Hold your horses (or your comics or whatever). When we say, “like Superman,” we don’t mean these villains could’ve been a nearly indestructible alien dude flying around, performing impossible feats.
By “like Superman,” we mean possibly as “pure” or as “good” as Superman. That comparison of Superman being pure isn’t a stretch, by the way. People have made parallels between the Man of Steel and Biblical figures for years, like Moses, and between him and other Christian themes.
In other words, we mean these villains could’ve been, well, heroes … if circumstances were different.
You’ll find that even the most horrific, diabolical villains on this list were pushed, nay, kick-punch-blasted into pursuing a life of crime. In some of the worst cases, they didn’t even choose to be evil; they were somehow influenced by the powers that be into becoming bad no matter what.
Here’s a list of DC supervillains who’ve experienced things so atrocious that they were shaped into the horrible deviants they are today.
17. Cyborgirl—“And that, Kids, Is Why You Don’t Do Drugs”
Remember those D.A.R.E. commercials that always used to be on TV? Well, if LeTonya Charles were a real person, then the drug advocacy group undoubtedly would’ve tried to recruit her as a spokesperson. The drug she took, aptly named Tar, literally destroyed her body.
Luckily, LeTonya’s aunt, Sarah, was handy at science and just so happened to be the maintainer of Cyborg’s cybernetic components. Sarah felt that she could give her niece a second chance by implanting LeTonya with the cybernetic material.
Imagine what LeTonya could’ve done if the implants helped her become a hero! Recovering drug addicts can do amazing things.
But, LeTonya didn’t go that route. Rather, LeTonya decided to use her newfound abilities to feed her own selfish desires.
In what only strengthens our decision to keep LeTonya on this list, it’s later revealed that the advanced implants in LeTonya’s body could’ve been the catalyst to her full-on embrace of evil, seeing as the implanted parts replaced most, if not all, of LeTonya’s humanity.
16. Cicada—“Love Struck, Thunderstruck”
Okay, we understand David Hersch made some very, very bad choices before he became Cicada. But the guy felt bad after the fact, so give him a break!
It all began on a dark and stormy night (yes, this is important). On such an overtly clichéd night, David decided to do the unthinkable: kill his wife.
He was successful, too.
Upon doing the deed, David immediately regretted his rashness and, overwhelmed with sorrow and guilt, tried to take his life.
But before he got the chance, he was struck by lightning, a phenomenon that should’ve killed him (not to mention should never have happened, due to the odds). Instead, the lightning strike gave him a vision; he saw himself living forever … with his wife (whom he’d brought back from the dead).
From that moment on, David adopted a new identity, Cicada, dedicating his existence to somehow resurrecting his lady, keeping himself alive by sucking the life force of poor, unfortunate souls.
In what only makes his predicament all the more profoundly intense, Cicada not only understands that what he’s doing is wrong (draining the life from people), but this knowledge hurts him; his excruciating feelings of guilt and remorse basically compel him to continue his villainous ways.
15. Mento—“The Hunter Who Became The Hunted”
Yah, yah, Mento is a “superhero.” We know. But he hasn’t always been one.
What would you do if your wife (or husband, or significant other, or boy toy, or … girl … toy?) was murdered in cold blood, and you knew who the killers were? And what if you were a superhero, too? That’s right. You’d do something about it, outside the law. Don’t fool yourself. That’s what Mento, a former associate of Doom Patrol, did when his wife Elasti-Girl was killed.
However, his revenge didn’t pan out the way he initially hoped it would. The murderers he sought to kill ended up capturing and torturing him. It didn’t take long before Mento’s mind snapped from the torture, a mental break that led him to do some terrible things.
For one, he blamed his adopted son, Beast Boy, for the loss of his wife, and formed a group known as Hybrid to destroy the Titans. Later, Mento would become the Crime Lord, a designation he would take to heart, employing nuclear bombs across the US to, well, destroy the US.
14. Mob Rule—“Fingers That Want To Keep Living”
This is a story of a man (Manuel Lago) who gets captured and tortured by Basilisk, whose fingers, after being chopped off, come alive.
Well, not really. Kinda.
It’s not like they are fingers jumping around, causing mischief. Each severed limb “transformed” into a clone of Manuel, and they call themselves Mob Rule.
At least Manuel discovered he possesses regenerative qualities, seeing as his fingers grew back.
After Manuel was able to get away from Basilisk, Manuel realized that he couldn’t just move on from what happened to him; he wanted to seek revenge for being tortured (understandably). Luckily, Manuel had a finger army to help him.
But things started to go south when each “finger person” began dying in the order that they were cut off (when they were fingers). Even though they’re fingers, they don’t want to die. They’ll do anything to survive … and we mean anything, as in chopping off Manuel’s regenerated fingers (and hands) to replenish their ranks.
13. Lex Luthor—“Before He Became Bald And Angry”
Like the most iconic comic book characters, Lex Luthor ranked as the 8th greatest villain (out of 100) in Wizard magazine, has gone through a plethora of reiterations ever since his debut in Action Comics #23 and, in turn, has many different origin stories.
The one that best fits this list’s particular angle, however, is Lex Luthor’s classic Silver Age incarnation. See, Lex and Superman used to be buddy-buddy. So what went wrong? Well, in a slew of unfortunate events, Superman (then Superboy) ended up being indirectly the cause of, yes, yet another comic lab accident, one that would cause Lex to go bald.
In what was possibly a combination of being completely irate at the loss of his beautiful head of hair as well as having suffered major side effects, Lex snapped and soon dedicated his life to destroying Superman.
12. Goldenrod—“Angry, Drugged-Up Plant Guy”
This guy once had it all. Fred Delmar was Harvard-educated and a lawyer. He had a family, a wife and a newborn child. But then his law firm went bankrupt. And he couldn’t find another career.
It didn’t take long before Fred began dipping into his savings to support his family, getting incredibly close to depleting it completely. He soon became desperate, so much so that Fred agreed to become (yes, you guessed it) a test subject to a drug.
And whaddya know? The experiment failed and Fred died as a result. At least, he was momentarily dead. Not expecting their patient would come alive, the medical lab officials, in addition to covering up his death, threw his body in a field of grass and left it there to rot.
But as you’d expect, the drug in Fred’s system reacted with the vegetation his corpse lay in in such a way that Fred not only awoke … but was transformed into a plant-like creature! However, this vegetable demon thing wasn’t a happy-go-lucky sprout. He might as well have been a Venus Flytrap … and viewed everyone as mosquitoes.
11. Great White Shark—“Beaten Into Insanity”
Warren White was never a good person. However, he wasn’t necessarily evil. Far from it. He was just a crooked investor. In a perfect world, Warren could’ve just gone to jail, served his time and then reentered society (possibly a changed man). But he had to be all smart and win the insanity plea in court. And it worked.
It worked a little too well, however. Warren ended up being incarcerated in the one place no one ever wants to go: Arkham Asylum.
There, Warren was at the complete mercy of Batman’s most dangerous enemies, tortured and abused mercilessly to such an extreme that the disfigured criminal was driven insane … becoming the Great White Shark.
To give you an idea of just how much he was beaten up (besides the photo), in the 2009 video game Batman: Arkham Asylum, to unlock Great White Shark’s bio, you have to solve one of Riddler’s riddles, and the answer lies in a jar, which contains Great White Shark’s nose, lips, ear and two fingers.
10. Jericho—“Dude … Grow A Pair”
This guy is inexorably linked to a destiny of interminably succumbing to corruption, and it’s for that reason why he’s oftentimes plopped into the “neutral” alignment category. The first time Jericho was manipulated, he’d already teamed up with the Titans to stop his father, Deathstroke, but was soon influenced by Trigon and, as a result, betrayed the Titans by taking over the Wildebeest Society.
Luckily, Jericho was able to regain clarity. His suffering was so emphatically horrific, however, that he even asked his father (whom he’d tried to defeat) to kill him, to which Deathstroke begrudgingly agreed. But even then, Jericho couldn’t escape his fate.
Why? He was resurrected. But the irony continues.
It’s later revealed that one of Jericho’s abilities (taking over the bodies of others) has a rather adverse side effect (when possessing a body, a portion of that person whom Jericho possessed is left behind inside Jericho). Seeing as Jericho has inhabited the bodies of many evil beings, he’s soon corrupted by what they left behind inside him.
9. Murmur—“Schizo On The Go”
Schizophrenia is one hell of a disease, capable of crippling anyone, regardless of physical strength, astounding IQ or … well … anything. Before the voices came, Michael Amar was a well-respected surgeon. It’s later discovered that his blood features an abnormality that makes him resilient to lethal injection. See, he could’ve been a superhero, just as long as he didn’t do anything that would require him to get the lethal injection.
But once Dr. Amar started hearing those voices in his head, all hope of him becoming a hero quickly dissipated, seeing as the only way to stop the voices is killing … an ephemeral effect. Later, this madness-induced criminal creates a virus and uses it to break his way out of prison.
Oh, and while suffering from psychosis, Dr. Amar can’t keep himself from yelling out his crimes, so, to prevent himself from blurting them out, he cut his tongue out and sewed his mouth shut. Gross. Definitely not Superman.
8. Silver Deer—“When Bigotry Begets Bigotry”
The story of Chanka, a Cherokee Indian, is similar to Magneto’s (however, not as intense) in that she not only adopted the mentality of the very thing that once hurt her but inflicts it upon others.
Chanka saw the horrors of what bigotry is capable of at an early age. After her brother was bitten by a rattlesnake, their father rushed him to the hospital and pushed aside a nurse in the process, out of fear for his son’s life. Unfortunately, a racist guard used this as an excuse to react on his messed up beliefs … and killed both Chanka’s brother and father in cold blood.
Unfortunately, the guard wasn’t tried, and because of this, Chanka took it upon herself to do what the law had failed to do: punish the white man, utilizing her family’s magical abilities in native mystic rites to carry out her racism.
7. Solomon Grundy—“‘Born on a …’ Shut up, Zombie Guy!”
You probably know Solomon Grundy as the blatantly annoying doofus who constantly blurts out “Born on a Monday” along with other lines from the poem of the same name .. and refuses to shut the hell up.
By including Solomon Gundy in this list, we aren’t saying that, if things went differently, he could’ve become a hero. We’re saying that there was a chance that he could’ve just stayed dead when he died, sparing us from his relentless repetitiveness.
Solomon Grundy was once Cyrus Gold, an ordinary Gotham City merchant, who was ostensibly murdered, his corpse thrown into a body of water called, yes, Slaughter Swamp, where he emerged as the poem-reciting zombie. How appropriate.
However, while it was believed Gold was killed, it’s later revealed that he committed suicide. How ironic is it that, in killing himself, rather than escaping life, he was “reborn” as a creature that can’t really die.
6. The Son of Man—Le Joker Français
This twisted freak is essentially the French equivalent of the Joker.
While Joker’s past is relatively left ambiguous (for the most part), The Son of Man’s is, unfortunately, not. He, originally Norman S. Rotrig, was the victim of severe torture … at a young age … mutilated by his insane father who wanted his son to become the living personification of what he deemed an artistic masterpiece: a man with a permanent Glasgow smile on his face.
And the sick father’s dream ended up working: his son became The Son of Man, otherwise known as The Man Who Laughs, who’s obsessed with transforming Paris, France, into a “work of art.”
5. Nemesis—“When Justice Literally Fails”
Nemesis had a pretty legit gig: the bringer of vengeance for the unjustly killed. But like all good things, evil felt compelled to blow it all to hell. It might’ve taken some millennia to do so, but it happened.
As you’d imagine, Nemesis must’ve taken down a lot of evil in her quest to seek vengeance within that time frame (millennia). And after a while, the voices of those evildoers began to take their toll on the goddess, and she soon succumbed to madness, a state of insanity that made her believe that the only way she could bring peace was to rid the Earth of humanity or have another take her place.
4. Clock King—“When Doctors Make Mistakes”
People can be pushed to extreme measures when a family member becomes invalid. That extremeness can be embellished further when the person taking care of the invalid family member is diagnosed with a disease that gives them only a short time to live … and, in turn, a limited time to take care of the invalid relative.
That’s where William Tockman found himself: he had an invalid sister and only six months to live. Desperate to secure funding for his sister, William planned to rob a local bank’s vault (an endeavor he calculated by eyeing the timing on said vault).
But he fails and is incarcerated.
While in prison, William’s sister dies … alone. Plus, he learns that he isn’t terminally ill (a mistake that was made when the doctor accidentally switched his papers with another patient’s).
3. Parasite—“Manipulated Janitor”
Anything that Darkseid is involved in personally is the antithesis of good. This inveterate psychopathic, Hitler-like monster decided one day that he would recreate Parasite, the original villain who was erased during Crisis on Infinite Earths. To create Parasite’s successor, Darkseid needed a “vessel” whose mind he could mentally contort. And rather than choosing someone evil, Darkseid thought it would be a good idea to kill two birds with one stone. Why not rid the world of innocence when creating his new villain? So, for the subject of his little supervillain-making project, Darkseid turned his sights on the janitor at S.T.A.R. Labs, Rudy Jones. Why the hell not?
Gifted with a proficiency in all things bad and horrible, Darkseid was able to manipulate Rudy’s mind, shaping him into the Parasite. Poor, Rudy.
It’s undoubtedly the sheer randomness of Darkseid’s choice (a janitor) and the overall outcome of his endeavor that Rudy’s incarnation of Parasite became the most prolific, and he’s ranked as IGN’s 61st greatest comic book villain of all time.
2. Headcase—“The Product Of A Sinister Experiment”
Barney Venton was just an orphan. Heck, he was an orphan with a poor set of social skills. Double whammy. Bad guys: just leave him alone! But, of course, they wouldn’t. A socially awkward boy with no family connections was just what villain Dr. Caligan, a devious geneticist who manipulates teenagers to participate in his dark experiments, wanted.
Barney, like most of the doctor’s prey, was easily swayed. After undergoing many horrific tests and experiments, Barney soon emerged with heightened mental capabilities, such as the ability to absorb knowledge and manipulate everything around him with gravity.
The maniacal doctor soon tested what his little experiment could do by sending him to Silicon Valley to do some consuming. However, it didn’t take long before Barney went head-to-head with the Teen Titans, whereby he gained the name Headcase, courtesy of Robin.
1. Fallout—“Human Battery”
The crazy thing about Neil Borman is that he never killed or hurt anyone on purpose. Bad things just happen when people come in contact with him.
Like many comic book characters before him, Neil had an accident (he was working on a nuclear power plant he constructed), which not only led him to change his identity (Fallout) but to committing manslaughter.
When we say “accident,” however, we mean he fell into the reactor’s cooling system, transforming him into a man composed of high-energy electrons. Unfortunately, Neil … or … Fallout … soon found out that when he comes in contact with other people, the energy radiating from him kills them. Oh, and he came in contact with his wife and son, so guess what happened to them?
Of course, seeing as he killed various people (including his family), Neil was soon incarcerated at Iron Heights Penitentiary. The horrible thing is, in addition to not really committing the murders himself, that the prison ended up exploiting Fallout’s newfound abilities to power the facility; they essentially made him into some kind of human battery, and, in this case, becoming a human battery was not a pleasant experience.
Yah, the Flash might’ve gotten involved, but rather than stop the siphoning, he just made it so when Fallout’s energy was being forcibly removed from him, it didn’t cause him pain.
Sucks his energy doesn’t make sunshine and rainbows instead of killing everyone.