By Ethan Harmon
A hero is nothing without an antagonist and this is especially true when it comes to comic books. Superheroes are defined by the challenges they face and overcome, which, more often than not, comes in the form of a sinister, scheming villain. Each superhero has a specific rogues gallery, and each villain usually reflects a specific character flaw within the hero.
Everyone has their favorite villain (and I’m sure it’s the Joker for many). But it takes a certain type of villain to be truly unique; something within the villain that is special not only to the hero he battles, but to the reader who is watching the conflict unfold. The villain needs to embody an ideal that makes his story, his motives or his general existence mean more than just another character to get punched in the face by a super-powered being in tights. So, without further ado, here are – in my opinion – the top five comic book villains:
Honorable mentions – Ultron, Bullseye, Sinestro, Doctor Octopus, Loki, Black Adam, Galactus, Brainiac, and many, many more…
5. General Thragg (Invincible)
Thragg is one bad dude. He is the leader of the Superman-strong Viltrumites, a superior race of beings hell-bent on spying on, inter-breeding with and ultimately dominating other cultures. On the surface, Thragg is just another bad guy who wants to do bad things, but as the Invincible sage unfolds, we see him for who he truly is: a leader of a crumbling empire, applying Machiavellian ideals in an attempt to bring his empire back to what it once was. His people were the victims of a viral genocide, which was used by the former Viltrumite ruler, and he is trying to utilize his massive power to undo what he believes is a great injustice. The greatest, and most sinister twist, comes at the end of one (of potentially many) conflicts with Invincible. He, along with the few remaining Viltrumites, arrive on Earth and offer an ultimatum so twisted and brutal that our hero could not refuse. Allow the Vilturmites to stay on Earth, inter-breed and rebuild their empire, or watch as they obliterate the planet.
4. Thanos (Various Marvel comics, including Guardians of the Galaxy, Infinity, Nova, etc.)
The initial creation of Thanos is actually very interesting. Jim Starlin, who wrote for Marvel, came up with the idea for a character while taking psychology courses. He thought of a character that represented the Freudian ego, and ultimately conceived Thanos, the Mad Titan. Although Thanos has played the puppet-master in many Marvel events, he is a force to be reckoned with. Whether using the destructive power of the Cosmic Cube (which grants wishes to the wielder) or the universe-crippling Infinity Gauntlet (which has the power to warp reality, control time, destroy galaxies, etc.), Thanos has always brought the Marvel Universe to its knees. Hell, Thanos went on a rampage with the Infinity Gauntlet and destroyed galaxies. He has bred and destroyed lives (Drax the Destoyer and Gamora are prime examples), killed and conquered. Recently, he led a conquest to dominate the Earth and kill his bastard son. Though he has failed in many attempts, he has utterly scared the Marvel U and many of its characters.
3. Joker (Various DC comics, mostly Batman and Batman related series)
The Joker is just twisted. He is the embodiment of anarchy and chaos. At first, there was no real reason for the Joker’s madness. He just did whatever the hell he wanted, whether it was killing Gotham citizens or destroying real estate. But the Joker has evolved over the years, emerging as something more sinister than anything or anyone to walk the streets of Gotham City. He has crippled Barbara Gordon, AKA Batgirl, by shooting her in the spine. He has killed Jason Todd, one of the Robins. He has tortured Barbara Gordon’s family, destroyed countless lives and called into question the mental aptitude of Bruce Wayne. The Joker has even tested Batman’s mental well-being, asking the difficult question that everyone is wondering: is Batman actually crazy? The Joker is sick, crazy, psychotic and the villain to constantly test the Dark Knight. And if you are looking for a solid story centering around the Clown Prince of Crime, look no further than Brian Azzarello’s Joker.
2. Green Goblin (All versions of Marvel’s Spider-man comics)
Norman Osborn was never a nice man. He was a ruthless businessman with a cut-throat approach to handling affairs at Oscorp and a father that constantly neglected and undermined his son, Harry. Regardless of which version of Spider-man you are reading (Ultimate, Amazing, etc.), Norman eventually morphs into the Green Goblin. As the Goblin, Norman does nothing but wreck Peter Parker’s life in every way imaginable. In the early years, before Mary Jane was a major player and Gwen Stacy was Pete’s girlfriend, the Goblin did something that was irredeemable and vile. He killed Gwen Stacy. And that happened in 1973, when no one died in comics. But ol’ Norman didn’t stop there. He played with his son’s emotions, ultimately driving him to take on the Goblin mantle. He has constantly attacked Peter, whether it is ruining his family or just full-on fighting him on the rooftops of NYC. In the Ultimate comics, Norman led the Sinister Six in battle with Spider-man, and though he failed, it was at the cost of Peter Parker’s life. Whether you read the Ultimate comics or the regular Amazing series, the Green Goblin is a blight on Peter’s life, and a cancer that cannot be killed.
1. Magneto (All versions of Marvel’s X-men comics)
It doesn’t get better than Magneto. Sometimes a force of destruction opposing the X-men, sometimes a reluctant ally and recently, and actual X-men member, Magneto is the comic book villain. Originally created as a reflection of Malcom X (Professor X represented MLK), Magneto has grown into the most interesting villain in comics. The purple-helmet-wearing baddie represents a crusade for justice and equality, though through violence and intimidation. Erik Lehnsherr is not a villainous man at heart, but the world has warped his view throughout the years. He has seen the worst in humanity. He was a victim of WWII genocide, forced into a concentration camp, where he witnessed the deaths of his family and friends. Erik Lehnsherr isn’t even his real name. His name is actually Max Eisenhardt, but he adopted the name Erik Lehnsherr from one that had fallen in the camp. Magneto just wants a world where he and his fellow mutants are accepted, but after going through a troubled past, and seeing the world react poorly to his kind, he has decided to utilize his power and force equality. In recent years, he has seen the error of his ways and joined up with the X-men, but with the recent events in the X-men stories, Magneto may revert to the bitter, cold man that we once knew. The man who thought that power and fear were the only ways to set the world right.