By any measure, Batman has the most unique collection of villains in the DC Universe or superhero comics as a whole. While most other comic book villains are rarely seen outside of the adventures of the heroes they fight, everyone from the Joker and Harley Quinn to Poison Ivy and Catwoman are cultural icons in their own rights.
While many of Batman’s most famous foes have been around for the majority of the Dark Knight’s 80-year history, some of his most notable foes are relatively recent 21st century creations. While Designer and Punchline might be leading the next generation of Batman villains, we’re taking a look back at some of the best new Batman villains of the past 20 years.
Most of Batman’s villains are twisted reflections of the Dark Knight in one way or another, but Hush is Bruce Wayne’s reflection in a very literal sense. Although Thomas Elliot was originally Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend, he became obsessed with the man under Batman’s mask for imagined slights. Using his skills as a world-class surgeon, the masked sociopath has given himself both Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson’s faces at one point or another.
After bursting into Gotham City in Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s blockbuster “Hush” storyline in 2003, Hush has solidified his place among the upper echelons of Batman’s rogues’ gallery. While the bandages that usually cover his face give him memorable design, this criminal mastermind’s intricate plans made him the first great Bat-villain of the 21st century.
Despite its many faults, Gotham City was always Batman’s town. Bruce Wayne’s ancestors helped build it, the Caped Crusader protected it, and the Dark Knight knew all of its secrets. But when the Court of Owls debuted in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman #2 in 2011, they turned those simple certainties on their head.
With a history in Gotham that runs far deeper than the Waynes’ family legacy, this secret society of Gotham elites proved that Batman still didn’t know everything about his home, even if he is one of DC’s best detectives. Beyond starring in an instant-classic saga that stands as a highlight of DC’s New 52 era, the Court of Owls also introduced their devoted Talons, a fierce group of lethal killers second only to Ra’s al-Ghul’s League of Assassins.
Often armed with little more than a butcher knife and a pig mask, Professor Pyg might not seem like Gotham’s most menacing villain at a glance. However, this villain might just be the most disturbing villain Batman has ever faced since he debuted in 2007’s Batman #666, by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert.
Obsessed with “fixing” people he sees as broken, Pyg uses his scientific expertise and back-alley science to turn his unlucky victims into mindless Dollotrons, who have doll masks permanently affixed to their faces. While he’s threatened Gotham with biological weapons more than once, Pyg is the rare villain who can go from a leading role to a supporting player without sacrificing an iota of his genuine menace.
Technically, Doctor Simon Hurt debuted in 1963’s Batman #156, where he was a faceless, unnamed doctor who sent Batman on a hallucinogenic trip as part of a NASA study. However, writer Grant Morrison transformed Hurt from a non-entity into the centerpiece of his dark, psychedelic Batman opus.
Thanks to the dark energies of Darkseid’s Hyper-Adapter, this Wayne family ancestor — who happened to be named Thomas — survived long past the 18th century to menace Batman as the leader of the Black Glove and the embodiment of a primordial evil that was always hiding in Gotham City’s darkest shadows. Beyond that, Hurt is the missing link that reframes Batman’s most outlandish era as an essential part of the Dark Knight’s history.
In the alternate reality of Flashpoint, a young Bruce Wayne was killed by a mugger’s bullet in Crime Alley, and that event forged Thomas Wayne into a brutal Batman in 2011’s Flashpoint #1, by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert. While Thomas may have been a dark hero in that world, he became a much darker villain when reality-shattering events through him into the DC Universe during Tom King, Joshua Williamson and Jason Fabok’s Batman/The Flash crossover, “The Button.”
In theory, Thomas Wayne was Bruce Wayne’s ultimate absolution, and he gave Bruce explicit permission to stop being Batman and live a happy life. When Bruce refused, Thomas twisted those genuine wishes into one of the most devastatingly cruel plots that Batman ever faced. By the time King’s Batman run was over, Thomas almost shattered Bruce and Catwoman’s relationship, shook Gotham to its core and orchestrated the death of Alfred.
Quite simply, the Batman Who Laughs is Batman’s worst nightmare come to life. This alternate reality villain hails from a world in the Dark Multiverse where the Joker successfully infected Batman with his madness. Armed with the Dark Knight’s unparalleled mind and the Joker’s unparalleled lunacy, this warped Batman took over his world before turning his attention to the DC Universe in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Dark Days: The Casting in 2017.
Even though Batman and the Joker barely qualify as superhuman, the combination of their skills has been enough to bring the entire DC Universe to its knees and earn the attention of DC’s cosmic gods in Dark Nights: Metal crossover. While the idea behind the Batman Who Laughs might be sublime in its simplicity, this Batman is set to play an even bigger role in the upcoming Dark Nights: Death Metal crossover, which means that his reign of terror is still only just beginning.
KEEP READING: Batman: What Happened to DC’s ORIGINAL Dark Knight
These newer Batman villains are why Gotham City is still the most dangerous place in the DC Universe.