It’s no secret that Batman has collected one of the biggest and most beloved array of villains in comic history. And thanks to a bounty of movies in various styles, many of the A-Listers have enjoyed their chance to appear on the big screen. Even those like Mr Freeze, whose portrayal is perhaps better off forgotten, have had a go. And after the release of Suicide Squad covered some of the favourites – Harley Quinn, Deadshot and Killer Croc – and the test footage for a Batman movie featuring Deathstroke was leaked, people have become more interested in seeing new interpretations of the famous Batman villains, instead of what new ones might appear.
But while I’d be all over a fresh take on The Riddler or Penguin, I want to delve beyond what we’ve already had. A lot of big names have already appeared in film, but what about those that haven’t just yet? Who could bring some fresh stories to the big screen? I’ve selected six for consideration, although even I’ll note there are others I could have easily included. One final note – this is taking into account theatrically released movies only. Some of these characters have appeared in animated films, but since they didn’t receive theatrical releases, I’m keeping them on the board.
The Court of Owls
First Appearance: Batman #2, 2011
“Beware The Court of Owls, that watches all the time, ruling Gotham from a shadow perch, behind granite and lime. They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed, speak not a whispered word of them or they’ll send The Talon for your head.”
They might be relatively young when it comes to the 75+ year history of Batman, but when they appeared during the first run of Scott Snyder’s New 52 Batman series, they quickly gained a strong following among the comic audience. Born of an old Gotham legend and nursery rhyme, The Court of Owls are a longstanding society that have watched over Gotham since it was created, quietly affecting the direction the city took. Bruce Wayne earns the attention of this group through his philanthropy, revealing plans for radical developments within Gotham. After a failed attempt on Wayne’s life, Batman investigates the mystery, uncovering the truth behind The Court, but not before barely escaping with his life.
The Court of Owls seem tailor made for the current cinematic iteration of Batman. Ben Affleck’s portrayal is that of an older and more experienced Dark Knight, and one of the main underlying stories of their debut comic appearance was how the organisation secretly ran beneath Batman’s nose in his own city. It’s a perfect foe for a veteran Batman, providing both a psychological challenge as well as a physical one – which is presented in the form of the Talon assassins. It’d be the perfect way to bring back the detective side of his character, as well as build upon the legend of Gotham City itself on the big screen.
First Appearance: Batman #386, 1985
Black Mask is one of those magical villains who manages to have strong connections to both the Bruce Wayne and Batman sides of the protagonist. As a kid, Roman Sionis was forced to befriend Bruce Wayne due to their family connections, and grew to further resent Wayne after the company he inherited, Janus Cosmetics Corporation, was bought out by Wayne Industries after he ran it into the ground. Behind the mask, Sionis formed the dangerous False Face Society, and at one point controlled the Gotham underground at the end of a massive mob war.
A Black Mask centric story wouldn’t be overly outlandish. In many ways it could be told as a fairly grounded mob movie, much in the structure of the Nolan-verse stories. But he’s a visually striking villain who could serve as either a main or secondary antagonist for a Batman movie. The mob is an area of the Bat-verse we haven’t seen delved into all that much in the movies, generally taking a step back for the more outlandish and crazy members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, but a fully fleshed out mob battle for Gotham with Black Mask at the forefront could make for compelling viewing.
First Appearance: Detective Comics #40, 1940
There have been many iterations of Clayface in the 70 plus years he’s existed in the Bat-verse, but the basic characteristics have generally remained true. Clayface has the ability to shape-shift, taking the form of people or turning his body into a weapon through his clay-like body. Different versions of the character have other powers, like Preston Payne and Peter Malley being able to melt people, but the Clayface character itself tends to transcend the small differences found between each iteration.
In reality the Clayface character is as malleable as his power set. With so many versions throughout the years, a cinematic version could realistically pick and chose powers and backstories as they pleased to craft their own take on the character. When it comes to superpowers, the ability to shape shift provides a unique blend of physical and detective challenges for Batman. While we’ve seen similar characters take shape on the big screen (Sandman in Spiderman 3) a well told Clayface story would feel special in the superhero film world, and with advancements in special effects it could also be fantastic to watch.
First Appearance: Batman: The Cult #1, 1988
There are other bigger names out there that could be used, but the character of Deacon Blackfire is one that I feel could bring a really interesting dynamic to a Batman film, especially if the DCEU starts to delve in the supernatural with a Justice League Dark movie. Blackfire is an evangelical cult leader who is potentially capable of immortality, who amasses an army of homeless people in the Gotham underground and uses them to wage a war on crime. His brainwashing power is strong enough to even affect the Batman himself for a time
He’s only appeared a few times, but there are interesting comparisons to his and Batman’s war on crime that can be addressed, as well as a part of Gotham essentially rising up against its vigilante protector. These stories can be covered by both Batman and Bruce Wayne – whose positioning as a billionaire against the homeless masses Blackfire targets provides some narrative subplots worth covering. Is there a risk casting a rather religious character in the role of antagonist for a blockbuster movie? Sure. But given the current film iteration of Batman has been around for some time, it provides the foundation for an interesting analysis of how best to deal with crime, and does so in the best way possible – with Batman.
First Appearance: Detective Comics #583, 1988
I’ve got a soft spot for Arnold Wesker, the unfortunate man in control of the dummy Scarface. Like Clayface there has been several versions of this character, but Wesker is far and away the most iconic and interesting from a narrative standpoint. A meek individual born into the mob, Wesker uses his dummy in order to do the dirty work and is utterly controlled by this alter ego.
It’s easy to perceive The Ventriloquist character as kind of dumb, and in the wrong hands it’d be easy to end up that way. But for a writer willing to take a few risks, the character could provide a fascinating narrative. Like Black Mask the character is built around the mob, which brings with it a lot of potential story, but Arnold Wesker at his best is a man conflicted with these dual personalities, and the dynamic of a puppet in control of the mob would also allow for plenty of dark humour. Some stories have also played with the idea of Scarface possibly being sentient, which a director could also choose to utilise if they wanted to shy away from a more grounded story.
First Appearance: Detective Comics #168, 1951
The Red Hood has come in many forms, with two famous members of the Bat-verse donning the moniker. The original version was the Clown Prince of Crime before he became the Joker, but the concept was developed further when it was worn by Jason Todd, the second Robin. After being killed by The Joker he later returned under the moniker as a villain before eventually returning to the Bat-family, determined to not be restrained by the same rules his mentor follows that has left his killer live, even after all the horrible atrocities he’s committed.
There are reasons to think we might see The Red Hood on the big screen – there have been hints to The Joker claiming a Robin in both Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, which leaves the door wide open for this story to be covered. It’s already been adapted into a good animated film, but the tools are there to really explore the relationship Ben Affleck’s Batman has with the world around him – both in relation to The Joker and those who have aided his cause. The result would be probably the most personal Batman story told on the big screen, while at the same time allowing the marketing team to lean heavily on the most famous of Batman villains – The Joker.