The Life & Times of an Auteur.

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

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Top Twenty-Five Comic Book Villains

As a follow up to my Top Twenty-Five Animated Villains entry. And remember, these are my personal favorites.

25. Ultron

What can I say about Ultron? Evil robots tend to be a dime a dozen, and I'm not even counting Decepticons in this. But Ultron is one of the few greats. An android programmed to think, learn, grow, and it became sentient. It views humanity as flawed and seeks to destroy us, and yet its become far more human than it would ever admit to. Ultron is and always has been chilling.

24. The Mandarin

Iron Man's archenemy, and at the same time, a remnant from the embarrassing age of the yellow peril. But despite his racist origins, the Mandarin has endured as Tony Stark's most dangerous enemy, and has recently been updated by Matt Fraction and brought into the 21st century. I look forward to seeing Sir Ben Kingsley's portrayal of him in "Iron Man 3".

23. Shari

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 twenty-third 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.

22. The Kingpin

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.

21. Karai

Ah yes, the leader of the Foot. Or the Shredder's adopted daughter depending on which continuity you follow. She intrigues me, especially in a medium where strong female villains are rare. Her sense of honor is as strong as her ruthlessness, and under the right circumstances she can be more dangerous than the Shredder ever was.

20. Adrien Veidt

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.

19. Scarecrow

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. Madame Hydra

Sometimes she's called Viper but to me, she'll always be Madame Hydra. If Baron Strucker and the Red Skull are Nazis, Madame Hydra is the ultimate nihilist. She wants to see society collapse, and is willing to work with Neo-Nazis to do it. She is so ruthless that even the Red Skull thought she was too insane to work with. She's the current leader of HYDRA after she manipulated Norman Osborn into helping her rebuild the organization... yes, she manipulated one of Marvel's best chessmasters. This girl is a force to be reckoned with and I can't wait to see what's next for her.

17. Vandal Savage

I suppose when you're fifty-thousand years old, you can say that you know what's best for humanity and have it carry at least a little more weight. This guy is one of my favorite DC villains. He's intelligent, ruthless, and while he lacks superpowers, he is powerful enough to fight even Batman hand-to-hand. My favorite version of him is the defacto leader of The Light in "Young Justice". He despises the Justice League because he sees them as calcifying humanity's evolution and plans to speed up the process.

16. Red Skull

What happens when Adolf 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. I think he's back now as a clone who is a full-fledged Nazi again, and he carved out Charles Xavier's brain, but I'm not reading that crap. Still, given the character's rich history, he deserves his place on this list.

15. Darkseid

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. I don't know what's happening in the new Fifty-Two and I don't care.

14. Mystique

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.

13. Two-Face

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.

12. Talia al Ghul

Talia al Ghul has always been a favorite of mine, but it was the last decade that really cemented it. For years she was struggling between choosing between her love for Batman and her loyalty towards her father (he's coming, btw), and in a medium where most female villains eventually reform, I was pleased that Talia was taken in a different direction. She is now no longer in love with Batman, and Grant Morrison has proven her to be even more dangerous than her father when she was revealed to be the mastermind behind Leviathan. Not to mention her mothering Damian Wayne has permanently cemented her connection to the Bat-Family. Talia al Ghul, I salute you.

11. The Hobgoblin

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.

10. Baron Zemo

Former Nazi scientist, rival of the Red Skull and founder of the Masters of Evil. Baron Zemo is almost as great a monster as the Red Skull. He was so hated by the German people for experiments he performed on them that he took to wearing the mask to protect his family. His son has proudly continued the tradition by leading the Masters of Evil, founding the Thunderbolts and still making Captain America's life a nightmare. Plus he made Captain America cry, and for that he's earned his spot on this list.

9. Ra's al Ghul

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.

8. Dr. Octopus

I was tempted to post a picture of Spider-Man here. 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.

7. Loki

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. My favorite story about Loki was J. Michael Stracsynski's where 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 the movies have successfully followed suit, where Loki was perfectly portrayed by the great Tom Hiddleston.

6 (66). Lucifer Morningstar

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"

5. Griffith

Where the hell do I begin? Griffith is, very possibly, the most evil character I have encountered in the realm of fiction... aside from Morgoth and Sauron. Griffith is what happens when ambition festers and grows like a disease. Not that ambition is a bad thing, but Griffith took it to a whole new level. He grew up poor, formed his own mercenary hand, and became the champion of Midland with his eyes on marrying the princess and becoming King. What went wrong? He allowed himself to get personally attached to his favorite toy, a soldier named Guts. He lost it all, got tortured for a year, crippled, his tongue got cut out and then he sacrificed the troops and friends who loved him so he could be reborn as Femto, the fifth and final member of the God Hand before raping Caska (his most fanatically loyal and devoted follower, and Guts' love) in front of Guts while she was pregnant, infecting her fetus to eventually create a vessel for him to return to Earth in. Now he's in the process of conquering humanity as a seemingly ordained messianic figure... the Hawk of Light. His story is not over yet, but Griffith is the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing. Especially since we go through what Guts goes through as all of this is revealed.

4. Dr. Doom

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

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

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

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 then took a big fall. He was brought back in a story that was an insult to the character (even if it did make Madame Hydra look good), but I hope the character takes a long rest soon. But he seems to be on the verge of returning soon, only the Spider-Man he'll likely face the next time we see him is not the one he, or any of us, know.

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.


  1. I tend to like the Heath Ledger version of The Joker to be honest, nothing against the animated series and comic book versions mind you, just personal preference in my case.

    Nice list. I find it amazing Mystique remains immortal.

  2. Also one thing I forgot to mention, Shari sounds fun as in my she's my kind of villain. Not to mention I love her design to be honest.

  3. "And he got away with it, and is in retirement on a tropical island with no extradition treaty with the U.S.."

    Not anymore. Kingsley's now in the business of selling supervillain identities to criminals.

    1. Well... he still got away with it. ;)

  4. *Reads description of Griffith. Eyes bug-out*

    Damn, I need to track down the manga- clearly the anime stopped way too early. Actually, that might explain the "Griffith apologists" you talked about before- if you've only seen the anime, he's not all that bad, and you could argue he was manipulated by beings far more powerful than he. Apparently, he gets a lot worse...

  5. What do you think Shari's real identity is? 'Cause I have no clue.

    1. Are you the Matt from s8?

      Anyway, I think she is Scheherazade from "1,001 Arabian Nights." Her telling Thailog stories while he's dressed as an emperor screamed it to me.

  6. 25.) Ultron…..I only saw him in earth's mightiest heroes, where he was kinda cool.

    1.) Never was impressed with norman til I saw spectacular spiderman. I saw one really weird spiderman adaptation where norman was both a bad man gone nuts and split personality. The green goblin personality is a mad psychopathic bomber (who is unhinged) norman is the cold ruthless businessman who cheerfully fucks people over.

  7. You had the comic version of Galvatron on your old list, is he not on here because he was in TF movie before the comic?

  8. In my opinion without villains movie could not be completed and through villains producers can make actions movies. So they are the best villains who played the role.