The Best of the Worst, part 2

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. Since you’ve undoubtedly rushed home from work/school/your busy life to find out who #5-#1 could possibly be, i felt obligated to have this ready – just for you!  Yeah, you.  The one who was here yesterday thinking “I’ve never ever heard of most of these guys.”  And they are all guys, aren’t they?  Hmmm…is my view too chauvinistic?  Where all the ladies at?  Perhaps the fairer sex is simply that and their supercrimes against humanity aren’t quite as heinous.  A skim down this list of femme fatales does illicit some “oh yeah…” names for me (looking at you Elektra, White Queen, Cheetah, some others) but, sorry ladies, when it comes to my favorite comic book metacriminals, it’s a man’s world.  

#5 – Kingpin With his generally recognized arch-nemesis ranking #2 on this album’s A-side, Wilson Fisk was basically an auto-include on this list.  The only question was where to place him.  Compared to those who came before, he’s severely out-classed in regards to power level.  But this list is about my favorites, and there’s no doubt the Kingpin of Crime is one of them.  All Sydney Greenstreet inspiration aside, by the time i came across Kingpin during Frank Miller’s legendary run around Issue #170 he was introduced to me as a mammoth of muscle, a brutal crimelord who, while he preferred to run the show from his Manhattan penthouse, had no qualms about getting his hands dirty.  A brilliant story arc, of that there is no question.  But i wondered, even as a child – who would sign up to be his training partners?  i’m pretty sure he killed them all during the session.  Classes at the local dojo must have been getting pretty thin. “Hey – did you see that ad in the locker room?  Some spice dealer is paying top dollar for sparring partners!” “Let’s go check it out.  I hear Murphy signed up last week.  Haven’t heard from him though…”

Kingpin training

“Surprisingly quick on his feet for a big man.” – every WWF color commentator during a match featuring a large man.

Oh, what an awesome run of comics that was.  Brilliant!  Looking back, i can’t believe i was reading those when i was in like 3rd grade, but hey – i turned out all right.  Those issues featuring a fantastic gritty tale starring Kingpin, DD, Elektra, and Bullseye are likely the culprits responsible for my appreciation of a good crime story to this very day.  i never knew Kingpin as the malformed malcontent of his earlier years battling Spider-Man.  To me, he’s always been a dark figure, one who inspired chills when revealed as the mastermind behind the nefarious plot.  Like the characters he schemed against, the mention of his name instantly let me know that things just got real serious.

Kingpin

One of the best things about Kingpin – no costume!

From what i understand, most of Kingpin’s earlier exploits involved standard comic book fare of the day – oddball heists, gimmicky gadgets, and authentic Stan Lee banter.  And it would be blasphemous to discount that earlier body of work.  But for my money, Marvel NYC’s Kingpin of Crime will forever be steeped in ninjas, assassins, and psychological torture aimed at his enemies whether they be superpowered or not, or even his own son.  The best thing about this character is definitely the realism that makes it just believable enough that you don’t have far to suspend your disbelief.

The other great stand-out Kingpin story, and for my money probably the best comic book story i’ve ever read (sorry, Paul!) is the 50-something issue run by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev.  i should clarify that last statement – it’s not that the erstwhile creator of Longbox Graveyard doesn’t like the story.  Far from it.  But he does make quite a case against the format of the story, which i totally respect.  Actually, in a funny way i agree with him – it is very wordy – but on the other hand look what you’re reading right now.  See any posts under 500 words around here?  Didn’t think so.

But i digress.  By the time you reach the end of this epic DD tale, i believe you will be a fan of the Kingpin too.  Like LBG and pretty much anyone else you ask including myself, reading them in collected version is definitely the way to go.  i suppose at this point, it’s superfluous to think you’d read each issue individually and wait a month between each…but on the other hand, there is the thrill of the back-issue hunt to consider.  If that’s your ken, then don’t let me stop you – pick a random number between 26 and 81 and go from there.

#4 – Shocker

i’m going to cheat here.  Want to know why i like the Shocker so much?

Shocker_comic

Psst…over here!

#3 – Lex Luthor

We’re getting serious now.  Throw out all those who came before, these last three put the “super” in supervillain.

The first thing i have to say about Lex here is that he is the only character i’ve researched who has his own listing on IMDB.  At least the only one that comes up near the top of a Google search.  And with a filmography that lists 45 items, that’s pretty impressive.

luthor oval office

i’d at least consider voting Lex for President.

At this point, i’d say it’s pointless to try and pinpoint when exactly i became a fan of Luthor.  Even people who have never seen, let alone read, a comic book know this character.  Superman’s nemesis, a “normal” man of exceptional intellect, scientific and technological genius, and ruthlessness.  In fact, he is considered to be the most intelligent human in his comic book universe, and one of the most intelligent beings period.  If you ask me, this ought to be considered a super power by itself – the power to surpass Batman in anything a human is capable of.  Typical comic book discussions involving Batman result in the Dark Knight being the most/best whatever.  It should be noted that, since we’re talking comics here, Luthor’s scientific prowess extends to things like space and extra-dimensional travel, mutations, and the like.  If you were to ask the man himself, only Brainiac is his peer intellectually.

luthor hackman Gene Hackman’s superb turn as Superman’s foil.

For a lot of folks, Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman: The Movie served as their introduction to the whole mythos of the Last Son of Krypton, and in that, i believe their image of Luthor is a wonderful starting point.  There’s no denying that Gene Hackman is a terrific actor, and i enjoy the heck out of his portrayal.  At times maybe it was bordering on campy, but for what it’s worth the seeds of sinister charm and megalomaniacal brilliance certainly shone through.

Lex_Luthor_with_warsuit

Luthor’s warsuit. Classic!

Another iconic part of Luthor’s repertoire is the Warsuit, which made it’s debut in Action Comics #544 in 1983 (Post-Crisis version in Man of Steel #5 in 1986).  Capable of flight, super strength, force fields, various energy blasts – including several varieties of Kryptonite – and others dependent on writers’ fiat, the Warsuit enables Lex to go mano en Superman (yeah i know that’s all kinds of wrong).  There’s more than a few DC villains with a penchant for purple and green, no?

lex-luthor2

Rockin’ the disco collar.  It’s Leisure Suit Lex!

How many people can say this image springs to mind when they think of Lex Luthor?  Chances are you’re thinking “yeah, Super Friends was the bomb, yo!”  And you’re right – it was.  But technically it wasn’t until the third series of programs that the infamous Legion of Doom, lead by Luthor here, made it’s first appearance.  i know, right?  The original Super Friends from 1973 was the one with Wendy, Marvin, and Wonderdog on the team.  You think those two would have lasted two seconds against the LoD?  Think again.  How about the 1977 All-New Super Friends Hour?  Nope, but getting there.  Wendy and Marvin got the boot, and in came Zan and Jayna with their space monkey Gleek.  But this collection of heroes mostly used super teamwork and ethnic diversity to thwart kooky scientists and weird aliens.

Finally, in 1978 Hanna-Barbera got wise and put together a collection of deadly and, more importantly, recognizable bad guys, gave them a swanky swamp fortress, and pitted the heroes from the Hall of Justice against evil enemies worthy of their powers.

One of the best things about a villain like Lex Luthor is the broad approach to his character that has allowed him to undergo these and many other permutations and still remain essentially the same, even after 73 years of publication history.  i particularly enjoy the fact that every so often, even modern day versions of the character will have him sporting his Super Friends garb.  And it’s perfectly acceptable because a) it’s  a comic and everybody has goofy outfits b) it typically performs some function relative to the plot and c) it’s Lex Luthor – who’s going to tell him he looks silly?

lexy

Bald, evil, criminal mastermind…i’m noticing more than one pair on this list with striking similarities.

At the end of the day, one of the most important aspects to a good villain is when you can see that, from a certain perspective, they’re right.  Lex Luthor wasn’t always reprehensible (well…) but he certainly went far over the edge since beginning his feud with Superman.  That’s at the core of his character.  If it weren’t for this alien, then a man like Lex Luthor would had nothing stopping his ambitious pursuits.  Take away all the arrogance, condescendence, and mercilessness, and he’s a man who believes that humankind can and should take care of itself without interference from a godlike benefactor from another planet.  But, also like the best villains, he’s got to take it too far and believe zealously in his entitled right to rule the roost.  Because if he didn’t slip into brutal wickedness…he might be the good guy (looking in your direction, Bruce Wayne).

#2 – Doctor Doom

“What did Doctor Doom really want? He wanted to rule the world. Now, think about this. You could walk across the street against a traffic light and get a summons for jaywalking, but you could walk up to a police officer and say ‘I want to rule the world,’ and there’s nothing he can do about it, that is not a crime. Anybody can want to rule the world. So, even though he was the Fantastic Four’s greatest menace, in my mind, he was never a criminal!” – Stan “The Man” Lee

Dr__Doom_by_JoeJusko

Self-made man.

Say what you will about this Latverian despot, you’ve got to admire his accomplishments.  Born a gypsy and persecuted in his homeland, Victor von Doom developed genius intellect and considerable arcane prowess first to protect his people, and eventually to succeed several times at gaining ultimate power.  Although his exploits are legendary, probably my favorite occurred during the 1980’s Secret Wars series (that i touched on in Part 1) – seizing the power of the Beyonder.  i came for the cover and stayed for the story.  My god, what an issue!  Seriously, as a kid reading this one it was cinched for me – Doom is the ultimate bad-ass.

doom6

You should see the other guy.

In contrast to Lex Luthor, who appeals to me because of the broad strokes that make me adaptable in so many ways, Doom’s staying power lies in the opposite direction.  In a strange dichotomy, he is a character that forever craves power while at the same time brims with the confidence of his already superior status.  He is not  a man who fights to take over the world – instead he considers all other foolish for not acknowledging his existing right to rule.  He is, after all, a king.

What strikes me throughout his comic book history is the outright terror inspired by the merest mention of his name.  Thanos comes a knocking, and the Avengers know which troops to rally.  Galactus on a trajectory with earth – the heroes can find a way to deal.  But with Dr. Doom all bets are off.  He has plans within plans within plans and despite all his personal menace, the most frightening part is that when it comes down to it, his machinations often revolve around the fact that defeating him will only make things worse.

This isn’t to say he’s a good guy though, by any means.  What he does have, that many villains lack, is honor.  Sure, he’s resorted to tricks and subterfuge plenty of times but at the end of the day, his supreme belief in his own sovereign might is what puts his ahead of the pack.  He doesn’t just want to defeat his enemies – he wants them to recognize their inferiority.

Aside from all of that though, underneath the iconic armor, i think Doom is a man who wants to be loved.  Yep, i said it.  Call me crazy, but the seeds are there.  Think about it – he can and has seized cosmic power on more than one occasion, and even managed to “take over the earth” (whatever that means).  More than once though, he’s expressed that he wants people to want him to rule.  He believes he’s the best man for the job, and he’s devoted his life to that cause.  In that way, he’s kinda reminiscent of real life uber-successes.  Foregoing all other pursuits like family and friends, instead Doom eternally strives to increase his power and influence.  And therein lies one of the conceits of the comic book world, down a path of thinking that has niggled at me for years – when is it enough for these guys?  Perhaps that is why, especially in this new century of provocative comic story telling, we so often see characters die or dramatically change.  When you have traversed the known and unknown multiverse, tasted ultimate power, bested all your foes, acquired limitless wealth and power…where do you go?  The best you can hope for is a quiet time of peace before the end.

But for Dr. Doom, who has seen it all and lived to tell the tale, can you ever really accept that there is and end?  Perhaps all your struggles, battles, triumphs, and defeats serve as a crucible.  What you face at the end of all things is simply the doom of your time.

doom i am doom

 “I am Doom… Destroyer of Worlds… What gods dare stand against me?”

#1 – Magneto

What?!  Magneto was my #7 favorite Good Guy – no fair!  To that, i’ll let Kurtis Blow lay it out for you.

So i’ll cut you a deal.  Since you made it this far, through a two-parter no less, i’ll let you off the hook.  If you really want to know how i feel about the Master of Magnetism, there’s a handy link up there for you which i fully encourage you to check out.  For the nonce, however, i’ll leave you with a cool visual.  And hey – you got some sweet old school hip hop for your trouble as well.

Magneto_430

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