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As hard as it may be to believe, Batman: The Animated Series actually turned 25 years old this week. The cartoon set a gold standard for classic DC animation that persists to this very day, and it served as a jumping off point for many kids (not to mention a few adults) to become bonafide Bat Fans. In honor of that deep iconography, we figured now would be the right time to dive in and discuss the 13 best villains ever to grace the classic show. Check out our list, and let us know your favorite Batman foe in the comments below!
13. Killer Croc
Sure, he was never the smartest Batman villain within Gotham City limits, but Killer Croc always made for some great fist fights and physical encounters. As one of The Dark Knight's strongest enemies, he helped keep Batman: The Animated Series as intense as a kids show can get. If nothing else, he deserves a spot on this list for uttering one of the best Batman lines of all time in the "Almost Got 'Im" story: "I threw a rock at him!"
Most villains tend to represent dark reflections of their respective heroes in some form or another. That said, Dr. Kirk Langstrom took that idea a bit literally when he transformed himself into Man-Bat. Although he wasn't one of Batman's more frequently-faced foes, Langrstrom always stole the show in all of his appearances. Moreover, he earns a spot on this list because he was the first villain The Caped Crusader ever faced on Batman: The Animated Series, in the pilot episode "On Leather Wings."
In many ways, Scarecrow has always been an underappreciated member of Batman's rogues gallery. Cillian Murphy's version of the character from The Dark Knight trilogy only got to shine in a handful of scenes, and he doesn't have many iconic storylines compared to someone like Joker. However, Batman: The Animated Series was one arena in which Dr. Jonathan Crane really stood out in his quest to spread his fear gas across Gotham. Without him, we never would've heard Batman say "I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!"
10. Rupert Thorne
In a city that's packed to the brim with insane clowns and murderous crocodile men, it takes a major badass to stand out, and that's what Rupert Thorne did throughout his recurring stint on Batman: The Animated Series. Essentially an updated version of Carmine Falcone (with a dash of Sal Maroni thrown in for good measure), Thorne was a Gotham crime boss who could keep up with the crazies. He played crime by the book, and it gave the show most of its grounded drama.
In the same way that Killer Croc offered up some of Batman: The Animated Series' best physical showdowns, Clayface similarly proved himself as a source of muscle against The Caped Crusader. The difference was that Matt Hagen also had a tragic backstory as an actor who suffered exposure to a dangerous chemical, and besting him in physical combat (if Batman could even find him) proved much more mentally taxing. Challenging everything that makes Batman Batman, Clayface easily earns his No. 9 spot.
8. Mad Hatter
Compared to guys like The Joker, The Riddler, or even Clayface, The Mad Hatter doesn't often get used as a central comic book villain in The Caped Crusader's written stories. However, he found a new life as one of Batman's best foes on Batman: The Animated Series. His ability to dive into Batman's mind effectively made for some of the series' most heart-wrenching stories, such as "Perchance to Dream" in which Batman must give up a dream life with his family to return to the real world.
7. Poison Ivy
If there's one defining version of Poison Ivy from the 1990s, it's not the version portrayed by Uma Thurman in Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin in 1997. No, the true Poison Ivy of that defining Batman decade is the version of Pamela Isley seen in Batman: The Animated Series. Sexy (as much as you can be in a cartoon), smart, and deadly, her passion for saving all of Earth's plant life felt earned, and we actually felt the need to root for her at times.
Creating a villain whose entire schtick revolves around brain teasers and riddles can prove challenging for a show that's primarily aimed at younger audiences. Instead of falling back on the Adam West-era trope of having Batman pace back and forth as he worked out the puzzles, Batman: The Animated Series wisely turned most of Ridder's gimmicks into sight gags. As a result, he eventually became one of the most visually engaging villains to grace the show.
5. Ra's Al Ghul
For many fans of The Caped Crusader, Batman: The Animated Series was their first introduction to a villain who hailed from outside of Gotham City. While Ra's Al Ghul was brutal and relentless, he was also morally complex. He may have wanted to destroy entire cities, but he did so in his quest for justice. Throw in Batman's relationship with his daughter Talia, and Ra's always delivered the goods when he appeared on Batman: The Animated Series.
As shown by the performances of Tommy Lee Jone and Aaron Eckhart in Batman Forever and The Dark Knight, respectively, Harvey Dent is a character that can feel hit or miss at times -- which makes sense, given his fixation on duality. However, Batman: The Animated Series presented audiences with a version of the villain who felt just as sympathetic as he was menacing. Telling an abridged version of The Long Halloween comic series, Batman: The Animated Series allowed us to see him evolve from close friend to bitter enemy, and it was heartbreaking.
3. Mr. Freeze
Much like Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze is another Batman villain who excelled in animation where his live action counterpart faltered in the 1990s. However, the difference here is that Batman: The Animated Series arguably continues to represent the definitive version of the character. Given the tragic backstory of a dying wife, Victor Fries was unlike any other crazy bad guy seen in the series. He had a heart -- even if that heart was made of ice.
2. The Joker
Let's be honest, even if Mark Hamill never played Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise, his work as The Joker (a job he got after replacing Tim Curry) would likely have still propelled him to the status of geek god. With his terrifying laugh and completely unhinged sensibilities, Mark Hamill IS The Joker for many longtime DC fans, and he has earned his place as one of the best Batman: TAS baddies in existence.
1. Harley Quinn
That's right. Although I am certain there's a large part of the fanbase who feels Joker should get this spot, it's actually Harley Quinn who deserves to come in at No. 1 if we're discussing Batman: The Animated Series. Unlike most of the other villains on this list, the former Dr. Quinzel was designed from the bottom up to exist on this show, and her combination of lighthearted playfulness and profound trauma perfectly encapsulates everything that made (and still makes) it great.
Bonus: The Phantasm
Technically The Phantasm never actually appeared during the run of Batman: The Animated Series, but it's a great (and oddly brutal) villain, and Mask of the Phantasm holds an impressive 82% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so it definitely deserves a spot. Without diving too far into spoiler territory for the character (just in case you haven't seen the film), we can comfortably say that it's one of the smartest and most emotional twists on Batman's early days that we have ever seen.
Who is your favorite Batman: The Animated Series villain?