Movies & TV / Columns

Grading the X-Men’s Supervillains

August 12, 2023 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
X-Men Villains 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.

You might have noticed I took a little time off. I’ve been with 411mania for 15 years now and I needed to recharge the batteries a little. I’m working on my column ranking every member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s a doozy!

Last time (months ago…) we discussed Superheroes Who Would Make Great Supervillains. Here’s what some of you had to say:

Jake Fury: “Wolverine: Enemy of the State is fun and a decent length run with a brainwashed Logan.

Injustice is a damn blast with Kal El losing it after the Joker kills Lois and their unborn child.

The Maker – Ulitmate Reed Richards gone bad in a major way.

I’d love a story where a superhero accidentally kills someone near and dear to Frank Castle and he just goes on a rampage killing heroes.”

redhotrash: “Rogue could work. She’s been a reformed hero for so long that it’s hard to imagine her back on the wrong side, but her powers are perfect for it. Say she absorbed the abilities from like Blackheart for example. Now her mind is corrupted and she’s team busting the Avengers.”

chris: “ghost rider would be excellent. The Spectre also. Batman is too easy. Punisher would be a great villian.”

El Atomico: “Great idea for a column, and well done. Thanks Gusto!

Superman going bad would be like Hulk Hogan joining the n.W.o. You even have a ready-made Crow Sting in Batman! (only avoid the Starrcade 97 wet fart ending)”

Ryan  ★★★★★★★★★★ “Martian Manhunter definitely feels like he could be a quick flip to the evil side, and if Aquaman turned evil, it would HAVE to be the Jason Momoa version, clearly!

Wolverine as a villain would be quite a natural progression, especially since he’s already a loose cannon good guy in most depictions of X-Men stuff.

I’d add a top five I think would work, too;

-Green Lantern (because most of the other Lanterns were, by and large, villains, especially the Yellow and Sinistero, also they corrupt his Lantern, thus making him an out of control villain)

-Cyborg (See the thing about corrupting someone good, except technologically speaking)

-Nightwing (in a bid to break away from Batman and get away from the Wayne shadow altogether, Dick Grayson goes evil, invoking visions of his haunted past in the circus and the death of his parents to reign terror on Gotham City)

-Cyclops (There has always been something about the goodie two shoes, do as I say not as I do side of Scott that’s made me want to see him go the way of Dark Phoenix, or if not that extreme, at least to the villain side in some form)

-Iron Man (This one seems easy to me, especially after the “Tony Stark falls off the wagon” storyline in the 80’s. He has the technology and the means to destroy not just New York City, but the world)”

Prez Gar: “Superman, and the Injustice video game/tie-in comic/animated movie adaptation have shown what he would be like as a villain. And it proved what Joker told Batman in The Killing Joke. All it takes is one bad day.

Spider-Man. And if he hadnt gotten rid of the symbiote when he did, he might have become one. Or, if he didnt have that immortal lesson he learned the night Uncle Ben was killed, he could have used those powers for personal gain, and not just by entertaining. And would have proved J. Jonah Jameson right. I’m surprised he didnt snap after Aunt May was shot, or one of the times MJ was kidnapped, before One More Day.”

tw75: “It’s difficult for me to think of a Marvel character who hasn’t turned evil, albeit briefly- Cap, Hulk, Iron Man, Cyclops, Reed etc
I think the MU needs more female supervillains so I’d go for Storm. The Krakoa era has shown just how formidable she can be.”

Benjamin Kellog: “I feel a bit nervous about nominating Franklin Richards. His child form possesses ungodly levels of cosmic creative energy, but he has abused it spectacularly on a few occasions, most notably during the “Heroes Reborn” incident when he tossed the Avengers and FF into a pocket dimension and tried to remake their entire lives in order to “get it right this time.” Cue a year of the rest of the Marvel Universe mourning the loss of some of their greatest friends and allies, plus Zemo and the Masters of Evil forming an Avengers “tribute band” with sketchy ulterior motives (they did fight on the side of the angels more often than not, but their origin remains a sore spot). And at the end, after he’s grown tired of how bad the “other world” got, Franklin puts everything back the way it was, which just leads to a load more problems for those he callously messed with. (Iron Man and “Stark Solutions” is a rabbit hole of fascinating legal intrigue.) I don’t think he’s ever apologized for it to this day.
In general, though, Franklin’s one of my favorite Marvel legacy characters. I love the bit at the end of “X-Men vs. Fantastic Four” when he’s talking to the ghost of Kitty Pryde and everyone stops fighting long enough to listen to his appeals for peace. That panel of him on his knees hugging Kitty’s tube and softly bawling, “Don’t go don’t go don’t go” broke my heart in a good way.”

D-Unit: “Definitely Batman. Like, no joke. Read “Tower of Babel” or watch the animated movie based on it. Dude is basically a villain who beats up bad guys but doesn’t kill.”

Keith: “When Firestorm evolved into an elemental thats when you could have turned him bad and ran with a really good story.

One of those where he deems humanity is better off being wiped off the face of the plant as they are killing it type deals.

Plus his updated look fit a villian better than a hero.”

The Old GRT: “I mean which Hero isn’t a villian just waiting to happen.

Civil War shows that more than anything. The best villains are the one that truly believe in what they are doing.

Think Captain America in CA:Civil War.

Heck think the Avengers in the film Age of Ultron. They are doing what is right but for who?

This is one of the better elements that helps both Secret Wars as well as Multiverse Saga. Just because I am trying to save my ‘verse’ doesn’t make me the hero”

D2Kvirus: “The Great Machine from Ex Machina, given the guy can command electronic and mechanical devices meaning that if he did turn to the dark side he would be practically unstoppable my modern means as he can make your smartphone tell him where you are at any given moment and what you’re up to, you can’t shoot him as he can order your gun to jam, and even dropping a bomb on him wouldn’t work as he could tell them detonator to have a day off”

Too many great comments to list! Thank you to everyone who commented!

This week we discuss…

Grading the X-Men’s Supervillains

Have you been keeping up with the X-Men? I have to admit that they’ve been keeping things interesting and…wait, if you haven’t been reading and are thinking about it, spoilers are coming!

One of the more intriguing changes has been to Hank McCoy’s Beast. A founding member, the Krakoan era saw Beast given the responsibility of protecting the mutant nation from outside threats. A mutant CIA. Unfortunately absolute power corrupts absolutely and in X-Force #42 from Benjamin Percy, Paul Davidson, Guru-eFX and Joe Caramagna, the Beast evolves into something most of us couldn’t even imagine…a version of Beast enhanced with the technology of the ultimate mutant-killing machine, Nimrod. The official summary:

THE GHOST CALENDARS! BEAST’s epic long game plays out in the only way it could – with NIMROD’S ultimate plan successful, HANK McCOY survives and thrives! But what will this mean for mutantkind, and does X-FORCE still have time to stop it?

A founding member turns bad! Actually, I think all the founding members have crossed over…except Iceman. Can anyone confirm this?

Which got me thinking about the X-Men foes we’ve been treated to over the years. Thanks to comics, cartoons, and movies, we have a pretty good grasp on who’s who when it comes to X-foes.

Yes, humans are #1 but I’m talking about supervillains.

One thing I want to point out is that when you list all the big names that the X-Men have fought over the years, the ones who stand out and keep coming back have been around for a while. Check it out.

Magneto (1963)
Juggernaut (1965)
Sentinels (1965)
Sabretooth (1977)
Shadow King (1979)
Hellfire Club (1980)
The Brood (1982)
Mojo (1985)
Nimrod (1985)
Apocalypse (1986)
Mister Sinister (1986)

Yes, I know we’ve had some standouts in the 90s like Onslaught but, personally speaking, I thought he was weak. Styfe? Another 90s bad guy with a convoluted origin that was always more bark than bite. Cassandra Nova? Lots of potential but mostly forgotten by the average fan. So yes, we’ve had a few recent ones but when I talk about the best of the best, you can’t beat the classics. It’s a subject worthy of a college thesis.

Oh, one other thing. Is anyone else a little surprised that James Gunn never used Mojo in any of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies? Talk about a character that’s right up this alley!

Back to the bad guys. Let’s do a quick rundown on each one listed.

Magneto: A
I’ve always preferred him as a bad guy. Because he was so good at it and he BELIEVED in his actions. That’s what made him the perfect counterpoint to Professor X. Former friends on opposite sides of the coin, both have a similar dream but two very different roads to get there. Keep Magneto bad.

Juggernaut: B
Every comic hero needs the villain who’s more brawn than brains. Having him tied to Charles Xavier was a nice touch but his motivation was always…thin.

Sentinels: A
The perfect X-villain. Created to hunt mutants, the Sentinels always come back. We’ve had a number of models and they can always be tweaked to fit just about any storyline. Always a threat, Sentinels are a perfect analogy for racial hatred and fanaticism that represent the consequences of human’s actions based on hate and ignorance.

Sabretooth: B
He’s a ‘A’ when it comes to Wolverine but Sabre works best when he’s teaming up with others, like the Marauders back in the day, and doing his dirty work. I sometimes think they push him to be a little too powerful when it comes to his fighting the X-Men but so be it.

Shadow King: C
Don’t get all bent out of shape but I’ve never been a fan of Shadow King. He felt he was shoehorned into their legacy and I was hoping they would make him a unique counterpoint with Xavier by giving him his own team but that’s never come to fruition. He has potential but definitely not an A-lister.

Hellfire Club: A
As great as the Hellfire Club has been over the years, I still believe their best stories are still ahead of them. In creating the Hellfire Club, writer Chris Claremont and artist/co-writer John Byrne looked to the 1966 episode of the British spy series The Avengers called “A Touch of Brimstone”. In the episode, agents John Steed and Emma Peel attempt to infiltrate a secret society named after the Hellfire Club of the 18th century, whose members of the “Inner Circle” all wear period costumes. See where they’re going? Emma Peel’s was disguised as “the Queen of Sin”, dressed in a black leather corset and the leader of the episode’s club was played by actor Peter Wyngarde, best known for his role as Jason King, forming the basis for Mastermind’s new “Jason Wyngarde” identity.
In the comics, I’ve always loved the dynamic they’ve introduced over the years and hope they aren’t cast aside anytime soon. 

The Brood: C
Insectoid beings who travel through space to find hosts to infest with their spawn? We’ve heard this, seen this, read about this across different mediums and stories. It’s a nice filler but I’ve never been a fan and stories with them being featured on low on my read list. 

Mojo: C
Here’s a bad guy that I feel could really use an overhaul and redesign. There’s some fun components there and even some very forward ideas when he was first introduced but as far as a serious threat…I never got that impression. He could absolutely be a relevant character in today’s social climate and here’s hoping we get a creative team that can make that happen. 

For fun, when Ann Nocenti was writing the Longshot miniseries she was also pursuing her Master’s degree at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University (WOW!), working at the magazine Lies of Our Times, and reading the work of writers like Marshall McLuhan, Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman and Walter Lippmann. Roll all that up and you get how she was influenced to create Mojo.

Nimrod: A
Never liked the name…and yes, I know it’s biblical…but Nimrod has been an enduring, and interesting, X-Men villain over the years. The recent Beast storyline has put an twist in the mix and we’ll see how it plays out in the future because you know how mutants and ‘future’ storylines play out.

Apocalypse: A
Forget about how the movie did Apocalypse wrong on a number of levels, no one can deny his impact on storylines in the comic books. I’m expecting him to continue to be a guiding thorn in the X-Men’s adventures and hoping he’ll be even a bigger threat to the Marvel comic book universe in general. 

Mister Sinister: A
Mister Sinister has really come into his own over the last few years as a mover and shaker for the X-Men. I read about how Chris Claremont came up with Sinister after getting “tired of just going back to Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the same old same old.”
He went on to share, ” Dave Cockrum and I went over ideas, and what we were coming towards was a mysterious young boy—apparently an 11-year-old—at the orphanage where Scott (Cyclops) was raised, who turned out to be the secret master of the place. In effect what we were setting up was a guy who was aging over a lifespan of roughly a thousand years. Even though he looked like an 11-year-old, he’d actually been alive since the mid-century at this point—he was actually about 50 […] He had all the grown-up urges. He’s growing up in his mind but his body isn’t capable of handling it, which makes him quite cranky. And, of course, looking like an 11-year-old, who’d take him seriously in the criminal community? […] So he built himself an agent in a sense, which was Mister Sinister, that was, in effect, the rationale behind Sinister’s rather—for want of a better word—childish or kid-like appearance. The costume… the look… the face… it’s what would scare a child. Even when he was designed, he wasn’t what you’d expect in a guy like that.”
And look at where he is today.

Now the fun part. Give your thoughts and grades on any X-Men villain out there.

And maybe share why we have such a hard time coming up with fresh, lasting villains.

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

article topics :

Comics 411, X-Men, Steve Gustafson