When most fans talk about their favorite comic book shows, Gotham is normally not the first show that comes to mind for them, which is a massive shame. While the first season of the series was a very poor debut, it very much became a great show after the second season began. It is unfortunate that most people do not view the series in a positive light. Gotham is quite possibly one of the most underrated comic book shows ever made. One of the best aspects of the show was definitely the villains. Each antagonist that appeared chewed the scenery in almost every episode. In honor of this extremely underrated comic book series, here is a list of the ten best villains to appear in Gotham:
10. Ivy Pepper/Poison Ivy: I started off on a bad note with this character as Ivy Pepper originally seemed nothing like the Poison Ivy from the comics. Clare Foley did a great job as a snarky younger version and Maggie Ghea was very entertaining when they aged the character up to be an adult. However, this did not feel like Poison Ivy. Poison Ivy is meant to be a manipulative eco-terrorist with a fiery hatred of humanity. The version we saw in the first three seasons was a just a friend of Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) who wanted to help Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) because…I’m honestly still not even sure. However, once the role was recast with Peyton List, we were given a much more accurate version of Poison Ivy. List’s portrayal felt like a comic book character brought to life. She was intimidating, seductive, obsessed with plants and everything Poison Ivy should be. It almost makes up for Uma Thurman’s portrayal of the character…almost.
9. Butch Gilzean/Solomon Grundy: Of all villains to appear on this list, Butch Gilzean (Drew Powell) is definitely the least sadistic. Outside of being an underboss for several crime lords, Butch is a somewhat decent person. Two main traits that stick with him throughout the show is his love for the highly skilled assassin Tabitha Galavan (Jessica Lucas) and his desire to not be seen as some sort of dumb muscle. Butch suffers quite a bit during the show’s run. From being brainwashed to getting his hand chopped off by Penguin, this character is one of the few people who almost never gets a break. Butch’s persistence and down to earth nature is what makes him so interesting. When he becomes Solomon Grundy in season 4, it is rather off-putting. One of the best aspects of Butch’s character was his normal personality compared to the other villains. However, after he gets his memory back and tries to reverse his condition, he once again becomes a fascinating character. Granted, getting his memory back by getting hit in the head is a bizarre and rather easy way to solve the amnesia problem, but it allows for more great character development. His death at Penguin’s hands is one of the few times I actually felt sorry for a villain on a show. Butch is absolutely one of the most underrated characters in Gotham and Powell’s performance should definitely not go unnoticed.
8. Lazlo Valentin/Professor Pyg: Now here is a character that I never thought I would see in live action. Professor Pyg has always been one of the creepiest villains in the Batman comics despite only making his debut in 2007. However, aside from the Arkham video games, I did not think it was possible to adapt this character to live-action. Gotham definitely subverted my expectations in the best way possible by giving a more grounded take on the character. This version at first seemed like a serial killer who aims to get revenge on Penguin by killing a number of corrupt police officers who accepted bribes from the crime lord. However, he is later revealed to be a southern contract killer hired by Sofia Falcone (Crystal Reed) to help her take power. While some may not like this interpretation, I am very much open to this version. Much of that is due to Michael Cerveris’ terrifying performance. His take on Professor Pyg is exactly how imagined the character in live-action. His Hannibal Lecter-like conflict with Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is a delight to watch, as you really feel Jim’s struggle to take down this monster. While he was only in five episodes, Professor Pyg proved that the villains in this show don’t have to be a major character to leave a lasting impression. If this antagonist was to appear in a movie, it would be very hard to top Cerveris as the character.
7. Victor Zsasz: Sometimes a villain can be amazing even when they are extremely different from their comic book counterpart. Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan) is an assassin for hire and someone who most of the criminals rightfully fear. Zsasz is shown to work for many villains during the show’s run, including Carmine Falcone (John Doman), Penguin and even Ivy. While he is a skilled hitman who rarely ever shows mercy to his targets, Zsasz is not someone that you can really hate in this show. Carrigan’s performance and the writing for the character allow Zsasz to be one of the funniest characters in Gotham with his hilarious wit and outlandish moments throughout the series. He may not be the greatest antagonist to appear in the show, but he is absolutely one of the most entertaining.
6. Jervis Tetch/The Mad Hatter: This show did something for the Mad Hatter that I did not think was ever possible. It made him scary. Arguably the main villain of the third season, Jervis Tetch (Benedict Samuel) is a hypnotist in search of his sister Alice, a woman who possesses a virus that can turn anyone into a bloodthirsty monster only fueled by rage. Unlike some of the villains introduced in Gotham, Tetch is already an unstable psychopath who enjoys killing people. His own sister has a very understandable hatred of him, not that it stops him from going after her to “save” her. When Alice is accidentally killed while trying to escape her brother, Tetch falls off the deep end and blames Gordon for her death. Tetch ruthlessly murders several innocent people to take his revenge against Gordon and continues to be an overarching threat even after he is captured. He becomes even worse in season 4, as he takes the city hostage by hypnotizing hundreds of civilians to all jump off of a building at midnight. The antagonists in Gotham have done many horrible things, but this may be one of the most evil acts committed in the entire show. Samuel is phenomenal as Tetch, using an unsettling sophisticated demeanor whenever he shows up and almost always rhyming when he speaks. I have to hand it to Gotham. I didn’t think I would ever be able to take the Mad Hatter seriously in live-action, but I was thankfully proven wrong.
5. Ra’s al Ghul: You obviously can’t do a Batman show without his second greatest enemy. The leader of the League of Shadows and the man behind the Court of Owls, Ra’s al Ghul (Alexander Siddig) plots to have Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) become his heir by plunging Gotham into chaos in order to mold the young hero into becoming its dark knight. In addition to causing Gotham a great amount of suffering with both the League and Court of Owls, Ra’s is also responsible for the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, meaning that he is arguably the most important villain in the show. Ra’s wreaked havoc during the fourth season and continued to leave a lasting impact even after his death. I think Matt Nable and Liam Neeson are incredible actors who both gave very solid interpretations of Ra’s al Ghul, but neither of them came close to being as great in their portrayal as Alexander Siddig. This might be one of the most perfect castings in a comic book show ever. Siddig pretty much excels in every scene he is featured in and has terrific chemistry with Mazouz. If I could nitpick absolutely anything about this character, it would be that the show barely used him. They killed him off in the fifth episode of season 4 and just when it seemed like he would stick around after he was brought back to life, they permanently got rid of him in the season finale. First off, why would the show cast someone so perfect for the role if they were barely going to use him? Second, it is extremely confusing and frustrating that the show would just kill off Batman’s second greatest enemy in a show that is meant to take place before Batman even exists. Aside from that, this portrayal was absolutely perfect, and I hope that Siddig gets to play Ra’s in another Batman related project in the future.
4. Barbara Kean: Now here is a villain who is absolutely nothing like her comic book counterpart. Unlike Zsasz where there are some similarities, you might as well give this character a different name. However, that doesn’t mean Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) is a poorly written character. On the contrary, she is one of the most compelling individuals in the entire show. Originally the fiancé of Jim Gordon, Barbara goes insane after she is rejected by him and murders her own parents. Throughout the rest of the series, Barbara is portrayed as an unstable woman who associates herself with several villains such as Penguin, the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith) and Ra’s al Ghul, the last of whom ended up becoming her lover for a brief time. As each season goes by, she becomes more and more of a horrible person. However, during the final season she begins to have a change of heart and redeems herself by helping Jim save they city after becoming pregnant with his daughter. In my opinion, Erin Richards is the greatest actor on the show. You absolutely believe her descent into madness and still feel sorry for her during every scene. Even without the incredible writing, Richards’ performance alone sells the character.
3. Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska: I put these two characters together because they are honestly both amazing. Both played by Cameron Monaghan, Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska are two brothers who serve as the show’s take on the Joker. While it would have been nice to just see a simpler take on the clown prince of crime’s origin story, it was still a blast to watch these two. Jerome first appears in season 1 as a psychotic teenager who murdered his own mother for trivial reasons. During season 2, he is released by the corrupt socialite Theo Galavan (James Frain) and causes a great deal of chaos before being betrayed and killed by the latter. After being brought back to life by a cult that was dedicated to him, Jerome developed an obsession with Bruce and attempted to kill him in the most theatrical way possible. After returning once again to cause chaos in season 4, it is revealed that Jerome was merely a red herring for the real Joker. Jerome’s identical twin brother Jeremiah is more or less revealed to be Gotham’s true version of Batman’s greatest foe. Unlike Jerome, Jeremiah is more calm and intelligent, but even more dangerous. He also develops an obsession with Bruce, only it is even more depraved than Jerome’s. After causing Gotham to turn into a No Man’s Land with Ra’s al Ghul, Jeremiah continues to antagonize our heroes until the end of the show. While it is unfortunate that Jeremiah could never truly become the Joker due to rights issues, it is rather obvious that it is indeed him. There is a reason that these two brothers are arguably the most popular characters in the entire show. Monaghan has cemented himself as one of the best Jokers of all time and he didn’t even officially play him. If you are hesitant on watching Gotham, I would recommend at least checking out the episodes that feature Jerome and Jeremiah. They are absolutely iconic.
2. Edward Nygma/The Riddler: After Batman Forever, it became very hard to ever take the Riddler seriously in live-action. Leave it to Gotham to redeem Batman’s smartest villain. Starting out as a meek and nerdy forensic scientist at the GCPD, Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) is mainly a protagonist during the first season. However, after murdering a police officer (Zachary Spicer) who abused the woman he loved Kristen Kringle (Chelsea Spack), Nygma soon becomes an unstable individual who only gets worse as the series goes on. When Nygma accidentally murders Kristen after she threatens to turn him in, the former not only starts to kill more people, but also greatly enjoys doing so. Forming a close friendship with Oswald Cobblepot, Nygma begins his true journey into becoming the Riddler when he frames Jim Gordon for murdering a police officer. This results in Jim going to prison and having his romantic relationship with Lee Thompkins (Morena Barccarin) end. During the third season, Nygma officially became the Riddler and remained a constant threat until the end of the show, while also occasionally teaming up with the heroes. Smith’s performance is absolutely breathtaking, as he very much excels at showing the tragedy of the character’s story but also managing to be both greatly entertaining and frightening. If this list was based on the best character arcs for villains, Nygma would easily take the top spot.
1. Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin: While the Valeska twins were always entertaining and Nygma’s descent into villainy was a fascinating character arc, no one can really compete with the show’s version of The Penguin. Oswald Cobblepot starts out as an umbrella boy for the ambitious crime boss Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) before manipulating his way to becoming the biggest crime boss in Gotham towards the end of the first season. Afterwards, Penguin is forced to deal with several threats that are hurled towards him and his empire. It’s not often that you find yourself as a viewer rooting for the villain almost as much as the hero, but throughout Penguin’s constant struggles during the series, you really find yourself sympathizing with him. However, he is still shown to be an awful human being as each season goes by. From his odd friendship with Nygma to his fierce rivalry with Gordon, Penguin is the best villain in Gotham because we are able to follow him and get to know him more than anyone else on this list. Top it all off with an absolutely perfect performance from Robin Lord Taylor, and you have one of the best villains to ever appear in a DC television series.