Let’s face it, the best parts of comic books are the villains. Yes, the heroes get the glory but it’s the bad guys who push the stories along and elevate themselves majorly. A good hero is judged by his villains and this means many a hero is seen as a big deal. Batman and Spider-Man have some of the best foes in all of comics and the Flash has his great Rogues to back him up. In fact, so many times, you find yourself rooting for the bad guys even more than the good ones, despite their crimes. Many a villain has graduated to highlighting their own book and fans do love to hate on guys so it’s no surprise you find yourself rooting for the bad guy a lot.
Some are too bad to cheer for. The Red Skull is a full-on Nazi and no one wants to root for those guys. The Joker may be popular but it’s still hard to get behind a guy who murders children just for the laughs. The first version of Venom was quite popular but the changes since have dampened his following. Cosmic beings like Darkseid are also a bit harder to really root for given how monstrous they can be. However, there are still plenty of bad guys out there who win you over. They fight against odds, they can be charming and suave and in some cases, you can even understand where they’re coming from. It’s no wonder so many bad guys have become even bigger than the heroes and you can cheer them on despite their deeds. Here are 15 villains from DC and Marvel comics fans secretly love to cheer for and why we can love them as much (if not more) than the heroes they fight.
The Mad Titan has been a fantastic and compelling character for decades. Literally in love with Death, Thanos is willing to murder the entire universe for his mistress and doesn’t care what it takes. In a bizarre way, his quest for the Infinity Gems was the flip side of a hero’s journey in that he is battling all odds and defeating various foes to gain the power of a god. Even when he wiped out heroes and half the universe, he seemed the hero and was only beaten by his own self-doubts. Since then, Thanos has bounced between sometime heroic actions and full-on villany but even when he’s plotting the death of Earth, he can get readers behind him. That he takes his madness in stride and works with it wins fans over as well and Thanos is more than boastful of how capable he is. Even death has been unable to stop him from his work and while genocide may be on his mind, the struggle Thanos endures shows more steel than most heroes under his evil demeanor.
14 The Kingpin
At first just a big fat guy in a suit, Wilson Fisk was changed by Frank Miller’s great interpretation of him. His “fat” is muscle matched by a brilliant mind that can run rings around anyone who tries to fight him. Fisk is ruthless, killing people who fail him or bring bad news and woe to anyone who crosses him in any way (a waiter tried to serve him with a check and Fisk has his hand shattered). He grew up from nothing and his past as an obese and abused child makes you understand how he turned out the way he did. Fisk does show ethics; in one storyline, he beat down the Red Skull rather than work with the Nazi and serves as a sense of order in the underworld. The few times he’s been toppled from power just create a war of gangsters who aren’t as capable or orderly as Fisk. The way he clawed up to gain power and fighting for it in a world of super-beings gets readers going and how he ends up on top no matter what makes it easy to cheer him on despite his murderous goals. He is evil, but the Kingpin still is a guy to root for as more dependable than others in the criminal world and why mobsters can be great anti-heroes.
When Slade Wilson first showed up, he was a full-on villain. The world’s deadliest and most expensive mercenary, Deathstroke battled the Titans and was great with his enhanced mind and reflexes. As his past was introduced, we saw a tragic side to the character as he was dedicated to a soldier life, moving to merc work to keep that going which cost him the lives of his sons. He has shown an honorable streak, working with the Titans if need be and while he hires himself for the highest bidder, he has shown ethics in who he works for and why. He is a warrior tried and true, never stopping in his goal so a reader roots for him when he’s on a job against an army of soldiers and able to win despite the odds. The fact that he’s blind in one-eye adds to his bad-ass standing as he doesn’t care who knows about and his skills more than make up for any issues. He can get dark (his treatment of daughter Rose for example) but most can agree that Deathstroke is well worth the price to follow for a guy with more pure guts than most heroes out there.
12 Doctor Octopus
Like many of Spider-Man’s enemies, there’s a tragedy to Otto Octavius. If not for a lab accident, he would be regarded as one of the world’s greatest scientists and even a true aid to mankind. But now, with four mechanical arms attached to him, Octopus has struck out at the world in various ways, his genius marked by madness and a murderous manner that’s focused on Spider-Man. But Otto has shown a softer side, true love for people and even willing to aid Spider-Man if needed while haunted by his past under a domineering father. A major storyline was when Otto transferred his mind to Peter’s body and actually did a good job as Spider-Man, working with the cops and more effective in fighting crime. It was undone by his own ego and Otto realizing Peter was the true hero to give him his body back. Thanks to whacky time travel hijinks, Otto is currently residing in a robot and ready to get back to life and his time as a hero shows how Octopus can be a hero if need be, which makes his work as a villain more compelling.
11 Ra’s al Ghul
There’s a majesty to Ra’s that is key to why his character is so popular. The Demon’s Head is centuries old, kept alive by the Lazarus Pits which extend his life but add a madness with each use. A gentlemen in many ways, he is a master fighter and brilliant tactician who can more than hold his own with Batman. The key issue of Ra’s is that he believes humanity has ruined the Earth and will go to any lengths to save it…even if it means killing almost everyone on Earth. Despite the fact he’s planning genocide, Ra’s has a major following as he’s so sure he’s right and some might agree with his views of humanity wrecking the world. He carries himself with a calm demeanor that belies his nature, willing to talk differences over a dinner before having a man executed. Adding to it is his power, a man alive for centuries who has amassed a fortune, lives in fantastic palaces and followers willing to die for him. His respect for Batman is also compelling as Ra’s truly admires “the Detective” and wishes they could join forces to make the world a better place. While his methods are terrible, Ra’s goals are understandable and why the Demon has been such an iconic figure in the Batman mythos for so long.
10 Poison Ivy
Obviously, her sexual appeal is a great reason behind her popularity. From her first appearances in the 1960s, Ivy had good looks with her red hair and great body in a skintight green outfit. As the decades have gone on, her looks had just gotten better, added with light green skin and a “costume” of just leaves around that stunning body. What has grown is Ivy’s love for the environment, wanting to keep Earth save from polluters and others who would hurt it. That’s a message many can get behind and while she can get extreme against humans, you can’t deny her love for the planet. She’s mellowed a bit with partnerships with Harley Quinn and going after corrupt CEOs and others and thus fans can enjoy her even more. She may have a kiss that is literally to die for but many a fan would risk that to get closer to Ivy and her antics.
9 Lex Luthor
Luthor has always had an underdog quality to him. It takes a lot for a man with no powers to constantly go up against Superman but Luthor carries it off. For decades, he was a mad scientist but had a soft spot at times and proving himself in fights with the Man of Steel. In the 1980s, he was remade into a businessman obsessed with proving himself Superman’s better. Luthor’s ego is massive as he honestly thinks Superman strikes at him on purpose with his actions and that Superman is a threat to humanity. Luthor believes he’s doing the world a favor by showing how great humans can be and not needing some alien to protect them. Evil as he is, one oddly supports Luthor as he can do anything from plot Superman’s death to be President of the United States and later joining the Justice League. The fact he constantly escapes prosecution to continue his fights just makes him all the more compelling and an iconic force in comic books. Maybe no one can love Luthor as much as he loves himself, but readers do enjoy seeing how Lex tries to top himself in brilliance and scheming.
This mutant terrorist has had an odd following for several years. Her ability is shapeshifting and she is amazing as she can instantly look like anyone she chooses, regardless of gender or age. The fact her clothes change with her just adds a bit more heat to things. A killer, she is usually out for herself and quite a witch lady with her fighting. However, you get a sense of darkness with her as it’s shown that despite being able to take on any life she wants, she can’t understand her own self or identity. She can be anyone she wants except herself and that tragic underpinning makes one feel for her more than she deserves. Her love for seer Destiny and fostering Rogue showed some real heart behind her harsh side and she’s even aided the X-Men at times. She’s incredibly dangerous, but it’s fun seeing her show up behind someone’s face and pull off some complex jobs and reminding fans how hot shapeshifters can be.
There’s an old saying that “every villain is the hero of his own story.” Sinestro fits the bill perfectly. Once a top member of the Green Lantern Corps, Sinestro became obsessed with instilling order any way he could. That included turning his homeworld into a complete dictatorship which got him booted out of the Corps. Gaining a yellow power ring, Sinestro began to fight for revenge but also pushing how he believes he’s right. He forged his own Sinestro Corps to force the GLC to change their methods and took pride in how they were “elevated” to a dangerous level to fight. Sinestro truly believes that he’s doing what is right and not caring about the damage in his quest to maintain order in the universe. The fact that the Guardians of the Universe have been shown to be manipulative and dangerous makes Sinestro’s point more valid. He’s arrogant and egotistical, but his ruthless side does get the job done a lot more than the GLC and the fact he still thinks he and Hal Jordan are friends is interesting. For a man who boasts fear as a weapon, Sinestro has many more than ready to cheer him on.
Look up “magnificent bastard” in the dictionary and you’ll see Loki’s face. The evil brother of Thor, Loki has always had a good standing with fans as a brilliant trickster. Sardonic and fun, he’s gone from full on evil to a bit more mischievous but retains his scheming side massively. He’s undergone changes, from a woman to a child persona to his current one that’s actually running for President. What’s unchanged is his great mind and how he loves to scheme and knows his place is to create chaos. He can be sympathetic, especially when he was the child persona trying in vain to change his ways, but realizing he was doomed to be this villain. However, one has to love his scheming ways, his wicked humor and Tom Hiddleston’s performance in the Avengers movies has just made him more likable through it all. He may be a god of evil, but Loki has a major following that can put his brother to shame.
5 Harley Quinn
The Joker may be tough to root for at times as the man has murdered children with a smile on his face. But his partner in crime is more than enough to cheer for. Once a top psychiatrist, Harleen Quinzel was warped by falling in love with the Joker and joining him on his escapades. Created for the Batman animated series in the 1990s, Harley took off with viewers to be integrated into the comics. Her love for the Joker is marred by his horrible treatment of her so viewers feel sorry for how she keeps getting sucked in with him. But Harley has shown great strides in a partnership with Poison Ivy and her own solo book as well as working with the Suicide Squad. She’s totally insane, but in a lovable way, more likely to pull real pranks than acts of murder and only cuts loose on guys who deserve it. Her wild outfits also help as Harley shows how likable a psycho can be and how she’s grown from a minor character to a major face in the DCU.
4 Doctor Doom
Fans debate just who the true Victor von Doom is. Is he a sociopathic monster or a noble man with a dark side? He can be incredibly evil, killing easily, creating plots to ravage the world and rules his nation of Latveria with an iron fist. However, Doom has shown honor and truly seems to love his homeland. As the son of gypsies, he knew oppression and it drives him on to succeed. His incredible genius is matched by a regal majesty that really wins readers to his side as he embarks on his schemes. Indeed, it’s arguable that Doom is right; the world would be a better place with him in charge. In a famous story, he uses a mind control ray to become Earth’s ruler and the planet is free of poverty, war, and racism. The only reason Doom was beaten? Because he found ruling without the sense of conquest was completely unsatisfying. His ego is boundless, but Doom backs it up with his actions, a master of science and sorcery, and showed his amazing control when he kept the universe together after Secret Wars. Evil Doom may be, but one can’t help but cheer for him and wonder if him in charge wouldn’t make a better world.
The fact she’s the sexiest villainess in comics certainly helps. From the 1940s onward, Selina Kyle has been a spectacular sight in various outfits, most prominently the terrific tight suit that accentuates her curves. While gorgeous, she’s also tough, a top martial artist, and athlete and a good sense of humor as well. She loves what she does, taking pride in being a fantastic cat burglar and usually her jobs are just for the thrill, not the money. The love-hate relationship with Batman pushes her character more as you can’t figure if she wants to kill him, bed him, or both. She’s gone through changes, including discovering she was the daughter of a major mobster and briefly becoming a mob princess herself. But that thief mentality is too much for her to escape and she does her best to look great doing it. Unlike so many of the Dark Knight’s enemies, Catwoman is no monster, but a very likable lady who loves being on the wrong side of the law and fans love watching her pull her style off.
For years, Magneto was a one-note “I will rule the world!” foe but even then, there was a nice push to him. His powers of magnetism made him a formidable enemy and he was compelling with his talk of fighting humans. The real change was Chris Claremont revealing he was a survivor of the Holocaust and thus knows all too well how a people can be targeted by hate. Indeed, when you see how mutants in the Marvel Universe are treated, how the X-Men are hated by the world they risk their lives to save, you realize Magneto might actually have a point. He can be extreme and more than once, he’s called upon how he uses the same methods and ideology of the Nazis. But Magneto truly believes he’s doing what it takes to help his people and won’t apologize for it at all. The Age of Apocalypse storyline showed how heroic he could truly be and sad he wasted so long on his battles with Charles Xavier. He has mellowed a bit in recent years and joined with the X-Men, but can still go to extremes to keep mutants safe no matter what. The fact the Marvel Universe’s treatment of mutants paints him more in the right just makes rooting for the Master of Magnetism easier.
1 The Rogues
Most super-villain “teams” are groups who will turn on each other at the drop of a hat. The Flash’s pack of enemies are different in that they’re friends despite some issues (no surprise Captain Cold and Heatwave clash a lot). A common scene was them making friendly wagers on who can pull off the best heist, create the best trap for the Flash, or break out of jail first. They even all go to the same tailor. While crooks, they have a code of honor (never go after women or children) and have even defended Central City from bigger threats. You can understand their personalities (Captain Cold hates cops because his alcoholic and abusive father was one) and root for them in their jobs. Indeed, if they wanted, these guys could conquer much of the world, but they don’t want to. They’re smarter than they seem (when your main opponent moves at the speed of sound, you have to react fast) and can be serious threats when they cut loose. They prefer being low-key, just pull a job, get the loot and get away. This low-rent attitude wins you over as you root for them against the Flash (who they share an odd respect for and vice versa) and show how they’re one pack of bad guys who are as compelling as the hero they face.