Top Ten Villains: in ranked order from 10th to 1st, my favorite comic book villains. These are the characters whose motivations i most understand, enjoy tales about, or consider just plain cool – in a diabolical way. The list is not limited by publisher. If i’m honest, my comic book habits gravitate mostly around the Big Two. Jumped on the 90’s Image bandwagon (only blurry memories remain, but i did like Union for the Texiera art), and i’ve dipped a toe in other waters from time to time. But for the most part i’m a mainstream comics fan at heart.
While organizing things at The Long Shot, i noticed a glaring omission from past topics. The good guys, whose adventures regularly revolve around saving the day/city/world/universe got their time to shine. But what about the dastardly deviants whose exploits give them the opportunity to show their stuff?
Compiling this list was much more difficult than its do-gooder counterpart, let me tell you. While there are a lot of bad guys who hit all the marks like great costumes, terrific powers, and believable motivations, it’s actually pretty tough to pin down ten of them and say they’re my favorites. But i gave it a [long] shot anyway.
#10 – Ozymandias
While i’m far from an expert on Watchmen, i would be remiss as a comic book fan if i’d never read Alan Moore’s seminal series. i will admit that i glossed over most of the “story-within-a-story” Tales of the Black Freighter sprinkled throughout the series. Maybe it’s worth a return read though, as i’ve since learned that its plot is meant to correlate with the character arc of Adrian Veidt – also known by the costumed crime-fighter name Ozymandias – the very character i’m talking about right now.
Before Watchmen: Ozymandias artwork by Jae Lee. Can’t go wrong there.
So how does a character that, at least previous to 2012’s Before Watchmen series by DC Comics, had only appeared in the 1986 series make it only a Top Ten list? That’s the easy part.
“I did it thirty-five minutes ago.”
Turning the classic villain convention on its ear, Ozy follows the pattern almost to a tee during the story’s climactic battle against the heroes. After their investigations lead them to the culprit pulling all the strings, the nagging loose threads are conveniently explained by the antagonist. Unfortunately for our heroes, the new-found knowledge and accompanying time taken to explain it – that would have given anyone else just the chance they needed to eke out a victory – falls flat right here.
You’ve got to love a villain like that.
Self-aggrandizing without being pompous. Arrogant but soft-spoken. A figure who recognizes his superiority over others, but doesn’t lord it over them. It’s just a matter of fact. And with that intelligence comes the smarts to know you never let your enemies in on the secret if there’s a chance they could use that info to foil your best laid plans. The engineers of the Death Star would have done well to take a page from Veidt’s playbook and sealed off that ventilation tube once they realized they had an info leak, and that their entire operation was in jeopardy because of one little architectural flaw. “We sealed that shaft 12 parsecs ago.”
#9 – Black Adam
The dark counterpart of the Big Red Cheese, Teth-Adam is the fictional son of Ramses II, born in the equally fictitious neighboring country of Kahndaq. If this and my previous pick are any indication, then Egyptian mythology and mythos is a wealthy source to plumb for comics material (Ozymandias is steeped in Ramses II references). Like his heroic foil Captain Marvel – now officially dubbed Shazam – whenever he utters a magic word, Black Adam channels the powers of several Egyptian gods. Stamina, speed, strength, wisdom, power, and courage are ramped up to godlike levels. Originally, Adam was meant to be the champion of the goodly gods of Egyptian lore. However, the machinations of the demon Blaze cause his powers to come from the dark gods of the pantheon.
Striking an iconic super-villain pose – the throne slouch. It’s no Buscema, but still…
How did Black Adam make the list? If i’m honest, most of my picks are based more on impulse than any deep-rooted familiarity with their deeds. Most of my hard experience with Black Adam comes from his appearances in Villains United as one of the founders of the Secret Society of Supervillains, and from The Dark Age, his own miniseries wherein he strives to revive his murdered wife Isis and regain his powers – lost as the result of events in World War III.
Prior to those tales, i really didn’t know a whole lot about Black Adam so i couldn’t regale you with favorite stories from the past. One of the things i enjoy most about the character is his costume. It’s simple and striking and,while buccaneer boots and a lightning bolt emblem on his chest don’t exactly speak to his Egyptian roots, his ensemble does give you the impression that he is powerful. And, while i am a fan of capes and cloaks in general, his lack of over-the-shoulder wear is the smart choice. On the other hand, he would look kind of cool with a short mantle like Shazam, no? Very lordly.
Fashion choices aside, Black Adam appeals to me because, at least as far as i can tell, he doesn’t have the sort of base motivations of your standard comic book villain. He doesn’t scheme for money, glory, fame, or even power really. He’s got all of those things in spades. What is material wealth to an ancient, immortal, god-powered magical superbeing? Even if he needed some ducats, the coffers of Kahndaq (the Middle Eastern nation he rules) are likely more than sufficient. Glory and fame? A millenia-long warrior legacy has provided accolades aplenty. And power? The guy can go toe-to-toe with Superman, and is single-handedly his homeland’s military force.
So what’s a guy like Black Adam want? In that, i’d say he’s kinda like the Hulk. For the most part, he just wants to be left alone. But more than that, he’s got the heart of a warrior poet, and when you strip away all the braggadocio, haughtiness, savagery, cunning, and guile, he wants the same thing most of us really only want. Yep, ol’ Teth-Amon is a big softie when it comes right down to it. i’ll let LL Cool J break it down for you..
i guess you can call him the Big Black Cheese (but that sounds both yucky and maybe even a little offensive?)
#8 – Juggernaut
Want to know why i enjoy Cain Marko so much? Because everytime i think of this character, this flashes in my mind:
Believe it or not, Juggy was headed to the bank for a legitimate business transaction! But look at that smirk – he knows people are scared silly…and he kinda likes it.
The more i research this stand-out issue from my childhood, then more i realize how impactful it was to me as a comic fan – or an X-Men fan at least. Most of my favorite mutants and two of my favorite members of their rogues gallery are featured in Uncanny X-Men #194. Skimming through the era, i certainly see how the Claremont years formed the basis of my X-Men knowledge and nostalgia. In this ish alone we’ve got Juggernaut or course, and also Nimrod – a highly advanced Sentinel from a possible future programmed to wipe out mutants (why was he after Juggy then? Hmm…).
On the side of the angels: Wolverine, Shadowcat, Colossus, Rachel Summers, Nightcrawler, and one special lady who combines the best of all of them:
Rogue, with borrowed powers from several teammates.
Sometimes a good guy, sometimes a bad guy, Juggernaut always came off as sympathetic to me. Raised by an abusive father, Marko’s life only got worse when he gained Charles Xavier as a step-brother, and his already crappy dad took to this new kid so much that Cain went largely ignored. i imagine in some twisted way, even the negative attention was better than none. Just to make it worse, the not-yet Professor X and his emerging telepathic powers allowed him to learn about Cain’s jealousy, which drove a permanent wedge between the two.
Fast forward a few years, after Marko stumbles on the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak with the inscription “Whosoever touches this gem shall possess the power of the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak! Henceforth, you who read these words, shall become forevermore a human juggernaut!” Now we’ve got an abused child with resentment issues towards a telepathic step-brother who violated his private thoughts. What do you think happens next?
Stuff’s gonna get smashed up, that’s what.
One of the things i like most about Juggernaut is his simplicity. That is not to say he is simple-minded, however. Far from it. But i’ve always enjoyed the fact that his plans and goals aren’t steeped in layers of innuendo and mystery. Beat up a hated sibling. Help a friend. Get money. Become a better person. These are not difficult motivations to understand. And he has a pretty simple power with which to accomplish these easy to fathom goals – straight-up super strength and invulnerability. A lot of it. Want some proof? Here’s a handy compilation of his feats. Show some respect. If you don’t have the time or inclination to peruse that, here’s a brief summary to give you a rough idea: Juggernaut has brawled with, held his own against, and nigh-bested some of Marvel’s heaviest hitters like Thor and the Hulk.
Which isn’t to say he wasn’t left the worse for wear, but still…
What is the “something” that can stop him? i sense a trip to the comic book store is in order.
My favorite Juggernaut moment, which not surprisingly features the same X-Men lineup as the battle with Nimrod – plus throws Spidey in the mix – is from Marvel Team-Up #150. This time, Juggy decides the perfect b-day gift for his BFF Black Tom Cassidy is the awesome power of Cyttorak. So he retrieves the magic ruby from a hidden temple and brings it to his bud in NYC. Black Tom doesn’t quite see the gift as all too great, and the two friends get into a brouhaha which draws the attention of the X-Men as well as Spider-Man (who hopes to snag some good pics – he’s down on his luck and rent is due, ‘natch). At the end, Juggernaut proves he’s got what it takes to make it in the MLB when he pitches the ruby into orbit so no one else can have it. Okay so maybe he is a little bit simple-minded. You know even “normal” people can reach space, right Cain?
After fighting with Juggernaut for a while, mutant strongman Colossus finally managed to pry the dome-shaped helmet from Juggy’s head, the helmet that protects him from mental assault. But crafty Cain Marko has a trick up his sleeve so to speak. Check it out:
A second helmet underneath his helmet! Not so simple-minded now, is he?
#7 – Deathstroke the Terminator
If you’re a comics fan yourself, you’re probably thinking i’m a Teen Titans fan right now, i bet. Ol’ Slade Wilson here is one of their most well-known and deadliest enemies, and more than one of his children have been on the team’s roster. But, no. Don’t get me wrong – i like more than a few incarnations of what was originally a team of iconic hero sidekicks. And the cartoon was pretty good too. But i grew up mostly with Marvel comics (except for Bats and Supes) and i missed the whole Marv Wolfman/George Perez days.
It wasn’t until the late 90’s that i got into DC Comics with any sort of vigor. For that, i have Grant Morrison’s JLA to thank. Specifically, i jumped onboard with Issue #14. Why, i couldn’t tell you for certain. Not because i was a huge GL, Flash, or Aquaman fan (i have since become a fan of the latter two – GL never really charged my ring). Probably had something to do with Howard Porter‘s art, which really caught my attention. It still looks pretty damn cool today, i think. Back in those days, i really enjoyed embarking on a back issue quest as well.
Darkseid as the villain piqued my interest, too. Always thought he was terrific. And it’s no secret i’m a Fourth World fan.
What does any of that have to do with Deathstroke? Not much, admittedly. Just wandered off on a tangent about my history with the Distinguished Competition. If i’m honest, i was hoping to remember when i first became interested in Deathstroke too. In the mid-80’s, when i started reading RPG rules books as literature, i had the boxed set DC Heroes game and if i recall correct he was featured prominently there and looked pretty cool.
Great costume! Lots of tweaks and changes over the years but it’s always blue and orange with the single-eye cowl.
You know what? i really cannot figure out how, when, or why i started digging Deathstroke. My best guess is actually out of left field – through the now-defunct Vs System TCG. From the original DC release, he was represented in cardboard crack form by a pretty useless high-cost character card. Thankfully for him, my deck-building typically revolved around whether or not i liked the artwork on the card, and i really liked this one. At the time, my friend and i were convinced we could win a million dollars flopping cards, and i was obsessed with deck-building. Everyday, i put together a new set of cards. And everyday, my friend would kick my ass with what i later came to understand was a top tier deck (neither of us knew that; we didn’t even know what ‘top tier deck’ meant). Hey, wait a minute…maybe he did know, had researched it more than he let on (which was not at all) and secretly laughed with glee and my frustrated attempts to overcome him?
From that point on, to level with you, i really haven’t read a whole lot of comics featuring the world’s deadliest assassin. But there were several future iterations of the character in card game form and i eventually built an entire deck around him. One version featured a lot of burn, which my girlfriend who was cool enough to actually get into Vs. found to be “bullshit.” Nevermind that she used Doom exclusively. Yeah…no bullshit there!
But i have read a lot about the character and his history and stuff, which is quite interesting. Most recently, i had a geekgasm when i started getting into Arrow at my brother’s suggestion and saw a ragged Deathstroke mask in the very first episode. It has turned out to be a pretty cool show, and i’m looking forward to seeing how CW version of Slade Wilson turns out. Not sure about their use of Wintergreen though.
#6 Kang the Conquerer
The chronal cahones on this guy, calling himself “The Conqueror”
Now this one, i can tell you exactly when i first heard of and saw him. He was in a line-up of bad guys and was one of at least four that my young self saw and thought “who the hell are those guys?” My favorite part: how they all instinctively line up, except for Dr. Doom who surveys the group and acknowledges their collective power…then of course points how much more dangerous he is than any of them (including Galactus, which he later proves true).
Kang, along with Cannonball, Piledriver, and Bulldozer – the ‘who the hell are those guys’ guys.
Now, knowing what i know of Kang today – that he is a master of time travel who has conquered more than a few realities and caused so many divergent timelines that there is a Council of Cross-Time Kangs just to keep his own conquests in order – why he was relegated to a dude with a blaster gun during Secret Wars is Beyonder me. Nevertheless, as both a completionist and amateur thief specializing in RPG rulebooks and action figures, my childhood collection most certainly included Kang.
My most involved experience with Kang comes through the Avengers Forever limited series from the late 90’s. Following my usual M.O., i dove into this series starting with Issue #3. i’ll give you one guess why.
More often than not, you can judge a comic book by it’s cover and this one had two things going for it: awesome Carlos Pacheco art, and Kang.
After a battle that spans across numerous time periods and plucks Avengers from various points in time, Kang (this time fighting with the good guys against a future version of himself) causes a temporal rift through sheer force of will. He did not want to evolve into the man called Immortus, and even though according to the powerful Time-Keepers it was his destiny, he was like “screw that noise!” For a guy who has left not only the afore-mentioned time-clones of himself all over the place/time, as well as variations like Rama-Tut, Scarlet Centurion, and Iron Lad, i sort of wondered why he even cared. My guess is that, to a 30th century man who carries the legacy of both Reed Richards and Victor von Doom, doing what other people tell you probably chafes worse than superhero tights after an extended crime-fighting endeavor.
Kang also holds the distinction of being the only super-villain to have overtaken Earth completely by force during the Kang Dynasty event. No mind-control or anything like that – just brilliant tactics. And the best technology from across all of time and space. Don’t worry though – he only conquered the planet to save it.
Like any good villain worth his salt, Kang has mastered the Buscema Slouch.
* * * * *
Whoa, what’s this?! Long Shot giving you the short shrift?
With such a dastardly dossier already complied, how villainous must the rest of these rogues be?
Bad enough to force me to take a break, that’s how. “If you stare into the abyss,” and all that.
Plus i’ve got to keep my DDO peeps up-to-date on some goings on there as well.
This, my friends, is called a cliffhanger.
Thanks for visiting!