15. The Mad Hatter – Batman #49 (October-November 1948)
Jervis made his first appearance, along with Vikki Vale in 1948, and was locked in Arkham not to appear again until 1986. However, during his incarceration, beginning in Detective Comics #230, in April of 1956, another man took up the mantle of ‘The Mad Hatter’ claiming that in fact, HE was Jervis Tetch.
This imposter, unlike the original, was sane and sported a gaudy mustache. He was primarily a thief, apparently obsessed with completing his private collection of hats from all nations, cultures, and historical periods. He often constructed various weaponry concealed inside his hats like flamethrowers and buzzsaws. He was the inspiration for the version of the character seen on the 1960’s TV show.
It was revealed that he was in fact an impostor when the real Jervis Tetch returned. Tetch claimed to have killed his impostor, but the fake Mad Hatter appeared one last time in 1987, where he ended up being beaten by Batman and hasn’t been back since.
After his return, Tetch escapes from Arkham in time for Halloween, and makes his home in an old mansion that had been abandoned after a gruesome murder years before. Retreating deeply into his delusions about Wonderland, Tetch offers sanctuary to runaway children, asking them in return to dress up as characters from Alice in Wonderland and attend his tea parties. At these parties he serves them drugged tea to keep them sedated.
Around this time, Barbara Gordon comes to Gotham, resulting from the deaths of her parents, and having been adopted by her uncle, Commissioner James Gordon. Barbara sneaks out against orders, and goes to Gotham Park, where she soon finds herself being chased by a group of masked men with knives. The group surrounds her, with the intent of rape. The Hatter appears scaring the men away, and takes Babs to his “Wonderland”. Once there she is expected to play the role of Alice. When she wont play along, a rescue by Jim Gordon becomes needed.
According to Dr. Blaylock of Arkham Asylum:
“Jervis is a paranoid schizophrenic…And he’s obsessive-compulsive, and highly delusional. He’s got an immature self-image, so he identifies more with children than adults. Oh and he’s a genius, too.”
Something about the Wonderland aspect interests me here. Since the modern era of comics has started, contrary to the Animated Series we all watched as kids, Hatter has become dark and creepy. He fits in nicely at Arkham.
14. Clayface – Detective Comics #40 (June 1940)
Clayface is not one man, but a series of villains throughout Batman’s history. They’ve all played a part in the Bat-Mythos, so while the most recent incarnation of the character is easily the most prominent of them all, we’ll look at the whole line.
The original Clayface was Basil Karlo. He was an actor who was driven mad when he heard of a remake of the classic horror film he had starred in, The Terror. Donning the mask of the film’s villain, Clayface, he embarks on a murder spree among the cast and crew of the remake. He had a famous feud with the Joker and eventually was sent to a prison hospital where he lived for years.
Batman creator Bob Kane states that the character was partially inspired by the Lon Chaney, Sr. version of The Phantom of the Opera and that the name of the character comes from Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone
A second Clayface emerged in Detective Comics #298, in December of 1961, this time with shape-shifting abilities. Matt Hagen, a treasure hunter, finds a mysterious radioactive pool of protoplasm in a cave. Immersing himself in it, he is transformed into a malleable clay-like form which could be shaped into almost anything he desires. This is only a temporary effect, however, requiring him to return to the pool periodically in order to maintain use of his powers. Hagen is ultimately killed by a shadow demon during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was DC’s way of cleaning house and eliminating decades worth of continuity problems. This allowed them to pick and choose what from the Golden and Silver ages would be kept and what could be re-written.
The third Clayface, Preston Payne, suffering from hyperpituitarism, worked at S.T.A.R. Labs searching for a cure. He obtains a sample of the then-living Matt Hagen’s blood, and isolates an enzyme which he introduces into his own bloodstream. Although he is briefly able to shape his own appearance, this effect is short-lived: while on a date, his flesh begins to melt, and when he touches his horrified girlfriend, she completely melts.
Payne builds an exoskeleton anti-melting suit to prevent himself from touching anyone, but he learns that he needs to spread his melting contagion onto others to survive (he feels pain if he doesn’t melt anyone). During this time his mental health starts to slip as he falls in love with a wax mannequin he names “Helena”, thinking she is the only woman immune to his touch. After another breakdown, he thinks Helena enjoys watching men “fighting over her” when he battles Batman in front of the wax doll. Although he doesn’t give her up, he keeps her in Arkham Asylum, saying “we’re both too polite to admit divorce, but she can’t live forever.”
The fourth Clayface, Sondra Fuller, also known as Lady Clay, was a member of Strikeforce Kobra who is transformed into a shape-changer by her employer Kobra’s Technologies, a process to which she agrees to become a subject because she hates her own face. She possesses identical abilities to those of Matt Hagen, but they are permanent, without the requirement for a source of protoplasm.
These 4 Clayfaces join together to form THE MUD PACK. Although lame, it does accomplish something great. Basil Karlo dupes his allies into giving him their powers and he becomes Ultimate Clayface. Thus negating any need for further mention of the previous 3 incarnations as well as numbers 5, 6, and 7. Ultimate Clayface is the Clayface we are familiar with now, even though in the cartoon they called him Matt Hagen.
This is the Clayface that we have had in all modern versions. He is ruthless and dangerous and played a major part in No Man’s Land when he imprisoned Poison Ivy. Batman agreed to rescue her, but she had to grow food for the city, which was vital following Gotham’s devastating earthquake.
Clayface is one of Batman’s oldest villains, and proved himself a suitable nemesis time and time again, even squaring off against the Joker on multiple occasions.
13. Killer Croc – Detective Comics #523 (February 1983)
Waylon Jones was born with a medical condition that caused him to grow progressively more like a crocodile. In the comics his intelligence level has varied from competent schemer to berserk monster. In his original appearances, he resembled a powerfully-built man covered entirely in green scales. However, his disease has slowly robbed him of all identifiable human traits. In his most recent appearances, he has an enlongated snout and tail.
Croc is afflicted with regressive atavism, meaning he has inherited some of the traits of ancestral species of the human race, such as reptiles which can regenerate lost limbs. His skin resembles the condition epidermolytic hyperkeratosis, however in his case his entire epidermis (and physiology to an extent) actually is reptilian, and not an irregular disfigurement. His skin has hardened to the point where it is invulnerable to most forms of abrasion and even high caliber weapons fired from a distance. He possesses super strength, able to rip a large bank vault door right off its hinges with ease. He has superhuman regenerative powers, able to heal even lost limbs. Over time the primal reptilian part of his brain gains more control of his psyche. He possesses superhuman reflexes and speed. He also possesses the superior senses and underwater capabilities of his namesake.
Croc is a somewhat sympathetic character at times. In a storyline that ran in 1995, Croc is summoned by a paranormal force to break out of Arkham and make his way to the Louisiana swamps. Batman follows him there, only to find that the mysterious force is actually Swamp Thing, who offers Croc a place in the swampland where he can finally give in to his animal side and live free from human persecution.
However, it’s short lived and Waylon later returned to Gotham City and played large parts in major story arcs like Hush and The Long Halloween. He has appeared regularly in the cartoons as well as video games, and in the last 25 years has become a staple of the famous Rouges Gallery.
Croc is one of the more savage villains on this list, with no qualms about slaughtering his victims. Though he is also somewhat more practical than some of the others as well. He is not tied down by any sort of gimmick. No coin, no riddles, no hats, and no umbrellas. He is more often than not motivated by money, rather than just killing Batman like some of his colleagues.
12. Joe Chill – Detective Comics #33 (November 1939)
Now a lot of you may be thinking, “Who the frack 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. But he also had Alfred lead a reporter into the Batcave, and allowed Batman to kill people, so we can forgive this one.
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 receives a hearing for early release, 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, that one event was enough to cement a legacy.
11. Harley Quinn – Batman: The Animated Series “Joker’s Favor” (Sept. 11, 1992)
One of the few characters created for the cartoon that actually carried over, she was once psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel, but fell head over heels in love with the Joker after spending just 15 minutes with him inside Arkham Asylum. She developed an obsession with him, and turned to crime to win his love. Quinn decided that the only way to make the Joker love her is to kill the Batman, which she attempts to do by feeding him to a school of piranhas. The Joker, upon arrival, is infuriated that Harley would try to kill Batman herself and nearly kills Quinn as a result. Batman saves her and confronts the Joker, taunting him,
“I have to admit she came a lot closer than you ever did… ‘puddin’.”
Joker attacks Batman, & after a vicious fight, he sends Joker plunging to his apparent death. Once again in Arkham, Quinn realizes that the Joker had merely been using her, and renounces him forever. That is, until she receives a “get well” bouquet of flowers from him, suggesting he survived his fall, and promptly falls in love again. Harley later helps the Joker with a plan to kill all his former henchmen, unaware that the “punchline” to the scheme is her own death. Upon realizing this, she shoots him in the shoulder.
When she resurfaces, she is still a borderline psychotic, but has apparently reformed. Harley has spent the last year applying for parole, only to see her request systematically rejected by Bruce Wayne, a member of Arkham’s medical commission. She is kidnapped by Sugar, who offers her a job. Harley turns the job down out of respect for the memory of Arnold Wesker, and helps foil the Sugar’s plans. Although Sugar escapes, Bruce Wayne is impressed with Harley’s effort at redemption, and agrees to her parole.
Harley’s relationship with the Joker is one of the most complex in the DC Universe. While he often abuses her, sometimes near the point of death, there are as many instances that show a mutually affectionate side to their bizarre relationship. Certain stories imply that the Joker wrestles with the confusing reality of actually caring for someone, giving in to the sentiment more or less at times depending on his mood or state of mind.
Joker however is not the only major villain that Harley regularly associated with. During No Man’s Land, the Joker attempts to kill her, but she is rescued and nursed back to health by Ivy, and now they often work together. She was also good friends Arnold Wesker prior to his death.
Harley has vaulted up quickly as one of the most popular villains in Gotham. Her dynamic with the Joker seems to constantly draw me to her, as she shows us to see a different side of him. She also has the same kind of psychotic personality, but turns to a little kid once caught, as if her dynamic with Batman is nothing more than a game to her.
I always wanted Nolan to call Kristen Bell in for a movie.
More recently, we’ve seen Harley as a member of the Suicide Squad, and she will feature prominantly in the upcoming film version, played by Margo Robbie.
Images: DC Comics, Warner Bros.