I love bad guys.
A good villain can make a story; from an epic space opera about the fall of a galactic empire to a Disney tale about an amphibious princess to the saga of a small handful of super-powerful and highly-skilled people need to join together to stop an alien invasion of New York; all the best stories are driven by the machinations of the malevolent.
It is for this reason that I reached out to a small social media community to which I belong where debate and intellectualism is championed and a firm Nerdocracy exists to govern over our musings. I asked these folks to throw down their favorite villain is and I received an amazing set of answers from which I pulled (and coerced, cruelly) five singular options for which to write my weekly article.
I then decided to choose six.
Yup! This is a listicle.
I know, I know, I bash listicles all the time, but my lovely wife noted that there can be value in listicles, sometimes, as long as they are more than a list of facts but, instead, presents new and valuable information or commentary.
So, as an exercise with this, I thought I would take the six villains chosen by my honored compatriots and offer some history on the characters, my personal thoughts, and maybe a fun factoid or two.
Here we go!
Joker, from Nadiya
Ah, the Joker. Everyone knows of him but how many know much about him.
The actual creator of the Clown Prince of Crime has always been a matter of debate. What is known is that Bill Finger, the co-creator (read: actual creator) of Batman wanted to produce a character based on Conrad Veidt’s portrayal of Gwynplaine in the 1928 film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs. It is also known that Jerry Robinson offered the concept of the joker playing card to the concept. Bob Kane, for his part, claims that he got the inspiration from an icon on Steeplechase Park at Coney Island.
Personally, having read a great deal about Bob Kane (whom I once met, briefly), I am more inclined to believe Finger and Robinson, who both agreed that all three men deserved credit for the creation of the character, which seemed to make Kane happy.
Appearing in the first issue, ever, of a comic book entitled Batman, the Joker went on to be as iconic has the Caped Crusader. The Joker’s in-universe origin has always been in question, but it is widely accepted that he was a minor criminal called the Red Hood who was accidentally dropped into a vat of chemicals when the Batman attempted to apprehend him.
Many variations of this tale have been told, the greatest of which has to be Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which questions what sanity is to the Joker, to Batman, and even to the reader. Of the live-action versions of the Joker have appeared, over the years, but the most iconic performance has clearly been that done by Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight, who, sadly, passed before the reaction to what is commonly believed to be his greatest performance. It is also worth it to mention Mark Hammill providing the voice of the Joker on Batman: The Animated Series which is, to me, the best version of the character, ever.
Embodying complete chaos and unapologetic chaos, the Joker makes no distinction between law and crime, good and evil, innocent or guilty. No one is safe from his desire to turn the world end over end. He kills, he destroys, and he laughs.
Magus, from Joey
Anyone who knows me; or has read any small number of the articles I have been putting online for the better part of a decade; knows that, to me, Jim Starlin is the finest comic book creator of all time. With so many masterpieces to his name, fans are generally hard-pressed to make the choice of one Starlin tale over another.
For my money, nothing is better than his tales of Adam Warlock and his struggle against the Magus of the Church of Universal Truth.
If you haven’t read the stories, they are mostly on the Marvel Unlimited app, right now. After four decades, these stories hold up as well as the day they hit those metal comic book racks. I recommend reading through them, if you are so inclined, and then coming back to this article.
Otherwise, you may find out that the Magus is actually Adam Warlock, having returned from a future where he watched himself die and transformed into a dark messiah, the Magus built the Universal Church of Truth and demanded fanaticism from his followers. In return, he offered salvation and a sense of belonging.
The Magus faded when Warlock altered the timeline so that the Magus would not exist (and, thus, accepted his own death and facilitated a major defeat for Thanos). However, this would not be the end of the self-professed savior. Magus returned when Adam expelled both the good and the evil parts of his soul upon claiming the Omni-Powerful cosmic artifact, The Infinity Gauntlet. Defeated by Warlock, once more, Magus escapes his imprisonment in the Soul Gem and begins absorbing the live energy of others to build himself a corporeal form. This time, Captain Marvel manages to take him down, but this would not be the end of the Magus.
Upon discovering an alternate universe where everything is living and death is impossible, Adam Warlock, having recently been reincarnated for the umpteenth time, embraces the darkness within him, takes over the Universal Church, and convinces his followers to sacrifice themselves to power a dark spell which would have, potentially, enabled the evil denizens of the ‘Cancerverse’ to invade the mainstream Marvel Universe and infect it with the evil of their dark gods.
Starlin’s influence on comic books, as a medium, though the tales of Adam Warlock and the Magus have a lasting impact on the industry; enough so that it is very likely that both characters will be present in the coming sequel to The Guardians of the Galaxy. The roles of these characters are the only things in doubt, although much speculation exists (some by myself).
Ichi, from Donald
I’m going to admit something, right here, in that I have never read the Manga Ichi the Killer and I haven’t watched the controversial film of the same name by Japanese auteur Takashi Miike in quite some time.
However, Ichi, as a character, provides a solid catalyst for a world of crime lords that seem to operate with no restrictions or retributions from society. Ichi is hapless in falling into this world, despite the fact that he is the greatest assassin, his mind has been wiped of his criminal tendencies until a series of insane events bring the merciless killer to the forefront.
What follows is a trail of blood and terror where those with even the most minor quantity of innocence are nothing more than victims in Ichi’s spree of ultra-violence.
I need to watch this again, I think. When I first viewed the film, I was turned off by the fact that the extreme violence seemed nothing more than gratuitous. However, I’m not certain if I consider Ichi to be a full villain. In fact, it’s possible that he could be considered as much of a victim as those poor prostitutes he seems to off by the bushel.
Black Adam, from Tommy
A great villain can have an impact, even when not present in the story. This can be said for Loki, Doctor Doom, Lex Luthor, and many others.
However, few villains have had as unique an effect as Black Adam.
In 1945, Black Adam first appeared in opposition of Captain Marvel in The Marvel Family #1. Teth-Adam was an Egyptian who was granted powers similar to those granted to Billy Batson upon saying the name of the wizard Shazam. When he was corrupted by his power, the wizard banished him to a far-off star, necessitating five millennia to return to Earth. In that first appearance, Adam was defeated when Billy tricked him into saying ‘Shazam’ and instantly died when he aged five-thousand years in a minute. However, the impact of Black Adam would continue throughout the remainder of Batson’s career as Captain Marvel under the banner of Whiz Comics.
For three decades, Black Adam was absent from the comics, but after DC had purchased the, Black Adam was returned to life by Doctor Sivana just in time for the First Crisis to occur. Since then, Black Adam has been a consistent presence in the life of Captain Marvel/Shazam; his origin altering based on the needs of the story.
Black Adam’s most significant moment, in the DCU, was when, after months of having been a member of the newly-reformed Justice Society of America, he found peace in his homeland of Khandaq with his wife, Isis, and her brother, whom they call Osiris. However, he lost it, completely, when his wife and her brother were murdered and the killer fled to a nearby nation. In retaliation, Adam murders the population of 2 million citizens of that nation of Bialya, but is captured by those responsible for creating the monsters that killed his family. He then escapes and begins a rampage across the globe which results in the deaths of multiple heroes and comes to be known as World War III.
The Black Adam story arc; beginning in Power of Shazam, continuing through JSA, 52, Countdown, Final Crisis, Justice Society of America, Blackest Night, and Titans before being abruptly ended when the New 52 resets everything; tells the story of a villain who changes his ways, but fails to understand what that means. Eventually, he finds happiness only to have it torn away from him which drives him to commit multiple atrocities before having his power taken away from him. He then goes on a quest to resurrect his beloved and reagin his power, only to give them away when he finally reclaims them.
The development of Black Adam was one of the most compelling aspects of DC Comics during the early part of the New Millennium and built a character whose motivation, as a villain, was remarkably well-developed. Unfortunately, DC’s unwillingness to enable him to be a full villain seemed to take the teeth away from the character.
One of the most regrettable aspects of the introduction of the New 52 (and there are many) is that the tale of Teth-Adam was never completed.
Dolores Umbridge, from Eliseo
Well, clearly, this is the article where I admit stuff.
Frankly, my only encounter with Dolores Umbridge of the Ministry of Magic and the Death-Eaters, is in the films where she is portrayed, brilliantly, by Imelda Staunton beginning in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I’ve never read the Harry Potter books. When they first came out, I was so incensed by the possibility that Rowlings had ripped off Neil Gaiman (they have both come forward and admitted that it was just parallel experiences that led to similar characters being created). that I ignored the books, despite their popularity.
However, in the mythology of the Potter-verse, few villains were as memorable as Umbridge. As the High Inquisitor of Hogwarts, she transforms the school into an Orwellian nightmare, forcing students to gather in secret in order to develop their magical skill. She forces Harry to mutilate his own hand and terrorizes the rest of the students until it is revealed, ultimately, that she is in league with Voldemort’s conspiracy.
Perhaps she was at her most evil when she was made head of the Muggle-Born Registration Committee, which promoted a pure-blood agenda reminiscent of pro-genocide agendas of various sociopathic societies from the real world. Spreading fear and hatred, Umbridge is reminiscent of the greatest villains of human history as justification of paranoia.
Honorable Mention: Daleks from Nadiya, again!
Nadiya had a whole bunch of choices and I was a huge meanie and forced her to choose one (all of her choices were fantastic, though). However, one of her particular options resonated with me (and is represented on my own Top Ten), so I thought I would give a special notice to the Daleks.
When the Daleks were introduced, their emotionless voice, their genocidal agenda, and their unique appearance led to them immediately being embraced by the fans. They soon became the best-known and; it could be argued; greatest foes of the Doctor on Doctor Who. They have been identified as one of the greatest movie monsters in history and have become synonymous with everything Doctor Who.
The Daleks have had a history that has been altered a number of times, throughout the long run of Doctor Who shows. In the 1970s, the 4th Doctor encountered the history of the Daleks, directly, and attempted to change the timeline to ensure that they had never existed, but they managed to return. Later on, it was revealed that the Daleks were wiped out in the Time War with the Time Lords. Still, they escaped permanent destruction, once more. Again and again, the Daleks appear to have been wiped out for good, only to return stronger and more dangerous.
There is something about the inevitability of the pepper-shaker-shaped alien fanatics that is appealing. They have proven immune to extinction at every turn and, in the end, may very well be the last thing in the universe
And, finally, allow me to present my personal Top Ten villains (which I guess makes this a list in a listacle! Internet first!)
10. Vince McMahon, WWE
9. Doctor Bong, Marvel
8. Starro, DC
7. Davros, Doctor Who
6. Kaiser Soze, The Usual Suspects
5. Magus, Marvel
4. Mordru, DC
3. Kid Miracleman, Miracleman
2. Khan Noonian Singh, Star Trek The Original Series
1. Thanos, Marvel Comics
Of course, like all nerds, I reserve the right to change my list whenever the hell I want.