There is a fine line between bravery and stupidity. While we may be quick to commend superheroes for their great moral fibre and courage to take on threats which could kill us all, any rational person wouldn’t take the enormous risks that they do. Thankfully most heroes have superpowers which help keep them alive and allow them to keep up with the ridiculous threats they face.
But what about those without any powers? Heroes like Batman, Hawkeye, and Black Widow all have to rely on their skill, wit, and gadgets to compete with the big boys. They could be considered much more courageous because of this. If that’s the case for heroes, what does it say about supervillains who don’t possess any super powers? As much as we hate to admit it, we have to say that the villains on this list are all pretty ballsy for doing what they do. That doesn’t make them any less evil, it just shows the lengths they will go to, to achieve their villainous desires.
Like the heroes mentioned above, these villains have to rely on their own skills, intellect, and gadgets to get the upper hand on their heroic adversaries. Unlike the good guys, these bad guys use these gifts to plan elaborate death traps, ruin heroes’ lives or just to have a good time.
Now before anyone asks, no The Joker is not on this list. While he, for the most part, doesn’t have any superpowers, he does possess an immunity to all toxins, so technically that should excuse him from the list. Sorry Mr. J.
But you’d be fooling yourself if you think this list isn’t jam packed with 15 of the most iconic, and powerful villains of all time.
15. The Riddler
Kicking off with a foe of the Batman (expect a lot of those on this list), The Riddler may seem like a laughable enemy, and while he certainly could be at times, that isn’t to say that he is a pushover who Batman can just bowl over.
Originally introduced all the way back in 1948, The Riddler is one of Batman’s longest running enemies who originally just got off on giving Batman brain-busting riddles, but as the comics industry got darker, so did the Riddler. His most impressive feat would come in the Batman storyline “Hush” where he conspires with another Batman villain to bring Batman’s entire life crumbling down but ultimately fails because, you know, Batman is unbeatable.
While it really depends on which version of Riddler we’re going by, Edward Nygma has usually shown great skills with electronics, robotics, and engineering. Combine that with his massive intellect and ego and you have a narcissist that gives the Dark Knight fits.
How do you put fear into a man who scares the hell out of criminals as part of a crusade on crime? Apparently, all you need is to put that fear into a gas.
A nasty psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Jonathan Crane, Scarecrow is a member of Batman’s rogues gallery and can hurt the Dark Knight on a level that nobody else can. A talented chemist, Scarecrow has created a gas which he calls the fear toxin which is capable of turning a person’s worst fears into reality, in the victim’s mind anyway. While Batman eventually developed an antidote to the fear toxin, others haven’t been so lucky and have had their greatest nightmares stare them right in the face.
Scarecrow’s toxin is certainly impressive, but it also makes Crane kind of a one trick pony that is not capable of much else. In fact, there are other characters later on the list who can do what Crane does either better or with more variations. But Scarecrow does wear a straw hat, so he gets points for that.
Seeing as how the X-Men are a group of mutants, most of their foes are going to be packing some crazy mutations which bestow upon them super powers. Not so much the case with Arcade.
An expert in robotics and electrical engineering, Arcade has tangled with the X-Men ever since his debut but has also taken on Spider-Man, Captain Britain, and other heroes over the years. Trapping his victims in a demented circus he dubs Murderworld, Arcade enjoys the experience of entrapping these heroes more so than winning. For him, this is all a big game which he plays to cure his boredom. He pretty much tackles superheroes because it seemed like a fun thing to do with all his money.
His main methods of crime involve constructing robotic versions of heroes and while he is outclassed by other villains later on the list who do similar things, Arcade has a certain theatrical flair that is hard to beat.
12. Jason Todd (Red Hood)
Jason Todd famously died at the hands (well, technically the crowbar) of the Joker in the late 1980s. It seemed like one of the few deaths in comics that seemed permanent but we should have known better as Todd came back to the land of the living in 2005 with the famous Under The Red Hood storyline.
Imagine a character who has been trained by Batman for years but instead of enforcing a no killing policy, he straight up murders with guns. That would be Jason Todd. His skill and ruthlessness can really be shown in the Batman: Arkham Knight video game where he leads an army to take over Gotham City and push Batman to the breaking point. And just like Batman, he does this without the use of superpowers, making all of his feats even more impressive.
11. Harley Quinn
While I may be pushing it with this entry as Quinn currently possesses an immunity to toxins and slightly augmented strength, these weren’t originally a part of her character so I’ll let it slide.
Introduced in the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, Quinn was supposed to be a one-off henchwoman of The Joker, but she proved to be so popular that she was kept on for numerous episodes. Shown as significantly more agile and a better hand to hand fighter than the Joker, Quinn also usually packs her signature mallet and guns making her a real threat.
Quinn could likely be a more dangerous villain if not for her undying devotion to her puddin’ The Joker, but if she does decide to take on The Clown Prince of Crime and make him pay for all the terrible deeds he’s put her through, Joker better watch out.
Much like how Venom can be seen as a dark and twisted version of Spider-Man, I would argue that Hush can be looked at in a few ways as a dark and twisted version of Bruce Wayne.
Debuting in the modern-day classic storyline Batman: Hush, Thomas Elliot is a childhood friend of Wayne who like Bruce, lost his wealthy parents. Unlike Bruce, Elliot was the one who killed his parents in order to secure his rich inheritance early in life. The main reason he hates the Waynes is that Bruce’s father was able to save Elliot’s mother from death. This is one messed up child.
The entirety of the storyline, which involves Superman being controlled by Poison Ivy and Clayface impersonating Jason Todd returned from the dead, is orchestrated by Hush with assistance from the Riddler. If his manipulation of others wasn’t good enough, Hush is also an expert marksman, is an accomplished brain surgeon and is skilled enough at plastic surgery that he can perform on himself to look like practically anyone he wishes.
9. The Shredder
He might be a walking cheese grater, but The Shredder is the definitive Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles villain for good reason. And he does it all without any superpowers.
A supremely talented martial artist and criminal mastermind capable of manipulating New York’s underworld, Oroku Saki hails from Japan and has a vendetta against Hamato Yoshi. Once Yoshi dies, it leaves his pet rat to fall into the sewers where it along with four turtles get mutated by the ooze which turned them into the lovable team we all know and love.
Shredder is one menacing son of a b****. Equipped with a suit of armor covered in spikes and blades, he could kill people just by merely running into them, but if you combine that with his claws and various Japanese weaponry, you have a recipe for a terrifying villain. He also at times shows skill in various fields of science, making him more fearsome than ever before.
Even compared to the host of ridiculous looking super criminals on this list, Mysterio manages to look silly. Topped with a fish bowl on his head, Quentin Beck doesn’t get the respect from fans that he should when it comes to intelligence. He is a special effects genius, an expert chemist and is highly skilled in robotics making him more than a match for his arch-nemesis Spider-Man.
Mysterio has managed to manipulate Spider-Man (and sometimes all of New York City) through the use of various gasses and his expertise in hypnosis. In his very first appearance, Mysterio was able to duplicate all of Spider-Man’s abilities except his spider-sense with only special effects wizardry. If Marvel is looking for fun villains to add to their new Spider-Man movies, you can’t do much better than the amazing Mysterio.
Some people might think to put Deadshot on this list as the human with the best accuracy in comics, but I have to give that honour to Marvel’s Bullseye.
A longtime foe of Daredevil, Bullseye would have to be up there as one of the most sadistic villains in all of comics. He kills people without the slightest hint of remorse and could literally turn anything into a weapon. Peanuts, playing cards, baseballs, arrows just give him something light enough to throw and he’ll kill you with it and then laugh about it.
Bullseye is also far from a pushover in hand to hand combat. He once killed the ninja Elektra with her own signature sai and often tangles with Daredevil, one of Marvel’s strongest martial artists.
Other villains may have brought Batman to the breaking point, but no villain has actually truly broken the Batman. That is, except for the hulking latin behemoth known only as Bane.
While he does sometimes use a steroid known as Venom (not the symbiote variety), Bane is plenty strong on his own even without his power up. He orchestrated the events of the Knightfall storyline by breaking all of Batman’s deadliest foes out of Arkham Asylum and once Batman was worn out from months of fighting, Bane came to Wayne Manor. With a pro wrestling backbreaker befitting of his luchador-esque mask, Bane crippled Bruce Wayne for months.
He’s smart enough to have discovered Bruce Wayne’s secret identity, skilled enough to fight to draws with Batman and destroys average men with single blows. If all else fails in an argument to show how strong Bane is, just remember he broke the bat. That is all that has to be said.
You have to be pretty darn smart in order to convince the entire world that aliens have invaded the planet. Not to mention being able to convince the Russians and Americans to put aside their differences. But that’s exactly what Adrian Veidt did.
While it’s even debatable whether or not Veidt should be on a list of villains at all, I’ll include him by virtue of the fact that he killed millions of people. Using his vast resources and considerable combat skill, Ozymandias is the mastermind behind the events of Watchmen. Not only that, but he bested several of his former teammates in combat. Heck, for a brief second there it looked like he even defeated Dr. Manhattan, but in reality, he just pissed him off.
Veidt is skilled enough to catch bullets his bare hands, manipulate entire governments, run an amazingly successful business and engineer the psychic monster which saves the world from nuclear war. But I wonder who wins between Lex Luthor and Adrian Veidt in a game of chess?
4. Winter Soldier
Captain America might be incredibly impressive but his best friend Bucky Barnes might just be even more powerful than Cap ever was. And Bucky doesn’t even have the Super Soldier Serum coursing through his body.
Brought back into Marvel Comics via 2005’s “The Winter Soldier” storyline, Barnes was revealed to have not died in the 1940s and instead was rescued by the soviets to become a heartless master assassin. While he eventually shook off his mental programming, he still retained all his skill which aided him to take up the mantle of Captain America when Steve Rogers was thought to be dead.
So essentially, Barnes kept up the role of Captain America nearly flawlessly (he did have to be significantly more brutal than Rogers) without the use of the Super Soldier Serum. Score one for the “sidekick”.
Kingpin might have gained a newfound level of respect and admiration due to Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of the character in Daredevil, but Wilson Fisk was a powerhouse long before he was in the MCU.
Debuting in Amazing Spider-Man #50, Kingpin may look like a massive blob prime for ridicule from Spider-Man, but he’s actually a big 400-pound slab of muscle. How much of a threat is Kingpin you ask? He regularly tangles with Daredevil and Spider-Man and gives them problems, two heroes on that on paper, are way out of his league.
I haven’t gone into how strong of a criminal mastermind he is. Kingpin is the defacto ruler of the New York City underworld and considering all of the superheroes that base themselves out of New York, it’s incredibly impressive that Kingpin has lasted as long as he has. He may be the (large) butt of numerous Spider-Man quips, but nobody should dare laugh at this ruler of crime.
2. Doctor Octopus
The debate always rages on among Spider-Man fans who argue whether Doctor Octopus or the Green Goblin is Spider-Man’s greatest enemy. But one point that you have to give to the good doctor is that he’s done all he did without the use of superpowers.
The world’s greatest intellect in terms of nuclear engineering and a brilliant overall scientist, Otto Octavius’s feats have greatly surpassed the limitations of his portly frame. He has tangled with Spider-Man, Iron Man, and The Hulk and put up incredible fights considering the power of his opponents. Doc Ock is so respected that he fought alongside much stronger villains like the Wrecking Crew and Doctor Doom in the original Marvel event comic Secret Wars.
And this was all before he took over Peter Parker’s body! Yes, that happened, Ock’s intelligence and potential for scheming reached its peak in the “Dying Wish” storyline where Octavius switched bodies with Peter Parker and left Spidey to die in Ock’s decaying body. Ock would then spend quite a bit of time as the Superior Spider-Man before willfully relinquishing the body back to the spirit of Peter Parker.
1. Lex Luthor
Who else could stare down the Man of Steel and maintain his composure? Nobody but Lex Luthor, the greatest fictional criminal mind of our time!
A genius in pretty much every field imaginable, Luthor is the complete antithesis of Clark Kent. While Kent is from a small town and is extremely ordinary, Lex is anything but. Luthor is the CEO of Lexcorp, crushes everyone else beneath his iron fist and lives atop a mighty skyscraper in the giant city of Metropolis. With all his money and brains, Luthor actually doesn’t have any superpowers.
That isn’t to say that Luthor can’t be a physical threat to Superman. Combined with technology from Darkseid, Luthor made a mechanized suit designed to take out the Man of Tomorrow. Filled to the brim with Kryptonite weapons, Luthor gives Superman a highly challenging fight when he decides to throw down with Kal-El.
For tangling with a literal god on a regular basis and surviving to tell the tale, Lex Luthor is the most powerful supervillain without super powers.