The Dark Knight has been up against some truly terrifying moments, no doubt in part to his extensive Rogues' Gallery. Below are but a smattering of the scariest moments.
Heavy spoilers for several comic series below. Non-comic books examples for Batman belong on those appropriate pages.
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The Killing Joke
- The iconic image◊ of the Joker going insane for the first time. The left image is the original; the right image (with blood!) is from Bolland's 20th anniversary redo.
- Several of the Joker's expressions are deeply unsettling. Not just his smile, but also his eyes - Brian Bolland's art really seems to portray just how insane the character is. The Joker's face as he goads Commissioner Gordon during the torture sequence will send shivers down your spine.
- In the special collectors' edition hard cover, there is a second story about a man who's talking to a camera about how he plans to kill Batman. The mood of it is just chilling he talks about Batman, he talks about how he's a normal ordinary guy as casually as how he intends to just walk up behind Batman after he's stopped a bad guy and just out and out shoot Batman. Any actual worries can be dispelled completely since it's a one-shot (hah!) story, but still it never shows him getting stopped or anything it just ends with him going out to act out his plan.
A Death in the Family
- Brian Azzarello's Joker is full of nightmare-inducing sequences including skinning a man alive, rape, torture, the Joker crying on a hooker-like Harley Quinn, and much, much more. The comic's narrator becomes so horrified by the Joker's world view that he ends up committing suicide to escape.
Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
Batman: No Man's Land
- Right after The Killing Joke was published, we had A Death in the Family, where the Joker showed everybody that The Silver Age of Comic Books was over the hard way by brutally beating the second Robin, Jason Todd, with a crowbar in front of his mother. As if that weren't enough, he then leaves them both in a warehouse that blows up just as the battered Jason manages to untie his mother, killing them both. The fact that it was drawn with the bright colors of the Golden/Silver ages, but added just enough shading to look realistic, only made it worse; you've never seen blood this scarlet. And he does it all with that smile on his face.
- The way Robin's mother reacted: turning away with an uncomfortable mixture of disgust and denial, and lighting up a cigarette. Post-Crisis Jason was never a nice kid, but this is the kind of thing that screws anyone up.
- As unbelievable as people find it, the No Man's Land storyline had quite a bit. First, the very premise: Gotham freaking City, mostly destroyed, then cut off from the rest of America, all laws, and all support, while the wackos run free. Add multiple references to cannibalism, constant moral ambiguity, and the Joker doing classically barbaric Joker-things like kidnapping babies and inciting insane cops to shoot their own, and you have horror that's near impossible to laugh off.
- People wanting to actually stay in the prison that was being run by Lockdown.
- Oh, about Joker's plan to kidnap babies? It's because he wants to kill them all off on New Year's, just to destroy the fragile spirit of the people of Gotham City. And let's not get started on what he does to Commissioner Gordon's wife.
- Post-Crisis Joker in general is not fun for anyone with a fear of clowns.
- The Joker in general. In his very first appearance, he utilizes his horrible Joker Venom. Chronologically-speaking, even when you read a goofy Silver Age story where he's pulling some harmless heist, you're still looking at a Monster Clown with spree-killings on his criminal record.
- Part of what makes him so scary is how random he is-he can be a harmless jester pulling elaborate pranks one minute and without warning try to poison the whole of Gotham. The worst part is that the Joker doesn't seem to notice any difference; pin-balling from Harmless Villain to crossing the Moral Event Horizon is as easy as breathing for him.
- Scarecrow, anyone? His fear toxin is literal Nightmare Fuel!
- Speaking of Scarecrow, his great-grandmother was one scary old lady. If you were wondering why her great-grandson turned out the way he did, some very creative child abuse was involved.
- The Riddler. Yeah, go on, laugh. Nerdy guy who can't even throw a punch, right? Just leaves stupid clues and makes it easy for Batman to catch him, right? Go read "Dark Knight, Dark City" (Batman #452-#454), which has, among other things, Riddler forcing Batman into slitting a baby's throatnote .
- Notably, as is noted multiple times by both Batman and Riddler's henchmen, Riddler's lethal streak is flat-out uncharacteristic of him, not least because he flat-out kills a security guard, almost hangs another by the neck with a hangman's noose, and left a baby to choke to death... it gets worse when you find out that Batman rescuing the hanged guard by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and Batman opening the baby's throat to perform a tracheotomy were actually all part of Riddler's plan, but The Reveal gives no such reason for him killing the unfortunate other guard.
- Professor Pyg is what would happen if David Lynch created a Batman villain. He's a middle aged man with a pig mask and butcher clothing and he's terrifying. In his first appearance, he has a bunch of Dollotrons (human zombie dolls) hold a criminal accomplice down so Pyg can make him one as well and tells said accomplice that he'll then help Pyg do the same to the man's niece. Then, in the third appearance, he gives a tied Robin (Damian Wayne) a very odd and disturbing Motive Rant that seeps quickly into a Villainous Breakdown, all while dancing with power tools to "sexy hot" disco music. Robin simply responds as he breaks free, "You just redefined 'wrong'."◊
- The Dollotrons themselves are deeply disturbing, being regular people who have unwillingly undergone a process of creation that is not entirely revealed, but is implied to involve brain surgery, genital mutilation, and mind-altering drugs. They are also given a fleshy doll-like mask which is permanently attached to the victim's face.
- Batman's code against killing suddenly becomes terrifying:
Young Miscreant: I'll blow her head off! I swear I will!
Batman: ...And I swear that if you harm that woman at all, I'll make you pay! I will break and twist things within you. You can't conceive of the pain I can cause. It's pain that will go on forever. You won't escape it... BECAUSE I WON'T LET YOU DIE.
- James Gordon Jr. is one of the scariest new villains in recent comic book history. Completely separate of his heroic family members, James Gordon Jr. is an unrepentant psychopath and Serial Killer through and through. Part of what makes him so terrifying is that he can pull off a feeling of normalcy but there's always a sense that there's something wrong with him. Then we understand how vicious he truly is when we see him dismembering a man who stole his glasses a decade before. His psychological mind games are brutal and reminiscent of The Joker in ways but without any comedy factor. For example, driving knives into his sister's paralyzed legs, letting her know that they're in arteries and also saving her by blocking them from bleeding it, and then proceeding to pull one out.
- Then there's his ultimate plan. Taking a drug designed to curb sociopathic tendencies and induce some empathy and reversing the effects, in order to drug every infant in Gotham to turn them into sociopathic killers like him. Even worse, he may have succeeded.
- One particularly creepy, but rather unknown, adversary of Batman is Jane Doe. She is, as quoted by one of her personas, "a cipher, she's incomplete, her life is empty, so she covets the lives of others. She takes their lives so she can have their lives." In short, she learns people's traits, kills them, then wears their skin and acts like them. If that, and what's really under her skin doesn't unnerve, it's also worth noting she's primarily responsible for turn Warren White into The Great White Shark, who would go onto be one of Gotham's most feared mob bosses.
- Batman himself is this in All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder. Unlike his dark but heroic counterparts in most media adaptations and comic books, this Batman is psychotic, violent, unstable, bloodthirsty sadist who KIDNAPS Dick Grayson and forces him to become Robin against his own will, verbally and physically abuses him, in order to prevent him from grieving over his parents' deaths, even slapping the boy in the face and gloats that he is going to put Dick through hell with sadistic smile on his face, which is Nightmare Fuel in itself. He also leaves Dick to fend for himself in the Batcave, by eating rats and then when he finds out Alfred fed him a proper meal, he threatens him. Alfred is closest thing Bruce currently has to a father. He also takes really creepy and borderline pedophilic interest in Dick, watching him before he became Robin. And as pointed out in Linkara's review of the comic, Batman sounded like he was going to kidnap Dick Grayson even if his parents were alive and possibly would have killed the boy's parents himself if the assassin didn't do it first. And that's not all. He murders criminals in various cruel and shocking ways, like he throwing a Molotov cocktail that engulfs several of criminals with flames and also attacking corrupt police officers with sadistic joy. And if Linkara's observations are anything to go by, it is implied that Batman was involved in an incestuous relationship with or sexually abused by either of his parents, giving him a Freudian Excuse.
- Damian's face as he is about to engage the 99 Fiends. The immediate snapping of a hellhound's neck as he proceeds to cut the limbs off of several of his opponents doesn't help either.
- There's a reason Victor Zsasz hasn't been in any animated adaptations.
- Batman himself is this to criminals as even those who don't fear Superman generally fear Batman.
- A brief Supergirl-Robin team-up reveals that on the one hand, Gotham's supervillains are completely out of Supergirl's league... on the other hand, Gotham's supervillains tend towards way more depraved than she's used to.
- The countless expies that Batman (and his allies) had to deal with throughout his years as a vigilante crimefighter is no laughing matter either! They're virtually literal dark mirrors on the Dark Knight himself and what he would of done had he not been so vigilant in his struggles for justice and the sanctity of Gotham City and the Gothamites residing. There are a few that deserve well deserve mention here since in their encounters they become something to dread whenever they show up. The infamous few that are just as much as our beloved Cape Crusader himself: 1. Owlman 2. The Wrath (I & II) 3. Hellhound 4. Catman 5. Killer Moth and finally the best for last. 6. Prometheus. Why him? Because he single handedly out bested the whole entire JLA! And of course, to add more to this already hellish mentioning of true evils that mirror the Batman to a T. We have Joker, Two-Face, Riddler, Scarecrow to name the few that mirror him just as well. Albeit, not as close as the aforementioned doppelgangers before them but just as bad.
- There's also dark mirrors of Bruce Wayne as well to add more to the fuel. Thomas Elliot a.k.a Hush is the perfect closest to a doppelganger to Bruce. The irony that these two share when they were once childhood friends to one another's families and to each other. At the same time both suffered the losses of their mothers and fathers. The only slight difference? Bruce lost his family through heart wrenching tragedy. Thomas on the other hand, lost his through his own means. He sought personal independence due to the many years of abuse from his father and frail mother and wanted to obtain his inheritance sooner. He cut his parent's tire breaks on their car and manages to kill his own father, yet his mother was saved by the exceptional operational skill of Dr. Thomas Wayne fueling his hate for the Waynes. Years later he finished what he started by suffocating his own mother in cold blood with a pillow, all as the world thought that it was just a simple household accident. He murdered them just to obtain the family fortune. And he resents Bruce because he obtained his through true loss BEFORE his own family's demise. Hush's sole purpose in life is to destroy both the Batman and Bruce Wayne and will stop at nothing to accomplish his goals.
- Roman Sionis. Or as his well known alias in crime, The Black Mask. Roman is another dark image on what would of happened or came to be if Bruce was a remorseless business mongol. Roman Sionis's road to crime began because of a few mistakes on his poor planning and control in business. Seeing turmoil of Roman's mistakes, Bruce Wayne bought the struggling business from Roman and relieved him of his control and began fluctuating his once previously owned business the Janus Cosmetic company and began making it return in booming success. Roman was outraged by this. In turn he founded the False Face Society and undertook many autocracies and became a big player in the criminal underworld. Not only does he deal in the "arrangements" of his business against his own associates or rivals alike, he makes sure that he get's his points across as best as he can. And as a Bonus! During a certain moment in Batman's crime fighting career, during a bout against the Dark Knight. Roman's desperate attempt to thwart Batman and Robin at his father's manor ended up with Roman setting it ablaze. Desperate to flee the burning structure, Batman and Robin incapacitate his legs with a batarang attached cable causing him to fall face first into his engulfed flaming toys causing his horrific accident into fruition. Roman ended up searing the very mask that is forever bound to his face. His face, now a grimacing skull of hate and rage as an untitled vendetta against Batman and his allies. He should definitely be mentioned here for the horrific inducing moments that he has delivered in Gotham City.
- Batman's disturbing portrayal of drug dependency in Venom which has a good dose of Nightmare Fuel and Truth in Television thrown in full spades. Part of the Legends of the Dark Knight anthology series (issues 16-20). Batman's reason to turning towards the fictional synthetic drug is because he failed to save one little girl from drowning to death in a cavernous section of the sewer. He ends up working unwillingly with the creator of the very drug and father of said aforementioned girl, Randolph Porter. and begins developing sensational use of the drug. Batman starts undergoing many changes (physically, psychologically and through motor functions). It's hard to read the whole story from beginning to end since we get to see first hand that Batman's reliance and dependency on Venom ends up showing an almost rarely seen human side of him. Begging and pleading for more of the stuff and wallowing in himself inside. And besides being weak, he becomes more highly deranged with occasional roid rages and actually enjoys causing pain and suffering on his foes (surprisingly without nearly killing them!). It's both disturbing and sad to see the beloved Dark Knight into a big shambling drug user. And not only does it affect him, but it also nearly destroys the kindled friendships of Commissioner James Gordon and Alfred, with him beginning to question Bruce's health and well being. In order for Bruce to overcome the addiction, he needed to isolate himself for a straight 30 days in his own cave! As you might expect, during his detoxing period. He undergoes various craves and also suffers horrific hallucinations. This very arc from beginning to end is just Nightmare Fuel to begin with. Oh! And if you think just the description itself is bad... Wait till you get a◊ load of◊ This!◊
- Two-Face. Harvey Dent's bout with his "evil" side of himself holds many classic struggles of one's internal thoughts. Not only is he unpredictable, well organized and wily. But, he's also shown to be adept and highly dangerous. From his obsession with the number two (.22 caliber guns, second place trophies, the 2nd National Banks, etc.) judging people's fate by a flip of his scarred sided coin, to being a creepy Stalker with a Crush with Renee Montoya. Everybody knows of his horrific mangled left sided face. But when you really delve deep into his character and history, one can understand and summarize on what drove him to becoming on who or what he is. All because of one instance during court by a certain thug Salvatore Maroni testifying during the infamous "Holiday" murders.
- Killer Croc. A terrifying semi-human monster. He's completely ruthless, has the strength of a crocodile, and he can regenerate. As time as gone on, his mind has regressed more and more into that of a deranged animal. He now resides in he sewers beneath Gotham and preys on anyone unfortunate enough to get lost down there.
- Something that sets Croc apart from a lot of Batman's other villains is the fact he wasn't exposed to toxins, caught in a freak lab accident, given special drugs, nor did he perform experiments on himself. He was born like this.
- To add more fuel to the fire. Here's the legendary image that might be a good way (in the victim's perspective) to show how horrifying he is. Definitely a hideous sight before one's demise. Here's the link.◊
- Bane. Bane is a merciless, blood thirsty, intelligent, tactical, brutal person. He is the only person still remembered for delivering the legendary finishing blow in the 1993 story arch Knightfall. The blow that not only shattered Batman's spinal cord and forcing the Dark Knight into a breif retirement but also ruined him spiritually as well. Even after the "Knightsaga" Bane is still a nightmarish force to be reckoned with. His highlights on the list? Lets have a look! Bane fought Killer Croc to a stand still Handicapped without the use of his precious Venom.. He murders his father in a justifiable yet still dark Disproportionate Retribution his father was King Snake, a terrorist leader, martial artist and ruler of a terrorist organization called Kobra.. And if you really want to be in his crosshairs, wait till he juices up with Venom. Being a dark mirror (like many villains that go against Batman) it goes to show how utterly terrifying Bane can be just like his rival.
- Clayface. Formerly a prestigious actor acclaimed for a certain role, now he is just a sadistic, psychopathic killer. Sure, a humongous, hulking mud body may not be that scary to some (though it really depends on the source material), but think about this: he can physically turn into anybody. From your best buddy, to your loving partner, even to your mom or dad. And you may not even realise it, until he decides to turn you into a pasty red smear.
- If that isn't enough to lose sleep over, there's also always high wonderful levels of Body Horror involved. Shapeshifting abilities aside for infiltration purposes. He can morph various parts of his body into deadly solid matter or weapons. Even capable of smothering his victims within his very body... shudders*
- Ra's al Ghul. A man who has lived a millennia throughout time and many centuries come and gone. A man who in his mind was cursed than truly blessed. His cynicism towards his fellow man is horrid yet, somewhat understandingly truthful. Seeing humanity grow greedy and vile throughout the years he decided to take upon himself his supposed best course of action to take. Which is pure global genocide. There was a time that Batman actually agreed (in an understanding and intellectual conversation) about his view. Yet is disgusted that it has to involve the many lives that it would cost. Batman stands his ground and protects all life which in Ra's eyes is most unfortunate.
- Not only that, having to witness the rise and fall of empires and containing many world knowledge makes him a worthy and terrifying foe in Batman's gallery of pure evil. And if that wasn't enough. There's always the dreadful temporary side effects of the Lazarus pit The user would under go temporary insanity and blood lust. Often attacking friend or foe alike with little to no remorse.
- The sheer fanaticism of the man in pursuit of his twisted "ecological" goals is frightening. We are talking about a man who cheerfully supported the Holocaust. Worse, we are talking about a man who not only allowed his own daughter to be put in a concentration camp, he actually showed up at the camp to talk to her, dismiss her begging for salvation for herself or at least her children, and explicitly state that this is necessary. Both to cull humanity's numbers, and because she had the audacity to not agree with his genocidal plans.
- How about the fact that, in recent years at least, the publishers have stopped presenting him as anything other than a delusional madman enraptured with his own immortality and status as a "living god" who clings to his goals so he doesn't have to admit he's just a monster?