The basic premise behind the TV show Gotham is, in part, showing the origin stories of many of Batman's rogue's gallery before they were super villains. If you view the show as describing a Gotham City that will eventually become what we see in the comics, it's obvious that all of these villains were horrible criminals long before Bruce Wayne donned a mask.

On the other hand, one of the ideas that is put out there by The Dark Knight is that most of these villains, like the Joker, only exist because Batman exists; the presence of a masked superhero is producing masked supervillains to compensate.

In the Batman comic source material, which of these is more accurate? If there were no Batman, would there not be any supervillains, or would the supervillains run rampant over Gotham with no one to stop them? Has the answer changed across DC reboots?

(This is actually a very common accusation made against superheros; it's very recently been used on Arrow as well, where I don't think it even stands up in-universe. I'm asking specifically about Batman, but parallel information from other DC superheros would also be interesting.)


3 Answers 3


It depends. Sometimes Batman is responsible for creating super-villains himself, sometimes he creates them indirectly and sometimes he doesn't have anything with it . Here are examples of all three

In New52 comics "Batman: Zero Year" he and Red Hood fought and Red Hood fell in chemicals thus creating Joker. Here Batman is personally responsible for creating Joker

What has remained the most consistent is that his first encounter with the Batman was while he was acting in the identity of the "Red Hood," along with a gang of other thugs, committing a robbery in or near the Ace Chemical Processing Plant. During this robbery he either tripped into a vat of chemicals, or was accidentally pushed in by Batman.

Poison Ivy was on other hand created indirectly by Bruce Wayne in "Batman: Zero Year"

Bruce Wayne came to look in on Pamela's division when she took the opportunity to present him with a business project that would cut his advertising division by 100%. In fact, she had used pheromones to get the meeting with him, and this was her proof that Wayne Enterprises could use pheromones to target clients, and modify their behaviour to the company's benefit. Wayne refused her pitch on the grounds that it amounted to brainwashing, and removed free choice from the equation. Ethically opposed to her idea, Bruce Wayne fired her on the spot, warning that his company owned any research she had done, so she would not be able to pitch her idea elsewhere.

Angrily, she had rushed past security to steal what she could of her work back, specifically a plant serum that she had made from all of her knowledge in botanical research, which she alone knew how to make. Unfortunately, in the process, she was doused with her own chemicals. The chemicals changed her, making her immune to poisons and viruses, giving her command over any plant,

As for Scarecrow, his father is mostly responsible for his creation.

When Jonathan Crane was a child, his father conducted many experiments, trying to comprehend the emotion of fear. Unable to use proper test subjects, Dr. Crane used Jonathan as his guinea pig.As part of the experiments, Jonathan was locked inside a little dark room while his father examined the test's effects on his son. One day however, during one of the experiments, Dr. Crane experienced a heart attack and died, leaving young Jonathan still trapped in the pitch black test chamber.

As a result of this event, he was traumatized most of his childhood until, eventually, Jonathan decided that if he could control fear, he would never have to live in it again. He soon developed an obsession with his goal and became a psychologist with a concentration in phobias. Not waiting long to put his degree to use, Crane began using patients as test subjects to develop a project that he would later call "Fear Toxin". The gas, when inhaled, would cause his victims to hallucinate about their worst fears.

Crane, adopting the alias "the Scarecrow", soon became a threat to Gotham City, as he took criminal measures to perfect his fear gas.

This is of course all happening in New 52 universe

  • 1
    The Red Hood/Joker origin story is the same in The Killing Joke - Batman knocked Red Hood into a vat of chemicals, and out popped The Joker.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 13:09
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    This is true, though I think cases where Batman literally creates a supervillain I would exclude as outliers. The interesting question, IMO, is whether the intent is that if Batman hadn't been around, would someone like Penguin or Riddler have adopted such dramatic personas and taken over the city because they could? or would they never have thought of that, and just have been run-of-the-mill crooks the rest of their lives?
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 15:38
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    @MikeEdenfield I actually had a whole college course around this subject. It very much is a whole who came first the chicken or the egg scenario. If Batman didn't exist as a superhero would these criminals ever become supervillains, did they adapt to that level of evil simply because they were faced with an adversary with that level of good. With Batman and Jokers semi-codependant symbiotic relationship to where neither really wants to kill the other if one were to die would the other continue, etc.
    – DasBeasto
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 15:57
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    @Mike Edenfield I think that you can use Scarecrow example on that. He had no connection to Batman, and Batman had nothing to do with Scarecrow being created. As for Penguin he was saved by Bruce before he became Batman so if Bruce didn't exist it is possible that Oswald would die blimp or some other way. But he was crime lord before that. So it doesn't really matter, bad people will exist, but since Batman is more that common law enforcer, criminals become more that common criminals. Sometimes Batman just Being Batmen encouraged common criminals to become super-villains. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 16:09
  • You forgot Two Face. At least in the old animated show, Harvey became Two Face because... he knocked him into a vat of chemicals...
    – RubberDuck
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 21:56

Kind of. The Meta-answer is that there has to be someone interesting for the hero to fight, and not much of a story before there is nor after there is... You can see that explored in the webcomic Strong Female Protagonist and other superhero deconstructions. As for the comics, the answers will vary wildly depending on how far back you go. For example, the Batman in the Nolan Trilogy is more akin to Frank Miller's interpretation of Batman... which was created over 40 years after Batman was. The ORIGINAL original Batman, (Batman #1 in 1940) the Joker was just a serial killer, Catwoman was just a burglar. The original Green Arrow (and Speedy!) fought against robbers, arsonists, killers, and smugglers. The Flash (Jay Garrick) was the only one who had villains with powers out of the gate, with the likes of The Thinker, the Fiddler, Reverse Flash (called "The Rival"), et cetera.

In the Dark Knight, and later the Dark Knight Rises, both the Joker and Bane argue that they have to be there because Batman is there. A portion of that is the what is referred to as the escalation, as power creep. It's referenced in Batman Begins, by Gordon:

We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds

It starts with normal crime (a mugger shooting Bruce's parents, a carjacker killing Uncle Ben, Oliver Queen putting an arrow into those who failed his city), but then evil rises to meet the force. It is more cut & Dry with Superman Comics (and movies) because Superman is already a giant powerspike. But with the better designed superheros (Batman, flash, Green Arrow, Spiderman, Daredevil) there's already waves of crime to fight against, and the longer the series goes, there's a slow crawl upwards. As you see in Gotham (and to lesser extents in Daredevil, Arrow and The Flash), the directors are taking that a step farther, showing you the origination of their respective host of villains by showing before they donned masks... they were already villains.

  • 1
    I do see this escalation, and that's a legitimate point; the existing villains do have to step up their game to deal with superheros, etc. But I guess what I'm asking for, and in Batman specifically because I don't know all of the origin stories from his villains... were these villains on the path to become costumed supervillains even if Batman did not exist? Gotham is implying that Cobblepot was always destined to become the over-the-top crazy supervillain character "Penguin"...
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 15:41
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    I just HAVE to point out... "catwoman is a burger".... nice typo there :D
    – Patrice
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 19:18
  • Oh hey, I forgot about Strong Female Protagonist. I should catch up on that one.
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 20:22
  • @Patrice amusing, but fixed anyway :)
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 20:49

The answer after Crisis on Multiple Earths is NO. Gotham was home to Alan Scott as Green Lantern in the 40s and 50s who had his own set of villains. Prior to crisis Earth 2 was no for the same reason, Earth 1 it is possible.

Post new 52 and post, post new 52 I am so confused I have no idea.

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