Bring on the Bad Guys!


Every once in a while I get a discussion stuck in my head and I just keep rolling it around until I have to write it out. Earlier this week I was listening to a show called 11 O’clock Comics. I believe it is recorded by a group of destitute drunks and drifters. They were discussing who had the best rogues gallery in comics. As the debate raged on, I couldn’t help but start thinking about comic book villains.

We love the heroes. The books are named after them, but without the villains what would they do? Probably drink coffee and be introduced to each other over an over again. I recently spoke about what it is that draws people to certain characters. A huge portion of it has to be the villains. If we don’t have a healthy respect for the villains then why care if the hero wins?

So the last couple days I have paced around and thought about villains. How they mirror the heroes. Why I like them and why I don’t. The thoughts below are just my own opinions and experiences. I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on what makes a great collection of foes.

Let us begin with the big dog of the rogues galleries. Batman has one of the most recognizable collections of villains in comics. These are the villains that pass the Katers Fame test. If Ma and Pa Katers can identify a character or actor…they are famous. My dad can identify the Joker, the Riddler, and the Penguin  (He might also know who the Justice Society are but that is due to me not shutting up as a kid). Like all great rogues galleries they have grown in tandem with the hero.The older set of Batman villains are my favorite. They weren’t just punching bags for Batman. In a direct physical confrontation the Scarecrow isn’t going to beat Batman. The story becomes how Batman gets to the Scarecrow. The more modern additions like Bane and Killer Croc are based more on being a physical challenge for Batman and therefore are a little less interesting for me. I prefer a bit more on the detective side when it comes to the Dark Knight.

On the other side of the street you have Spider-man. A hero with a very strong and deep rogues gallery. Similar in breadth and depth to Batman’s gallery, but uniquely built for Spider-man’s story strengths. I see most of the Spider-man villains are punching bags. They show up and Spider-man has to have physical confrontation with them…barely surviving. Characters like the Lizard, Sandman, and Rhino have all got a little depth to them, but really they are there for Spider-man to punch. That is awesome. Spider-man really becomes alive when is quipping and fighting. He needs that sort of foil to draw the readers in. I imagine Peter Parker as a funny guy who is in a lot of situations where no one cares what he has to say. As Spider-man he can cut loose a bit. He deals with stress by joking. It is such a perfect comic book formula. You combine action with the best character moments possible. To be fair there are villains like Green Goblin, Chameleon, and Mysterio who go beyond the punching bag formula. Mysterio has always been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. Anytime he shows up you know that it is going to be a story just beyond Spider-man punching him. There are going to be mental manipulations and intrigue. Not the strongest type of Spider-stories but a great counter weight to the usual confrontation.

Now for the one you are expecting. The Flash’s Rogues. I capitalize the R for them. They mirror the Flash perfectly. The Flash is a character born out of science fiction. The Rogues are made up of modern science-villains (apologies to Mr. Moore.) They are men using technology to harness the forces of nature. Cold. Heat. Weather. Light. Boomerangs. Whoopie cushions. In addition to the Rogues proper there is super intelligent evil gorilla (Grodd) that he encounters regularly and a frustrated stage magician (Abra Kadabra) from the future.  The resident villains of Central City have even banded together in a dysfunctional family type unit. They fall apart without each other. In that sense they are probably the most modern of the villains I will discuss today. They are villains but they live in a weird grey area. They are glorified bank robbers whose motives haven’t always been in opposition to the Flash. The fact they have had to deal with multiple Flashes also modernizes them a bit. Their relationships with each Flash changing. From a personal battle against Barry to the strange entente they enjoyed at times with Wally.

If you are going to speak of strange truces you will have to mention the X-men and their greatest foe. Magneto occupies ground rarely held by villains. He might actually be right. The history of mutants in the Marvel Universe doesn’t really hold a lot of evidence to the contrary. Magneto has evolved into one of the most sympathetic villains in comics. We can understand how his history of surviving the Holocaust would inform his view of the present. There are elements of his personal story that would be heralded as heroic when separated from his villainous acts. Apocalypse has also been a strong villain. His long term machinations and ambitions have been the set up for some strong story moments. Without him there wouldn’t have been the Age of Apocalypse…which was completely awesome. Those two are almost strong enough to counter act Mr. Sinister. The owner of one of the worst names in comics. He isn’t even Mr. Terror. He is Mr. “Creating the Illusion That You Should Be Afraid While Wearing A Ripped Cape And Eye Shadow.”

This article has gone on far too long without a mention of Doctor Doom. The ultimate comic book villain. He epitomizes the strong suits of the Fantastic Four foes. The best ones like Doom, Annihilus, and Galactus are “big idea” foils for “big idea” heroes. You don’t beat Galactus by punching him. That leads to some amazing stories. It also sets up a great dynamic for physical confrontations. Since the confrontations between Reed and Doom are usually battles of the brain, when they do start throwing punches it catches you off guard. As soon as Reed punches Doom a “Michael Bay” style panning camera moves across my face. I know that  #$*@ just got real.

Those are just five groups of villains. I could talk about how Superman’s foes are underrated and how Iron Man needs some stronger ones. I could probably spend more time talking about the Rogues then you would believe. (Ask me at a NYCC!)  It only makes sense to spend as much time on them as the do-gooders.

Sometimes Tom Katers sits around and thinks about the Rogues.


  1. How about the great Cap villains? ARNIM FREAKING ZOLA! 

  2. Yes! Some Apocalypse love!

  3. I’m not even a big Marvel reader, but even I think that Dr. Doom is the greatest goddam supervillain ever.

  4. I agree with Katers on Iron Man. Can’t really think of Iron Man’s biggest foes…unless you count his own tech and alcohol. As for Superman, the most important one would be Lex Luthor. He is devoted so much to the idea that Superman is actually the villain and Lex himself is the real savior of Earth.

  5. it’s interesting how all the Marvel books (probably all the DC ones too, but I’m not as familiar) started off in the Silver Age with the villain of the month formula, but only Spider-Man ended up with as strong a rogues gallery.

    Iron Man’s should include Mandarin, Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, Blizzard, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Whiplash, Ghost, Living Laser

    what about Thor? there you have greats like Radioactive Man, Zarko Man of Tomorrow, Cobra, Mr. Hyde, Loki of course, Enchantress, Executioner.  here the problem is they’re all either Asgardian, forgotten, or were co-opted by other franchises.

  6. man, what a great topic, Tom.  I’ve gotta keep going.

    with the X-Men what you have is the team dynamic.  a team has to fight a team, right?  beyond Magneto and the initial Brotherhood and the Sentinels, you have a string of solo guys like Vanisher, The Blob, and Unus, all who eventually end up on a Brotherhood team.  and then you have team after team of guys that appear all as a group, then end up forgettable on their own.  I’m talking groups like the Marauders, Hellfire Club, Acolytes, Hellions, Mutant Liberation Front, Reavers, Savage Land Mutates.

    the other thing about villains for teams are the ones that belong in sort of a "forces of nature" kind of category.  Tom already mentioned Galactus for the FF, but the X-Men have Sentinels, Living Monolith, Phoenix, Krakoa.  these are the things that exist as a single entity, but are powerful enough to fight a whole team. 

  7. Great article Tom, but this needs to be a two parter.  Give us some more depth on Spidey or do the Superman villains.  I could read a thousand more words of this easy.

  8. Considering the 11 O’Clock Comics episode it’s funny that it looks like Kingpin is front and centre of the Spider-man villains image.

  9. In the Pantheon of comic book villainy, I’ve always felt like GI JOE’s Cobra has gotten the short end of the stick.  The faces(your Storm Shadows, Cobra Commanders, Destros etc) could each be a culpable threat in any comics universe.  The fact that they all work together just makes them even more awesome.

  10. Katers is fascinated with villains. Yearbook: most likely to become one.

    As a noob, I don’t care much for rogues gallery. I like villains and heroes, and they aren’t dating each other so… I say heroes battle villains, thugs and neardowells, plain simple. They shouldn’t be exclusive to one another. If I were the Sentry, I would bust any kid stealing a piece of gum. Law is the law.

  11. Who else has a Rouges Gallery?  What qualifies?  I guess it’s a regular rotation of villains, but somehow there seems like there has to be some other quality.  Maybe it’s a consistent quality of villain, too.  Maybe there has to be some equality in terms of face time.  I don’t know.  All I know is that while I can name a good number of Superman’s frequent villains, I don’t think of them as a "Rogues Gallery."  I guess because you’ve got Lex Luthor, and no one else even comes close.  Then maybe Brainiac (I may be showing my age here.  Been a long time since I’ve picked up a Superman comic), and I don’t know who he shares his 2nd tier status with.  Then you have Kryptonite, which isn’t really a villain, but seemed to be consistent adversary to Supes back when I was reading.  And then there’s the 3rd tier villains of which there are many, but clearly a far cry from Lex.  Batman may have the Joker as his primary nemesis, but I never felt that the Joker was head and shoulders "above" the other villains.  Spider-man’s gallery is definitely more consistent, and Flash’s may be the most "even" of all.  I actually tend to picture that gallery as a group, rather than picking individual characters out of my mind and throwing them into the Flash’s Rouges Gallery box.  I don’t know who else has a consistently recognizable rotation of villains.  Of course a lot of that has to do with the popularity of individual heroes, but even so there are plenty of characters I think of as big names who I can’t assign a rouges gallery to.  It’s an interesting thought, and I agree with NorthandClark that there’s certainly more to be said on the subject of memorable villains.

  12. Watch what you say about Mr. Sinister sir!

  13. I tend to think of the Flash’s rogues as one big character, except for maybe Mirror Master.

    And can we talk about the abundance of green as a primary costume color for Spidey’s bad guys?

    Doc Ock, Lizard, Mysterio, Vulture, Sandman, Green Goblin, Scorpion, Will ‘O the Wisp, Electro, Beetle, Jack O’Lantern…

  14. I’ve always loved Iron man’s villains. The Mandarin is a great counterpoint to Stark’s capitalistic wealth. Ultron, Red Dynamo, The Crusher, The Guardsman. Great stuff, I grew up reading the those guys.

  15. You are absolutely right, Tom. 11 O’Clock Comics is peopled by drunks and drifters.

  16. I have to say I love Daredevil’s rogues gallery even if many of them are the most maligned characters in comics(Stilt-Man, Turk, Leap Frog) The Kingpin, Bullseye, Typhoid Mary, The Hand, The Owl, Mr Fear, Gladiator, Death-Stalker I love them all.

    The Purple Man was introduced in Daredevil and so have many other villains who have gone on to be other hero’s archfoes. 

  17. Yeah…..drunks & drifters!

  18. @Minion- good call on DD’s rogues

  19. I also love Darkwing Duck’s cadre of villains. Megavolt, Negaduck, Bushroot, Quackerjack, Taurus Bulba and so many others. They were able to take all of the villain archetypes and give them their own personalities and make them not feel like rip-offs even though they obviously were.

  20. I’ve always found that the best villain for Iron Man is Dr. Doom, even though he is considered more of a Fantastic Four villain.  I prefer Tony vs. Doom over the Mandarin.  Come to think of it though, Doom fights almost everyone.  Fantastic Four, Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, Black Panther and probably many more.  Hell, even other villains fight Dr. Doom pretty often.

  21. Dark Seid is one of my Favorite villains but theres so many to choose from its hard to say

  22. Superman – I actually think Brainiac is a top level villain. Darkseid is another great one. I have always been partial to Superman having to deal with Toyman and The Prankster. Don’t know why.

  23. I agree that Superman does have a great underrated rogues gallery, even if it is small.

    Lex Luthor, General Zod, Brainiac, Bizarro, the Parasite, Metallo. I love them all. In fact, his rogues is so solid that Green Lantern has been stealing some of them(Mongul, Cyborg Superman) since GL has never had any good villains outside of Sinestro.

  24. Well he has Hector Hammond, (Formerly) Star Sapphire, Sinistro, the Manhunters the Controllers, and Black Hand. They may not have always been top tier like they are now but they existed.

  25. I never found GL’s foes that interesting pre-crisis. After Broome and Kane no one knew what to do with the character. Hell..he was a back up feature for a portion of the seventies. 

  26. DC has "Rogues"; Marvel has "Villians."

    The Flash has a Rogues Gallery. Batman has a Rogues Gallery. 

    Spider-man has Villians. 

    This isn’t semantics for me: it’s religion. It follows the dynamic Busiek pointed out in JLA/Avengers, where DC is more of a bright, happy place where heroes are, well, heroes, and Marvel is more realistic (or pick your descriptor.) DC has fictional cities with individual personalites and Marvel has New York and, occasionally, Dallas or San Francisco or someplace. And DC has Rogues and Marvel has villians.

    Every time someone calls Spider-man’s villians a rogues gallery I die a little inside. Please, Tom, Chris: stop. Just stop. 


    Sincerely, Rob

    (A fanboy with no life. Obviously)

    PS: Batman and Spider-man are tied, and no other characters are even close.

  27. Agreed ROb-

    With the exception that I think beyond the quirky appeal of a man in a rhino costume SPider-Man’s villians are what’s holding him back.

    Peter Parker is supposed to be a genius level character 

    and he constantly fights thugs- either street thugs

    or dumb super powered ones- Rhino- Sandman- The Shocker?

    The Green Goblin- occasionally Doc Ock – Sure but it’s been a long time since we’ve had a compelling story line from them- 

    Say what  you want about he Clone saga- but at least the Jackal was a real challenge for Spidey that didn’t involve punching his way out of it.

    Forget wrecking the marriage- Give SPider-Man a real challenge in an adversary!

  28. Rob…you dont know me. That has only convinced me to use it more. Am I your rogue or your villain now?  

  29. @rob – The line between the Marvel and DC aesthetic has completely blurred by now. DC offers stories that take place in New York and other real cities. Both publishers and continuities include realistic and silly baddies. Don’t make it a matter of pride. 

  30. OY! @ericmci You are totally overlooking mysterio as a real challenge in an adversary. I mean the man took took control of maggia and played two rival crime organizations against each other! The guy also f’ked around with spidey’s head. Hell, when mysterio gets into a fight with Parker you know that the guy is gonna fight dirty. Remember ASM 620 where he kicked spidey in the nads?

  31. Just have to give a nod to Thanos, no one beat him but himself.

  32. @Tom: Alan Moore is anxiously awaiting your call to thank him for science villains.

    @Ericmci: Spider-Man is always fighing thugs and lame (as in inept, not boring) villains because he’s always out and about and his sense of responsibility won’t let him ignore a problem, even if the cops could probably handle it. It would make less sense for his character to stand back and wait for Green Goblin or Doc Ock to start some serious business. Same reason Batman’s always shattering the knees and elbows of purse snatchers.

    IMO, Batman’s baddies are the best, with Spider-Man’s as a close second. But Doom is the best villain of all of them. And I don’t even like the Fantastic Four.

  33. DOOM !

  34. Bendis writes the best Doom:

    "To threaten my person is you threaten your own!"

  35. I would say this though, what Johns has done with the Rogues has really made them my favorite villians.

  36. Yep Paul, that line sure has blurred.*  But I am a child of the Bronze Age and that’s the filter through which I read my stories.To me, there remains distinct Marvel and DC "feels."** DC feels one way, Marvel another. Like I said, it’s religious dogma to me.

    Irrational? It surely is, my friend. 

    *It was even doing so way back in 1982 when The New Teen Titans was my second favorite book (right behind Uncanny). 

    ** TNTT felt like Marvel to me. That’s why I liked it while I hated (past tense) everything else DC put out. Adult Rob doesn’t have this problem anymore. You oughtta see my Showcase Presents collection.

  37. @Rob+Paul – I hear this all the time, that Marvel and DC have the sametone and level of realism, and I find that I really don’t agree. DC really does seem to have that feeling (in general, mind you. Exceptions are certainly to be found) of morality plays, godlike figures battling on levels not our own, while Marvel feels like it’s happening in your backyard. My example (since I just re-read both of them) would be each companies’ cosmic events, specifically Anihilation and Blackest Night. In Anihilation, an evil army of bugs tries to destroy the universe using sheer numbers and teleportation technology, while a ragtag group of aliens struggles to gain even a foothold, often losing horribly. In Blackest Night, seven corps of Chosen Warriors weilding magic rings powered by feelings battle the Living Embodiment of Death to protect the Living Embodiment of Life.

    Now listen, I understand that both stories are fantastical and ridiculous, and I’m not citing one as being superior, but there is a much different tone to these works, and I feel that it carries through the lines in general, even today. Again, I love them both equally! Just in different ways.

  38. You have a very exciting backyard. 

    (The more appropriate comparison is Annihilation or Thanos Imperative to R.E.B.E.L.S. or GLC/Emerald Warriors.  And note that Thanos is an avatar of death. So Marvel gets its morality play on too. Compare Secret Warriors to JLI: Generation Lost. Compare Batgirl to ASM.)

  39. @CaseyJustice: There’s no tonal difference between Marvel and DC anymore, only a perception of difference.

  40. @Conor – I might call that a matter of opinion rather than a fact, but I’m nit picking.

    @Paul – Fair enough comparisons, but I’ll stick to my guns on this one, reiterating that I’m not placing a value judgement on either publisher’s tone. In fact, I think that it’s important to have different kinds of stories and characters coming from each publisher. Take Brightest Day and Heroic Age, if you prefer. Both company spanning status quo events, but one focuses on a change in political leadership while the other focuses on mystical resurrections. I’m not saying that both companies don’t have similar themes and concepts amongst various books, but looking at the banners above the logos these days one can certainly see where this percieved distinction comes from, no?

  41. @CaseyJustice: Not really. They are just telling different stories (neither of which are events).

  42. @conor – Agreed. And in my humble opinion, on the whole, the different stories being told by the different companies create different overall tones.

    An impasse. I suggest thumb wrestling to settle the score. Be warned, I cheat shamelessly.

  43. PS: Apologies for the "event" gaffe. They aren’t events, but rather status quos. Quoes? Whatever.

  44. magneto. hands down, best villian ever written. He is THE best villian, surpassed by nobody. Not by the Joker. Not by Doom. Not by anyone.

  45. I’m very partial to the super-teams that had their own rogues, especially the 70’s-80’s LOSH:

    Fatal Five, Mordru, Time Trapper, LOSV, the Khund and the Dark Circle, and Kirby or no Kirby, I always think of Darkseid as a Legion villain, as I had not read any 4th world comics before the Great Darkness Saga.

     JLA had guys like Dr. Destiny and The Key, but their rogues list was pretty light compared to the 70’s-80’s Avengers: Ultron, Count Nefaria, Korvac, Thanos.