Everyone knows nothing makes a good hero like a great villain. Sherlock Holmes needed Moriarty, G.I. Joe needed Cobra, the rebels needed Darth Vader, etc. Nothing makes a story better quite like an interesting, intriguing, and yet hated adversary. Readers tend to flock to the villains they love to hate. The best villains bring something out of the hero that nobody else does, or force the hero to push themselves further than before to find a way to win.
We wanted to make a top 10 list, but that’s impossible. There are just too many good choices, and we couldn’t agree on any of it. So we increased the list, and increased it, and increased it (honestly, we probably could have kept going, too). So, before it gets too out of hand, here are our choices for the 100 best villains in comics.
(Click here for our Top 100 Heroes List!)
(And be sure to check out Parts 1, 2, and 3 of our countdown!)
70. Poison Ivy
Real Name: Pamela Isley
First Appearance: Batman #181 (1966)
Enemies: Batman, Robin, Nightwing
“Hmm… This place could use some greenery.”
Thanks to her friendship with the likes of Catwoman and her relationship with Harley Quinn Ivy is probably a little closer to anti-hero than straight up villain these days, but she spent more than enough time trying to kill the Dynamic Duo (she’s fought pretty much every Robin there is) to make the list. Like most every DC character her origin has been re-made at least once or twice, but the basic story remains the same: Isley is a botanist who is transformed against her will. Her powers give her a connection to the Green, the life force protected by the Swamp Thing that ties her to all plant life.
Isley uses her powers of control over plant life mostly in an eco-terrorism fashion these days, and less in a bank robbing fashion. She believes that plant life is superior to humans and the like and that their dominion over the earth is an inevitability, but she’s dead set on moving things along in that direction as quickly as possible. In the past she has used her abilities to control the wills of others, most notably Batman, Catwoman, and Superman (see Jeph Loeb’s Batman runs)!!
Ignore her appearance in the Batman & Robin film; it will just make you sad.
Real Name: Bizarro
First Appearance: Supperboy #68 (1958)
“Me am Bizarro!”
Bizarro am Superman’s best friend. Bizarro am weaker and slower than- this is exhausting. Bizarro is the imperfect clone of Superman, or a duplicate from Bizarro world, depending on which origin you prefer. I like the clone angle, myself, but to each their own. The important things to know about this Frankenstein’s monster version of the world’s greatest hero are that he is impossibly strong (like Superman), can fly at impossible speeds (like Superman), is practically invincible (like Superman), breathes fire (um…) and has ice vision (…what?). If it weren’t for his shortcomings in the intellect department Bizarro would be the one of the most absolutely terrifying opponents in the entire DCU. It is his lack of understanding of things and basic stupidity that costs Bizarro victories that would otherwise be certain and absolute. I mean, even if he were just half as smart as Superman he’d be an absolute nightmare. As it stands he can kill most of the Justice League with his bare hands, even in a ‘Lenny from Of Mice and Men’-style accident, and if DC would get away from some of the (albeit kind of fun) goofiness that’s been associated with the big guy he could be one of their very biggest villains.
Bizarro am not awesome.
68. Sebastian Shaw
Real Name: Sebastian Shaw
First Appearance: Uncanny X-Men ##129 (1980)
Enemies: X-Men, Emma Frost
“What’s mine… is mine. And what is theirs… is mine.”
This sack of crap is never to be trusted, ever. The only thing you can count on with Sebastian Shaw is that he is out for himself and himself alone. While he may serve on the Quiet Council of Krakoa these days (the mutant nation government) his days as the king of the inner circle of the Hellfire Club secret society earned him more than a decent spot in hell. He and the council were responsible for the corruption of the Phoenix force and Jean Grey, causing the creation of the Dark Phoenix. Shaw also made deals with several governments to use Hellfire resources to build Sentinels, which caused the deaths of thousands of mutants. Shaw, himself a mutant, still doesn’t see what the big deal is as he made a killing on those deals.
Even his allies in assholery couldn’t trust him- he betrayed most of them and allowed most of the others to die. He’s also a shitty father: his son, Shinobi, actually tried to murder him several times and was only stopped when Sebastian turned the tables and killed him! A lot of his sins have been somewhat covered up now that Krakoa has the secret to resurrection, but one thing is almost guaranteed: when Krakoa falls (and it’s the X-Men, eventually it will all go sideways in spectacular fashion) Shaw will undoubtedly be near the center of things.
67. Black Manta
Real Name: David Hyde
Firsts Appearance: Aquaman #35 (1967)
“Y’see, deep down, in my most secret heart of hearts, I’m still a totally depraved sonofabitch whose main goal in life is to watch you die. Slowly and painfully. Just like your kid.”
You know you have to be a bad ass to be able to square off with Aquaman on a regular basis and live to tell the tale, but you REALLY have to be a bad ass to pull this look off. Nobody even jokes about how silly his headgear looks because everyone knows that Hyde is a sadist and a highly skilled, highly armed killer. His vendetta against Aquaman runs deep (no pun intended) and is really a blood feud at this point; the hatred between them has grown and involved others. In one of the more horrific acts committed by any villain, Black Manta murdered the infant son of Aquaman and Mera. He’s also the reason Aquaman spent a very long time missing a hand. Arthur, in response, has essentially adopted Manta’s son into his family as the new Aqualad and has turned Manta’s own son into his new protege. Essentially, things between the two are very personal.
A guy’s gotta be a stone-cold bad mama jama to go toe to toe with the kind of the seas on his turf, wearing that, and absolutely be a real threat to come out on top. He makes Mysterio’s bubble head look downright practical.
66. Baron Zemo
Real Name: Helmut Zemo
First Appearance: Captain America #168 (1973)
Enemies: Captain America, Winter Soldier, Falcon, Avengers
“You can join me and be a part of something far greater than you have ever experienced before… or defy me and be ground beneath the crushing power of inevitability. Choose, or have your fate chosen for you.”
Zemo is an excellent hand to hand fighter and swordsman, capable of going one on one with even Captain America himself. But that’s not why he is so dangerous. Zemo is at the top of every wanted list on earth because of his ties to Hydra and the Nazis (same thing, really) and his deep roots and influence within the super powered and super terror communities. Zemo’s fingers are everywhere- he’s one of the highest-ranking Hydra operatives there are, he’s the founder of the most successful version of the Masters of Evil (at least so far), and he pulled the ultimate switcheroo when he had those same Masters pose as heroes as the Thunderbolts, which he then led for years, using the team’s heroic actions to manipulate situations to his great advantage.
Ol’ scarface here is not one I would want to play chess with, that’s for certain. It doesn’t matter who is carrying the shield- Steve, Bucky or Sam- Zemo will be a giant pain in their ass. When heroes and villains alike react to a character’s presence like someone just threw a snake carrying a gun into the room it shows you all you need to know about them, and Zemo is 100% that.
Real Name: Cletus Kassady
First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #361 (1992)
Enemies: Spider-Man, Venom
“I’m killin’ you… ’cause I can!”
When Venom debuted in the late 80’s he was an instant success; so much so that by the early 90’s Marvel was spinning one of Spider-Man’s most vile adversaries into his own series and calling him a “Lethal Protector”. But making Venom a hero/anti-hero left a Venom-sized hole in the Spider-Man rogues gallery, so Carnage was created. The symbiote offspring of Venom bonded to one of the most prolific serial killers in human history, Carnage is the super villain equivalent of “you got murder chocolate in my bloodlust peanut butter”. Basically just a Red Venom that really likes sharp things plus a large dash of the Joker, there is a certain horrible charm to Carnage that a lot of villains just never have. Yes, he does absolutely monstrous things, but dammit, he just enjoys doing them SO MUCH! He immediately made a big impact, being such a threat that Spider-Man and Venom actually TEAMED UP to stop him (at the time this was a huge deal, now the two are basically buddies). His next appearance was Maximum Carnage, which I love dearly and go into here, and of course here on the podcast. In more recent years there have been some rather disturbing developments with everyone’s favorite walking abattoir (see Absolute Carnage!) and the symbiote is on its own, host-less (and all the more dangerous for it; see the current CARNAGE series from Marvel, it’s straight up crazy!) and on a mission that will probably end with lots and lots and lots and lots of dead bodies (lots).
64. The Hood
Real Name: Parker Robbins
First Appearance: The Hood #1 (2002)
Enemies: The Avengers, Dr. Strange, Dr. Doom
“The reality is… I’m not the hero of my own story and I’m totally okay with that. Sometime back I was offered a way out… but I decided to stop lying to myself and… if I’m going to be a villain… I’m going to be the best.”
Ol’ Parker here made this list largely on the back of a few year stretch in the early 2000’s, but in a pretty short amount of time he caused more problems for more Avengers than anyone not named Kang or Ultron had in a very, very long time. A somewhat small-time crook that gained possession of an artifact imbued with dark magic, the newly christened Hood didn’t set out to become a hero, but to be a much better criminal. He even built an army of super villains and was admitted into Norman Osborn’s inner circle, the Cabal, during the Dark Regin publishing era. In that time Parker made it his personal crusade to use his army of villains to run things like no one had before, and to build a criminal empire the likes of which had never been seen before. Oh, and murder the New Avengers, too, which he nearly did on numerous occasions. The Hood here even went one on one with Wolverine and not only walked away but won after shooting Logan in the crotch a bunch of times (seriously).
What really gets him from “likes shooting Canadian little people in the junk” to “one of the biggest threats ever” started when it became known that his hood was, in fact, imbued with power by none other than the dread Dormammu, and Robbins became possessed and nearly killed a whole team of Avengers before he was stopped by Dr. Strange and Dr. Voodoo after he tried to steal the title of Sorcerer Supreme. When he lost his connection to Dormammu’s powers he then went a little overboard and did what nobody that wasn’t Thanos or some version or another of Adam Warlock had ever accomplished and gathered the Infinity gauntlet! Only due to some quick thinking on the parts of Dr. Strange, Iron Man and the Red Hulk did the Avengers avoid losing everything to this guy. Not bad for a small-time crook that found a gross hoodie and just put it on.
63. The Mandarin
Real Name: Unknown
First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #50 (1964)
Enemies: Iron Man
“I am all powerful! Your new Master!”
While some cultural insensitivity with the way the character has been depicted in the past may prevent him from being used a whole lot in the present or future, Iron Man’s greatest foe is one scary son of a bitch. Even without his rings he’s incredibly formidable and as devious an opponent as you could ask for this side of an Osborn or Octavious. But, unfortunately, he DOES have his rings. For those that only know the character as Shang Chi’s father in the MCU you’re missing out. While that version was very cool, I much prefer this one. He’s beyond irredeemable; he’s done some truly horrible things over the years, not even counting what he’s done with the rings.
I keep mentioning his rings, and that’s because A) they’re awesome, and B) they make him one of the most formidable opponents on Earth. Alien in nature, each of the Mandarin’s ten rings has a different ability and he can use them individually or in concert to really mess up your day. On his left hand he has a ring that can freeze almost anything, a ring that allows for (short range) mental control over others, a ring that shoots electricity with a seemingly unlimited wattage, a ring that shoots fire, and a ring that shoots insanely intense laser beams. That’s on one hand!!! On his right hand he has a ring that shoots ‘absolute darkness’ (actually Darkforce, like the stuff that powers Cloak from Cloak & Dagger- scary stuff), a ring that shoots a DISINTEGRATION BEAM, the vortex ring which can shoot hurricane-level winds or be used to allow him to fly, a ring that allows him to fire concussive blasts equivalent to being hit by over 300 lbs of TNT, and a ring that rearranges matter and can speed up and slow down the movement of molecules.
So yeah, fighting this guy would suck balls. No wonder Tony Stark turned to drinking.
62. The Rhino
Real Name: Aleksei Sytsevich
First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #41 (1966)
Enemies: Spider-Man, the Hulk
“I’m Rhino. I knock things down. That’s what I do. That’s who I am.”
Created by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr, what should be a long-forgotten character has turned into one of Marvel’s better brute strength villains. This is primarily off of the strength of the Joe Kelly written stories featuring the Rhino in the Gauntlet stories in which he is given more heart and you are able to really get into his motivations and you really feel his (and Spider-Man’s) heartbreak by the end and then, perhaps just as importantly, understand his drive and why he wants to squash the bug for good. Since then he’s also been a recurring member of the Sinister Six at times.
Long gone are the days of the big, goofy Russian tough guy that can be outsmarted by anyone. Aleksei Systevich is cunning, swift, and oh-so-damned powerful, yes, but he’s also heartbroken and so very full of rage. As a guy that could go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Juggernaut and the Hulk BEFORE these developments, it’s no surprise that any time Aleksei shows up to fight Spidey nearly soils his spandex.
61. Black Hand
Real Name: William Hand
First Appearance: Green Lantern #29 (1964)
Enemies: Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Indigo Tribe
“You know what? You’ll be the twenty third person I’ve killed today. But that doesn’t make me a bad man. Death is good. And death wants you back.”
Black Hand is another in a long, loooong line of examples pointing to why Geoff Johns is the best writer the Green Lantern books ever had. A former joke of a villain, Johns turned Hand into someone with a very crucial place in an incredibly large, layered corner of the DC universe and a central figure in not only the (excellent) Blackest Night event, but in the Green Lantern books in general.
Obsessed with death, Hand became a servant of Nekron, an ancient being that is some form of a personification of death. Together they unleashed the Black Lantern rings, which turned all of the dead heroes and villains in the DC universe into undead black lanterns (how awesome is that?) and nearly conquered the entire universe. Were it not for a small band of Lanterns from all of the different corps (such as Hal Jordan, Sinestro, Larfleeze, and Atrocitus) they would have conquered all life in the universe.
For a seriously, seriously messed up origin issue I highly recommend Green Lantern vol 4 issue 43, by Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke (pictured below).
That’s it for part 4! Be sure to check out part 5 where we will check in with some more of the scum bags you hate to love and love to hate, such as Gorilla Grodd, the Cyborg Superman Hank Henshaw, and the sinister Sandman!
If you missed them be sure to check out parts 1, 2, and 3 of our countdown, and be sure to check out our Top 100 Heroes countdown!
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