Everyone knows that a hero is defined by the villains they go up against. Or to put it another way, every great comic book needs an equally great antagonist to truly kick it into high gear.
Scouring through the pages of our favorite print and digital back issues, we've assembled a list of the meanest, the nastiest, and the most compellingly evil four-color baddies to ever walk the face of, well, a flat sheet of paper. We've purposely left out the undisputed greats -- The Joker, Magneto, Lex Luthor, Steve Ballmer -- to make room for a few of the more interesting choices.
Who made the grade? Click through the gallery above to find out.
Mr. Freeze has been an enduringly chilly presence in the Batman universe since his first appearance (as Mr. Zero) in Batman #121, back in February 1959. The most famous take on the character was the one engineered by Paul Dini in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Heart of Ice.” That story introduced us to Freeze’s terminally ill, cryogenically frozen wife Nora, which both explained Freeze’s obsession with cold and turned him into a tragic character in the process.
But while Dini’s animated version of Freeze was good enough to become the standard portrayal of the character in most forms of media, more recently I’ve been loving the reinvention of Mr. Freeze seen in DC’s New 52. (SPOILERS) You see, in this universe it turns out that Nora was never Freeze's wife at all, but rather a woman born in 1943, who was put into cryogenic stasis at the age of 23 after being diagnosed with an incurable heart condition.
Writing his doctoral thesis on Nora, Freeze fell in love with her, and became obsessed with finding a way to bring her back to life. One cryonic chemical accident later, and the already unhinged Dr. Victor Fries is transformed into Mr. Freeze. It’s a clever re-imagining of Freeze’s origin which makes him less sympathetic, but a whole lot creepier.
The main antagonist of Steve Niles’ tremendous 30 Days of Night, Vicente is an ancient vampire several centuries old, who may or may not be the parent to all vampires.
In a series full of vicious vampires, Vicente takes the (presumably blood-soaked) biscuit: not only torturing, murdering and eating people, but also planning to blow up the Alaskan pipeline — something that would result in a whole lot more slaughter than you’d normally expect from a vamp.
Oh, and his wife Lilith is pretty damn crazy, too.
A once silly comic book villain, Doctor Light was instantly transformed into a perverse and sickening antagonist with DC's 2004 miniseries Identity Crisis — celebrating its tenth birthday this year. Exposed as a serial rapist (most controversially of Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man), Doctor Light was eventually given an equally brutal death: turned into a candle by the Spectre and melted alive.
Post-New 52, Doctor Light has been rethought somewhat, with DC shying away from the more horrific aspects of his character incorporated over the past decade. Why does Doctor Light make this list? Because whatever you thought of Identity Crisis, it marked a high (or low) point for super villain nastiness in comics’ darkest and most nihilistic era.
Unlike a lot of the other villains featured here, Brainiac’s not a sadistic super villain who gets off on being bad, but rather a cold, calculating mind who represents the perfect brainy counter to Superman’s brawn.
An artificial intelligence created by the Computer Tyrants of Colu, an alien world which prizes logic and knowledge above all else, Brainiac has an almost indestructible body and a brain that is constantly hungry for knowledge and power. In a long and storied career, he’s perhaps still best known for taking the Kryptonian city of Kandor — one of the last surviving relics of Superman’s home world — and shrinking it down to the size of a bottle.
Saint of Killers
I’m a massive fan of Preacher, Garth Ennis’ 75-issue Vertigo series, that is equal parts spaghetti western and religious thriller. Picking a most memorable character from that series is a bit like choosing your favorite quip from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
If I had to choose one, however, it would likely be the series’ premier antagonist, the Saint of Killers. Picture Javier Bardem’s cold-blooded character Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men, and then take it up several levels of badass. A grim killing machine charged by God to be a killer for hire, the Saint is a murder machine with a mullet: someone so vicious he even manages to kill (SPOILERS) both God and the Devil.
His tragic backstory (his family were killed, which brought about his fall from grace) just makes him a more interesting, multifaceted character.
Having been around just 28 years (hardly a drop in the ocean when you consider that Batman himself has been in print for 75 years) Black Mask has nonetheless risen to become one of the Dark Knight’s greatest foes — with much of that good (?) work having been done over the past decade.
In a grisly inversion of Batman’s origin, Black Mask murdered his own super-wealthy parents by burning down their mansion with them inside. Becoming one of Gotham City’s major crime boss players, Black Mask has proven utterly ruthless and totally sadistic. Oh yes, and he once tortured Catwoman's brother-in-law to death with power tools, and then did some horrible things with the remains. Yum yum!
One of The Walking Dead’s most grotesque characters in a series that’s full of them, the Governor is the ruler of the town of Woodbury. After initially appearing hospitable, the Governor turned out to be bat-guano crazy: a Jim Jones-type leader who keeps his own zombified daughter alive by feeding people from his own town to her — along with the severed hand of protagonist Rick Grimes, which he first lops off.
The Governor does far more than that, too — torturing several characters, while killing the daughter of Rick and Lori. The fact that he does this without any apparent sense of remorse just makes him all the more terrifying. On the plus side, he does find himself on the receiving end of a suitably unpleasant death.
Who would have thought that the nastiest character in Robert Kirkman's zombie epic would turn out to be a flesh-and-blood human?
In the real world, you make a name for yourself by working hard, pursuing goals and steadily gaining recognition among your peers. In super villain land you make a name for yourself by kidnapping 16 super-powered Marvel teenagers and then pitting them against each other in a Hunger Games-style Murderworld. By forcing teen superheroes to kill teen superheroes, Arcade became one of the most reviled villains out there. Even after being beaten, Arcade got the last laugh by uploading footage of the Murderworld battles to YouTube, ruining a few reputations in the process.
To be extra evil he probably upvoted a few Justin Bieber videos while he was there, too.
When your nickname is "The God Butcher" it’s hardly a surprise when you turn out to be a less than upstanding citizen. The newest character on this list, first appearing in January 2013’s Thor: God of Thunder #2, Gorr has wasted no time in establishing his super villain credentials. In his case this meant a genocidal rampage across the cosmos, battling gods left and right like Christopher Hitchens in the body of a super-powered agnostic murderer. After killing literally thousands of gods, Gorr finally faced off with Thor, who barely managed to defeat him.
Tentative excitement about Michael Bay's upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie made me revisit the original comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Along with a refresher course in just how much I love the art and overall tone of that original series was a reminder of what a great villain Shredder can be.
If you’ve only ever seen one of the Turtles cartoon series, be prepared for a wake-up call at the hands of a razor-gauntleted crime syndicate boss who's got his fingers in everything from drug smuggling to assassinations. Far more revenge-minded than in the cartoon, the comic book Shredder is a highly skilled strategist and master of ninjistu. Oh, and he once bounced back from decapitation by being resurrected as a shark. When did the Joker ever manage that?
Who’s the baddest of the bad?
Got your own favorite underappreciated supervillain? Let us know in the comments below.
Capullo’s art continues to shine. And make you scratch your head. And shine.
Never in its many incarnations has the Animal Man mythos been this fascinating.
Refreshing in its choices. Miles Morales is not Peter Parker.
Hickman is in pure form. A science-fiction Western? YES. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse running around and kicking semi-righteous ass? Also YES.
It keeps getting more bizarre and funny and Rob Guillory’s art continues to shine. Also, you can’t argue with a comic that continues to make up increasingly awesome food-related superpowers.
Arguably the best title in Robert Kirkman’s Skybound sub-label, this gem tells the “untold” tale of what Lewis & Clark REALLY found. Imaginative and nuts.
A worthy follow-up to Origin. A pre-Wolverine Logan is sooooo ANGRY. And sad. And tragic. There’s a spread in Issue #4 that made some of us go “NO!” AND “YES!” at the same time.
Cyclops is INTERESTING. #whatnoway
In the future, powerful families rule instead of governments or corporations. One genetically engineered member of the family kicks the asses of anyone the family decides needs it. Awesome.
It’s still hilarious. Like they say, it’s “The Hobbit meets The Hangover.”
We know this is more than 10, but we added this cuz she is bad ass. Period.
When we’re looking for comics in our local nerd den, we’re often overwhelmed by the quantity of new titles each week. That’s not even counting the back issues and collected series in trade paperback format.
So we asked some of the most alpha nerds we know: the folks at Industrial Toys, a game development team (Midnight Star) with a who’s-who pedigree in geek. There’s CEO Alex Seropian, the co-founder of Bungie games (Marathon, Halo), Tim Harris, part owner of Alley Cat Comics in Chicago, John Scalzi, best-selling science fiction author, and Mike Choi, a veteran comic book artist in his own right.
Harris and Seropian, along with art director Aaron Marroquin and senior graphic designer Sarah Chiappetta, chimed in to our request with the comic books that they think are the best in the bin.
In all the recent Batman games (Arkham City, Arkham Asylum, Arkham Origins), I’ve always thrilled to Bat-grapple my way to the rooftops, occasionally base-jumping down to glide-kick some nasty thug just asking for that special brand of Bat-justice.
There’s always been one thing missing, though: The Batmobile.
The folks at Rocksteady Games have remedied this sad fact in the latest game in the series, Batman: Arkham Knight, and are showing off a car-porn-filled new trailer to whet our appetite. Check out this bad boy below.
LEGO never goes out of style, and they’ve pretty much started to take over the world of new meda as well. Whether it’s through the LEGO movies or television shows, the 1940’s timeless toy has seen a rise in popularity with today’s youth. Now there are the games you can play where LEGO plays a central theme.
And Cult of Mac Deals has 5 LEGO titles packed into a single bundle – The LEGO Gamer Bundle For Mac – where you can get $110 worth of games for only $39.99!
Do you have what it takes to bring Batman back to life?
When Batman is imprisoned alongside Gotham’s most notorious, he must discover Arkham City’s true purpose before it’s too late. Batman: Arkham City is an intense, atmospheric sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum plunges Batman deep into a gothic nightmare from which he will need all his wits, gadgetry and skill to escape. And Cult of Mac Deals has it for just $14.99!
Here are just some of the gameplay elements that this game offers:
The iPhone 6 probably isn’t going to come out for another 18 months or so, but seems how it’s so far away, now seems like a great time to fantasize about possible features Apple might throw into the device based on patent filings. It’s Friday. I’m tired. So screw it, let’s talk crazy.
Yesterday the US Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that showed Apple is considering adding hidden audio sensors into the displays of the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and maybe even the iTV if they get around to it. What wasn’t detailed was how Apple plans to use those sensors, but one crazy idea is that Apple might use them to create sonar-maps kind of like in the movie The Dark Knight.
Gaming is going to be a new experience on the iPhone 5 with that larger 4-inch display, which means it’s going to take a little while for your favorite games to be optimized. Fortunately, there are some incredible titles already available. We’ve put together a list of the best ones, so that you can start enjoying your iPhone’s 4-inch display the day you unwrap it.
The Dark Knight Rises is like the most anticipated movie of the year. People are going straight up loco for this movie. Is Batman going to die? Is Bane really just Ricky Martin’s alter-ego? Will Michael Keaton make a cameo? We don’t know, we haven’t seen it yet.
If you’re as excited we are though, then you’re probably trying to gorge on as much Batman stuff as humanly possible right now. Don’t worry, we got you covered and put together this little guide on all the ways you can use your iPad to get your Batman fix while waiting for the movie to finally hit theaters.
Gameloft continues to make friends with all the right people as Hollywood seems to be trusting them to create the official mobile games to accompany their summer blockbusters. First they teamed up with Marvel and Sony Pictures to bring the official Amazing Spiderman and now they’ve teamed up with Warner Brothers Games and DC Comics to bring the official Dark Knight Rises to Android and iOS this summer.
I’ve always wanted my own butler that I can order around and have him go fetch me a delicious Chipotle burrito whenever I want. Problem is, I don’t have half a billion dollars to pay for one, so I’ll never be cool like Batman and have a elderly british fellow named Alfred to satisfy my every need. Siri is the closest I’ll ever come to having a true personal assistant, except she doesn’t come equipment with Michael Caine’s impeccable British accent. But is Siri better than Alfred?