The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Twenty Favorite Comic Book Villains

This isn't a list of the twenty greatest comic book villains, because it would be slightly different, but just my personal favorites. As such, this is my opinion and is completely subjective.

20. Shari

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Every other character on this list predates her, and she has only a handful of comic book appearances so far. But she intrigues me. There's a nice sense of mystery about her that has catapulted her to my twentieth favorite comic book villain. Now, other villains that appear in the "Gargoyles" comic book are better villains and have earned a spot on this list over her, but they were first introduced in the animated series, and I did not think it would be fair to include them in this list.

Still, while most of us have probably correctly guessed Shari's identity, the more intriguing mystery is why is she doing all of this? Why did the Illuminati assign her to be Thailog's new executive assistant? She clearly outranks him. What exactly is going on. I hope that eventually we'll get the answers. Either way, Shari remains an original and intriguing character.

19. Scarecrow

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I've always felt that Batman had one of the best rogues galleries in comic books, and the Scarecrow has long been a favorite of mine. As Batman exists to strike fear into the hearts of criminals, Dr. Jonathan Crane, as the Scarecrow, strikes fear into innocent people for his own ends. I've always preferred him to characters like Killer Croc, Bane, and the Penguin.

18. Harry Osborn

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Sigh... I can relate to Harry Osborn more than I'd care to admit. A lot of people like to blame their problems on "daddy didn't love me." But Harry is one of the few people who can legitimately do it. His mother died while he was very young. His father was distant and abusive. His best friend never made time to actually be there for him. And to top it all off, the only woman who he ever really loved was murdered by the very father who's approval he could never get. Throw in his drug problem and the fact that his father was a supervillain and this kid never had a chance.

In the comics, he recently stood up to his father for the first time, and was disowned and disinherited. One hopes that he'll make his own future now, and finally free himself from the Osborn family curse. But we'll see.

17. Bullseye

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Sometimes it's fun to have a character who is a homicidal psychopath. Bullseye fits that very well as one of the world's greatest assassins. Whether he's working for the Kingpin, or masquerading as Hawkeye while working for Norman Osborn, Bullsye is in it for the kill. Hell, when assigned by Osborn to kill Deadpool, and failing spectacularly, he paid Deadpool to just disappear for a while because the money in his accounts meant squat to him, he's in it for the kill. He also killed two of Daredevil's greatest loves. Elektra and Karen Page. Good for Bullseye that Daredevil is a devout Catholic, I guess.

16. Red Skull

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What happens when Adolph Hitler, while berating his generals, says he could take an ordinary bellhop at a hotel and turn him into a better Nazi than they? You get the Red Skull. Quite possibly the most evil villain in Marvel's pantheon of supervillainy. The Skull is someone most other supervillains won't work with because of his Nazi past. Of course, he has abandoned National Socialism in general because he is driven by hate. Pure, unbridled hate. Of course, he recently was killed and it appears his daughter Sin will become the next Red Skull... she already has the mug to match it. We'll see how she compares to her father.

15. Darkseid

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If you exit the realm of Vertigo, Darkseid, ruler of Apokolips is, quite possibly, the DC Universe's version of Satan. Hundreds of thousands of years old, and evil beyond measure. Marvel Comics doesn't have anyone like this, although they once made an attempt with Thanos. Darkseid commands legions and rules through fear. The entire universe fears him, and, more than that, he was the one creature who forced Batman to break his unbreakable vow... Batman kills him. Or at least mortally wounds him.

14. Galvatron

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If Unicron is the Satan of the Transformers, then Galvatron is definitely their Antichrist. His former identity means nothing now, as he was born anew in the fires of Unicron to herald the destruction of Cybertron. Cold, calculating and insane, he was one of the few beings that forced the Autobots and Decepticons to put aside their differences when he came along attempting to conquer and destroy both sides. Why, he even once managed to con god himself... well, their god anyway. With no loyalty to his master and all quaking in fear of him, Galvatron, should he ever wrest leadership of the Decepticons away would truly conquer the galaxy. In an alternate future, he did quite easily.

13. Mystique

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Mother (or father) of Nightcrawler, foster-mother of Rogue, terrorist, and shape-shifter. But more than that, I tend to think that Raven Darkholme is less about an agenda and more about fucking with everyone around her and getting away with it. She is older than she appears, far older, and has been around for many turning points in mutant history. Unlike Apocalypse and Mr. Sinister, she has been used to great affect, and she always makes things personal.

12. Two Face

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Harvey here was flipping coins decades before Anton Chigurh. The best friend turned enemy motif is very popular in the realm of storytelling. Two-Face isn't the first on this list to fill the "enemy mine" trope, and he won't be the last. But Two-Face isn't just a faceless (pardon the pun) character filling in a cliche, he's also one of Batman's greatest enemies. Depending on who you ask, he'd rank right below the Joker. Now, the one thing that would improve the character for me is that I wish we had a sense of who Harvey Dent was before his disfigurement. He was Bruce Wayne's best friend, but we never saw much of their friendship to my recollection. It's an avenue I hope we see get explored some day.

11. The Hobgoblin

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Oh what a tangled web we weave. Roderick Kingsley is a great villain. Just how great? He managed to survive editorial incompetence. For years, he tormented Spider-Man and made him second guess everyone around him. No one knew who he was. No one. And Kingsley made damn sure no one would find out. Whether he got his callow twin brother, Daniel to pose as him in public, or whether he used his brainwashed dupes to appear in costume, the Hobgoblin covered his tracks. And he got away with it, and is in retirement on a tropical island with no extradition treaty with the U.S.. Also, unlike the Green Goblin, the Hobgoblin was stone cold sane. Michael Corleone in a costume.

Just pay no attention to the joke that was Jason Macendale.

10. Ra's al Ghul

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His very name means "the demon's head." Six hundred years old, and a skilled enough alchemist to extend his life, Ra's al Ghul is Batman to the nth degree. Like Batman, he also strives to bring order... but through tyrannical means and genocide. Ra's is a great villain because he forces Batman out of Gotham City and their entire world is their chessboard. Not to mention Ra's has a beautiful daughter that he wants Batman to marry. If things were different, Ra's al Ghul could have easily become Batman's surrogate father.

9. Adrian Veidt

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What is the goal of a superhero? They want to save the world. But is beating up supervillains and fighting bank robbers really going to make a difference? Adrian Veidt believed he could save the world, and did with a very dark, but coldly logical methodology. Was he right? No sane person would agree. But he is a shining example of what could happen if Superman decided he wasn't doing enough.

8. The Kingpin

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Quite possibly the most iconic mobster in all of comics, and the most feared. Ironically, his rise to power would have been impossible if the superheroes like Spider-Man, Daredevil, and other crime fighters didn't bring down so many old school mafiosos. Naturally, the underworld needed a leader who could match them, and we got Wilson Fisk. Publicly, he's a spice trader and philanthropist, but in reality he's a dangerous criminal mastermind. His resources are almost unlimited, and he's got supervillains on his payroll as well as a network so vast, Karen Page selling Daredevil's real name in Mexico reached him in a matter of hours. He has since proceeded to make Daredevil's life a living Hell.

7. Loki

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Foster brother of Thor, and Norse God of Lies. Loki has but one goal, to bring about Ragnarok. And to piss off Thor while he's at it. Most recently, he was re-incarnated possessing the body of Thor's great love, Sif. And he made the most of it... also using the truth as his weapon rather than lies, he was able to depose Thor and has become the architect of the Siege of Asgard. In 1963, the Avengers assembled to battle Loki and now they are re-assembling to defeat him.

6. Doctor Octopus

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The mad scientist is a timeless archetype, but few of them are as interesting as Otto Octavius. Few other villains personify the trope of science run amok. A brilliant scientist but a troll of a human being. His tentacles are as iconic as they are deadly. He formed the Sinister Six, he nearly nuked Manhattan just because he was pissed off, he tried to seize control of the underworld, and he has been a thorn in Spider-Man's side since the beginning of the webhead's career. He'd be the most likely suspect to peg as Spidey's arch-nemesis... if someone else hadn't come along.

5. Lucifer Morningstar

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He's the Devil. 'Nuff said.

... okay, I'll say more. Lucifer is everything Mephisto should be. Clever, cunning, scheming, and the ultimate rebel. He gave up the throne of Hell and handed the key to Dream of the Endless just to screw with him. He created his own existence so Yahweh would no longer have the monopoly on creation with only one rule, worship nothing. Ultimately, he's a conceited prick rebelling against his conceited father.

As David Easterman, a character who sees himself as a victim of Lucifer, puts it: "when the devil wants you to do something, he doesn't lie at all. He tells you the exact, literal truth. And he lets you find your own way to hell"

4. Doctor Doom

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If this were a less subjective list, Doom would be #1. But I love the character anyway. The archetypical supervillain, and definitely the biggest gun in Marvel's pantheon of villainy. Doom is arrogant beyond all measure, and as smart as anyone you'll ever meet. He is so prideful he always keeps his word... as he interprets it. Ruler of the tiny nation of Latveria, and recognized by the world abroad... his enemies can't just send him to prison. But more than that is his fascinating backstory, and his desire to save his mother's soul from Mephisto and bring peace to the world... under his iron rule.

Doom might be the leader the world needs. If we were willing to part with our freedom. But he'll always set that aside because he cannot live with the fact that just for one moment, Reed Richards was smarter than him.

3. The Joker

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While Loki may be the archetypal evil trickster, the Joker, dare I say it, runs rings around him. Like Doom before him, if this were less subjective, Joker would be a contender for the #1 spot. A homicidal maniac who can make you laugh before he sticks a knife in you. The most dangerously unpredictable villain in the realm of comics, and Batman's arch-nemesis. His past is unknown, as he always changes his story... but it doesn't matter, because we have evil personified in the face of this cruel clown. As long as Batman exists, there will be a Joker... at this point they are a yin and yang and one cannot exist without the other.

2. Magneto

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Thank Kirby for Claremont, or the Master of Magnetism might never have made this list. Magneto is the villain you can't help but agree with. A survivor of the Holocaust, and a victim of bigotry, Max Eisenhardt will stop at nothing to prevent a second Holocaust from taking place. In the process he has lost friends, alienated his children, and has become the boogieman that humans use to justify their fear of mutants. If that irony wasn't enough, Magneto walks a fine line between being a mutant Malcolm X, and becoming that which he hates most... a mutant Adolf Hitler.

Remember how I said that Doom was at the top of Marvel's supervillain pantheon? Well, Magneto would easily challenge him for that spot, and some might say he's long ago won it. And for good reason. Magneto has a great, compelling story that you can understand and relate to. He has creative and innovative powers. And there are so many stories you can tell about him, from the big grand epics, to the intimate character studies.

1. The Green Goblin/Norman Osborn

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Yes, Norman Osborn is my favorite villain in all of comics. The guy is an undeniable bastard. A terrible father. Some like to blame the accident that gave him super strength for the monster he became, but the evil was always there. Unlike others, Norman wasn't a good man gone bad, he was a bad man gone nuts. As smart as he is insane, the Green Goblin is the monster that walks among us. Norman Osborn is the mask he wears to blend in with us. Power hungry beyond measure, and obsessed with destroying Spider-Man... just killing him is not enough. The Goblin makes it personal... all of Spider-Man's family and friends are fair games and as long as the Goblin lives, they may as well have bulls-eyes painted on them.

Recently, Norman Osborn succeeded in becoming the most powerful man in the world, and he wielded that power to haunt anyone who would oppose him, but is now on the verge of a big fall. While the nature of that fall has yet to be revealed, I hope the character takes a long rest soon... and then I look forward to his return.

Also, the Goblin holds the distinct honor of ending the Silver Age of comic books. When he killed Gwen Stacy, he killed the genre's innocence as well. Suddenly heroes could fail, people were mortal. No one was safe. He ushered in a new age and forced comic books to grow up with their fans. I have no doubt he'll haunt the pages of Marvel Comics long after I've gone to the grave.

2 comments:

  1. I'd be hesitant about putting Shari on a similar list of my own, partially because I think she's so much of a question mark at this point. I may be a little biased because of my great fondness for the character she almost certainly is, but we really know next to nothing about her. We don't know what she is currently helping Thailog to do, why she is working as his assistant, or what her actual assignment is. She could be tasked with aiding Thailog, stopping him from doing anything majorly damaging, or simply keeping tabs on him. I'll give you that she's an interesting character, but she's going to have to do something more than feed Thailog grapes before I consider her a great villain.

    Most of your other choices I either have no beef with or haven't been keeping up with enough to argue the point.

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  2. Very nice list, glad I could provide a little inspiration.

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