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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Villainy and Batman

Here's a blog that everyone's dying to read: What are my favorite Batman villains?

Note: There will be spoilers in this post if you have not seen any of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, so read at your own risk. But if you haven't seen them, I don't know how interesting this post will be to you anyway.

I actually get asked this question kind of a lot. (After "when is [insert book title] coming out?" or "is there going to be a movie?" the Batman villain question is probably a close third). I usually don't answer because it's complicated and doesn't really fit in 140 characters.

My overall favorite Batman villain, combining film, TV show, video games, cartoon, and comics would be: The Scarecrow.

I know. That's why I don't usually say it. Because most people react with WTF?

I get it. He's not always utilized the best. Most of the time, he's simply a periphery character helping the Joker or somebody along with a master plan. But out of all of the villains, he's the one that presents the most opportunity to be terrifying, and at times, he absolutely he is. Many other villains are brilliant, demented, sinister, campy, and all around good fun, but none have the capability to induce nightmares quite like the Scarecrow. And apparently that's what I like in a villain - not charisma, not humor, but the ability to inflict absolute horror.

This isn't really a weighted a scale, but the Scarecrow wins hands down in the film and video game department as my favorite in villain. In the comics, it's a bit more murky. Obviously, the Joker has some of the best story lines, and in comic form, he's probably my favorite villain.

Well, in fairness, I love the Joker in any form. I've never once seen a rendition of the Joker where I was like, "Nope. I hate that guy." So in consistent awesomeness, he wins. But there's still something that draws me inexorably to the Scarecrow.

My enjoyment of other villains also depends on which series I'm reading. Many times, I hate Catwoman. But then other times, I think she's fancy. But much like the Scarecrow, she's utilized to varying degrees of awesomeness.

There's about a billion Batman villains in the comics, cartoons, and video games, and so I'm not going to go through and rank them all. (Except for the Calander Man. I hate that dude). But since most people are familiar with the movies, I thought I'd start that way.

So here's my ranked list of live-action film Batman villains from 1989 until 2012:
  1. Scarecrow - Cillian Murphy
  2. The Joker - Heath Ledger
  3. Poison Ivy - Uma Thurman
  4. The Joker - Jack Nicholson
  5. Bane - Tom Hardy
  6. The Penguin - Danny Devito
  7. Catwoman - Anne Hathaway
  8. Two-Face - Aaron Eckhart
  9. Catwoman - Michelle Pfeiffer  
  10. Ra's al Ghul - Liam Neeson
  11. Mr. Freeze - Arnold Schwarzenegger 
  12. The Riddler - Jim Carrey
  13. Thalia al Ghul - Marion Cotillard 
  14. Two-Face - Tommy Lee Jones
  15. Harvey Dent - Billy Dee Williams - included as an honorable mention because he never became Two-Face in 1989's Batman, but he's friggin Billy Dee Williams and deserves a mention anyway

I didn't include Falcone and some of the other antagonists from the Batman films that were enemies but didn't necessarily belong in the Rogues Gallery. 

Most people take offense that Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy is ranked so high, especially since generally, people consider Batman & Robin the worst film in the franchise. I happen to disagree, though I love Val Kilmer and George Clooneyy does little to improve on the cardboard performance Kilmer gives in that movie, but I enjoyed Batman & Robin in much the same way that I enjoyed the Adam West Batman. (And I tolerate Batman Forever at best).

And say what you will about Batman & Robin - and it is terrible - but Poison Ivy is such campy fun that I can't help but love her. It's an awful movie, and Uma knows it's awful, and she's still having such a good time with it. So I like her.

I also didn't include the Bane from Batman & Robin because he wasn't a character so much as a prop. But if I had included him, he'd be just below the Riddler.

Thalia - at least in the film - is a total waste of my time, and that's about all I have to say on her.

And I also stand by the following statement: The Scarecrow is the best part of The Dark Knight Rises. You read that right. His ten seconds were my absolute favorite part. And yes, I do love Bane and I think Tom Hardy did an amazing job with a limited character, but it is what it is. I love the Scarecrow more.

Also, perhaps what is another of my favorite thing about the Scarecrow is that one of the only villains in the Nolan franchise that truly wants to do things for selfish reasons. He's just in it for the money.

Ra's is hellbent on destroying Gotham because he thinks its for the greater the good of cleansing the world. Two-Face is trying to save Gotham and avenge Rachel. The Joker does it because he thinks life is boring and he wants to set the people of Gotham free, but he's also using it get closer to the Batman, who he is in love with (he is, you guys). Thalia wants to destroy Gotham to avenge her father, and Bane does it because he loves Thalia. Even Catwoman secretly has a heart of a gold.

Even when you branch out to the non-Nolan films, most of the villains don't have terrible reasons. Michelle Pfieffer is trying to fight sexist bosses. The Penguin is a disenfranchised freak who just wants to belong. Mr. Freeze is trying to find a cure to save his beloved wife. Poison Ivy is trying to save the earth from pollution. The Riddler just wants to be appreciated and has a weird crush on Bruce Wayne. These are less villains than misunderstood, overzealous vigilantes, not that different from Batman from himself (which brings in a larger theme about the character of Batman, but I digress).

But the Scarecrow? He thinks he's just pushing drugs for money. He actually doesn't give a shit about anyone else. He's terrifying with his mask and his potions, and he does it for no reason other than the fact that he can.

The Joker - everything he does is for, about, because of the Batman. I don't think he's actually  sexually attracted to Batman (or maybe even anyone), but all his actions in The Dark Knight are really a love letter to Batman.

And if there's one thing that's true about me it's that I love sociopaths in movies. And the Scarecrow - who cares for no one but himself - is the closest thing there is a sociopath in the Nolan trilogy. It's actually weird that I like Bane so much, because he's really the most altruistic and empathetic. (Remember when he cried, you guys? That was sad).

So there it is. My long blog about Batman villains. And now you all know. Feel free to discuss in the comments. I like taking about Batman, and I will definitely join in.

8 comments:

  1. Interesting post for any Batman fan. Especially curious about sweeping comparison of Adam West-style Batman with Schumacher's Batman and Robin. Do you not think that 60s Batman at least provided some sort of biting commentary on the social trends of the time, and tried to make an unequivocal statement about how Theater of the Absurd could be successfully adapted to TV?

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    1. Adam West's Batman definitely tried more to make statements and have a moral. Schumacher's was less about meaning than playing up the camp that had been successful with Adam West and Power Rangers.

      I'm not saying Batman & Robin is great, or even good, because it's not. But some of the camp and silliness is reminiscent of the earlier 60s series. All of the comics and movies since the 80s have revamp especially have been much darker and more brooding. So the only thing that's really similar to Batman & Robin would be the 60s TV series.

      I wouldn't necessarily call the Adam West series "biting." Maybe it was for the time. But even similar to shows now days, cartoons and the sillier programs can get away with more because they don't take them seriously. They can say things on South Park that they could never say anywhere else. And in that regard, I think Batman got more freedom.

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  2. I think I agree with all of that, especially the first paragraph. Wish Schumacher had emphasized that the camp was a smokescreen for more nuanced and hard-hitting message. You are right - some shows, especially in Season Three - were lacking both in subtlety and in bite, but the one where Penguin runs for mayor was such a skillfully-executed systematic dismantling of the 60s American electoral culture that I simply had to take my hat off. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to respond. Good luck with the writing.

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  3. Amanda,
    Have you seen the new Joker in the DC Comics universe reboot? He's insane. Dude cut his face off and then sewed it back on and is currently terrorizing the entire Batman family.

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    1. I have not. I have the Batman New 52 issues but I haven't read them yet. I don't know. I have mixed feelings about the whole reboot, but I have heard some good things, so I suppose I ought to give it a try. And that sounds like a pretty ass Joker.

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  4. I think I love you! It's so rare to find someone who truly loves the villain Scarecrow. In both the movies and cartoons he's just so great and diabolical. Another villain I think doesn't get enough credit is The Riddler (Jim Carrey played him so well). And yes all Joker renditions have been done well. When it comes to Mr. Freeze I think he was portrayed best in the cartoon Batman: The Animated Series.

    Thanks for this post, too few writers give me a great Batman fix.

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  5. Oh my gosh, I completely forgot Bane was in Batman & Robin. You're so right about him being a prop!

    I have to agree with your argument about Scarecrow. I think I'd still put Heath Ledger's Joker at the top of my own list, but Scarecrow is a fascinating villain because of his selfishness.

    This was fun!

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  6. I'm with you on this. Scarecrow is by far one of Batman's most underrated villains. Actually, he was handled quite well in the Batman Asylum game. And I thought Cillian Murphy did a nice job as well.

    Joe of The Degenerate

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