When it comes to hand-to-hand combat, there are very few out there better than the Batman. Trained in over 127 different styles of martial arts, Batman and his team have continually demonstrated their skill and tenacity in going blow-for-blow with some of the deadliest villains in the DC Universe. In fact, their only real handicap is their limit as normal human beings…and yet, it’s those very limitations that have us rooting for them time and time again. For this week’s House of List-ery, let’s look at ten of the very best fights Batman and his allies have had over the years.
1) Batman’s First Fight with Ra’s al Ghul
Ra’s al Ghul a.k.a. “The Demon’s Head” is one of the most dangerous men on the planet—and one of Batman’s mortal enemies. Yet, an unspoken respect has always existed between the two of them. Both men dedicate their lives to correcting the wrongs of the world yet operate on opposite sides of the law.
When Batman first encountered Ra’s al Ghul, he was confronted with Ra’s conviction for restoring the planet, his vast financial and intellectual wealth, and his penchant for theatrics. After uncovering Ra’s al Ghul’s plot to destroy the Earth, the Dark Knight is determined to put an end to the madman’s scheme and agrees to a duel to test their fighting skills against one another. Shirtless against the harsh desert sun, Batman and Ra’s battle by sword for hours, pushing each other to their physical limits. Ultimately, Batman is felled by a random sting of a scorpion’s tail (or is it random, and not planted by Ra’s for insurance...?) and collapses. Secretly saved by Talia, Batman would eventually make his way to Ra’s encampment and beat him unconscious, beginning the immortal rivalry between the two men.
2) Tarantula Ruins Oracle’s Date Night
In Devin Grayson’s run on Nightwing, the villain Tarantula was a hired gun sent by the crime boss Blockbuster to kill Oracle as a way of hurting her then-boyfriend Nightwing. Tracking the couple to a Gotham City restaurant while they’re out of costume, Tarantula attacks the two in public, expecting an easy kill. Unfortunately for her, she had no idea of Barbara Gordon’s skill leven, taking several whacks from the Escrima sticks she keeps hidden in her wheelchair.
What’s sad about this fight is that Oracle handles Tarantula easily, and likely would defeat her if not for Dick’s interference. Despite Barbara’s insistence that he stay out of it, Dick throws himself in the middle of the fight, only to get beaten back by Tarantula who surprises him with a kiss to throw him off balance. Dick remains on the floor humiliated, while Tarantula escapes, but not before Barbara throws a sharp fork into the fleeing killer’s leg to leave as a memory. Tarantula returns to her employer shocked and confused as to how the paraplegic she was ordered to kill was able to send her packing with bruises and a limp.
3) Batman Battles His Dark Reflection
In Batman Special #1, we meet the Wrath—an expert assassin adorned in a dark purple and red costume who is unrivaled in the art of killing. So masterful is he at his chosen career that it isn’t all that surprising when we learn he is the equal and opposite of Batman in every way. Both men lost their parents to gun violence on the exact same night, only Wrath’s were killed by a young Officer Gordon while intercepting a robbery.
Twenty-five years later, Wrath as set his sights on his parents’ killer. Caught in the crossfire are Alfred, Leslie Thompkins and Grayle Hudson, the daughter of a crime boss also killed by Gordon who initially hires Wrath to get revenge. The final battle takes place on a rooftop above Crime Alley, where Batman and Gordon briefly trick Wrath into believing he’s murdered the Commissioner.
Once Gordon is out of harm’s way, however, fists start flying and two decades of martial expertise are put to the test in a violent battle waged high over the streets of Gotham. Pulling an incendiary from his utility belt, Wrath accidentally sets the rooftop on fire and is flipped over the edge. He falls too quickly for Batman to catch him, and while the day—and the Commissioner—are saved, Batman feels that he saw a version of himself die in front of him.
4) Nightwing vs. Shrike
The origins of this battle go back to the former Boy Wonder’s childhood! First appearing in Robin: Year One, Shrike was originally the mantle of an assassin who was training a group of orphans in both thievery and martial arts. When Dick Grayson was temporarily fired as Robin, he ran away from Wayne Manor and fell in with the clique of young thieves. Witnessing the deadly nature of their crimes, Dick alerts Batman to their whereabouts, motivating the original Shrike to take his own life. However, one of his pupils—Boone—is taken in by the League of Assassins and inherits Shrike’s mantle.
Years later, Boone has Nightwing kidnapped and held upside down in chains. Deducing that he is the former Robin, he plans for revenge, unaware that Oracle and Black Canary have been alerted to Nightwing’s whereabouts and that Dick has wrestled himself from his chains. Confronting his kidnapper, Nightwing fights Shrike in an underground sewer and the two men take out years of built-up aggression on each other. Sleep deprived and badly beaten, Dick’s fighting at a disadvantage, but goes into overdrive when Black Canary finds herself in danger of being strangled. Nightwing beats Shrike by dismantling him with pressure point attacks and hits on his most sensitive nerve endings, proving once and for all which former orphan reigns supreme.
5) Ten Nights of the Beast
An often overlooked but nonetheless incredibly dangerous opponent, the KGBeast first arrived on the scene in 1988 on a mission to assassinate ten US officials, including then-President Ronald Reagan. In Batman #419, the Dark Knight chases the Beast up a long elevator shaft and across the skyline of the city. Tying up his wrist with a rope while the Dark Knight hangs over the side of a skyscraper, Batman figures he has the Beast cornered. But he underestimates his foe’s perseverance as KGBeast quickly chops off his own hand to escape.
Later, after saving the life of President Reagan, Batman tracks KGBeast into a sewer. Hoping to ambush Batman, KGBeast hides in a closet, but Batman’s knowledge of the sewers has him simply trap the Beast inside until he faints from loss of air, food and water. Once the Beast is no longer a threat, he’s taken in by police.
6) Robin vs. KGBeast
Batman barely managed to defeat KGBeast, so what chance could Robin have? When the Russian mercenary resurfaced during the “Troika” storyline, Tim Drake had donned the Robin suit and become the third Boy Wonder.
Getting word of a nuclear threat said to be “the size of a baseball,” Robin finds himself face-to-face with the culprit, KGBeast. Alone and surrounded by fire, Tim fights valiantly, doing his best to hold off the Beast until Batman can arrive. When Robin rips off KGBeast’s cybernetic eyepatch, the villain pitches the compact nuclear device, content with dying alongside millions of Gothamites. Fortunately, Batman arrives in the nick of time to catch it before it could go off. Crisis averted.
7) Batman vs. Lady Shiva
No one strikes more fear in DC’s world of martial arts than Lady Shiva, the Bringer of Death. However, when they first met in Beirut, Batman was not expecting any competition.
The Dark Knight had traveled with Robin (Jason Todd) to learn the true identity of Jason’s mother, who was potentially a woman named Shiva Woosan. Seeking her out at a terrorist camp, it soon becomes clear that Shiva was not a kidnap victim but brought on board to train the terrorists. She quickly knocks Robin unconscious, leaving Batman to face her one-on-one.
Immediately, the Dark Knight realizes he’s in for the fight of his light, as he can’t see any of her moves coming and she weathers every blow he lands. It’s only when Robin comes to and throws himself into the fight that the tide turns, leaving Shiva vulnerable to a knockout blow from Batman—but just barely. She’s quickly tied up and later left on her own by Batman, who openly admits to not ever wanting to tangle with her again.
8) Batgirl Earns Deathstroke’s Respect
From one member of the Shiva family to another, this fight occurs in Nightwing #81. After being shot by Deathstroke, Nightwing asks Cassandra Cain to continue his investigation into Slade’s activity, aware that he’s gunning for his Blüdhaven PD partner, Amy Rohrbach.
Cass finds Slade’s hideout but is surprised by him before she can leave. The two go toe-to-toe, with Deathstroke continually impressed by Cassandra’s skill, who avoids every blow from him and lands several herself. He blows up his apartment and escapes, but not before the young Batgirl discovers a crucial piece of evidence. This also wouldn’t be the last time Cass and Slade would cross paths, as Deathstroke would return to set his daughter Rose against Batgirl, continually interested in testing her skills.
9) Fighting Dirty Against the Mutant Leader
In the Frank Miller classic Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, an aged Batman has come out of retirement and set his sights on the violent Mutant gang which has held Gotham City in a grip of terror. Learning of their whereabouts at the city dump, Batman wages an all-out assault on their base with a militarized Batmobile, before accepting a one-on-one challenge with the Mutant Leader.
Unfortunately, the Dark Knight quickly learns the hard way that even for Batman, age takes its toll. Failing to match the Leader’s speed and strength, Batman is nearly killed before he’s saved by Carrie Kelley, a young girl who eventually becomes his newest Robin.
That wouldn’t be the end, however. After regathering his strength, Batman rechallenges the Mutant Leader, this time fighting more intelligently and shrewdly than before to compensate for his weaker physical ability. Blinding him and weighing him down with mud, Batman defeats the Leader, signaling his supremacy over the gang.
10) Damian Wayne and Connor Hawke Make the Final Round
In Robin #8, Damian makes it to the final round of the mysterious Lazarus Tournament. Unfortunately, that means squaring off against his friend Connor Hawke, the son of Oliver Queen. Earlier between rounds, the two bonded over the pressure that comes with being children of famous crimefighters. Now, however, they must fight each other with everything on the line.
The young men go blow-for-blow for a while before Damian realizes that, whether due to his young age or small size, he can’t defeat Connor. He valiantly fights to the end, leaving Connor both the winner and free to investigate the Lazarus Tournament’s creepy origins. Fortunately, there are no hard feelings and Damian assists his friend in defeating the tournament’s organizer, who he learns is the long-lost mother of this list’s very first opponent, Ra’s al Ghul!
Donovan Morgan Grant writes about comics, graphic novels and superhero history for DC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @donoDMG1.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Donovan Morgan Grant and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.