When Gotham premiered on Fox in 2014, the hopes were dubious, to say the least.
A Batman series not using Batman seemed a dumb idea. It picks up right with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents and how rookie detective Jim Gordon handles the dark city.
The emphasis was on “before they were famous,” tracking how a variety of characters would become Batman’s future rogue’s gallery while handling regular crime stories.
But the series soon transformed itself by embracing its comic book roots. It used more Batman villains and soon became known for its wild twists and dark humor.
By the time it ended, the show had used scores of Batman enemies, even lesser-known ones like Firefly or Professor Pyg.
Ironically, Selina Kyle never fully became Catwoman on the show. Yet there was still an amazing array of villains, some better than the movie versions of the characters.
While these are the ten most memorable villains of Gotham, it says a lot there are nearly a dozen who could also rank high. It shows just how amazing this show was bringing the Batman mythos to life.
It took three actresses to bring the future Poison Ivy to life.
When she debuts, Ivy (Clare Foley) is a 12-year-old friend of Selina Kyle. A plant-loving street urchin, Ivy, had a run-in with a metahuman. This caused her to physically grow into a25-year-old woman.
Now played by Maggie Ghea, this Ivy controlled people with plants. She still kept her child-like mind while enjoying her new appearance.
Ivy mutated herself further, taking on a new body (Peyton List) and a colder mentality. This is more like the Ivy of the comics, using her power over plants to attack people and obsessed with “saving” the planet.
The latter Ivy was the darkest as it showed the character growing into a top villainess.
One of Gotham’s best moments was the discovery that a random character was actually one from the comics.
Butch started out as the right hand for the Penguin but soon changed loyalties, seemingly at will. This led to him being shot and left for dead.
At which point, it turned out Butch was Cyrus Gold and transformed into the super-strong, nearly unstoppable Solomon Grundy.
Drew Powell did a fine job with the various Butches, showing an odd friendship with Penguin, a love for Tabitha, and a surprising heart under his brutish manner.
His end was truly sad as despite all his harsh deeds, Butch was one of the show’s best characters.
Ra’s al Ghul
Batman’s ancient enemy debuted on the show in season three before becoming a powerful force in season four.
Portrayed by Alexander Siddig, Ra’s was the centuries-old leader of the League of Shadows. Interestingly, he tired of his long life and wanted “freed” from it. This involved tricking Bruce into killing him.
Ra’s resurrected as a darker figure obsessed with power closer to his comic book counterpart.
Even in a weakened state, he was a master fighter, and his centuries of life made him a chess master of the highest order.
Siddig’s performance aided in making a more sympathetic Ra’s yet reminding fans why he’s one of Batman’s greatest foes.
A theme of the series was exploring how the power of the Gotham underworld shifted from traditional crime families to the “freaks.”
Fish Mooney is notable as she was created for the series, not the comics. Jada Pinkett Smith was an inspired casting choice to be one of the show’s first top villains.
Even as the freaks rose to power, Fish could show her strength and conniving nature.
Fish seemed to die, but later returned. She now had the power to control people by touch, which fit her dominant nature. Her later appearances were sadly brief, yet she was always captivating in them.
Fish was one of the most important villains in the show’s history, with Pinkett Smith making her a force even among these super-crooks.
The Mad Hatter
Gotham transformed this somewhat ridiculous villain into one of its most terrifying threats.
Rather than hats with mind-control chips, Jervis Tetch is a master hypnotist who can control almost anyone’s mind. He’s also completely insane, with Benedict Samuel capturing his utter madness.
Between his obsession with Alice in Wonderland and his unpredictable mood swings, Tetch was truly disturbing. The fact he could control anyone (sometimes without even knowing it) made it worse.
Even the other Gotham freaks were wary of trusting Tetch as there was no telling what the man would do.
A true master of mind games, Tetch was one of the darkest, yet captivating, villains of the show.
In the comics, Victor Zsasz is a serial killer who “notches” his own body for each kill. The Gotham version had him a more traditional hitman.
What made Zsasz stand out was his terrific sense of humor. Sure, he can put a bullet into someone without qualms, yet he can also get some hilarious one-liners.
Anthony Carrigan was terrific, selling Zsasz’s charisma and how he would constantly shift loyalties around the series. His gun skills made him a great hire and also fun to watch.
While he wasn’t as crazy as other enemies, Zsasz was one of the best baddies to watch on the show.
No one could have guessed what a terrific character Barbara Kean was going to be.
She spent the first season as Jim Gordon’s dutiful wife, rather flat and annoying. That all changed when an attack caused her to snap and embrace a wilder persona.
Erin Richards gloriously turned Barbara into a mob boss and twisted lunatic. Her one-liners were great, as was her bizarre love-hate relationship with Gordon.
There was also her bond with Tabitha and even her becoming the new Ra’s al Ghul. The woman could hold her own in a gunfight as well as outsmart even the Riddler.
While she ended the show relatively sane, Barbara was truly one of Gotham’s best baddies.
It seems odd that Batman’s greatest enemy ranks lower on the Gotham rung. Yet, he made the most of his appearances.
Jerome (Cameron Monaghan) was a circus worker already showing a dark and twisted side when he debuted. He eventually scarred his face into a huge grin to become a crazed criminal.
In a wild twist, Jerome had a mild-mannered twin brother named Jeremiah. Even wilder, when Jerome died, he left behind a gas that drove his twin just as crazy.
It’s Jeremiah who ends the series becoming the Joker comic book fans know. Yet both twins showed the dark madness that only the Joker was capable of as a memorable part of the show.
From the beginning, there was something off about Edward Nygma.
The first season had Eddie as a crime scene tech who would annoy the cops with his riddles. Eventually, his obsessions got the best of him as he became a dark, split persona.
Cory Michael Smith perfectly captured Edward’s ego and the need to prove he’s the smartest man around. He also showed the darker nature of Nygma, not afraid to dish out violence if he had to.
His twisted relationship with the Penguin gave him some heart despite his evil.
It was better seeing the Riddler as the arrogant know-it-all who could back up his brilliance in the Gotham underworld.
The evolution of the Penguin to the top of the Gotham underworld was brilliant.
Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) is a low-level mob flunky about to be killed when the show begins. His conniving mind and ability to backstab anyone around him pushed Oswald to rise the ladder of power.
Taylor’s performance is exceptional, with funny lines yet also a dark side. When he discovers his own family murdered his father, Oswald dishes out a revenge that would make the Joker wince.
Oswald even had a run as Mayor of Gotham only to return to his criminal roots. The series ended with him in his classic look with a monocle and umbrella to cap off his fantastic run as Gotham’s best crook.
Gotham seasons 1-5 streaming on Netflix.