Great heroes are defined by their villains!
Dr. Doom, Joker, Lex Luthor, Darkseid, Bullseye, Doctor Octopus, and Thanos immediately bring to the comic reader’s imagination a particular story arc that helped define not just the villain, but more importantly, the heroes that they battled. The costume, powers, name, and background of a comic book hero are important to developing the hero, but superheroes are truly defined by the quality of their rogues’ gallery.
I love Nova, Booster Gold, and the Thunderbolts. But when compared to Spider-Man, Flash, or the Avengers they fall short. Not because they aren’t great heroes, but because their creators could not establish a rogues’ gallery to get the reader to invest in them.
Batman began by fighting mobsters and crooks, but his writers soon discovered that the Dark Knight required more creative villains – opponents that could challenge him and entice the reader into believing that our undefeatable hero just might get defeated. Entire story arcs have been devoted to fleshing out a villain that readers can truly root against. Heroes that overcome awesome foes become legendary!
Building the Perfect Villain
Thus, to make great comics the true challenge for creators is to create great villains. Someone who is just as powerful or clever as our hero – maybe even more so – but with a fatal flaw that our hero (and readers) can discover and exploit to defeat them. This flaw might be a weakness the hero discovers in the villain’s power set, it might be something in their history the hero can find, or it might just be hubris or overconfidence. A great creator allows the reader to discover this alongside their hero giving the reader that “aha” moment before the hero defeats his nemesis. This allows the reader to relate to the hero, almost guaranteeing they will continue to follow their comic book adventures.
Even corny seeming villains can rise to comic book infamy with the right backstory and a gifted creative team to expand on them and breathe life into them. Imagine this discussion in the creator’s bullpen:
“Yeah! He’ll be a short guy with a big nose that waddles when he walks. His costume could be a tuxedo!”
“Yeah! Don’t worry… we’ll give him a cool umbrella for a weapon. Look out Dynamic Duo!”
We all know the villains that got it right despite their name or powers. Kingpin, Red Skull, Two-Face, The Leader, Kraven the Hunter, Mister Mxyzptlk, and Harley Quinn all come to mind for me. All of these evil-doers started with an interesting premise that grabbed readers’ attention and made them hungry for more about the character. Future story arcs then developed them into the villains we love to hate.
For every Green Goblin developed there is a Stilt-Man, a Gibbon, and a Frog Man
This thread is going to explore those that didn’t get the big break. What about those villains who could have been epic, but just missed out on their bid for infamy? Who, with a little tweaking, could become the next big deal? For comic collectors, once you hear the rumor on who the next villain appearing in the MCU might be, it’s already too late. Speculators will already have driven the price of key issues through the roof. The most successful investors and collectors already have the comic before the rumors hit. Perhaps some of the overlooked bad guys we highlight will be the next Red Guardian or Taskmaster.
I welcome your ideas in the comments on which villains should be considered “Almost Infamous”.
Next up: Graviton