as a reminder of Batman's failures, much in the same way Jason Todd is. Two Face is much more impactful and memorable than Jason Todd is, but at the end of the day, I just don't find Two Face that memorable besides for what he means s a foil to Batman.

8) Mr. Freeze
As another really popular Bat Baddie, some might be asking why he's so low on the list. After all, Mr. Freeze is downright Shakespearean in terms of his character and his recent appearance in Batman: Arkham City was downright phenomenal. Dr. Victor Fries was a brilliant scientist in the field of cryogenics, but all of his skill could not help him save his terminally ill wife Nora. He tried desperately to save her, to the point of cryogenically freezing her until modern medicine could find a cure for her disease. However, while she was frozen, Victor was caught in a cryogenics explosion that turned him into Mr. Freeze, a man who could not survive outside of subzero temperatures. Since then, he's made himself a freeze suit and has become a criminal all to try and amass funds for finding a cure for Nora's disease. All of this was explained beautifully in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Heart of Ice", an episode so good that it completely redefined who Mr. Freeze was.

I didn't put him any higher on this list for two reasons. First and foremost, while Mr. Freeze was reinvented in the early 90's, he's been around for an extremely long time, appearing first in 1959. So that's over 30 years of him being an alright Batman villain. Second, he suffers from the same problem I have with Two Face, as in his backstory is really really good and makes him into a tragic figure, but afterwards there hasn't been quite as many good stories told with the character. Yes he still has his charms and is iconic in pretty much every way possible, but I don't feel the same level of villainy as I do with other Batman villains. To me, what plagues most Batman villains is that they get caught up way too much in how they're mirrors of Batman instead of being great villains in their own right. Mr. Freeze is that sentiment personified; he's a great representation of Batman's loss, but he doesn't go too beyond that.

Also he was in Batman & Robin with awful ice puns. That's enough to drag anyone down to number 8.

7) Harley Quinn
Harley Quinn is an institution. She's one of the more recent entries on this list, but holy crap she make sup for it in personality alone. Harley was created for the animated series, but after her appearance, she became so popular that she pretty much was one of the first few cases where a television show directly influenced the comic book series. Harley is a manic ball of craziness, but gosh darn it, she's just so in love with her Mistah J! Harley was once a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, but after having a few therapy sessions with the Clown Prince of Crime, she quit her job and joined up with him, being his little sidekick and love interest. That is, when he's not horribly abusive to her. But who cares! She's a ball of joy that has a sense of humor!

It's really rare in terms of Batman to have an outright comedic character, or at least someone with a more upbeat personality. Yes the Joker does have a sense of humor, but it's incredibly mean spirited and always villainous. Harley on the other hand is much more fun loving and out for laughs than for chaos. She's starred in several comic series since her inception, the most recent of which being launched in 2013, and almost all of them have had a slightly comedic edge to them, which is sorely missed in the Batman franchise. A lot of fans have relegated humor in Batman to being a dreadful callback to the campy days of the Adam West series, to the point where having any humor at all in a Batman story is heresey. But Batman isn't all gloom and brooding. Harley Quinn is the embodiment of trying to brighten up the Batman franchise with a more perky and happier character, if only a bit insane and demented. Still, for being one of the few, if not the only, comedic character in the series, I have to give props for Harley Quinn and her lovable nature. She's a joy to watch, and a joy to experience.

6) Poison Ivy
Let's get this out of the way quickly; Poison Ivy is beautiful. Hell, she's downright stunning if we're being perfectly honest, but that's not why she's on this list... Okay, not entirely on this list. Pamela Isley was once a normal horticulturist (or not so normal depending on the version), and after a freak accident, she turns into Poison Ivy, a femme fatale with the ability to control all plant life and fauna. She's been featured in numerous adaptations of the franchise, and all of them have kept three things in common; she can control plants, she gorgeous, and she manipulates men with pheromones to the point where they'll fight each other instead of fighting her.

I'm not qualified to talk about her implications as a feminist icon, since that's a whole can of worms that'll take an eternity to sort through, but why she's on this list is because of how writers have added to her since her inception to make her much more dynamic. In the beginning, she was just an ordinary villainess with a plant theme, but as time went on, more writers began to tweak with her and of what she could do. In Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, she was given strong connections to a force called The Green, which is all plant life. It explains why she has her powers and why sometimes her powers are strong and why other times they're weak. There's her version in the animated series that is more subdued, yet cemented her more modern, sleeker design. What's even more interesting is that just recently, an issue of Batgirl had Poison Ivy as its villain, yet it added to her character the fact that her mental state is affected by the seasons i.e, when it's spring she's much more alive and powerful, yet when winter comes she's weak and vulnerable.

Poison Ivy is usually the first villain that I think of when it comes to reinventing a character. She's rich and dynamic, yet is always open to reinterpretation. She can be a hero, she can be an anti-hero, or she can be a plain old villain. She's the most interesting female villain in Batman's rogues gallery, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

5) The Riddler
What happens when you have a villain that's just as smart, if not smarter than Batman? You get The Riddler of course. Edward Nygma is by far one of the most intelligent characters in the Batman mythos, and you cherish whenever he's around. He's one of those villains that isn't used much though. Surprisingly, when he is used, all of his appearances are impactful and are a joy to watch. The recent storyline Zero Year features him as the main antagonist, and in it his gloats and is infinitely smarter than a young Bruce Wayne and even most of Gotham.

I put him up so high simply because I love villains that have an ego to them, yet they can back it up. A lot of the time, you get villains that claim they're the best thing ever, yet as soon as the hero shows up, they're defeated without much of a hassle. The Riddler is a bit different than that trope though. He can back up his claim. If Batman himself, the world's greatest detective, can have difficulty trying to solve his riddles, and needs to pull out all of the stops to try and beat him, then he can clearly walk the walk. Not only that, I have a soft spot for riddles and for quizzes. I just love having a riddle being posed to me, and taking all of my mental capabilities to try and solve it before Batman can. For making me want to test myself as well as test Batman, The Riddler deserves to be in the Top 5.

4) The Court of Owls
"Beware the Court of Owls, that watches all the time. Ruling from a shadowed perch, behind granite and lime. They watch you at your hearth, they watch you at your bed. Speak not a whispered word of them, or they'll send the Talon for your head."

The Court of Owls has the honor of being the most recent villain to grace this list, and boy are they a force to be reckoned with. Debuting in 2011, the Court of Owls was created by Scott Snyder, who has a habit or developing Gotham as a character in itself. If Gotham is a character, then the Court of Owls is the darkest and most depraved parts of its psyche. Existing for hundreds of years, the court has existed in one form or another, but they've always been controlling Gotham from behind the scenes, or at the very least influencing everything that happens in the city. They're filled with some of the richest citizens of Gotham and they employ Talons, deadly assassins that were plucked from Haley's Circus, to fight for them. Talons are essentially reanimated zombie ninjas that are nigh unbeatable, with the only way to stop them is to put them into a deep freeze to stop their reanimation.

While the court may be the most recent villainous entry on this list, they have been nothing short of impactful and have given us one of the best Batman stories in the past decade. When Batman discovers how big this organization is and just how powerful they are, he's put on the ropes almost immediately and is hunted without mercy. It even gets to the point where he is captured by them and is almost mentally destroy by the court, twisting his mind and leaving him a near lifeless wreck. When he does eventually escape, his war path against them is nothing short of devastating, breaking right into their stronghold with the sole intention of apprehending all of them... until he reaches their room and finds out they all killed themselves. They've denied Batman the ability t bring them to justice and essentially say to him that they rule this city. Batman can only exist for so long, but the court is eternal. Owls hunt bats, and for nearly defeating the bat, these are owls that you should definitely be afraid of.

3) Scarecrow
Is it possible to place a villain on this list solely for the Arkham games? I mean, he was absolutely phenomenal in Arkham Asylum to the point where people identify him as being the best part of the game, mind you that the game is often called the best superhero game ever made. Is that all there is to him? Well, Johnathan Crane is a person based solely around fear. He's invested in the science of fear and how it makes a person tick and what it can do to a person. He's a scientist first, sadist second, and lunatic all around. The man is about as mentally stable as a man who specializes in fear can be.

One of the things that makes Batman stand out more than any other hero is the idea of him being a bat. It's well known that Bruce Wayne chose a bat as a motif because bats scare him, therefore he can embody something terrifying to invoke an identity into the hearts of evildoers. Scarecrow is a perversion of that idea, only taking it much more to the extreme. Scarecrow is all about fear, and when Scarecrow is involved, you know there's going to be one hell of a ride involved with his fear gas. It'll make people see crazy images, make Batman doubt his own sanity, and just plain screw with people. Why I love Scarecrow so much is that he's just as much of a victim as he victims are. He's grown a resistance to fear and can rarely experience it, though when he does it is absolutely terrifying to him. I'm reminded of a scene in the Green Lantern epic Blackest Night, where heroes and villains across the DC universe are called on to fight against the Black Lanterns, and Scarecrow is made into a Yellow Lantern, and agent of fear, to fight against death itself. But before he can get the ring, he's trying desperately to feel fear again, but he's grown so used to it.

Scarecrow is the ideal horror villain. He preys on what we fear and uses that against us. If he can make Batman cower in a corner, then he's doing something right. Bonus points for having the most visual designs out of any other Bat villain. He usually get redesigned ever few years or so, and all of them have their own creepy depravity to them. No one can beat fear like the Scarecrow.

2) The Joker
The Clown Prince of Crime. The Red Hood. Joe Ker. Whatever alias he's going by, we all know him by one name. He's the Joker.

The Joker is one of the greatest villains of all time period. He's iconic, he's imposing, he's insane, he's everything a good villain should be. He's the antithesis of everything the hero stands for. He's just plain evil. Where do I even begin with his impact? "The Killing Joke". "Death in the Family". "Death of the Family". "Arkham Asylum". "The Dark Knight". "Revenge of the Joker". All of these stories and movies are classics and are absolutely phenomenal. I don't really feel the need to explain why the Joker is so good. He's just the Joker. You know exactly who he is and why he's such a great villain. Hell, I feel redundant for even mentioning that he's one of the best villains of all time. But he isn't my number 1 though. "How could he not be number 1 though??? He's everything Batman isn't!" And you'd be exactly right. He's not like Batman at all. So that's why Batman's greatest villain is...

1) Batman
Yes, Batman's greatest villain is himself. The Joker may be pure evil, but nothing is more harmful to Batman than Batman himself. However, this one is a bit more complicated of an explanation, so please bear with me.

A villain, in my definition, is someone or something that serves as an obstacle for the hero to overcome. At the end of the day, the hero always wins and the villain is always defeated, rinse and repeat. For every time the Joker makes an appearance and fights Batman, he'll eventually be defeated. Batman may be hurt in the process by fighting him, but the Joker can be defeated. Batman cannot defeat Batman because of what he represents. Batman was made by Bruce Wayne as a way to avenge his parents and to make sure that no one can suffer like he has. At the end of the day, Batman was made to protect people from suffering and from evil. Yet Batman is a bit of a martyr though. Think of all of the terrible things that have happened to Batman and Bruce Wayne because of his choice to be Batman.

He's never been able to keep a stable relationship or even fall in love. He's always had love interests, but he could never settle down or be with them because of the amount of work it is to be Batman. He takes on proteges to be Robin, but each of them has had tragedy happen to them after coming into contact with Batman. Jason Todd was killed by the Joker. Damian Wayne, his own son, was killed by Talia al' Ghul. Tim Drake's father was killed. Dick Grayson nearly died several times and was unmasked to the world by the Crime Syndicate. Batman went insane at the hands of Dr. Hurt and the Black Glove, nearly losing everything that he's every earned. The list goes on and on and on.

What matters most though is the Bruce Wayne can almost never assume a normal life and feel like his family has been avenged. In the movie Mask of the Phantasm, Bruce Wayne rekindles his interests over a old flame and wonders what his life would be like if he wasn't Batman. It's Bruce Wayne coming to grips that Batman has robbed him of a normal life and leads him to ask a pivitol question. Is this what his mother and father want? Do they want him to keep on doing this, to continue fighting in memory of them, instead of living for them? It's tough questions that are explored in almost every Batman story.

No matter how old Batman may be, Batman works as a character because he can never truly be happy. He can never come to grips with his past and instead chooses to run away from it, pursuing villains out of a sense of responsibility. There's a good reason why people constantly say that Batman is one step away from being a villain and why people wonder why he doesn't put himself in Arkham Asylum. Even his villains are all just relfections of his own psyche, and Batman himself can never really defeat his villains because of his own code. He wants to save Two Face, not defeat him, but his empathy for them just allows them to cause more chaos and unnecessary crime. So that's why Batman is his own greatest enemy. He's in a constant fight with himself over what's right, he stops Bruce Wayne from ever living a normal life, and he makes Bruce ask if he's really done the right thing taking up the cowl.

Oh, and Bane and Penguin aren't on this list because they're both boring and completely uninteresting. Sorry, I just can't deal with them.

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