Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Five Favorite Super-Villains

Super-Villains.  Some are iconic, others forgotten, and others never-known-of.  Yet one and all they are threats to the whole, wide world!  What makes a bad guy transcend the ordinary status of "bank robbing prick?"  What pushes them into the category of an arch-villain?  Is it their flair?  Their supernatural powers?  Their corresponding heroes who struggle to stop them?  It can be any of those things!  And there are literally thousands to choose from, so where do we begin?  What are the criteria I'm using?  Here's the bullet-point list!

 - Character depth and development.
 - Powers.
 - How well the character succeeds at his/her/its ambitions.
 - Notable pawns.
 - One character per franchise (this one hurts).
 - Oh, and no characters from any of my novels, especially Physics Incarnate, are allowed.

So here's my personal top-5; enjoy it with the reminder that, frankly, there will be spoilers.

#5:  Magneto (X-Men/Marvel Universe)

Powers:  Control over magnetism, obtained via mutation; Genius-level intellect; Strategic mastermind skills.

Who doesn't know this guy?

Magneto; image sourced from

Magneto is a mutant; and one of the most powerful of them all, at that!  As with all too many of the legendary comic book characters (see:  Superman), "power creep" has set in on old Magneto.  His ability to control magnetism, at least in the first comics he appeared in, extended largely to control over magnetic objects.  As physics evolved, well, so did his powers.  Flight?  Check, but understandable - magnetism and gravity have theoretical ties, at least!  Leadership skills?  Eh, he's a survivor, so check!  Genius-level intellect?  Pushing it, but check!

The thing that makes Magneto such an attractive character is his history and how it plays out.  Magneto experienced the Holocaust first-hand, suffering greatly under Hitler's genocidal, racist regime.  After the war, and after Mutant-kind began to experience the oppressive fear of Human-kind, he vowed (for lack of a better term) to never again be on the side of the oppressed.  Oh, and guess who just happens to be one of the mightiest mutants on the planet?  Right.  So it was a quick psychological step that if mankind wanted a war, he was going to end mankind.

Depending on the era or universe, Magneto is anything from an amnesiac X-Man (I'm lookin' at you, Onslaught storyline!) to a genocidal madman.  And that's what makes Magneto both amazing and not-so-amazing:  Those long-term comic cycles get confusing, and reboots/reimaginings become difficult to keep up with.

#4:  Deus (Xenogears)

Powers:  Access to Zohar Modifier; Nano-mechanical regeneration; Interaction with computer networks; Genesis.

I'm biased, because I loved Xenogears.  But wait!  This guy was the main villain?  Those are just words on a screen!

Deus?  Via

So what is that?  Well, that is a screen-shot of Deus half-taunting, half-welcoming the human crew of the Eldridge, a space vessel of dubious origin.  Deus is the name of a truly nightmarish weapon:  A part-machine, part-organic entity which feeds off of the Zohar Modifier.  Zohar is the de-facto name of the "wave existence," a fourth-dimensional entity of such monstrous power that it makes magic, powers most of the giant war-making robots, and has been in existence for over ten thousand years.

Deus itself is artificially intelligent and was apparently designed for making wars.  It did this a little bit too well, so it wound up dismantled and shoved on the Eldridge in the interest of, y'know, not going extinct.  Of course, nothing goes according to plan.  Deus "wakes up," to minimize spoilers, and takes over the ship.  The Captain blows it up, and the whole thing crash-lands on a nearby uninhabited planet.  Ten thousand years later, Krelian (a nano-technological genius) rebuilds it, merges his body with it, and basically annihilates a world.

Deus is generally passive.  Sure, he basically created all of humankind in this universe, intending to create biomass to replace its destroyed parts.  And, sure, without the intervention of other entities Deus might never have succeeded in its goals.  But it sure manipulated one character into manipulating another into...Yeah.  The entire plot is because Deus exists.  Go figure.

#3:  The Joker (The Dark Knight)

Powers:  Resistance to pain; Criminal mastermind; Really damn scary.

Wait.  No way is this guy only #3?!  Really?  Really?!

Heath Ledger as The Joker; image via

I have to admit, this guy is one of the scariest bad guys you'll see.  Any Joker incarnation - even Cesar Romero's - is good.  Heath Ledgers' is...Scary.  I mean, when you get right down to it, his capacity for direct and brutal evil is only matched by his planning skills.  In retrospect, in my humble opinion he beats - hands-down - both his predecessors and successors sent by the League of Shadows to destroy Gotham.  In so many ways, he doesn't just do damage to his enemies - he beats them.  He chases them out of Gotham, he takes the most heroic people in the city and corrupts them, and he kills a whole bunch of people in the process.  How isn't he #1?  Or at least #2?

Besides the strength of the next two characters, part of it is this incarnation's length-of-service.  Yes, Heath Ledger's passing was horrific and a tragic loss.  And, yes, it could be strongly argued that replacing Ledger for The Dark Knight Rises would have been a slap in the face.  On the other hand, The Joker is hardly worth a mention in the sequel; not mentioned once, if I recall my viewing, while even The Scarecrow gets more recognition.

Additionally, while The Joker has no actual powers in this incarnation, and while there are many others just like him, his ultimate level of success depends on a lot on the suspension of disbelief.  We're meant to feel like he truly turned Two-Face evil, like it was part of some great plan to prove how easily the good in the world can fall.  Absolutely, positively not the case - if Dent had been uninjured or died, it wouldn't have mattered.  Oh, we know the story is going to take us there!  But we also can accept that, yes, the Joker got a lot of lucky breaks.

#2:  Doctor Girlfriend (The Venture Brothers)

Powers:  Doctorate in Evil, Martial Arts; Extraordinary Wealth, Deep Voice

That "One Character Per Franchise" limit really kills me, here.  I mean, really.  For starters, look at her...

Image via

So what's her deal?  Doctor Girlfriend (Now, Dr.  Mrs.  The Monarch) is married (AKA within a Duoship) with The Monarch.  Her skills are simple - she is a genius with a doctorate in evil.  Let's count her accomplishments...

 - Designing the functioning wings on The Monarch's armor.
 - She analyzes the dead skin cells from The Monarch's sunburns to trace the superhero Captain Sunshine's lair.
 - Her manipulative abilities are so precise that she convinces #21 (a top-ranking henchman) to "go on strike" in order to break The Monarch out of one of his many loony escapades.
 - She kills about five Blackguards in hand-to-hand combat.  With ease.
 - Finally, she seduces and poisons Doctor Venture, only sparing him out of mercy.

Now, The Monarch is the "main" bad guy in his organization, at least until the official Duoship between the two begins in Season Three.  There's also Phantom Limb, who is seriously worthy of mention.  Then there's Dragoon/Red Mantle, who deserve some attention.  But Dr.  Girlfriend wins out - she has to, because unlike all of those others she has a certain level of composure and confidence that the others don't.

#1:  Crake (Oryx and Crake/Maddaddam Trilogy)

Powers:  Genius intellect in the fields of genetic splicing, computer hacking, philosophy.

"Who the hell is Crake?" you ask.
I answer, "The most awesome villain ever."

Oryx and Crake is a novel by Margaret Atwood.  It was originally written as a stand-alone novel, but is now part of the Maddaddam Trilogy (the final novel, Maddaddam, is due out in 2013), with The Year Of The Flood serving as the middle book.  Crake is a real beast for one simple reason:

He extinguishes 99% of the human population, and only extraordinary circumstances thwart him.

Crake isn't perfect.  By the end of the first novel, we learn that Snowman is not the only one left alive. I feel okay spoiling that because Oryx and Crake is nearly ten years old, now, and because The Year Of The Flood adds so much more to Crake's backstory than the first novel provides.  Nevertheless, allow me to play at exposition:

Crake began life as Glenn, whose parents worked for a major corporation called HelthWyzer.  His father "commits suicide" when, as we later learn, he discovers HelthWyzer and other companies like it have been curing diseases...Only to create new ones to cure.  As Glenn is capable of hacking his dad's e-mails, he loses faith in the corporate system.  Even though he embraces a true friendship with the novel's protagonist, their unusual pursuits (watching live executions, among others) in a rather nightmarish near-future world leaves Glenn without much hope for humanity.

The two visit the website "Extinctathon," where each player takes the name of a now-extinct animal.  Glenn chooses the Rednecked Crake, and begins to worm his way in with "Maddaddam."  Very early on in the novel, we learn Crake is responsible for an apocalypse.  He applies his genius at genetic rearrangement to create the BlyssPlus pill.  It cures all STDs, it enhances sexual performance, and more!  Like, say, spreading a super-infectious disease which annihilates the bulk of the population!  That qualifies him for a spot on this post, but what makes him #1?

That'd be the second phase of his plan, the Children of Crake - or the Crakers.  Genetically re-built humans, almost a species unto themselves, threaten to be all that remains of mankind. Oh, the protagonist is there, too - Crake intentionally spares his old friend, for reasons which are left unclear.  Was he just sentimental to his dear friend?  Did he view him as the only human worth allowing to live?  Did he just want our hero to take care of his creation after he died?  Or - being a genius - did he anticipate that others would probably find some way to survive, and his friend (being a wise man) would possibly serve to help govern the rebuilding of mankind?

Crake ain't alive to tell us, but his message is simple:  He's a good guy, like so many others on this list believe they are, who tries to make the world a better place through ways that are, of course, completely insane.

Seriously, go buy this book.

 - If I went based on the original trilogy, Vader might squeak into #5.  He's iconic, he's got goals.  Since I've seen the prequels, I just can't do it.  Also, even in the original trilogy, he really is just a lackey for the Emperor; everyone on this list is either #1 in their organization, a pseudo-deity manipulating others in extraordinarily subtle ways, or at the very least an equal partner in their organization's leadership.  Vader isn't equal, he's not even close.

Final note:  This list could always change.  If Maddaddam comes out and makes Crake a pussy (I realllllly don't think that'll happen, I'm aching for that book), or if a new character emerges to take control of this list by force, then it is what it is.  Hell, in five years I might have a completely different top five!  But for now, for where I sit, this is it.

I hope you've enjoyed!

No comments:

Post a Comment