From Joker to Bane: A Batman Villain Timeline
The Batman comes back to the big screen in 2021 courtesy of the new movie from Warner Bros. and director Matt Reeves. In THE BATMAN, Robert Pattinson stars as a new version of the caped crusader. He will face off against notable members of the classic Batman rogues gallery, including the Penguin, played by Colin Farrell, the Riddler, played by Paul Dano, and Catwoman, played by Zoë Kravitz.
Batman’s history with eccentric and sometimes frightening villains goes back 80 years to 1940 when the Joker and Catwoman first appeared in the pages of "Batman" issue one. Bruce Wayne had been swinging through Gotham City dressed as a bat for a year at that point, but that first issue of his standalone comic defined much of what would be the classic Batman outlook going forward. Many of his wildest villains have appeared on the big screen in some form or another over the years, and while we think about what we might see in the new movie next year, we just had to take a look back at the timeline of Batman‘s villains.￼
Introduced in "Batman" #1, April 1940. Batman's ultimate villain was vaguely inspired by the movie THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, but the precise details of his creation are as contentious as Joker's own personality. This agent of chaos is incredibly resilient, and constantly relevant as writers nudge him in new directions every few years. From Cesar Romero's television and 1966 movie performance to Jack Nicholson's broad take in the 1989 BATMAN and Jared Leto's SUICIDE SQUAD version, the Joker is always raw red meat for actors to devour. And then there are versions played by Heath Ledger, in THE DARK KNIGHT, and Joaquin Phoenix in JOKER. Which is best? We're not getting into that fight, but from the perspective of capturing the comic book version, Heath Ledger has the edge.
Introduced in "Batman" #1, April 1940. Catwoman — real name Selina Kyle — is such a dynamic character that she has been able to act as supervillain, anti-heroine and romantic partner for Batman over the course of her 80 years in Gotham City. Thanks in part to Frank Miller and David Mazzuccelli's foundational "Batman: Year One" story in 1987, Catwoman has evolved as a thief and counterculture figure with a style inspired by espionage movies as much as comic book villains. Like Joker, Catwoman has been an iconic screen character from the very beginning, thanks to Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt in the '60s TV series — and Lee Meriwether, who took on the role for the 1966 movie — and Anne Hathaway's high society version in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. (The solo movie starring Halle Berry fell outside the scope of Batman movies.) Every new Catwoman, however, must always be compared to Michelle Pfeiffer's slinky incarnation in BATMAN RETURNS.
Introduced in "World's Finest Comics" #3, September 1941. In the story of Jonathan Crane, the dark effects of bullying, abuse and emotional damage power one of Batman's most unnerving villains. Like Batman, Scarecrow's chief weapon is fear. Whether he's acting as a psychologist at Arkham Asylum or unleashing chemical weapons on Gotham, the character is a razor-sharp vision of a singularly damaged psyche. The only movie version so far is Cillian Murphy's creepy incarnation in BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, but he's so good, it's scary.
Introduced in "Detective Comics" #58, December 1941. More than a few Batman adversaries took refuge from childhood trauma in deep personal passions. For Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, birds were his intellectual safe haven. As he grew into a ruthless criminal, one thing set Penguin apart from other Batman foes: He's not insane so much as he is angry and mean. Burgess Meredith brought his quacking, kooky version of the Penguin from television to the silver screen in the 1966 BATMAN, but Danny DeVito's mutated and not entirely unsympathetic take on the character, devised by Tim Burton for BATMAN RETURNS, is the definitive version of the Penguin — and certainly one of the most unsettling Batman baddies on screen ever. We can't even guess how Colin Farrell will play the role, and that is exciting.
Introduced in "Detective Comics" #66, August 1942. Harvey Dent, the Gotham City D.A. who is disfigured and driven insane, was introduced early in Batman's career, and his obsession with duality and a perverse sort of fairness makes him perhaps the most direct opposite to Bruce Wayne's alter-ego. Billy Dee Williams played Harvey Dent in Tim Burton's 1989 BATMAN, and was once set to be a primary villain in the sequel, BATMAN RETURNS. That didn't come to fruition, and Tommy Lee Jones played an exaggerated version of the character in BATMAN FOREVER. The defining big-screen version of Two-Face, however, is played by Aaron Eckhart in THE DARK KNIGHT, who made Dent one of the best Batman villains, period.
Introduced in "Detective Comics" #140, October 1948. Batman is fundamentally a detective (just look at the name of the comic book in which he was introduced) so he needs a foe who can engage on that level. Enter the Riddler, who often seems more determined to prove that he's smarter than Batman than he is in actually pulling off schemes. If he could just quit providing clues to his own plans he might be a master criminal. We've seen excellent versions of the Riddler on TV screens, but the Jim Carrey incarnation, in BATMAN AND ROBIN, certainly fell pretty far on the cartoonish side of the fence. We're eager to see what Matt Reeves and Paul Dano have come up with for THE BATMAN.
Introduced in "Batman: The Animated Series," September 1992. Harley Quinn is the one major Batman villain who was introduced in "Batman: The Animated Series" before she appeared anywhere else. Harley soon migrated to comic books and then to the big screen, in SUICIDE SQUAD. While the psychiatrist-turned-criminal was once basically the Joker's moll, she has found her own voice and character and exists as a chaotic counterpoint to both Joker and Batman. Margot Robbie's star-making turn as Harley will continue when she's back on screen in THE SUICIDE SQUAD in 2021.
Introduced in "Batman: Vengeance of Bane" #1, January 1993. When DC Comics needed someone to break Batman, they created Bane. The intelligent and super-strong figure was raised in prison, where he developed an enhanced physique — and became a test subject for an experimental serum dubbed "Venom," which enhanced his already impressive natural abilities. WCW wrestler Robert "Jeep" Swenson appeared as Bane in BATMAN AND ROBIN, where the character played second fiddle to several other villains and appeared as more of a grunting henchman than anything else. Tom Hardy's appearance as Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was far more true to the comic book incarnation of the character, and who played out the final act of a complex plot that reached back to BATMAN BEGINS.