Felon. Wrongdoer. Black Hat. Malefactor. Antagonist. All words that mean the same thing… villain. These are the people that move the story along. They make the story interesting and give the hero a reason to put on that cape each morning. It is their evil actions and larcenous motives that make us turn the page and buy the next issue. We want to understand the villain and find out why they do what they do. There are hundreds of villains throughout DC Comics and Marvel Comics with just as many motives to match. Often practical but sometimes purely insane, it is the villain that gets the ball rolling and the really great ones make us want to be part of their schemes. Here, in no particular order (and matched up with some cool collectibles), are the fifteen greatest comic book villains in mainstream comics.
There is a school of thought that the villain is a dark mirror image of the hero and that was never truer than with the character of Venom. A symbiote that Spider-Man accidentally picked up on Battle World during the first Secret War, it would eventually bond with disgraced photographer Eddie Brock to give him a version of Spider-Man’s powers, a huge muscled body, clawed hands and a frightening toothy face with a long tongue. Both the symbiote and Eddie brook hate Spider-Man (in both his identities) and have tried several times to kill him, nearly succeeding on many occasions. He has had a side career as a vigilante, working with Spider-Man on occasion, especially when fighting his “offspring” Carnage.
If Venom is a dark mirror to Spider-Man, then Bizarro is a dumb but highly dangerous mirror of Superman. In many versions, Bizarro is an attempt by Lex Luthor to create a Superman clone for his own use. The clone proved defective and Luthor abandoned it. Still developing sentience, a child-like anger and moderate intelligence, Bizarro sports a series of opposite powers (freeze vision for heat vision as one example) plus the super-strength, flight and invulnerability of the original. Bizarro is also distinguished by his backwards way of speaking (saying “Me hate you” for “I love you”). Actually not as evil as many of the villains on this list, his sheer power and unpredictability makes him a substantive threat.
When someone is accused of “courting death”, it is usually a metaphor. But for Thanos, it is actual fact. The Mad Titan fell in love with the personification of Death and would do anything for “her”, including erasing half of the living things in the universe to prove his love for her. Thanos has had to work with the forces of good on occasion, but more often than not, he will do anything to earn the favor of Death, including destroying planets and people without remorse. His foreshadowing and presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will certainly not go unnoticed.
Thanos may be all about death but Darkseid’s main concern is life… anti-life, to be exact. Darkseid has long sought the Anti-Life Equation. This force within the DC Comics Universe would allow him to destroy the free will of all sentient life. This includes killing his own mother to take the throne, trying to alternately turn Superman and Supergirl to his cause, seemingly killing Batman for a in time, starting the earthbound criminal organization Intergang and waging a constant war with the forces of New Genesis and his son, Orion (to name just a few). He even survived over a thousand years to nearly destroy the Legion of Super-Heroes. If there is one true big bad in DC Comics, it is Darkseid.
While Darkseid may be a New God, Loki (pictured right) is an old one, centuries old in fact as he was worshipped and feared in the time of the Vikings. Loki, actually a diminutive frost giant rather than a true Asgardian, grew to resent his more powerful step brother Thor (pictured left, of course) and pulled all manner of tricks and schemes on him and his friends the Lady Sif, Balder and the future Warriors Three. He soon became known as the God of Mischief and his schemes became acts of pure evil. After Thor was banished to Earth by Odin to learn humility, Loki followed him and empowered several villains including members of the Wrecking Crew and the Absorbing Man. He is directly responsible for the creation of the Avengers and the destruction of Asgard by the forces of Norman Osborn and his super-villain army. He is also directly or indirectly involved with nearly every major event in the Marvel Universe. It is no mistake that Loki is also such an integral part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
From a God of Mischief to mischief personified, it is easy to discount Mister Mxyzptlk, the imp from the 5th Dimension. Many view him as little more than a joke and not worthy to be in the pantheon of Superman villains, but under closer scrutiny, Mxy may be the deadliest villain that Superman ever faced. Superman is as susceptible to magic as anyone, some theories have said even more than regular humans, and Mxy is nothing but magic. He is not bound by the laws of physics in our dimension and could conceivably kill every living thing in the universe on a whim. He has brought buildings to life, turned people into non-living objects and, in one continuity, created the unpredictable property of Red Kryptonite. When he accidentally bestowed his powers on the Joker, he managed to turn the all-powerful Spectre into a puppet. That level of power can’t be anything but frightening.
Kang The Conqueror
Kang is a time traveling tyrant from the distant future who has used his skills to torment the Avengers over the years. A distant relative of Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, Kang conquered many timelines with his access to various weapons. His high tech and heavily armored battle suit along with various means of time travel are formidable but he has always found himself thwarted by the Avengers, no matter what the roster was at the time. He was also defeated by his younger self once. That younger version actually traveled back in time and created the Young Avengers as Iron Lad in the process giving anyone trying to sort it all out sequentially quite the migraine.
Kang may have passed back and forth throughout history but Vandal Savage has stepped linearly through every day of it. Vandal Arg was a caveman of the brutal Blood Tribe in prehistoric times when a meteor fell in front of him. The radiation from the meteor vastly increased his intelligence and made him immortal. Throughout history, Vandal has been any number of famous conquerors. More often, he has also served as the man whispering in the ear behind the men making history. He has gained immense wealth and influence throughout his many centuries of life but has also gathered innumerable enemies, including the heroes of the Justice Society, the Justice League, his own daughter Scandal Savage and many more. A master strategist and planner, it goes without saying that Vandal plays the long game.
Ultron was created by Ant-Man Hank Pym to be a breakthrough in technology but he soon surpasses his creator in intelligence and rebelled against him. Ultron goes on to create new and more advanced bodies for himself and he quickly became one of the most determined and deadly foes that the Avengers would ever face. Ultron is responsible for the creation of the first Masters of Evil, Vision, Jocasta and Victor Mancha (all of whom rebelled against him at different points), and has conquered or nearly conquered the world on numerous occasions. With Ultron’s Adamantium body, his strength and his various offensive and defensive weapons, he is physically and mentally superior to any single Avenger but thankfully the team always finds a way to defeat him together.
One of Superman’s oldest foes, Brainiac originates from the planet Colu and possesses a 12th level intelligence (humans are only a level 1) and extremely advanced technology. Brainiac travels around the universe stealing cities and shrinking them for his collections. He even stole the city of Kandor from Krypton at some point before the planet’s destruction. Brainiac has moved back and forth from being an organic or fully robotic being, but has proven equally deadly in either form. With strength to rival that of Superman and (sometimes) telekinetic and telepathic powers, Brainiac has proven to be one of the few villains that Superman has nearly lost to on several occasions.
Magneto has long been the most persistent foe of the heroic X-Men and their leader Charles Xavier. Magneto is a survivor of the Nazi Concentration Camps and that experience taught him that humans were capable of horrific things against others who they saw as less than human. He met Charles Xavier after the war and they formed a contentious friendship, constantly debating the role of the mutant in society. Magnus thought that mutants should rule the humans rather than give them the chance to destroy mutants, while Charles was adamant about the possibility of co-habitation. These differences grew to the point of directly opposing each other. The X-Men fought against Magneto and his allies, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants many times. Magneto has changed sides many times over the years, even becoming an ally and a mentor to the X-Men. However, his “closed fist” approach to mutant/human relations is always a part of his agenda and he will do anything needed to prevent history from repeating itself and finding his fellow mutants in cages or worse.
Never has a character been more aptly titled than Dr. Doom. The constant foe of Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four, Doom has either been the chief architect or an integral part of every major activity in the Marvel Universe. A near unparalleled intellect with a mastery of both science and sorcery, he is a true megalomaniac ruler, seeing others as beneath him. At times, he has possessed the powers of cosmic beings such as the Silver Surfer and the Beyonder but lost them mostly due to his own arrogance. Doom’s armor defenses, his inventions and his mystical skills make him one of the most difficult villains to defeat and of course, never admits defeat himself. Failure is beneath Doom! Doom uses his home country of Latveria as his personal kingdom, having killed or overthrown the former ruling class and has turned it into a thriving land. Doom is arguably the greatest villain in the Marvel Universe.
Arguably one of the most iconic villains in comics, Lex Luthor is one of the most intelligent men in the DC Universe. He is an inventive genius, a successful businessman who owns one of the most diversified and lucrative companies on Earth. Without his influence and assistance, Metropolis would not be the shining city it is today. If he put his mind to it, he could solve all the ills of the world and defeat every disease, were it not for Superman. Luthor has long considered himself the most important man in Metropolis and possibly the world until this “alien” arrived with his powers and bright costume. Superman also refused to acknowledge Luthor’s greatness and saw him for the criminal that he is. This offence is more than Luthor can stand and he made it his life’s work to rid the world of this intruder. Alone or with allies like the Secret Society of Super-Villains, Luthor plans to be at the top of the world and will destroy any one that gets in his way.
While not as strong or even as ruthless as some of the villains in the Marvel Universe, he is the most unhinged and has had the greatest impact on his arch nemesis, Spider-Man. Driven insane by his use of untested strength enhancing drugs, the Green Goblin has been a dangerous thorn in Spider-Man’s side from early in the hero’s career. Over time, he has launched multiple attacks on Peter’s friends and even killed his girlfriend Gwen Stacy by throwing her off the GW Bridge. Recently trying to rebrand himself as a hero after proving to be instrumental at repelling the Skrull Invasion, Osborn became head of the SHIELD reorganization HAMMER and the leader of his own band of Avengers that were, unbeknownst to the general public, filled with villains in different costumes. He battled his insane alter ego throughout and finally lost control and his regime fell apart after the Siege on Asgard. He has since given fully to his madness and has returned to make Spider-Man’s life miserable.
Possibly the greatest villain ever created, the Joker is also the most mysterious by far. There has never been a definitive clue to his identity and his motivations are often as mercurial as his moods. One distinct truth is the hell that he has visited on Batman and his allies. Over the years, he has murdered the second Robin Jason Todd, crippled and tortured Batgirl, killed the fiancee of Commissioner Gordon as well as torturing Gordon in an attempt to drive him mad. He has come close to killing Batman and his allies on multiple occasions. There isn’t a member of Batman’s inner circle who hasn’t been scarred by the Joker and it doesn’t stop there. He managed to “Joker-ize” a number of major villains, has had several run-ins with Superman and the Justice League alone as part of the Injustice Gang and once warped all reality when he gained the powers of Mr. Mxyzptlk. The Joker has no agenda other than his immediate needs and desires. He truly does just want to watch the world burn.
One parting thought…
There is a school of thought that says the villain is just the hero of his or her own story. The best villains, the ones that are truly memorable have long and amazing stories that parallel those of the hero. Stories that are strong and make the reader want to turn the page and follow the villain down every crazy avenue their schemes take them… if only to see their eventual comeuppance at the hands of the hero.