In honor of September being DC’s Villain’s Month I’ve been seeing ‘top villains’ or ‘top DC rogues’ lists popping up all over the Internet. We here at FtN want to go above and beyond for you, our readers, so not only will I be telling you about some of my favorite baddies; I’ll be telling you what I think makes my favorite villains great and what separates classic rogues like The Penguin from someone who never quite caught on like The Condiment King. (No, I’m not making him up!)
‘Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.’
Lex Luthor is the Mecca of villains. He’s brilliant, he’s rich, and he has an incredible drive. Honestly, Lex is sort of the Batman of super villains. What makes him special isn’t all of these facets though. Lex Luthor is a man with vision, and that elevates him to the title of most important villain in the DCU, maybe in all of comics. In his mind, destroying what he has to and rebuilding humanity in his image isn’t evil, in fact, he’s doing what’s necessary to take mankind to new, fantastic heights. There are times that other villains threaten humanity, but what makes Lex special is that he is SO driven…SO obsessed that he, at times, plays antihero and will save the day. (Only to try to take over the world himself.)
‘Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.’
-Alfred Pennyworth on the Joker-
What piece on villains would be complete without The Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker? There have been countless iterations of Mr. J. We’ll (hopefully) never get a definitive origin story for Joker, and I’m good with that. (Some of you may accept Killing Joke as his true origin, but call me a purist when I say, ‘if you’re going to have an origin story, why not make it multiple choice?’) While he’s always been one of the most popular comic book characters of all time, Heath Ledger’s chilling portrayal of Joker in The Dark Knight thrust him back into the spotlight. What makes him great isn’t just his ability to tell one-liners and punch lines while doing unspeakable things, no, it’s that in all of the chaos, all of the wild antics, and all of the smoke and ashes…The Joker may be the most brilliant character in comics. Most people have a Plan B in case things go bad…Joker’s Plan B has a Plan B and he WANTS things to go badly. Whether its Mark Hamill’s FANTASTIC portrayal in Batman: The Animated Series, Heath Ledger’s awe inspiring performance in TDK, or Scott Snyder’s spine-chilling faceless version of Joker you can be sure that wherever Mr. J shows up, he’s going to go all out for our entertainment! (Just don’t ever call him puddin!)
‘I will destroy you all’
I’ve always loved monster-like villains. To see someone like Superman go toe-to-toe with someone like Doomsday and not always come out on top (see 1992’s The Death of Superman) is always action-packed and entertaining. What I love most about him isn’t just the fact he poses a real threat to the well being of any hero he faces (usually Supes), it’s the fact that he’s doing it because he HAS to. Doomsday was created to destroy everything he comes across. There’s no rhyme or reason to what he’s doing, no sense of self-righteousness to his cause, and no thirst to take hold of a world for power. Doomsday has an animalistic urge to crush anything that stands in his way. In a universe filled with motives and politics, it’s fun to see an unstoppable force come in and tear everything to pieces sometimes!
We may not care to admit it, but we can all relate to villains. I chose to write about these three not only because they’re three of my favorites, but also because they all exemplify basic human psychology. Sigmund Freud defined the human psyche as having three parts. The id: (Doomsday) the part of us that acts instinctually, the super-ego: (Luthor) reflects the internalization of basic rules and principles and applies them to one’s actions, and the ego: (Joker) a balance of the two, it will react to please our baser instincts, ultimately bringing us more benefit than grief. So what makes a villain (or any character for that matter) special enough to make it through decades of material and still be relevant and entertaining us today isn’t just running amuck and causing havoc. It’s that small part of them that connects with us as people and has us care about their well being as characters. (We all know how depressed we’d be if Joker kicked the bucket and never came back!)
Who are some of your favorite villains and why? I’d love to hear your thoughts so leave them in the comments section below!