GOTHAM’S 20 BEST VILLAINS: Redux (Part 3)
10. Bane – Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1 (January 1993)
According to his creators, Bane was originally intended as a “dark mirror” of the highly disciplined and multi-skilled pulp hero Doc Savage. Savage was an early influence in the creation of the Dark Knight himself.
Born to serve the life sentence of his father, Bane’s childhood and early adult life are spent behind the walls of Peña Duro, an infamous prison located in Santa Prisca. His origin somewhat similar to that of Edmond Dantès (the Count of Monte Cristo) in that he would spend years imprisoned for crimes he did not commit. Though raised in incarceration, his natural abilities allow him to develop extraordinary skills within the prison’s walls. He reads as many books as he can get his hands on, builds up his body in the prison’s gym, and learns to fight in the merciless school of prison life. Despite his circumstances, he appears to have found teachers of various sorts during this incarceration, ranging from hardened convicts to an elderly Jesuit priest, under whose tutelage he apparently receives a classical education. Bane murders this priest upon his return to Santa Prisca years later. However, he commits his first murder at the age of eight, stabbing a criminal who wanted to use him to gain information about the prison.
During his years in prison, Bane carries a teddy bear he calls Osito, whom he considers his only friend. It is revealed that Osito has a hole in his back to hold a knife that Bane uses against anyone who bullies him.
Bane ultimately establishes himself as the “king” of Peña Duro prison. The prison’s controllers take note and, eventually, force him to become a test subject for a mysterious drug known as Venom, which had killed all other subjects. It nearly kills him at first, but he survives and finds its effects enhance his physical strength, although he needs to take it every 12 hours or he would suffer debilitating side-effects.
Years later, Bane escapes Peña Duro, with ambition to destroy Batman, whom he had heard tales of while serving his sentence. He is fascinated with Gotham City as, like the prison, it is a place where fear ruled. Bane is convinced that the demonic bat that haunted his dreams since childhood is a representation of the Batman.
Aware that a direct assault on Batman would be foolish, Bane destroys the walls of Arkham Asylum, allowing its deranged inmates, including the Joker, the Scarecrow, the Mad Hatter, and The Ventriloquist to escape into Gotham City. Batman spends three months rounding them up, running himself to exhaustion. Then one night Batman returns to Wayne Manor to find it wrecked. Bane awaits him. They fight in the Batcave, Bane breaks Batman’s back and leaves him paraplegic, thereby having been the only man to have “Broken the Bat”.
If you’ve only seen the movies, you might wonder how the hell he made this list. But the abortion of a movie that was 1997’s Batman and Robin greatly misrepresented Bane as he was portrayed as a mindless thug. He was also in the Animated Series and the pathetic animated movie, Batman: Mystery of the Batwomen, where he was voiced by Hector Elizondo. Good news for Bane fans though, as it’s been announced he will appear in the third Nolan Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. He will be played by ultra talented Tom Hardy, a casting choice I for one love.
Knightfall however is the only reason he cracks the Top 10 on here. The act of breaking Batman’s back put him in a class by himself, however in the near 20 years since, he has done relatively little more to move him up. He was involved in No Man’s Land which I loved, but did so little it barely cancels out his movie appearance.
9. Black Mask – Batman #386 (August 1985)
Roman Sionis was born into one of Gotham City’s elite families, to wealthy and utterly self-absorbed parents, moments after his birth, the doctor carelessly dropped him on his head. Roman’s parents disliked the Waynes and were quite vocal about it in private with their son. However, to their son’s dismay, they continued to associate with Thomas and Martha Wayne and pretended to be friends with the couple, to the extent of literally forcing him to become friends with their son, Bruce. His parents’ hypocrisy had a deep impact on him, and he grew to hate and resent them and the “masks” they wore in public.
After his high school, Sionis was given a high-ranking position inside his father’s company, Janus Cosmetics. There, he met and fell in love with Circe, a working class secretary. His parents didn’t approve of the relationship and made it clear that they wanted it ended. Enraged, Roman burned down the family’s mansion, killing both of his parents. He then inherited the family fortune & business. Roman eventually ruined Janus Cosmetics by funding a line of face-paint make-up which failed. In desperation, he ordered the chemists to create a product to save the company, a kind of water-proof makeup. The product was rushed to market without proper testing, and turned out to be a deadly toxin which disfigured several hundred women.
Circe, now Sionis’ fiancée, broke up with him in front of his entire staff. At that time, Bruce Wayne offered to bail out the company on the condition that Sionis give up control. Sionis agreed, but was furious at the humiliation he had suffered. He went to the family mausoleum and broke his mother’s ebony coffin lid. From a piece of this, Sionis carved a mask, becoming ‘Black Mask’.
He began kidnapping Wayne Enterprise executives, putting masks on their faces that were coated in the deadly make-up once made by his Janus Cosmetics. He also targeted Circe and forcibly disfigured her with the chemicals in order to force her to reunite with him. Circe would ultimately kill herself, leading Black Mask to replace her with a mannequin that he talked to as if it were a real person.
These kidnappings drew Batman’s attention, and he slowly began to dismantle the organization until he finally found Black Mask in the ruins of the Sionis Family home. Black Mask lit the wreckage on fire trying to escape, but was caught in the burning house. Batman was able to save him, but the mask had been burned onto his face and left him disfigured.
Black Mask spent some time in Arkham Asylum, but escaped when Bane assaulted the facility in Knightfall and he began burning down Wayne properties. This time he also kidnapped Lucius Fox, CEO of Waynetech and friend of Bruce Wayne.
When Tim Drake quit his role as Robin in the War Games arc, Batman chose Stephanie Brown, aka The Spoiler, to replace him. Batman quickly discovered that her lack of focus and inability to follow orders made her a danger to herself and others, and fired her. In an attempt to prove herself, Stephanie set it into action a plan was to get all of Gotham’s crime lords under the control of Orpheus, an agent of Batman, and therefore under the control of Batman himself. But the Black Mask captured and tortured her, eventually leading to her death. This lead to the Joker wanting to kill Black Mask, for robbing him of the opportunity to kill another Robin.
The two nearly killed each other before Batman intervened. Batman eventually managed to capture Black Mask. However, while being taken to jail, he managed to kill the escorting officer and escape again.
Black Mask rose to become the overlord of the Gotham underworld. He threatened the most important people in Catwoman’s life. Still thinking that she adhered to a strict no-kill rule, Black Mask was caught by surprise when Catwoman retaliated by shooting him in the head, killing him.
Black Mask was a bit crazy and totally bad ass. A perfect addition to gang from Arkham. The Black Mask was then donned for several months by another, who turned out to be none other than Jeremiah Arkham.
8. Joe Chill – Detective Comics #33 (November 1939)
Now a lot of you may be thinking, “Who the fridge is Joe Chill?” Well, Joe Chill indirectly created Batman, and thereby indirectly created half the characters on this list. Chill is the man who murdered Thomas and Martha Wayne in Crime Alley all those years ago.
Batman’s origin story is first established in a sequence of panels in Detective Comics #33, but the mugger is not given a name until Batman #47 in 1948. In that issue, Batman discovers that Joe Chill, the small-time crime boss he is investigating, is none other than the man who killed his parents. Batman confronts him and reveals his secret identity. Chill, frightened, seeks protection from his henchmen. Once they learn that Chill’s actions led to the hated Batman’s existence, they turn on their boss and fatally shoot him – just before they realize how valuable his knowledge is to them. Before a dying Chill has a chance to reveal Batman’s identity, the Dark Knight intervenes and finishes the goons; Chill dies in Batman’s arms addressing him by his true name.
In Detective Comics #235, Batman learns that Chill was not a mere robber, but actually a hitman who murdered the Waynes on orders from a Mafia boss named Lew Moxon. Later, Alfred Pennyworth reminisces that Joe Chill is the son of one Alice Chilton, one-time caretaker of young Bruce Wayne
In the 2008 Grant Morrison story, “Joe Chill in Hell” (featured in Batman #673), Chill is reinterpreted as a mid-level crime boss who builds the Land, Sea, Air Transport company from the ground up, likely through illegal means. He blamed his crimes, including murdering the Waynes, on class warfare. In this story, Batman has visited and frightened Chill every night for a month. Chill is living as a shut in, but his guards never see or catch Batman during the visits. On his final visit, Batman gives Chill the gun he used to kill the Waynes. There is one bullet left within it. Chill finally realizes who Batman is, and fears what his fellow gangsters would do to him if they found out. It is implied that he may have committed suicide, however, it is left ambiguous.
In the Burton BATMAN from 1989, Joe Chill, whose name is never said in the movie, is seen in Crime Alley with The Joker, Jack Naiper. Burton did some rewrites to the script and changed it to Naiper who would kill the Waynes, just one of many screw-ups he made to continuity. He also had Alfred lead a reporter into the Batcave and allowed Batman to kill people.
Nolan and Goyer, who wrote BATMAN BEGINS, did it right, leaving Chill as the killer and actually making him a sympathetic character. This version of Chill claims to have been driven to mug the Waynes because of the desperation of the times, as Gotham was undergoing an economic depression because an undisclosed action by the League of Shadows. He is arrested soon after killing Bruce’s parents. Years later, he undergoes a hearing to be released from prison as part of a deal to testify against Gotham mob boss Carmine Falcone. During the hearing, he claims to regret his crime. Afterward, despite police presence, he is killed by one of Falcone’s assassins.
It is later discovered that Falcone had bribed the judge of Chill’s case to make the hearing public and bring Chill out into the open. The young Bruce Wayne, who is waiting outside the courtroom with a gun of his own, is thus deprived of his own chance for revenge. Bruce’s lost chance of killing Chill himself helps him realize what justice really is, and his memories of a gun taking his parents’ lives brings him to his rule that he will not kill. Bruce later confronts Falcone, who taunts him by saying that Chill bragged that Thomas Wayne “begged like a dog” before his death which was a lie.
Joe Chill’s actions that night in Crime Alley forever changed Gotham. The Waynes, who had been working towards saving the city, were murdered by one of the very people they were trying to help. Chill went on to be a player in the Gotham crime scene, and though not a major one, as Bane proved, one event can be enough to cement a legacy.
7. The Riddler – Detective Comics #140 (October 1948)
The Riddler is so deeply ingrained into his own personality that he is virtually powerless to stop himself from acting it out. He cannot simply kill his opponents when he has the upper hand; he has to put them in a deathtrap to see if he can devise a life and death intellectual challenge that the hero cannot solve and escape. However, unlike many of Batman’s themed enemies, Riddler’s compulsion is quite flexible, allowing him to commit any crime as long as he can describe it in a riddle or puzzle.
Some have suggested that the Riddler’s compulsion stems from parental abuse that he endured as a child. After Edward got high scores on some important tests in school, his father, unable to grasp the fact that his son was brilliant, beat him out of envy. This left him with a strong internal desire to tell the truth, and prove his innocence. This desire manifests itself in the form of his obsession with riddles. Others have suggested that his madness, as well as his descent into crime, have roots in a yearning to rise above the anonymity that he possessed as a youth.
In The Long Halloween, the Riddler appears when Carmine Falcone hires him to figure out who the Holiday Killer is. Despite giving several reasonable theories as to who is behind the killer’s identity, Falcone eventually loses his patience and orders his daughter, Sophia, to force the Riddler to leave.
Upon exiting Falcone’s office, the Riddler is attacked, but for some reason left alive, by Holiday. The attack coincided with the holiday of April Fool’s. He plays a slightly larger role in the story’s sequel, Dark Victory, in which Batman turns to him to figure out the significance of the lost games of hangman that are left at the scenes of the Hangman killer’s crimes. He later showed up as a member of Two-Face’s jury during the Hangman’s trial.
In the one-shot “Riddler and the Riddle Factory”, the Riddler becomes the host of an underground game show that focuses on digging up dirt on celebrities. Many of the famous people that he humiliates end up committing suicide shortly afterwards, suggesting that perhaps the Riddler did more than just inspire their deaths. In the end, his actions turn out to be a front for his attempts to find the hidden treasures of “Scarface” Scarelli, a Gotham City gangster who lived long before Batman’s reign of crime fighting.
Nigma, reformed, worked as a private consultant on the murder of a wealthy socialite. Hired by a socialite’s father, he proves that a photo of Bruce Wayne apparently implicating him in the crime depicts an impostor and briefly works with Batman to investigate the crime.
In Detective Comics #837 Riddler, now a P.I. is hired by Bruce Wayne to track down an experimental drug developed by Wayne Enterprise currently being tested for muscle stamina and cellular regeneration which has been stolen by a lab assistant named Lisa Newman. He discovers that Newman is staying at the same Athenian Women’s Help Shelter as Harley Quinn. With Harley’s help he defeats Newman and returns the drug to Wayne Enterprise, earning Batman’s trust for the time being.
But it was back during the Hush storyline, when it is eventually revealed that the Riddler is behind almost everything. Having been helping Tommy Elliot the whole time, this is one of the major reasons the Riddler is as high on the list as he appears. Riddler seems to have his hands in a lot of things at once.
Riddler is one of the most well know Batman villains playing a major part in the 1966 movie. In the movie he was shown as an equal to the Penguin and Joker, though he is seldom seen in that same light now.
A song based on The Riddler was performed by Method Man and was featured on the BATMAN FOREVER SOUNDTRACK. There is also a song by Frank Gorshin in which he sings about riddles and his obsession with them. Also The Riddler makes an appearance in the music video of the 1984 song ‘The Riddle’ by Nik Kershaw.
The Riddler, though a more interesting character now, had been living on the laurels of the TV show for years. He really isn’t an A-List villain anymore, which Ivy, the Joker, and Batman are all quick to point out to him often. And his recent transformation into a PI is interesting, but not menacing. However it’s his behind the scene actions that place him this high in the Gotham standings.
6. Mr. Freeze – Batman #121 (February 1959)
Originally called Mr. Zero, the producers of the 1960s Batman television series renamed him Mr. Freeze and the name quickly carried over to the comic books. Nearly 30 years later, in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Heart of Ice”, he was made into a more complex, tragic character.
This version of Mr. Freeze was enthusiastically accepted by fans, and has become the standard portrayal for the character in most forms of media, including the comic book series itself, which previously had the character casually killed off by the Joker. Freeze was resurrected in the comic after the episode aired.
As a child, Victor Fries was fascinated by freezing animals. Horrified, his parents send him to a strict boarding school, where he is miserable, feeling detached from humanity. In college, he meets a woman named Nora, whom he falls in love with and ultimately marries. Nora later falls terminally ill & Fries takes on a job working for a large company run by the ruthless Ferris Boyle. Victor discovers a way to put Nora into cryo-stasis hoping to sustain her until a cure could be found. Boyle finds out about the experiment and attempts to have her brought out of stasis, overruling Victor’s frantic objections. A struggle ensues, in which Boyle kicks Fries into a table full of chemicals and leaves him for dead. Victor survives, but his body temperature is lowered dramatically, he can now only live at sub-zero temperatures, forced to wear a special refrigerating suit to stay alive.
His first act as a costumed criminal is to take revenge upon Boyle, a plan with which Batman interferes. Mr. Freeze fires his freeze-gun at Batman, but he dodges, causing the beam to shatter Nora’s capsule. Freeze blames Batman, and swears to destroy whatever the Dark Knight holds dear. Freeze’s crimes tend to involve freezing everyone and everything he runs into. In addition, he hardly ever forges alliances with the other criminals in Gotham, preferring to work alone, although he has worked as a hired enforcer/hitman for the Black Mask.
During his time with the Secret Society of Super Villains, he fashions for Nyssa al Ghul a sub-zero machine in exchange for the use of her own Lazarus Pit. He attempts to restore Nora to life, however she returns to life as the twisted Lazara, and blames her husband for her plight. She estranges herself from him. He is usually imprisoned in Arkham Asylum when apprehended by Batman, as it is the only facility in Gotham that can accommodate his medical requirements for a refrigerated cell.
In darker incarnations of the Batman mythos, Mr. Freeze’s obsession with ice stems from personal tragedy, and his crimes are inspired by his desire to make the rest of the world as miserable as he is. He freezes areas around him using special weapons and equipment, most notably a handheld “cold gun”. His refrigeration suit grants him superhuman strength and durability, making him a powerful villain in Batman’s rogues gallery. He has even shown to be a formidable opponent for Superman. Some interpretations suggest that because Fries has been soaked in the serum he intended to use for cryo-preservation, his age progression has slowed drastically.
In Batman Beyond, which is set 40 years in the future, Bruce Wayne still has one of Mr. Freeze’s guns in the Batcave. The episode “Meltdown” reveals that the disembodied head of Victor Fries has survived though the years thanks to the cryogenics technology, and he is now essentially immortal. Dr. Stephanie Lake uses Mr. Freeze as a test subject and creates a clone body for him. Given a normal life back, Fries tries to right some of the wrongs he committed as a criminal. However, the new body soon begins to revert to the same sub-zero biology. Lake betrays Fries, hoping to learn more from an autopsy, but he escapes, recovers an old suit of sub-zero armor, and becomes Mr. Freeze again. He seeks revenge by killing Lake and by attempting to blow up a Wayne-Powers complex with both himself and Derek Powers in it, but Batman foils the plan. Freeze redeems himself by saving Batman from Powers, now mutated into the supervillain Blight, but apparently perishes when he refuses to escape the exploding complex with Batman.
Mr. Freeze’s often refusal to associate with some of the other Gotham elite, makes him different. He doesn’t feel as though he should be considered with them as his motivation differs so drastically. Not to mention almost every time he has teamed-up with another villain, he has been betrayed.
The idea of being driven to this point by the pain caused from losing his wife, hits a cord with me. He is a somewhat sympathetic character, but he is so far gone his heart has frozen over and no longer wants to be happy. The idea that he is motivated by as desire to make everyone as miserable as he is almost scary. He is fueled entirely by hate and disdain for all around him.
If not for the portrayal in the accursed Batman and Robin movie, he would’ve cracked my Top 5…