A ‘villain’ is defined as a wicked or evil person, a dramatic or fictional character who is typically at odds with the hero and the cause of particular trouble. This is something we see every week in our favourite comics and television shows, year after year, as far back as many of us can remember. Whether it was Batman duking it out with the Joker in the classic Batman TV series from the 1960s, or Spider-Man trying to outwit Doc Ock in the classic Spider-Man cartoon series (also from the 1960s), we’ve been watching these epic good versus evil battles since before we could even pronounce their names. The Super Friends versus the Legion of Doom, or Lion-O versus Mumm-ra, we’ve watched these titans duke it out over and over, each battle more exciting than the last. We still enjoy these catastrophic clashes to this very day, and we can relive plenty of these nail-biting matches thanks to networks like Teletoon Retro – home to plenty of classic cartoons such as Batman: The Animated Series and Transformers.
A hero is defined by his or her villain and there are plenty to be found in classic cartoons, comics, movies, pretty much everywhere. My personal favourite villains have always been the ones we find in comic books. There’s such a wide variety, ranging from the classic bad guys, to the new and twisted. There’s just so many to choose from, all with different motivations and desires, different looks and gimmicks. Not all stand the test of time, but the best of the best are… well… timeless. They can adapt and change as quickly as we do. And their ability to adapt, to change, only adds to the danger they present.
Without conflict there can be no story, and these villains/antagonists are usually the conflict that drives the story to its blistering finale. Think back to some of your favourite comics or cartoons and remember just how important these baddies were to the structure of the story; how they propelled the narrative forward. We all sat there, on the edge of our seat, waiting to see how things would unfold. We couldn’t put that book down, or change the channel, we were trapped. We were hooked.
In honour of Teletoon Retro’s Hall of Fame Top Five Villains, I would like to present my personal favourites below. My list will focus solely on traditional super hero comic book villains, the ones that are bigger than life and equal their opponent in popularity and name recognition. Ask almost anyone about these listed below villains, and they should be able to list off some of the basic traits of these well-known ne’er-do-wells – whether they remember them from the comics or the inspired cartoons and movies. Each villain below has appeared many times, in movies and in television, leaving a lasting impact not only on their super hero counterpart, but also with fans and pop culture. To me, the baddies below are the cream of the crop. The last ones you’d ever want to meet in a dark alley, but still can’t get enough of. Without further adieu, the list begins…
#5 – Two-Face
Batman’s most tragic villain, Two-Face, was once Batman’s ally before tragedy stepped in and forever changed that relationship. Two-Face can easily be perceived as the heavy price of justice, the heart-wrenching result of existing psychological issues, pushed beyond the brink by circumstances beyond his control. Cursed with a duel nature that dictates his every move, Two-Face has straddled the line between good and bad countless times. Armed with his iconic scarred lucky coin, Two-Face can be just as unpredictable as the Joker, and just as deadly.
Before his life was upended and he assumed the role of Two-Face, Harvey Dent was Gotham City’s District Attorney. In his role as a lawman, Dent was well-regarded as someone who knew how to put the bad guys away. He was dedicated to justice and making sure it was upheld. But Dent also had a darker side, one that remained in check until a freak accident forever scarred the left side of his body. The trauma associated with this incident brought Harvey’s darker side to the surface, and Gotham’s District Attorney became the notorious criminal known as Two-Face.
However, dubbing Two-Face a “criminal” now seems… too easy. Over the past few years, he’s become an extremely complicated character. A character that started out as merely a gimmick, Two-Face is one of the most complex personalities in Batman’s supporting cast. Dent lives in constant struggle, fighting to pull himself out of that dark side and back into the light, and serves as a constant reminder to his old allies of who they lost in their war on crime. With each appearance, we never truly know who’s in control, whether one personality knows what the other is doing, or if Two-Face will be able to save himself before it’s far too late. One of biggest tragedies of Batman’s career, he has vowed to bring Dent back from the edge, no matter what the cost. That is, if Two-Face doesn’t kill him first.
#4 – Green Goblin
What makes the Green Goblin such a great villain is that he’s a devious character both in and out of costume. In fact, he could be even more devious as Norman Osborn than his green-skinned alter-ego. While he’s done plenty to ruin Spider-Man’s life as the green-skinned terror, the same can be said about his out-of-costume endeavors as well. He doesn’t need his chemically-induced powers to do damage to our favourite webhead.
Osborn may have been in costume when he committed one of the worst atrocities ever against Spider-Man – killing the love of his life Gwen Stacy – but he even manages to torment Spider-Man in an assortment of ways in a regular suit and tie. He was recently able to gain control of government resources after subduing a batch of invading Skrull aliens that earth’s mightiest heroes were unable to. With that, he’s had more power than ever – even more from his time as a corporate shark – and has been able to assert himself as a considerable thorn not just in Spidey’s side, but with all the Marvel Heroes. However, Osborn soon found himself consumed by his Goblin persona, a psychotic side-effect of the chemicals he took to gain his tremendous powers, and is now back to more…traditional villainous schemes. As you can likely guess…none of this happened in the classic 60′s Spider-Man cartoon.
The Green Goblin is a top-notch Spider-Man villain who has made Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s life miserable time and time and again, and now that seems to be spreading across the whole Marvel Universe. He’s Spider-Man’s top villain not only because of the dramatic impact he’s had on the ol’ Web-slinger, but also because he’s clearly a threat on a global scale. No matter how many times he’s broke the law, been sent to jail, or even killed, he’s always able to slime his way out of it, and keeps coming back to punish Spidey over and over. And while he’s come close to breaking down on more than one occasion, Spider-Man has proven he can take whatever the Goblin dishes out
and actually overcome it.
#3 – Magneto
Magneto arguably has the most compelling origin of all the ‘villains’ in comics. He’s an epic X-Men mutant foe who constantly straddles the line between good and evil, blurring it beyond the point of recognition. While I personally believe there are better baddies out there, as you’ll see below, not a one can rival Magneto’s utterly devastating origin.
As a Jewish child in Germany during the height of the Nazi era, Erik Lenssher endured the worst humanity had to offer first hand. He lost everything, he family, friends, his home, everything. While keeping his mutancy a secret, he struggled to survive the horrors endured by his people during this time. A shattered man who barely survived World War 2, Lenssher eventually met Professor Charles Xavier and sought out to help others who suffered as he did. He soon found his own dreams perverted as he unknowingly grew into the very thing that took everything away from him all those years ago. Lenssher now seeks out and dispatches those who bring harm to him and his mutant brothers.
Fuelled by an incredible back story, Magneto has proven to be as popular as his heroic counterparts and has starred in plenty of his own adventures over the years. Not only that, but his presence instantly raises the stakes, regardless of the story. If Magneto appears, you know things are serious. An obviously devoted man who believes in the survival of mutants, he doesn’t see himself as a bad guy, but as someone who will do whatever it takes to guarantee his survival, all of which is charged by a tragic back story that remains relevant and stirring to this day. An extremely complex character, Magneto proves there is plenty of gray area in a world so supposedly black and white.
#2 – Lex Luthor
Is Lex Luthor a villain? Yes, you can say that. But is he necessarily evil? Well, it is not as black and white as we may think. Quite simply, he sees Superman as a threat, the reason why Earth finds itself in constant danger from alien attacks, and it is his job to rid the world of this menace. And he seems to be the right one for the task, showing his superior intellect and ruthless tendencies are a match against Superman’s strength and powers. No one else can oppose Superman on the level Luthor does.
A self-made billionaire, thanks to a genius mind and relentless drive which got him out of the poverty-stricken “Suicide Slums” neighbourhood of Metropolis (the equivalent of New York’s “Hell’s Kitchen”), Luthor rose to prominence at an early age. He soon found himself the leading man of Metropolis, employing more than half of the city through his countless business ventures and ascending to a status well beyond that of a politician or celebrity. Everyone knew Luthor, plain and simple. Job creator, inventor, genius, Metropolis’ architect. He was Metropolis’ favorite son. Until Superman showed up. Seeing him as a danger to humanity, to his city and the entire planet, Luthor has dedicated his genius into ridding the world of Superman by any means necessary.
If there was no Superman, would Luthor be the hero? It’s a stirring question that drives our fascination with the character. Is Luthor right, or is it a delusional quest set on by his obsession with the Man of Steel? He even became President of the United States at one point, and was actually moving the world forward in terms of peace and unity, before his fixation with Superman torpedoed his stay in the Oval Office. Luthor doesn’t see himself as a bad guy, someone like the Parasites, Metallos, and Doomsdays that litter Superman’s Rogues Gallery. He sees his work as doing the world a favor. And at times, quite frankly, it’s hard to disagree with him…
There’s no debate on why the Joker occupies the top spot. He is, without a doubt, the best villain in comic book history. There have been other baddies that are further amplified in single personality traits; crazier, more murderous, and more unpredictable, but none are able to pull it all together like the Joker. He’s compelling, always changing, always enigmatic, and always interesting. When the Joker is involved, the stakes are high.
His origin is a mystery. We’ve seen a few possible ones here and there, such as the acclaimed “The Killing Joke” graphic novel or in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Beware the Creeper” (and kind-of “Mad Love”), but what his real origin is… we may never know. But we know why he exists… Batman. Without Batman, there would be no Joker. Sure, he would likely be causing problems regardless, but Batman fuels the Joker’s mayhem. Joker’s unpredictability really plays into what make his character so great. We don’t know when he’ll appear, or why he’ll do what he does, we just don’t know, but when it happens… it leaves an impact. He’s played a crucial role in Batman’s life for years, and is actually responsible for a fair amount of life-changing events for the Dark Knight. He also lends himself so easily to reinterpretation, just like Batman. Whether it’s the psychotic, unhinged comedian from Batman: The Animated Series, to the anarchist in The Dark Knight, to the sadist in the current Batman comics, each interpretation just seems a different facet of the Joker’s personality.
Not only is the Joker the top Batman villain, but he’s easily the top in comics. His warped sensibilities and fatal tendencies are just a fraction of this character’s enduring popularity. The mystery that still surrounds the character 70 years after his first appearance, along with his never-ending evolution and dangerous unpredictability gives the Joker an edge that no other villain can match. He’s the rare character where you can say you honestly don’t know what he’ll do next.
And there you go – the top five list!
By no means is this list the end-all, be-all of Top Five villain lists. These are my personal choices, my favourites. There were so many others I could have included and, believe me, I could’ve rambled on for ages. Batman has the best rogue’s gallery of any superhero around, and I could’ve filled all five slots with his foes… heck, I could’ve easily done a top ten! Mr. Freeze, The Riddler, Catwoman, Hugo Strange, Ra’s Al Ghul, I could go on and on! Spidey has a pretty spectacular round-up of foes, as well, nearly on par with The Dark Knight’s. But these characters are ones that I find engaging, enthralling, complex, and are perfect for their heroic counterparts, my favorite heroes.
This list above highlights the baddies that always draw my attention, month after month. If they’re featured in a comic, well, I’m there! If I stumble upon an episode featuring them…. well, I’m there! I never tire of their dastardly dust-ups. What constantly amazes me is how writers, year after year, are able to find these new angles to keep these villains fresh, to keep coming up with new stories. And yes, not every attempt is successful, but the results are always memorable. Whether it’s on the screen (big or small) or on the page, these villains are the ones that make the biggest impact and draw in the huge audiences every time. And hey, if you’re not a fan of what is being done to them now, well, you can always catch their classic adventures on Teletoon Retro!
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