Just in time for the Fourth of July! America has faced many threats over its 235 year history, some internal, some external. The America of the superhero universes is no different in that respect… except that those threatening it tend to be a tad more colorful and dramatic. In honor of the nation's birthday this weekend, we're taking a look at some of the biggest baddies ever to menace the U.S. of A. Not just your average villains… we're talking evildoers whose plans directly threaten our nation's freedom. Freedom-loving patriots, be on the lookout!
#10 – The Yellow Claw
You better call him "The Golden Claw" when addressing him to his face… this heir to Genghis Khan does not take kindly to the Americanization of his name. The archfoe of FBI agent Jimmy Woo since his self-titled series debuted in 1956, the Yellow Claw was one of Marvel's (then called Atlas) earliest supervillains. He has nothing but contempt for decadent American culture, and seeks to impose his own vision on America, and eventually the world. The Claw recently reappeared in the 2007 Agents of Atlas series, where he surprised everyone by giving up his Khan title, and passing it on to Jimmy Woo… before being swallowed whole by an ancient dragon! Only time will tell if he ever emerges from the belly of the beast.
#9 – Kobra
Kobra is both the name DC's premiere terrorist organization and its founder. Co-created by Jack "King" Kirby in 1976, the man known as Kobra is Jeffrey Burr, one-half of a separated Siamese twin set, who became caught up with an evil cult that he went on to transform into an organization dedicated to wreaking havoc on civilized society. Unfortunately for him, his twin, Jason, held a psychic bond with him, and sought to use it to oppose his plans. Jeffrey was eventually killed in the course of his schemes, tragically, Jason became co-opted by the evil cult just as his brother was, and became their new leader. Only the elite espionage organization known as Checkmate stands in the way of their ongoing plans.
#8 – The Secret Empire
The Secret Empire is a vast, mysterious subversive organization within the United States whose stated goal is to undermine and eventually eliminate our democratic way of life, replacing it with a system where their upper echelons hold absolute power. They have bedeviled many a hero, most notably the champion of freedom, Captain America. Most chillingly, they have managed to infiltrate all walks of American life, counting among their members those who sit in the highest seats of political power… perhaps even the man who was the 37th President of the United States.
#7 – Vandal Savage
Can you really blame an immortal for thinking he knows better than us? Well, maybe you can, especially when that immortal has consistently shown a total lack of regard for anything other than his own acquisition of power. Vandal Savage was once a simple caveman in prehistoric times, before a radioactive meteorite landed and changed his life forever, granting him an interminable lifespan, massive intellect, and an enhanced physiology. He uses these gifts to further his dreams of world conquest throughout the ages, but heroes have risen to stop him time and again, notably the Justice Society of America, who first battled him during World War II. Savage thinks nothing of allying himself with the most despicable scum imaginable to achieve his ends, recently assembling the superhuman Neo-Nazi group The Fourth Reich in an effort to destroy the offspring of his hated enemies in the JSA.
#6 – Hydra
Hail, hail, Hydra's all here. Seriously, there's no getting rid of these guys, as they have an inexhaustible supply of green and yellow uniforms and a catchy rallying cry. Hydra has been involved in terrorist operations in pretty much every corner of the Marvel Universe, and their leadership, which includes Baron Strucker and the Viper, is nothing to sneeze at either. They've made enough of an impact to earn a spot in the upcoming Captain America film, where they will no doubt cause the Star-Spangled Avenger as much trouble on the big-screen as they have in the pages of the comics.
#5 – Nuke
Sometimes the most dangerous threat is the one in your own backyard. The ultimate superpatriot, Nuke is a soldier gone bad, having become obsessed with defending his country to the point where he can no longer tell right from wrong, and pumped up on enough drugs to make that a very bad thing. It took the combined efforts of Daredevil and Captain America to take him down in Frank Miller's classic Born Again storyline. Nuke was thought dead, but recently returned serving Norman Osborn in the pages of Thunderbolts under his new guise of Scourge.
#4 – Hate-Monger
Sometimes you really can't do better than turning to the real world for a supervillain. That's the case with the Hate-Monger, and despite the plea of the cover of Fantastic Four #21 where he made his debut, we're going to go out on a limb and say that enough time has passed to make this spoiler OK to share. The Hate-Monger is none other than Adolf Hitler himself, his mind transplanted into a cloned body by the Nazi Scientist Arnim Zola. Armed with a weapon that allowed him to fan the flames of hatred in humanity even more efficiently, he would have succeeded in instilling his mad vision in the United States, if The Fantastic Four and Nick Fury hadn't teamed up to bring an end to his evil again. But when clones are concerned, nothing is quite final, and the Hate-Monger has often returned in different incarnations, all with the same goal; destroying the chance of brotherhood and peaceful co-existence for humanity.
#3 – Black Adam
Some see him as not wholly a villain, but when you've committed genocide on the scale that Black Adam has, I think that's a difficult argument to make. As the self-declared ruler of the nation of Kahndaq, Adam was a tyrant, governing with an iron hand, and meting out punishments without mercy. This is not a man who believes in self-determination or individual rights. As such, the Justice Society of America has clashed with him on a regular basis, but his true archenemy is Captain Marvel, since they derive their power from similar mystical forces. This makes him a nearly unbeatable foe, but he has recently been taken out of commission, after having overstepped his bounds in his latest rampage against America and its allies. It's unlikely, however, that this brutal, relentless force of nature can be counted as gone for good.
#2 – Ra's Al Ghul
Ra's Al Ghul's motives may be mysterious at times, but there's little ambiguity in his tactics; he is completely content to jeopardize the lives of millions to further his goals. Ra's sees little in our society that is worth preserving, and having lived for centuries, he has some pretty bizarre notions of the way the world should be, and how best to accomplish that transformation. Only the Dark Knight Detective, Batman, has been there to protect us from his deadly schemes. Like any good terrorist, Ra's also has an organization to back him up; he has headed up the infamous League of Assassins, an organization filled with individuals who have perfected murder to an art, and are willing to die themselves on their leader's say-so, a fanatical ideology that only enhances their threat.
#1 – The Red Skull
When you think of supervillains who threaten the American way of life, the first name that comes to mind has to be the Red Skull. For nearly 70 years, he has consistently been the archenemy of everything America stands for, initially serving the Third Reich, before broadening his goals to masterminding anarchist plots, in order to exploit what he sees as the fundamental weaknesses of democracy. After attempting to take over the body of the Sentinel of Freedom, Captain America, he was defeated and is currently presumed dead, but he has consistently availed himself of his colleague Arnim Zola's cloning technology, so we can be sure it's only a matter of time before he hatches his next plot to destroy everything we hold dear.
Questions or comments? E-mail Matt Adler.