The Batman has successfully ushered in a new age for the Dark Knight theatrically, but the brooding superhero is poised to expand his on-screen presence elsewhere. Under the producing capacity of The Batman‘s Matt Reeves, J. J. Abrams, Batman: The Animated Series co-creator Bruce Timm, and showrunner Ed Brubaker, DC will try to catch lightning in a bottle twice in the animated space with Batman: Caped Crusader.
The HBO Max series will attempt to go bolder than what the revered BTAS did in the ’90s, and with that demands a strong lineup of villains. Batman has perhaps the greatest rogues’ gallery in comics, but Brubaker should make the most out of the hero’s toybox of underrated villains from his comic book mythos.
In the conventional Batman canon, the superhero’s earliest obstacles were always the major figureheads of organized crime in Gotham City. Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Year One and Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween and Dark Victory do an exceptional job at highlighting this point in the Caped Crusader’s career, but even after the “age of the freaks” dawned on the city, organized crime blended with it.
Black Mask is a more modern mob boss in Batman lore, but fans have seen how imposing he can be in the Under the Red Hood animated movie and WB Games Montréal’s Arkham Origins — before he got the rug pulled out from under him. His sadistic nature and notoriously short temper would make him an exciting villain in Caped Crusader‘s take on the criminal underworld.
Arnold Wesker did feature in the timeless BTAS and The New Batman Adventures shows, as the Ventriloquist opposite his puppet Scarface, but even with how little he appeared there, he justifies having his character explored more in the show’s prospective successor. What makes this unique villain so compelling is how he strikes a similar sympathetic tone to Mr. Freeze, though admittedly less dangerous than his frosty villainous peer.
The Double Talk episode of The New Batman Adventures is one of the greatest Gotham success stories ever told in the DC Animated Universe with a well-earned happy ending, a beautiful look into Bruce Wayne’s staunch belief in redemption, and an interesting if minor villain. That recipe could be repeated again in Caped Crusader but with a more modern edge that Brubaker is known to deliver.
In addition to featuring in some psychologically compelling comic book arcs like Doug Moench, Paul Gulacy, and Terry Austin’s Prey, Hugo Strange’s role in Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham City makes it even more baffling that he’s yet to make a theatrical appearance. Though, with The Batman‘s sequel getting greenlit, perhaps there’s still a chance. Nonetheless, Strange has also featured in the DCAU shows, but never in a fitting central antagonist role.
While supervillains like the Joker challenge Batman on a philosophical level (to kill, or not to kill?), rogues like Hugo Strange tackle him on a psychological level. The twisted psychiatrist is obsessed with the Dark Knight and the bleak machinations of his mind that make him function, and is desperate to prove that he is the rightful successor to the cape and cowl. This could generate a number of plotlines in Caped Crusader, and possibly set Strange up as Batman’s chief antagonist.
In terms of physical attributes, Batman is one of the DC universe’s most skilled martial artists. That being said, though, he still isn’t the best of the bunch. Lady Shiva has canonically fought the Dark Knight hand-to-hand on numerous occasions, and she’s won the majority of those bouts.
One of her best villainous roles in the comics was in James Tynion IV’s run on Detective Comics, where she’s depicted as the head of the League of Shadows that rivals the Assassins of Ra’s al Ghul. Shiva is ruthless in both combat and principle and is more than willing to murder at will to advance her warped perception of a “greater good.” Perhaps it will be too early for Caped Crusader‘s Batman in season 1, but she’s certainly someone worth adapting on-screen down the line.
Over the years, Batman has amassed a handful of villains that were meant to be grim parallels to Bruce Wayne. However, Prometheus is one of the earlier examples that were well-received by veteran fans — though overlooked and underutilized elsewhere — before that trope became played out.
Created by acclaimed DC writer Grant Morrison during his 7-year odyssey on Batman in the ’00s, Prometheus was Bruce’s dark reflection in the mirror who grew to harbor hatred and murderous tendencies for anyone representing the law after witnessing his thieving and killer parents get gunned down by the police. On top of training physically, he was a genius inventor who created the Computerized Helmet for himself: a device that can analyze, download, and mimic the fighting styles of anyone he witnesses in combat.
Prometheus is a more comic book-y villain with heavy sci-fi elements, so a modern animated series like Caped Crusader could be the best fit for an adaptation of him.
HBO Max and Cartoon Network’s Batman: Caped Crusader is set to premiere in 2023.
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