Everyone loves a redemption story. Batman’s entire career is centered on the idea of rehabilitation. Why else send all of his most notorious villains to Arkham Asylum? Sure, they do escape quite often, and the conditions of the facility could be better. But the idea, the hope, is that someday, somehow, these gifted and terrible minds might find a way through their madness. And on occasion, it’s even been known to happen -- though the transition rarely sticks. Don’t believe us? Here are 5 of Batman’s greatest adversaries who have gone totally legit.
Redemption Arc: ‘Detective Comics’ #934-981
When ‘Rebirth’ began, Batman assembled a team of some of his greatest allies to work together in forging a new future for Gotham: Red Robin, Batwoman, Spoiler, Orphan, and… Clayface? The inclusion of one of Batman’s most monstrous villains threw us all for a loop when he appeared with the “Gotham Knights” on the cover of ‘Detective Comics’ #934. But over the course of writer James Tynion IV’s run, we learned to sympathize with Clayface’s sincere desire to absolve himself of his past crimes, and his yearning to become human once more. It’s as his unlikely friendship grows with teammate Cassandra Cain that we realize, perhaps, Clayface never stopped being human after all.
#4: Harley Quinn
Redemption Arc: ‘Harley Quinn’ (2013)
They say that laughter is the best medicine. Granted, in Gotham City, it can often be fatal. That may be why Harley Quinn only found a place of her own in this world by leaving Gotham behind and taking up residence in Coney Island. With her relationship with The Joker in the rearview mirror, Harley’s spent the better part of the last six years forging her own path, with her own friends and family, far, far away from the shadow of the bat. Could you call her a hero? Don’t make her laugh. But at least she got her own sweet animated series out of the deal, coming soon to DC Universe.
#3: The Riddler
Redemption Arc: ‘Detective Comics’ #822-845
Riddle me this: when is a crook no longer crooked? The answer: when he’s gone straight. Taking a note from his own work on the classic ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ episode “Riddler Reformed,” writer Paul Dini reintroduced us to The Riddler in his ‘00s ‘Detective’ run as, well… the titular ‘Detective.’ After a head injury cleared Riddler’s mind of the great secret he surmised in ‘Batman: Hush,’ The Riddler began a new approach to proving his intellect above all others: he would solve every crime in Gotham City before even the Batman. This jovial rivalry between the World’s Greatest and Greenest Detectives allowed for a dynamic rarely seen in 80 years of Batman comics, and remains one of the stand-out takes on the character to this day. But The Riddler does get bored quite easily, and it was just a matter of time before returning to his old criminal ways. Perhaps when solving crimes becomes more interesting than committing them, we’ll see Riddler reform once more.
#2: The Joker
Redemption Arc: ‘Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight’ #65-68
Batman’s greatest enemy has often justified himself by arguing that without Batman, The Joker couldn’t exist. In 1994’s “Going Sane,” that theory is put to the test. After he appears to kill Batman after a typical showdown, The Joker finds himself returning to lucidity — or, at least, his own approximation of lucidity. As “Joseph Kerr,” The Joker claims no memory of his past life, and settles down in Gotham with an accounting job, a new girlfriend, and a lot of cream for his skin condition. All he remembers of the devil he once was is that he recently suffered a death in the family. Could this be a happy ending for The Joker? Only if Batman stays down for good… and we all know that’s never gonna happen.
Redemption Arc: 'Batman' #404-407
To redeem Catwoman, Frank Miller and Dave Mazzucchelli went back to the very beginning. As the only one of Batman’s villains to appear in this essential retelling of his origin, Catwoman was hardly depicted as a villain at all — rather, as a street-tough lady who scrapped tooth and claw for her place in a hostile city, and justice for the people she cared about. Catwoman became a figure who stole from the rich to give to the poor, though granted she always kept the shiniest stuff for herself. (And it was always just as much about hurting Gotham’s greediest in their wallets as it was about wealth distribution.) In 1988, Catwoman’s redemption story continued in a 4 issue limited series which went even deeper into the enigma of Selina Kyle. And when Michelle Pfeiffer played her on screen in ‘Batman Returns,’ Catwoman’s status as an anti-heroic paramour to the Dark Knight was set for good. Today, Selina no longer just catwalks her own path to redemption, but she may be the only key to Batman’s as well.
Of course, these aren’t the only redemption stories in Gotham City. The Penguin has often straddled the line between criminality and legitimacy. Man-Bat’s path to heroism continues today in the pages of ‘Justice League Dark.’ And no matter what happens between them, Batman will always believe in Harvey Dent, just as he believes in the inherent justice that anyone can turn from the darkness into the light.