My 5 Favorite Comics Characters (Villain Edition)
Not long ago, I promised I’d post about my favorite characters in comics. It just makes sense for me to do so given the nature of my writing, but the more I thought of it, the more I realized that: 1) I have a lot of favorites and 2) they’re from a diverse assortment of types. I have favorite heroes, villains, support characters, one-offs, etc, so to be fair to them all, I’m splitting them up.
And, because everyone loves a villain, I’m doing those guys first. So here’s a list of my favorite big bads, thugs, ne’er-do-wells and mooks in comics. But first, as in the grand tradition of the Top 5 Super Couples, the person who might have made the list, but failed upon further review:
I love the X-men. I love the X-men despite Marvel’s constant attempts to make me give up on them. Sorry guys: you got me to abandon Spider-man, but I’m in this one for the long haul. X-men: the Animated Series was what got me into non-Disney/Archie comics and it continues to be the franchise I care most about.
To that end, of course I am a fan of Magneto in the general sense. He has awesome (yet unfathomable by physics) powers, a great motivation (being that he is 100% correct), and he gets the best lines in whatever medium he shows up in. Hell, the guy has even shown himself to be noble on occasion.
Unfortunately, the character of Magneto has been caught in a huge tug of war among writers over the years. There is a faction that wants him to be… you know, an actual good character with good motivations but awful, self-destructive and ultimately counterproductive means to reach that end (Malcolm X to Xavier’s Martin Luther King, Jr.) aaaand then there’s the faction that want hm to be an ax crazy cartoon with no actual character development to speak of and no understanding of his continuity.
Acclaimed comics writer Grant Morrison is in favor of the latter and in the first half of the last decade essentially oversaw the implosion of the character of Magneto, turning him into a psychotic drug addict who marched people into incinerators (Magneto is a Holocaust survivor, Grant!) and a series of heavy-handed attempts to fix it that made things even worse.
Then Magneto reformed and did the worst thing possible: he sided with and has become pretty much chief yes-man to Cyclops, who has grown increasingly… completely goddamn evil since the Utopia event, culminating in Cyke murdering Professor X. As you’ll see, there are times I will even forgive agreeing with Cyclops on… anything ever… but the fact that Magneto didn’t turn Cyclop’s visor into a ruby quartz suppository for killing essentially his only true friend has him on my shit list. So no list for you, Eric.
Who got his spot?
#5 – Kingmaker
I’m completely honest here when I say that Kingmaker wouldn’t have gotten on here if I had kept Magneto. That’s mostly because he’s so damn obscure. I would put good money down guessing that most of your who have heard of him heard of him from me.
Kingmaker is a villain who, to my knowledge, only appeared once: in the New X-Men: Academy X miniseries, Hellions. And considering that maybe ten people read that (excellent) book, you know this guy must have made an impact on me to get on this list.
At his core, Kingmaker is like a smart Power Broker, himself a modern day Faust. With the Power Broker, you go to him if you want superpowers, he gives you superpowers, but puts you under contract to do evil with copious amounts of blackmail to keep you in line. In a world where there are proven ways to get superpowers, it kind of shocks me that there’s only the one Power Broker. Luckily, (or not considering he’ll probably never show up again), Kingmaker takes to concept one step further and with a hell of a lot more class.
First, he doesn’t just keep superpowers in stock. He keeps your greatest desires. Want to be rich and powerful? He can put you are the helm of a profitable company. Want someone to love you? Done. Have a terrible affliction with no known cure? He’s got fingers in the world’s super-science and he can fix your shit. (There is a whole rant I want to do on why super-science somehow fails to change the world in comics, but that’s for later).
How can one dude do all this? Because he is apparently the only person in the Marvel Universe who has ever thought of cooperation outside of the context of crime or stopping crime. See, the price for getting Kingmaker to make you king is that you have to help him make other people’s ‘wishes’ come true. Favor for favor. Thus, he now has telepaths, mad scientists, powerful corporate heads, entertainment moguls—basically every source of power; real, social and super; in the Marvel U at his finger tips. Oh and he uses some of those favors for himself.
As a villain, Kingmaker is awesome. He offers everything you can dream of and totally delivers without being the and obvious evil (and thus someone any smart person would avoid cutting deals with). In fact, it is unlikely that most of his clients are even aware that sometimes their favors go to supervillains. After all, Kingmaker is equal opportunity and in the Hellions mini, is more than willing to do favors for teen heroes.
Best of all, even after the Hellions beat him, he still manages to wreck them, just by taking their wishes away, often making things worse in the process. He screwed Dust over so hard in fact, that it became a plot point even into Marc Guggenheim’s awful, awful Young X-men.
To put it mildly, Kingmaker might not be a big name, but he was effective and badass.
#4 – Gorilla Grodd
There was a rule of thumb, the best idea ever developed in the era, during the Silver Age of Comics, that if you wanted to sell lots of comics, slap a gorilla on the cover. This plan totally worked for years and I am baffled as to why they still don’t follow it. Gorillas are awesome, intelligent super-gorillas are even more awesome and evil intelligent super gorillas are worthy of an air guitar solo that lasts six hours.
I love super-gorillas, so I made myself promise only to include one on each of these lists. And let me tell you, the competition here was stiff. In addition to Grodd, there’s also Monsieur Mallah, a guerrilla gorilla who usually wields a chain gun, wears a beret and is in a gay relationship with a brain in a jar, Ultra Humanite, a sophisticated, opera loving super genius whose mind inhabits the body of an albino ape, and Titano, a giant, radioactive gorilla who fires kryptonite lasers from his eyes. Damn, comics are awesome sometimes.
Grodd, however, takes the cake. He is a telepath who got his powers and intellect from aliens and hales from an entire city of intelligent, technologically advanced gorillas called Gorilla City, and he has, on more than a dozen occasions, waged genocidal war against humanity.
He is, quite simply, the most ‘comic book’ of comic book villains. He could only have come about from the sensibilities and embracing of the ludicrous that comics possess and other media sadly doesn’t. If he had been conceived anywhere else, Grodd would be a joke, but on comics, he is a deadly serious threat and no one is laughing when he shows up.
Also, his helmet is awesome.
Which is less than I can say for the clothing choices of…
3 – Emma Frost
Let me say this up front: Emma Frost is a piss-poor hero. This is thanks in no small part to the fact that she isn’t heroic in any way. Yeah, she joined the X-men because she totally wanted to be a teacher after Sentinels squished her third (!) class of hapless mutant kids, but that’s not really a heroic or even good motivation when you realize that her whole deal is influencing the next generation her way. It doesn’t matter to her if those kids are her original (evil) Hellions or Xavier’s kids as long as she’s having an impact.
Furthermore, her attitude and tactics have not changed since the time she was a villain save that now she has a diamond mode. She is still a cruel, controlling sociopath and the fact that she can now be ‘a hero’ is an indictment of Marvel’s views on heroism.
Worse, despite being clearly evil, her role is basically ‘evil Jean Grey’, despite better versions of that role have been filled by Goblin Queen and Dark Phoenix (and of course Emma is now a constant Phoenix magnet now that Jean’s dead. The writers just scratched out ‘Jean’ in all their future scripts and penciled in ‘Emma’.
Despite this, Emma remains one of my favorite villains because she manages to remain a villain even while editorial keeps insisting she’s a hero. Not that she was a slouch back in the day. She fielded her own super-team of evil teens, and most memorably, switched bodies with Storm and used it to traumatize the hell out of Kitty.
Since her face turn, Emma hasn’t let up either. She seduced Cyclops psychically right under Jean’s nose and somehow played Jean so hard that when she died (again), Jean gave them her blessing even as they made out over her grave. She’s also teamed up with the goddamn Green Goblin at the low point in the Marvel U’s intelligence, Dark Reign (which despite the people in-universe being idiots contained some decent stories like Dark Reign: Deadpool), and is constantly egging Cyke on in his own long, obnoxious slide into villainy.
I like Emma because I’m not entirely certain that the writers are so dumb as to not see that she remains a complete monster. Sure, these are the same guys who thought the pro-reg side was right in Civil War, but Emma has been evil so much longer than Tony Stark and the only time she ever paid for it was when the Stepford Cuckoos, her clone daughters, disowned her and even then, most writers don’t show her all that broken up over it. There is potential here that has never been discouraged that Emma might actually be a real villainous power to be reckoned with in the Marvel U. Hell, she’s still so powerful even after years with the X-men that one word from her called off Kingmaker’s vengeance in the Hellions mini.
And for the record, no I don’t find her all that hot. I’m not that into blondes and her clothes are more hilarious than sexy. This from someone who actually likes Power Girl’s all-powerful boob-window.
And still on the subject of cool clothes, I’m reminded of the Blue Beetle’s Kha-ji Da and…
#2 – The Reach
I’m going to ignore their generic New 52 stuff because it is boring and disappointing while the original Reach are everything an enemy alien civilization should be.
The Reach are from the excellent Blue Beetle comics, but their legacy stretches back into the DC universe quite a bit. They are a species of conquerors, moving from planet to planet and enslaving the indigenous populations. Sounds boring and trite doesn’t it?
But no, my friends, the Reach have a unique way of enslaving a civilization that makes them stand head and shoulders above all other villains of their type. And step one starts with making peaceful contact with the target species and giving them all sorts of tech to make their lives better.
You heard me. The Reach arrive and give you all sorts of awesome presents plus they get your back against other cosmic invaders and just to seal the deal, they, like the Amazons with Wonder Woman, send you an ambassador who is also a superhero (This is the role that would have been destined to Jaime Reyes, Blue Beetle III).
What’s that you ask? ‘How do I sign up?’
Well the price is hidden in some of that awesome tech: specifically, in food production methods. Unlike real Genetically modified food, there is a health risk to Reach Brand™ corn and such: it slowly modifies those eating it to be more easily manipulated and less intelligent over the span of generations. In a couple hundred years, the Reach then fakes an attack on the planet, getting the now weakened natives to voluntarily cede their sovereignty to their ‘allies’ the Reach for safety.
There’s no mess war, no loss of Reach lives and really, it leaves the Reach’s hands clean. Plus, it’s just so damn refreshing to see alien conquerors trying some kind of strategy that isn’t the Brannigan Maneuver.
Sadly, the Reach don’t wear velor.
Also, the Reach weaponry, particularly their power suit creating scarabs are incredibly badass, as I discussed in my previous post about superpowers.
#1 – The Joker
I am actually a big fan of a lot of folks in the Batman Rogue’s Gallery. Riddler, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Ras al Ghul, Clock King (Templeton Fugatte, who almost made this list), Two-Face—hell, I even like Maxie Zeus. I might have to do a top Bat-villain post at some point too…
But then there’s the Joker.
Yeah, he’s not a creative choice for this kind of list, especially after I listed freaking Kingmaker, but the beauty of the Joker is how versatile he is across adaptations and imaginings. Yeah, there are bad ones like the New 52 (You know, I really liked New 52 when it started, but now… it’s the DC Ultimate Universe—with no alternative that isn’t Ultimate.) version or (in some people’s opinion, though not me) the Joker from Young Justice, but that’s outweighs by all the awesome versions of him.
He can be legitimately amusing and wacky, like Cesar Romero’s portrayal in the Adam West Batman series and even though there he’s not threatening at all, he remains true to the concept of the criminal clown. At the same time, he can be utterly menacing and disturbing like Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. Hell, he can even be a major physical threat without losing his core like in The Batman or Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Of course then we have my favorite Joker and the one I feel is the best version of the character:
Mark Hamill has the best Joker voice too.
The thing about Batman: TAS‘s version of the Joker is that he’s the only actually insane Joker in non-comic media. Maybe The Batman’s Joker is too, but I’ve seen very little of that show. Think about it: Jack Nicholson‘s version from Batman is really just uninhibited; Ledger’s version uses the shtick to add to his menace as he furthers his nihilist philosophy.
Meanwhile, TAS Joker is completely barking mad. All of his crimes are either for petty revenge, or part of what could be considered a performance piece centered around his own twisted humor. And it really is humor with him. You see this in the fact that Harley Quinn and his goons are actually afraid not to laugh at his jokes and how he gets visibly upset when either someone doesn’t get his jokes or when someone performs a bigger joke. Even his abusive relationship with Harley is based on 50’s sitcoms.
In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, the new Batman, Terry McGuinness actually deconstructs the Joker’s psyche this way and concludes that his hatred for the Bat is based on the fact that Batman never laughs at his ‘jokes’.
The end result of this is a genuinely menacing and disturbing character. He’s amusing as hell when he rants or orders around a clown robot—hell, even his animated run cycle is still and his leitmotif comprises the absolute most cheery music in the series. But then he smacks his girlfriend around, or stalks a guy for months just because he called him out for driving like an asshole, or he come legitimately close to killing someone (This being an animated American series from the 90’s, he couldn’t kill people, forcing writers to be creative in order to convey menace unlike comic writers who have just the one tool of murder) and suddenly you realize that there is something very wrong and very scary about this guy. It’s enough to make you start reexamining your own reactions laughing at the wacky clown robot thing when you see him stomping on Batman’s fingers, trying to drop him into molten steal while screaming “I’m gonna watch you melt just like a grilled cheese sandwich!”.
In short, TAS Joker is everything an insane clown villain should be: scary, unsettling, but still entertaining in a ‘I am a horrible person’ sort of way.
So there you have it. You’ve heard my piece. Who are your favorite villains and why? And what do you think of this crew I’ve listed here? Let me know in the comments and on the forum.
Hey folks, just wanted to let you know that the first Rune Breaker book, A Girl and Her Monster is going to be coming out in paperback form next week. The price is going to be $12.99 USD, but I’m going to see what I can so about coupon codes for my fans. It’ll be available through Amazon and CreateSpace, but if you’d like an autographed copy, email me and we can work something out. Be aware that international shipping rates will apply. If you just can’t wait, you can order a copy from CreateSpace right now.
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