Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy” has come to an end. He’s done with the Batman franchise, and so is Christian Bale, who played the role of the Caped Crusader in the films. But we all know that, sooner or later — and it’ll almost certainly be “sooner” — Warner Brothers is going to want someone to pick up the cowl and bring Batman back to the big screen once more. And, as it has often been said that a superhero movie is only as good as its villains, I thought I might take a look at what villains they could use — if they chose to do so.
Now, I already said I think Mister Freeze would be a great choice, particularly in order to bridge the more realistic Nolan films with the upcoming Justice League film. And I’m not changing in that position. But I got to thinking about all the unsung villains in Batman’s rogues gallery. After all, even if Mr. Freeze’s on-screen portrayal was far from great, he has been on the screen before. The major villains have a tendency to get revisited. The Joker and Catwoman have each been around the block three times, and the Penguin, Riddler, and Two-Face two times each. When Batman and Robin was so poorly received, one theory that was often floated around amongst fans was that the villains were simply too low-profile to build a successful movie around. Few people who weren’t regular comic book readers would know who Mister Freeze or Poison Ivy were. Perhaps a Batman movie could only be successful with major, iconic villains.
But when Nolan revived the franchise with Batman Begins — notably the very next Batman movie from Batman and Robin — he disproved that by using two villains who were every bit as obscure. Ra’s al Ghul wasn’t even a frequent face in the comics, merely an occasional one. And a non-comics reader would only recognize him if they managed to remember him from his three or four animated series appearances a decade before. Scarecrow might have been a little more recognizable, but only from the same sparse Batman: the Animated Series appearances, and of course, as “that one guy from Challenge of the Superfriends.” Yet the movie was a critical and commercial success. Christopher Nolan proved that you could take a lesser-known villain and build a great movie with them.
So, with that in mind, I thought I would take a look at Batman villains who have never been part of a live-action film. Those unsung villains who haven’t yet had the chance to put Gotham at their mercy. Because even when the movies to come re-use some of the major villains, if they space them out with some of the more unfamiliar ones, it could lead to Batman truly becoming more like the James Bond franchise, where it doesn’t really have a “dead period”. And new villains can sometimes lead to new story directions. So here, then, are my picks for the Top 10 Unfilmed Batman Villains. Some might work better alongside other villains, but each would potentially provide an interesting film.
#10: The Mad Monk
Let’s start this off with something really obscure and strange (and unlikely). The Mad Monk — sometimes just called the Monk — was the first costumed foe that Batman ever fought. That story, “Batman vs. the Vampire”, was also the first multi-part story ever written for Batman. So from a historical standpoint, he’s an important villain for Batman. But just who is he? The Mad Monk was a Civil War-era plantation owner, cursed to become a vampire, who eventually settled in Gotham and began luring young women into his cult to become his victims.
Batman versus a vampire may sound like a bit of an odd story, especially after the fairly grounded-in-reality Nolan movies, but there is a certain thematic appeal there. But the vampire aspect isn’t what’s important here; in fact, the story might very well be stronger for throwing it out entirely, or just having the Monk believe he’s a vampire. The story potential here is the idea of Batman facing off against a mad cult leader. Gotham’s citizens, always subject to manipulative psychos, gradually falling under his sway. Mysterious deaths turning up in the city. Batman having to get to the bottom of it using his brains, not his fists. Put the detective back in the Dark Knight Detective. Whether the supernatural element is used or not, there’s the potential for a very different Batman movie here.
#9: Doctor Phosphorus
When I wrote my piece on building the Justice League movie, the reason I suggested Mister Freeze for the next Batman movie is because he could act as a bridge between the realistic villains that Batman had been facing in the films and the supernatural, high-tech and alien villains that the League often faces. Doctor Phosphorus also has the potential to bridge that gap. Dr. Alex Sartorius was exposed to hot, irradiated sand, and through the usual vague science that permeates comic books, he found he had turned into living phosphorus. Whenever his skin is in contact with the air, he combusts. Naturally, he went mad and vowed vengeance on the people who had turned him into a freak.
There is, I’ll grant, a certain amount of silliness in the basic premise, but if Spider-Man 2 can create an amazingly deep and sympathetic villain out of Doctor Octopus, whose motivations in the comics were always “for the love of evil” even before he got robotic arms grafted to him, then it’s clear competent writers can make a usable villain out of almost any premise if they work at it hard enough. Doctor Phosphorus’s glowing-skeleton appearance may or may not translate well to the screen, but if not, I’m sure something suitably intimidating and believable could be developed. Still, I’m putting him pretty low on the list because although he’s still a somewhat human villain, he’s starting to straddle the line of when it would be more appropriate to call Superman. Although it could be interesting to see him paired with Mister Freeze, as long as the writers avoid throwing in a slew of bad hot-and-cold puns.
Firefly is another villain who might act as a decent “bridge” between unpowered villains and supernatural Justice League villains. Special effects expert Garfield Lynns is a pyromaniac who built his own flying suit and flamethrower. His motivations in the comics often come down to fairly mundane motives, such as robbery or, in the case of his animated series debut, spurned affections. But there’s no reason a movie couldn’t make him a bit more grandiose. This is a guy who flies around lighting fires. Some city-wide revenge motive, a bit of nihilistic philosophy, and it’s possible to spin him into somebody who could bring the whole of Gotham into chaos. He would even pose a reasonable challenge to Batman, as fire is one thing that even Batman has to be cautious of, and even when Batman is diving from the Batcopter, hand-to-hand aerial combat isn’t going to be something he’s regularly prepared for, making Firefly a difficult foe to deal with. And the suit, frankly, would probably look very good in live-action.
#7: Doctor Hugo Strange
Dr. Hugo Strange is a criminal psychologist… in both meanings of the phrase. A psychologist specializing in criminal behavior, Strange conducts his own criminal behavior, which has ranged from abducting people to perform bizarre and horrific experiments on them, to brainwashing Gotham City police officers to try and kill Batman. He is also one of the very few people to figure out Batman’s secret identity on his own. Hugo Strange provides several possible options for a movie plot. Whether it’s his mad experiments, or hunting down Batman, he works well as a mastermind for a villainous plot. Or he could also work as a supporting villain, providing intel and assistance to a more dramatic partner. Although the Scarecrow has been present in three films in a row, seeing the two evil psychologists on screen together could be a pretty fun film. Or he could hold the movie on his own, possibly with his “monster men” providing the muscle to fight Batman. Either way, there’s the opportunity to have a story that really deals with the psychological aspects of the vigilante hero and those who fight him.
#6: Lady Shiva
This may be cheating a little, since Lady Shiva debuted in the Richard Dragon comics, and not Batman, but she’s fought against so many members of the Batman family since, I think she counts. One of the world’s deadliest assassins, Lady Shiva is an expert in many forms of martial arts. As Batman is often compared to a modern-day urban ninja, pitting him against Lady Shiva would have some elements of a mirror match, and could result in some great hand-to-hand fight scenes. Bringing Lady Shiva into Gotham shouldn’t be too difficult; as she sometimes works as an assassin for hire, she could be brought in by one of the various organized crime bosses to eliminate his competition, Gotham City officials, and, of course, the Batman. She has her own code of honor, which should also allow for some character development along the way.
#5: Harley Quinn
Harley Quinn may be the most well-known character on this list. Created in Batman: the Animated Series, she was quickly introduced into the comics as well, and has remained a popular character. In fact, judging by some of the Dark Knight-themed fan-art I waded through to find a picture for this list, a lot of people are already interested in seeing the Joker’s girlfriend on the big screen. For those who aren’t familiar with her, Dr. Harleen Quinzel was a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum whom the Joker seduced and pushed into insanity. Often acting as his lead hench-girl, Harley is madly devoted to the Joker, but is also capable of striking out on her own, particularly if the Joker has spurned her or is behind bars again.
Although her familiarity and popularity could put her higher up, I have her ranked in the middle of this list because her inclusion in a film automatically implies the use of the Joker, and so she doesn’t entirely stand alone as a character. However, just because the Joker has to be used, doesn’t mean he has to be the dominant figure in the film. A film where it’s already established that the Joker has been captured — perhaps in an earlier film — would allow Harley Quinn to bring her own brand of anarchy to Gotham, trying to take down the police and the Batman who hurt her “pudd’n”. There could even be some misdirection, with Harley’s crimes initially pointing to the Joker while Batman and Commissioner Gordon, unaware he has a protege, wonder how the Joker is pulling them off from the inside. Incidentally, many of the Nolan-style Harleys I saw had the harlequin hood and makeup removed in favor of an open face and hair. I think that adjustment would work well for the big screen; it’s easier to tell how crazy Harley Quinn is when you can see her face.
#4: Clock King
Temple Fugate was also created for the animated series, though the Clock King identity had previously belonged to a (fairly ridiculous) Green Arrow villain. The new Clock King is a man obsessed with time and punctuality, and who is capable of making incredibly precise calculations in his head. Now, you might expect me to make some sort of “going cuckoo” pun here, but Fugate’s insanity is as methodical and calculating as his motif. In the animated series, he is driven by revenge of a perceived wrong from the Mayor; he is unable to believe that his misfortune could be accidental. This obsession, and his modus operandi, could form a workable movie plot, with the Clock King plotting revenge against different elements of Gotham society that unwittingly wronged him — whether in actuality or just in the mind of someone who believes in no accidents — and always staying one step ahead of Batman through his precise planning. It’s another opportunity to bring out the detective aspects of DC’s proclaimed “world’s greatest detective”, and Fugate’s skill with fencing would provide the opportunities for a few fight scenes as needed.
Floyd Lawton is a mercenary assassin with a severe death wish after unintentionally killing his brother as a young man. He has a reputation as being the most accurate marksman in the world, the man who never misses. However, he started out his career as a vigilante, fighting crime in Gotham in a non-lethal manner — disarming criminals by shooting their guns out of their hands — until his pride and ego wouldn’t let him live with not being the biggest hero in the city. Thus there are two different paths a screenwriter could take with the character: assassin for hire, or vigilante turned villain. Either way, Batman has to face off against a deadly opponent who doesn’t get up close and personal the way most of the previous film villains do, and who not only doesn’t fear death, but actively welcomes it. There’s also a lot of room to explore Lawton’s personality in the film, something that, frankly, is often lacking in Batman’s on-screen villains. Even though superhero movies are generally only as good as their villains, most of the time the movie isn’t about the villain so much as it’s about the villain’s scheme; Spider-Man 2 being the biggest exception. A Batman movie focusing on Deadshot could be another example.
#2: Killer Moth
Forget the circus-tent colored costume. Forget the way the character was treated as a joke for decades. Most especially forget the period in the late 1990s when he sold his soul and became a giant moth-monster (seriously, what went wrong with that decade of comics?) Take the character back to his core concept. Cameron van Cleer is a wealthy Gotham socialite; in the comics this is an alias for Drury Walker, and the wealth is stolen, but this isn’t necessarily important for the film. If the wealth needs to be ill-gotten, it can be mob money.
Van Cleer decides that if the cops have Batman to help them out, the criminals need somebody on their side. He assembles an arsenal of high tech weapons, vehicles, a cave beneath his mansion, and an intimidating costume (I’m picturing mostly black for the film version), which also flies. Criminals in need of assistance signal him with an infrared flashlight shown against the sky. All of that is straight from the comic book character’s origin story. I doubt I have to work hard to show the potential here. Handled seriously, this guy is very literally the anti-Batman. Part of what has made some of Batman’s villains work on the big screen is the way they reflect different aspect of his persona, and here’s a character who is precisely his shadow archetype. I admit the name sounds a little silly, but that can always be worked around; “the Moth” may not sound quite as intimidating, but it does sound more mysterious and less silly. (I find any “Killer” codename to sound silly, I don’t know about anyone else.) But name aside, the character has a lot of potential as a serious foe to Batman on the big screen.
#1: The Calculator
If you’ve read comics in the past eight years, you probably know this guy. If you haven’t, you’ve probably never heard of him, nor one of the most adept re-imaginings of a comic book character ever. Noah Kuttler was originally a typical Silver Age Batman villain, committing robberies and thefts with a gimmicky theme. In his case, he was the Calculator, and he ran around with a giant ten-key pad on his chest. When confronted with a difficult situation, he would enter the parameters into his calculator, and a printout would come out of the print reel on his head, and he would read the perfect solution to his problems. If you think this sounds a little silly, you’re probably giving it too much credit; it was extremely silly. So how could this guy be my top pick for an unfilmed Batman villain?
Because he got one major revamp. Brad Meltzer, in his miniseries Identity Crisis, reintroduced the Calculator as a character who was much more formidable, and operated in a much different manner. The costume, the gimmick, the silliness and the direct involvement were all stripped from the character. The intelligence remained. The Calculator became the inverse of DC’s heroine the Oracle; he now operated as a high-traffic information broker to the supervillains. Any information you want, for a price… or a favor.
And that’s how the Calculator could be a major villain in a Batman movie. There’s no rule that a supervillain has to be physically intimidating. Lex Luthor has been the undisputed villainous star of the Superman film franchise, and all he’s got going for him is his brain. The Calculator has the potential to be Batman’s Lex Luthor, only with even more havoc unleashed. Almost all the villains make some token effort to bring all the criminals under their control, but here’s a guy who could get them all to come to him willingly, including the organized crime leaders. Picture Batman fighting against an organized uprising of villains, perhaps even with some other low-profile supervillains in the fray, and at the head is Noah Kuttler, a man who specializes in finding out all those secrets and weaknesses you don’t want anybody to know about. Batman is occasionally outfought in the films, but every time he’s outthought, it feels like he could have avoided if only he had been paying more attention. Here’s a villain who could out-think Batman even at Batman’s best. And physical prowess aside, there’s nothing more impressive than a villain who can’t be beaten on his own terms. The Calculator could have Batman truly running a gauntlet of thugs and villains and traps all over the city, while not even rousing himself from his chair.
So there you have it. Ten Batman villains who have never been seen in a live-action film, but who could work in one. What do you think? Would you like to see these villains on the big screen? Or is there some other villain who you would like to see make an appearance? We all know that that another Batman film will happen eventually. Who should go up against the Caped Crusader?