It’s long been said that what makes good movies are the bad guys. If that person is not challenging the main character of the film, then it’s dull as dishwater. If he or she is, then we often feel for the “good guy” of the film, want that person to win!
I think comics have that same element to them. When the villain rises up and we worry that the hero or heroine will not be victorious, we’re anxious to turn the page and see what happens next.
Our perception of villains has changed over the years. We used to immediately boo the moustache-twirling baddies of decades gone by. Now we want them more complex, that they may think they’re doing the right thing (even though they’re not).
Even though I’m a bigger DC fan, I still think Marvel has the better bad guys and gals.
The best of the bunch just has to be Doctor Doom, who seems to be outlasting the Fantastic Four in comics right now. I mean, he’s apparently fallen to his final fate from an airplane and survived, been godlike in Secret Wars, tried his hand at magic once, fought Iron Man in a battle of armors, and generally been tough to take out a lot of the time. If you want my attention, Doctor Doom will do that in comics. Movies, not so much!
Venom is a terrific bad guy because he can take over a person’s body, which is chilling to me. He’s been strutting his stuff in the “King in Black” event. Then, too, Magneto is often considered one of Marvel’s best characters because he’ll do things to protect “his people,” which we can often relate to. And magnetism is an amazing power to have because each of us has metal in our bodies, so we’re very vulnerable to that. Thanos, Loki, and Galactus are up there in the rank of the villains, too.
I notice that several of the ones I’ve mentioned are not completely bad, but they’re agendas put them in conflict with others quite a bit. I like that!
DC BAD GUYS
I’m so grateful that Jack Kirby came to DC and created Darkseid, probably the most challenging villain in DC Comics. Right now, the Justice League is in the middle of a war with him in the Snyder Cut, and it’s really interesting to see what Zack Snyder is doing with this dark god. Particularly his struggles with Superman have always been amazing!
Of course, DC also has Lex Luthor, who has gone from always wearing a prison uniform (seemed he never had time to change clothes before Superman foiled his plans) to a green super-suit to business chic. I’ve seen so many different versions of him that the one in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice didn’t bother me, although I’ve read a lot of negative reaction online, that he should be more like the Luthor in the Justice League animated series. I liked him, too, but I’m not married to any particular incarnation.
And no examination of villains would be complete without the Joker, Batman’s nemesis. As intelligent and focused as the Dark Knight, the Joker directs all that energy to destroy, and that makes him a serious threat to just about everyone else, including his own henchmen. Just like Batman, he doesn’t need powers to be formidable.
Deathstroke has been one of those “gray” bad guys who does bad things for money or for good reasons. He’s getting a following among fans as well!
OTHER GOOD BADDIES
It’s kind of hard for me to point out villains on the same levels as the ones I’ve mentioned in other comics companies, but there are a few!
Negan and Lucille, his wire-wrapped baseball bat, were great in the comic before heading to AMC’s Walking Dead. Of course, he’s still a force to be reckoned with in that show. In a world twisted by disaster, Negan outshines the Governor, in my opinion, because of his wickedness and demented ability to enjoy hurting and killing others. He’s one of those characters I enjoy reading about but would never want to encounter in real life.
I’m sure there are others worth mentioning, but I wanted to be sure to include Toyo Harada, a Japanese-born Harbinger who established the Harbinger Foundation, which has played an important role in the Valiant Comics universe. He’s less destructive but more devious than many of the other villains I’ve mentioned – at least, in my opinion! The most powerful psionic on the planet, he’s been up to no good quite a bit recently in that company’s comics.
THE MANDARIN EFFECT
Some folks are probably going to be less than thrilled with my take on the Mandarin, but here goes!
Most of the villains mentioned above were white guys, granted. But Iron Man’s opposite number is not – or at least, he hasn’t been most of the time. And this presents a problem for me.
I guess I shouldn’t blame political correctness, but that seems the only answer to how shredded the Mandarin has been over time. I have to say, though, that I never considered other Chinese people to be similar to him. The point has been that he’s unique in the whole world. He’s “a Chinese nobleman, scientist and former diplomat turned criminal mastermind. His true power comes from his superhuman mastery of the martial arts and ten rings of power he recovered from an alien spaceship along with highly advanced technology, which he tried to use for Earth domination.” At least, that’s how Wikipedia describes him. That he’s Chinese only means he’s human to me.
I mean, there was The Invincible Iron Man, a Marvel direct-to-video animated movie in which the Mandarin was seen only briefly as a spiritual projection near the end of the film. Then Sir Ben Kingsley portrayed the character in the Iron Man movies, but he was mostly a joke. Last I heard, the Mandarin was dead in the comics.
See, he’s a great bad guy to me because he’s something different. He should be a Doctor Doom-level menace because of his ability to conceive and execute elaborate plans and, yeah, the ten powerful rings on his fingers.
I just get the feeling that because he’s Chinese, no one will use him as a serious villain for fear of offending some people. In my opinion, we’re losing a great character as a result of this! It’s just so ironic that the Atom, Spider-Man and other heroic characters can take on more diverse identities but it seems like we daren’t make any other race than Caucasian a villain! Bugs me, anyway! I think it’s LESS respectful to treat races as if they aren’t fully human, with the possibility of being anything from heroic to villainous!
The best of the newer villains have come from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman. I mean, the Court of Owls and Mr. Bloom are very likely important members of Batman’s rogues gallery. The Court in particular really was haunting because of its ability to stay hidden while maintaining a huge, multi-layered structure.
Creating a memorable villain is quite the accomplishment, I think, especially given the decades of comics stories told to date. But it can be done, as the new Bat-baddies show. We need good more baddies!