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Comics 411: Best Comic Book Supervillains

April 9, 2022 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Magneto Image Credit: Marvel Comics

Welcome back! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you enjoy discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we cover something in the industry and I always enjoy your input in the comment section below.

Previously on…

Last time we discussed our Most Underappreciated Superheroes. Here’s what some of you had to say:

Gil: “I agree Incredible Herc was a great series. I want a new series with him and Cho. Any idea what he’s up to currently? Last I read, he quit drinking, but not sure what comic, if any, he’s in right now.

You mentioned Multiple-Man and I agree there too. I loved his character when I read him X-Factor, Madrox, and X-Factor Investigations. All Peter David Books. I read him recently in X-Corps and his character seems completely different. He needs a writer like David to give him the respect he deserves.

Speaking of Peter Davis’s X-Factor, Havok is another Under appreciated character. I like him, but he’s booked like shit.

Last Character I can think of is Nightwing. Under appreciated as in how many Batman movies are there? And how many Nightwing appearances? Zero!”

Zeke the Plumber: “Wasp is severely underrated/underappreciated imho. Despite being a founding Avenger and leading the team longer than anyone besides Cap, she’s never even had her own ongoing series”

Tayo Jones “Manhunter is underappreciated. I think he has the potential to have another solo series but he needs a few things. One he needs his own supporting cast. A cast that feels unique and cam bounce off Jonez. He also needs a stronger rogue gallery as his onky major foe is his brother.
Another thing that might be holding him back is the fact that most fans see him as heart and soul of the JL. He has been with the League for so long that it is a struggle to nail him down outside the team. Only writer to come close to really developing MM as a solo hero was John Ostrander.

The entire JSA is underappreciated. They were the first superhero team. Without them there be no JL and no FF, no Avengers and no Tee Titans. Their imoact cannot be understated.”

Jeff Clark: “Death’s Head the original UK legend. Yesterday was #drawdeathsheadday check it out to see all the love for the freelance peace keeping agent.”
“Filthy” Jake Fury: “Oddly enough I bought the single issues of Armageddon 2001 just this past weekend and some issues of Uncle Sam & The Freedom Fighters.Underrated:
Azrael – reading his original series now.
Catman – dude was awesome in Secret Six”

D2Kvirus: “I’d like to suggest the Great Machine, partly because he’s certainly an underappreciated superhero – but mainly because Ex Machina seems to be one of those titles that was a big thing at the time but seems to be pretty much forgotten these days”

Maple Leaf Muscle: “Silver Surfer to me is hands down the most underrated and underappreciated superhero in Marvel. I think it might be because many people either don’t understand him, or can’t identify with him. The backstory from the 90s books really humanized the Surfer for me, but he doesn’t have the same vulnerabilities when he has popped up after that run. He’s too deep – too philosophical perhaps, for people to appreciate without putting the effort into reading the books, and people don’t read his books often, so…yeah.”

oga: “Big late 80’s & 90’s fandom guy here, my faves who didn’t much shine back then were:

The original Guardians of the Galaxy, New Warriors, Wonder Man, Power Pack, Warlock & Cypher (Douglock)

Someone mentioned Death’s Head earlier, I liked his books and also the Death’s Head II early run.”

Transmute!: “For me, it’s Captain Britain, but that’s probably because he’s been written by Alan Moore and Chris Claremont. They could probably make any character seem like no one else knows how to use them.”

Great stuff and thank you to everyone who commented last week! Too many great comments to list so go and check it out!

This week we discuss…

Best Comic Book Supervillains
I’ve long made the point of how important a villain is when it comes to the hero’s stature and popularity. A great villain sets the bar for the hero to rise to and connect with the audience. On the flip side of the coin, forgettable villains bring the hero down and their books are usually short lived.

The question you have to ask yourself is, “What makes the perfect supervillain?” Their evil deeds? How about their motive? Could it be an origin that’s tied to their arch nemesis? Does their costume play into the equation? Does a non-powered baddie rank lower than an all-powerful overlord? Do they strike fear in readers or do we secretly wish they would finally outsmart the hero?

I have a pretty good idea of who this will come down to. No names but lists like these often turn into a popularity contest. Go into it with an open mind and see if that changes anything. I’m listing the more well known and expected answers but feel free to add your pick below.

Let’s start with Apocalypse. En Sabah Nur is an immortal mutant and has battled the X-Men over the years, making his first appearance in X-Factor back in 1986. How is he on the villain scale? Bob Harras did an interview and said this about Apocalypse: “He looked fantastic. Also, the name is dynamic. It tells you right off this character means trouble. And he came with a clear-cut agenda: ‘survival of the fittest.’ He didn’t care if you were a mutant—if you were weak, you would be destroyed. He was merciless, but his philosophy was easy to grasp and it fit in with the harder edge of evolution which is part and parcel of the mutant story. Isn’t that what humans fear about mutants? That they are the next step? Now, we had given mutants something new to fear: a character who would judge them on their genetic worthiness. […] To his own mind he wasn’t evil (despite his leadership of the Alliance of Evil, which I think we dropped pretty soon after Apocalypse’s introduction); he believed he was doing the right thing. He was ensuring evolution. To me, he was the perfect next step in the mutant story.” Works for me.

Speaking of mutant, you can’t have a villain list without Magneto, can you? I went back and forth on his inclusion, as he’s mostly portrayed as an anti-hero, leaning towards hero these days. Early Magneto was most definitely a bad guy, with noble intentions, and over the years has been moved closer to the middle. I’ll leave it to you to decide if he deserves to be mentioned with others on this list. Is his desire for mutants to dominate the human race, as he calls humans an outdated species, evil? In a 2008 interview, Stan Lee said he “did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He just wanted to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist… he was trying to defend the mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly he was going to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course… but I never thought of him as a villain.” With his current status, it’s becoming harder and harder to consider him a bad guy but you never know with him.

When it comes to the Red Skull, there’s no question over his evil intentions. A Nazi agent who first appeared in Captain America Comics #7 back in 1941, he still casts a large shadow when it comes to bad deeds. Pick up Captain America: Red Skull – Incarnate for a twisted story about “liberty’s greatest enemy”. The plot is as follows: As Berlin descends into chaos and ruin, sinister forces are on the rise…and the men who will form the Nazi Party ascent to power. Against this tragic backdrop of history, a boy comes of age: Johann Schmidt. Orphan, thug, urchin–Johann has nothing–and how far he would go for power will change the world. The list of evil acts committed by the Red Skull could take hours to read but he’s one baddie you shouldn’t overlook.

It would be hard to overlook Ultron, who has really come into his own over the years. Ultron is one of the most deadliest foes of the Avengers and has a quasi-familial relationship with several of their members, thanks to his creator Hank Pym. At least until they retcon that to fit the cinematic Marvel Universe. He’s evolved over the years and really came into his own in the 2000s. His status of major villain was secured with Avengers: Age of Ultron. I believe his best days are still ahead of him. 

Still waiting on a proper big screen appearance is Doctor Doom but that doesn’t take away from the evil he’s done on the comic book page. The son of Romani witch Cynthia Von Doom, Doctor Doom first appeared in The Fantastic Four #5 in 1962. He’s been a constant source of trouble for the Fantastic Four and is leader of the nation of Latveria. A genius inventor and a sorcerer, Doctor Doom’s quest for ultimate power has been present from the beginning. You can pick up ‘Secret Wars’ to witness what God Emperor Doom was up to and Invincible Iron Man to see another angle to this complex character.

The quest for power runs strong in Lex Luthor as well. The archenemy of Superman, Luthor was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, back in 1940. Considered one of the most intelligent people in the world, Lex is a power-hungry business magnate, gifted scientist and inventor. What makes his standout is his lack of superpowers or a dual identity, which hasn’t stopped him from battling the best and brightest in the DC Universe. Ruthless and efficient, he’s had his hand in just about every crisis, being a member of the Injustice Gang, the Injustice League, the Secret Six, the Secret Society of Super-Villains and Project 7734.

Sinestro is a former Green Lantern who was dishonorably discharged for abusing his power, although he’s shown shades of being anti-heroic as well. In fact, his desire for order did him in as he became more and more fixated upon not simply protecting his sector, but on preserving order in the society of his home planet no matter the cost. Sinestro founded the Sinestro Corps, offering yellow power rings to the most feared and savage warriors of the universe, something few others on the list can lay claim to.

When it comes to Darkseid, he has few peers. Darkseid is one of the most powerful beings in the DC universe, ruler of the planet Apokolips, and his ultimate goal is to conquer the Universe. Pretty straightforward. According to writer Mark Evanier, Jack Kirby modeled Darkseid’s face on actor Jack Palance. He also modeled Darkseid on Adolf Hitler and the world of Apokolips on Nazi Germany, making Darkseid a megalomaniac and warmonger who, in fascist style, sees every citizen as an extension of the state and himself. His society is highly militant, with children being indoctrinated from a young age to be warlike and utterly loyal to him. One of my favorite stories of all time is ‘The Great Darkness Saga’, where he comes into conflict with the Legion of Super-Heroes. In that storyline, Darkseid displayed a range of awesome godlike powers, such as transposing the positions of two planets in different solar systems, taking mental control of the entire population of a planet, instantly absorbing all the information from another being’s mind, manifesting the worst fears of other beings as realities, among others. I’m not going to get into the whole Snyder Cut and Darkseid’s big screen look but suffice to say I’m hoping for more from him in the future. 

We already know what Thanos is like on screen. We owe Darkseid thanks for Thanos as creator Jim Starlin has admitted he was influenced by Jack Kirby’s Darkseid: “Kirby had done the New Gods, which I thought was terrific. He was over at DC at the time. I came up with some things that were inspired by that. You’d think that Thanos was inspired by Darkseid, but that was not the case when I showed up. In my first Thanos drawings, if he looked like anybody, it was Metron. I had all these different gods and things I wanted to do, which became Thanos and the Titans. Roy took one look at the guy in the Metron-like chair and said: “Beef him up! If you’re going to steal one of the New Gods, at least rip off Darkseid, the really good one!” Thanos has become his own “man” when it comes to being a villain, thanks to the numerous Infinity storylines. Has it been enough to get from out of Darkseid’s shadow?

Bane, Two Face, Mr. Freeze and anyone else from Batman’s rogue gallery deserves consideration. Batman villains could fill their own list out but when it comes to who stands over them all, you have to say the Joker. The Joker first appeared in Batman #1 in 1940 and has terrorized the DC Universe with no mercy. Not bad for a character that was created to be killed off during his initial appearance and spared by editorial intervention. Not bad for the Joker, at least. In his early appearances, the Joker is portrayed as a criminal mastermind, becoming a psychopath with a sadistic sense of humor in the early 70s. You can’t point to one storyline to show off his madness, because he’s had so many. The murder of Jason Todd, the paralysis of Barbara Gordon, tormenting Commissioner Gordon, his numerous physical and mental fights with Batman. He’s the antithesis Batman in personality and appearance and considered by many to be his perfect adversary.

The Green Goblin deserves mention, and I’m talking about Norman Osborn. Comics journalist and historian Mike Conroy writes of the character: “Of all the costumed villains who’ve plagued Spider-Man over the years, the most flat-out unhinged and terrifying of them all is the Green Goblin.” According to Steve Ditko: “Stan (Lee)’s synopsis for the Green Goblin had a movie crew, on location, finding an Egyptian-like sarcophagus. Inside was an ancient, mythological demon, the Green Goblin. He naturally came to life. On my own, I changed Stan’s mythological demon into a human villain.” The Goblin has gone on to be the main villain on a number of classic Spidey storylines and has made so much impact that he’s always in the mix when it comes to movies and cartoons.
What about Venom? He seems to be in Magneto territory recently so maybe Carnage

I have Deathstroke, Brainiac, Kingpin, Negan, and Loki on my list as well but I don’t feel they have enough individually to top the ones listed above. What do you think?

That’s all the time I have. See you next week!

article topics :

Comics 411, Steve Gustafson