By Brandon Engel
One of the most memorable things about any Batman franchise ever created, are the villains. Some are quasi-anthropomorphic. Some are permanently disfigured. All of them favor spandex. In light of the recent announcement that the series from the sixties (which featured Adam West in the titular role) will finally be released on DVD, here is a look at our pics for the top five Batman villains of all time.
5. Two-Face — Two-Face is a compelling villain for a variety of reasons. For one thing, his Jekyll and Hyde-esque duality has made it possible for writers and directors to employ all sorts of plot devices — in some comics, his condition is attributed to bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or some other psychological malady. There are also several back stories for the character. Originally, Two-Face’s alter ego Harvey Dent was a noble lawyer, whose face was horribly marred when Sal Maroni, a mobster that Dent helped to convict, hurled acid at Dent’s face in the court room. Christopher Nolan offered a starkly different backstory in The Dark Knight, but certain things remain fairly consistent for any iteration of the character: he elicits sympathy, because he isn’t evil through and through, and also because his destructive behavior is largely a consequence of his disfigurement. The character was portrayed most recently by Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight, but hearken back to Tommy Lee Jones’s underrated performance in the otherwise questionable Batman Returns.
4. Bane — Comic writer Dennis O’Neil paved the way for the Bane character with his Venom comic series — a series which sees Batman become addicted to an experimental drug that has been engineered by government officials to turn people into mindless killing machines. The drug that Batman becomes addicted to is the very same substance that Bane inhales through canisters attached to his back. The character was born in a latin American prison, and spent his entire life cultivating his body in the prison’s gym and reading every book he could get his hands on. The character was created much later in the Batman canon. He was portrayed by actor Robert Swenson in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, and most recently by Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Returns. Some of the most memorable appearances of the character outside of the comics themselves were in Batman: The Animated Series, which is available on DVD.
3. Catwoman — Catwoman, and her original alter ego Selina Kyle, first appeared in the first issue of Batman as a beautiful young jewel thief, who was inspired largely by iconic Hollywood starlets such as Jean Harlow. Just as Batman is a perplexing hero (because of his vulnerabilities and the frequency with which he errors), Catwoman is sort of a confusing villain in that she’s never been inherently bad, and in many situations, the motivations for her crimes are noble in a Robin Hood sort of way. She was portrayed by Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt in the show from the sixties, and in the feature films, she’s been portrayed by Lee Meriwether in Batman! The Movie, Halle Berry in the abysmal Catwoman, and most recently by Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Returns. Michelle Pfeiffer brought a charisma and charm to the role that was all her own in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (which was recently re-released on Blu-Ray).
2. The Penguin — The bespectacled, tuxedo-clad bird-lover first appeared in Batman comics in 1941. He was originally depicted as a swarthy mob boss, typically employing weaponized umbrellas on his capers. One of the most memorable portrayals of the character was delivered by Danny DeVito in Batman Returns. Burton’s treatment of the character made him more of a malevolent ogre, hell bent on drowning every male child in Gotham. As for this writer, the ultimate portrayal of the Penguin was by Burgess Meredith in the 1966 Batman film. This was incidentally the first Batman film ever, and if you haven’t ever seen it, you can stream it in it’s entirety on www.direct-ticket.net.
1. The Joker — The caped crusader and this guy go way back; the joker (like Catwoman) appeared in the first-ever Batman comic. The design of the character originally borrowed from the look of Conrad Veidt’s character in the German expressionist horror film The Man Who Laughs. In the sixties, he was portrayed by Hollywood legend Cesar Romero, who infamously refused to shave his iconic mustache for the part, and opted instead to cake grease makeup over it. The character was historically depicted as being crazy, and this was amplified considerably by Frank Miller’s depiction of the character in his Dark Knight Returns comic series, which in turn informed Burton’s treatment of the character (which thusly informed Jack Nicholson’s approach to the character). The most memorable depiction of the Joker, however, was delivered by Heath Ledger in Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Ledger introduced a mania and frenetic energy that was also tempered and authentically disturbing in a way that he had rarely been in the films. You can watch both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises through sites like Google Play.
Brandon Engel is a Chicago based blogger who writes about everything from old school comic books to gothic horror literature to environmental law. Follow him on Twitter: @BrandonEngel2