This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Batman has, pretty arguably, the strongest rogues’ gallery of any comic-book hero. Sure, Spider-Man has a few great villains, and Superman has an iconic enemy in Lex Luthor, but these struggle to compare to the brilliance of Batman’s diverse range of enemies. From the chaotic evil of the Joker to the fantastical shape-shifting of Clayface, the Dark Knight’s villains give him plenty of reasons to use his detective skills as much as his fists.
Over the years, in the big-screen adaptations we’ve been treated to (or tormented with), filmmakers have struggled to do Batman’s villains justice. We could argue that the World’s Greatest Detective himself has been under-served, but his enemies have arguably received a rougher deal in their cinematic incarnations.
Now that we’ve got a new cinematic DCEU taking shape, and a few Batman villains debuting in Suicide Squad, can we look forward to fresh takes on classic enemies?
It’s likely Affleck and co will explore characters that haven’t been done on the big screen before (a la Deathstroke, the one character we know is set to appear), but some villains deserve a second chance to show audiences what they’ve got. Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, the Penguin, the Scarecrow, and Zsasz have all appeared in previous Batman movies, but they all deserve better. While Ra’s al Ghul, Bane, and Catwoman may or may not have had their definitive films yet, they at least have been adapted in a pretty faithful way (for the most part).
These five other villains, though, deserve to be more than just bickering pun-machines, henchmen, and cameos. They could easily serve as intriguing, engaging enemies for a new big-screen Batman, appealing to different sides of the character.
Let’s take a closer look at how this motley band might fare in a new, darker, truer cinematic DCU…
In Batman & Robin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Akiva Goldsman, and Joel Schumacher all worked hard to create a Mr. Freeze audiences would love.
Sadly, they failed.
Instead, we got a lumbering panto-villain with a shocking armory of ice-related puns. Now, to be fair, it’s easy to see how Mr. Freeze can become such a ridiculous character in such a ridiculous movie. The name alone makes it hard to take him seriously.
However, there have been plenty of fantastic takes on Mr. Freeze that prove he’d make a terrific enemy for a new cinematic Batman. Paul Dini’s incredible Heart Of Ice, one of the more famous episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, is a beautiful piece of work that makes Mr. Freeze a sympathetic, rounded character.
Likewise, the animated movie Sub-Zero adds further depth to him, as does the hit video game Arkham City. In the latter, Mr. Freeze is a cold (ahem), ruthless, imposing enemy with a nightmarish quality.
All of these are terrific examples of how well Mr. Freeze could serve as a cinematic villain in an age when films about dudes in capes command far, far more respect. Victor Fries is a lovelorn, passionate man just trying to bring his wife back into the world by whatever means necessary. He’s a vulnerable guy, whose icy exterior masks the warmth buried deep inside.
In recent years, comic-book scribe Scott Snyder reworked his backstory to make him a little more creepy, and he’s received a more modern, streamlined design too.
Everything’s there for the taking. Mr. Freeze could be a real threat to Batman and Gotham without resorting to freezing the entire city, or having to rely on the help of any other villain. He’s a sympathetic baddie audiences could really connect to, and if his costume was based on his Arkham design, they might just find him genuinely unnerving too.
Ivy’s super-camp, OTT appearance in Batman & Robin is even more baffling than that of Mr. Freeze.
The blame shouldn’t necessarily be aimed at Uma Thurman. After all, it was the ’90s, Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones had just gurned their way through Batman Forever, and she thought she was doing the right thing.
Still, we can all probably accept that Poison Ivy is one of the most difficult villains to adapt, especially in a modern context.
Ivy’s biggest strength, though, is her cause: she’s an eco-terrorist who worships nature and wants to see humans knocked down a peg or two. She’s easy to sympathize with, especially in an age of climate change and that inconvenient truth – even President Trump might shed a tear if Ivy were given a solid monologue or two about the evils of mankind’s rampant plundering of Earth’s resources.
Again, for the best Poison Ivies, we have to look at The Animated Series, Arkham City, and some of her comic-book appearances.
In some, Ivy is clearly human, cunning, passionate, but straight-up. She’s not remotely camp, wears a fairly simple costume, and uses carnivorous plants to great effect. In others, she’s painted as more of a mutant, a mixture of human and plant, able to command flora through a telekinetic link.
Her pheromones also make other people fall under her spell, allowing her to take control of almost anyone; this was shown to great effect in Jeph Loeb’s Hush arc, in which a kiss from Ivy turns Superman himself into a minion.
As the cinematic DCU’s Batman now exists on the same plane as Superman, Wonder Woman, aliens, monsters, and more, it stands to reason we could see a super-powered Poison Ivy someday. It’d be fantastic to see her as a terrifying force of nature, unleashing the planet’s wrath on the people of Gotham. We might even get to enjoy a horror vibe, with all sorts of man-versus-nature elements.
For example, imagine a Batman film opening with someone being torn apart by vines or devoured by monstrous, mutated plants. Definitely a change to Alfred trying to talk Batman into taking sandwiches with him on a night of garish crime-fighting (we’re looking at you, Batman Forever)!
Now, I’ll be honest here. I’ve never really cared for the Penguin as a villain.
For a start, his traditional design never grabbed me: a short dude in a top hat and monocle just couldn’t compare with the Joker or Man-Bat. On top of that, his sense of greed and ruthless business-acumen has never been particularly compelling to me. And while his younger incarnation on Gotham started out interesting enough, but that show lost me early on for various reasons.
For all of Batman Returns’ flaws, the idea of the Penguin being a mutated freak lurking in the sewers still seems much more interesting.
However, to turn again to the Arkham series, those games helped to make the Penguin more engaging and relatable with one simple move: they made him a cockney geezer.
Now, there are people who dislike this quite emphatically, but I’d argue that this makes total sense. As something of an aristocratic Monty Burns-type, the Penguin isn’t particularly intimidating. Make him a stodgy guy from London’s East End with a foul mouth and a Napoleon complex though, and he works.
A modern Batman film could see the Penguin looking to bring arms shipments into Gotham, kidnapping influential people, or kick-starting a gang war. Make him a violent, aggressive brute who dragged himself up from the streets and commands respect from an army of thugs (rather than a bunch of circus freaks) through his sheer ferocity.
And cast Toby Jones in the role. He’d nail it.
Christopher Nolan did a great job of bringing the Scarecrow to the big screen in Batman Begins. So why is he on this list?
Because, for all the brilliance in that mask and those hallucinations, the Scarecrow was still just a pawn for someone else. He was also less than impressive in his subsequent appearances, hanging around parking garages and playing judge.
The character is big and scary enough to be a main villain in a new Batman movie. For a start, his obsession with fear, and his ability to inspire it in even the Dark Knight himself, offers plenty of potential for a mature film with an unsettling atmosphere.
He’s had various different looks over the years, and his almost fetishistic design in the Arkham games is one of the most impressive, but the character underneath has largely stayed the same. There are numerous great Scarecrow storylines ripe for adaptation, including one multi-issue plot in which he kidnapped the mayor and forced him to drive Gotham into chaos (starting with Batman #494).
While a new Scarecrow-centric film would inevitably end up bearing similarities to parts of Batman Begins, the character’s so important to the Dark Knight’s world, he deserves to play a bigger part.
Want to know how odd this guy is? His surname is the same backwards as it is forwards.
Palindrome credentials aside, Victor Zsasz is your standard serial-killer with a grisly twist: he cuts his skin to mark every life he takes. As a result, he’s covered in scars from head to toe, a walking tally chart.
He appeared briefly in Batman Begins, but he was highly under-served, with only the barest hint of his defining scars. He also appears in Gotham.
Still, a Batman film based entirely around Victor Zsasz could be totally different to any other, with no grand plot to destroy Gotham or force its citizens into killing each other. Just a straight, simple story of Batman trying to find Zsasz and end his killing spree, or rescue a group of hostages before the slasher ices them.
The best approach would be to borrow the structure of a 1993 story, Red Slash (Batman #493, part of the awesome Knightfall arc). Written by the great Doug Moench, this sees Zsasz invade the Bates School for Girls (a nice nod to Psycho’s groundbreaking slasher), where he promptly takes several young women hostage.
After the GCPD’s attempts to sneak inside fail, Batman shows up and takes care of business. It’s a fantastically dark, atmospheric story, filled with cat-and-mouse moments that would work brilliantly on the big screen.
While Zsasz is dangerous and tough, a Batman film based entirely around him would depend more on detecting than punching – something many of us would welcome.
All in all then, each of these five villains deserve a second stab at wowing audiences (pun totally intended). Not only does each of them challenge Batman himself on a physical or cerebral level, they could also take the character’s films into more diverse areas, incorporating elements from other genres.
Some of these are a long shot, sure, but keep those fingers crossed…