The beauty of comic book characters is that writers have a wealth of history and innate abilities to exploit, resulting in story lines that transcend logic or standard formats. This is partly why superhero movies are all the craze these days. Even with decades of content in print, writers still take liberties with source material because, well, it’s fiction.
Comic books are captivating because they are, at their best, a form of escapism that eliminates the need for any borders or guidelines. This, of course, doesn’t apply to all comic book narratives, but it’s partly why we find them so thrilling. And this applies to the super villains inhabiting these fictional universes as well, as they have a blank canvas of possibilities to push the protagonists to their limits. Whether they originate from real world locations and events or from distant and alien universes, there are literally endless amounts of potential origin stories to create a memorable villain.
Staying true to the promise of this list, we’ve trimmed the fat and compiled the 10 most badass villains in comic books. These villains are the cream of the crop and originate from various backstories that never fail to capture the reader’s attention. A hero is only as strong as the villain, and that concept will be supported here as you scroll down this list. It’s not easy task choosing from a seemingly endless gallery of villains, but we hope you’re content with our selections. If not, sound off in the comments below and give us your own top 10!
10 Red Skull
When actor Hugo Weaving stepped into the boots of Red Skull (aka Johann Shmidt) in Captain America: The First Avenger—one of the best superhero films ever—the villain finally got the attention he deserves from mainstream audiences. The classic Captain America baddie possesses advanced fighting skills and intellect, making him a formidable foe. Shmidt, who hails from Germany and was personally trained by Hitler, is somewhat grounded in reality given his unique origin story. Considering most super villains lack such backstories, Red Skull stands as one of the more interesting characters in the Marvel Universe. Now if only Marvel Studios would revive him on the big screen.
Ravager of Worlds, Devourer of Worlds, Eater of Worlds… Galactus’ nicknames paint a clear picture: this dude destroys worlds. Once named Galan and inhabiting the planet Taa, Galactus is the sole survivor of the universe before the Big Bang altered his reality. Aside from arguably being the most powerful villain in the Marvel Universe, the purple armoured being has close ties with Silver Surfer, who was once his servant in his quest to control the cosmos. Maybe it’s the Star Wars nerd in us, but we can’t help but love the big Galactus even as he devours worlds and clashes with Marvel superheroes.
8 Dr. Doom
We almost forgot to include Dr. Doom in this list. Why? Because 20th Century Fox seems hell-bent on tarnishing the Latverian leader’s on-screen portrayal. But don’t let those god awful Fantastic Four movies ruin your impression of the Marvel villain. He’s not only one of the most badass characters in the Marvel Universe, but in all of comic books. Aptly named Victor von Doom, the green caped baddie is so accomplished in his role that he once defeated Silver Surfer, using his board to wreak havoc on any in his path—that is, until he was apprehended by Galactus for disrupting the order of the universe.
7 Green Goblin
Green Goblin is infamous for one reason and one reason only: he murdered Peter Parker’s first true love, Gwen Stacy. Well, Spider-Man killed her if you want to get technical, but Green Goblin ultimately dropped her from deadly heights. This act alone made Norman Osborn Spider-Man’s sworn enemy and principal antagonist. He’s so popular, in fact, that the Spider-Man films just can’t seem to dismiss him, as he and his son Harry Osborn have both taken the mantle. Even if the new Spider-Man films incorporate Green Goblin once more, he’s one of the few villains in comic books who warrants such treatment.
Oh please, X-Men: Apocalypse, do this classic villain justice. We fell in love with Apocalypse after seeing him on the superb 1990s cartoon. As a proud owner of the VHS tapes, Apocalypse was one of the highlights of the series for his imposing, indestructible presence. Upon forming the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the infinitely powerful villain began causing destruction on Earth and became one of the X-Men’s primary foes. His origin story is equally impressive from a narrative standpoint as he grew up in the Egyptian desert after being rescued by local raiders. He eventually discovered mysterious technology underneath Egypt that granted him the power to destroy his nation’s leaders, beginning his quest of domination.
We love us some Venom. The iconic villain/anti-hero has the depth and general badass demeanour that warrants his inclusion on various lists. His long-time rivalry with Spider-Man is one of the best dynamics in comic books, save for Batman versus The Joker. Venom became even more badass when the symbiote took hold of Flash Thompson and became militarized in the form of Agent Venom. The symbiote was controlled and gave Thompson all the abilities of the substance’s savage form, just minus the savage part. But whether Venom is in humanoid form or erratically chasing Spider-Man across New York City, we love the villain all the same.
The brilliance of Magneto is that, while his aspirations are harmful to the human race, he’s really not that abhorrent compared to other super villains. In fact, considering his traumatic childhood as a Jewish person during the Nazi regime, his actions are generally fueled by revenge and a desire to bring peace among mutants. He’s a complex, powerful, and influential villain that manages to form a team of his own to battle the X-Men, his primary foes. The battle between him and Professor X seems to be in perpetuity and it’s that history that gives Magneto a sense of importance within the Marvel Universe that’s rather uncommon. To put it simply, the guy is just a badass.
3 The Joker
What can we say about The Joker that hasn’t already been said? He’s one of, if not the most popular villain in comic books. His legendary status was cemented in mainstream circles when actor Heath Ledger wore the iconic make-up and delivered a performance for the ages. The Joker is maniacal, insane, erratic, and scariest of all, highly intelligent. His infatuation with Batman makes their rivalry something special as he is always taken seriously by the caped crusader, never relegated as a secondary threat. The Joker is so brutal that he murdered one of the Robins in cold blood, shattering Batman’s psyche in the process. He’s a sick, twisted individual. And we love him.
Ozymandias’ intellect is his greatest strength. Dubbed as “the smartest man in the world,” Adrian Veidt also possesses advanced strength and a keen political and social mind. In other words, Ozymandias has all the tools and resources to manipulate and force his way to the top—think of a narcissistic Bruce Wayne. His pompous and imperious demeanour is synonymous with his aspirations, which include ceasing international hostilities through any means necessary. And by any means necessary, we of course mean unleashing a monstrosity that kills three million people in New York City. Holy crap. And through it all, Ozymandias still believes he did the right thing by adhering to utilitarian beliefs.
Carnage has always been my favourite villain, mainly because he seems uncommonly dark for a Spider-Man villain. Sure, Green Goblin murdered Gwen Stacy, but Cletus Kasady is a serial killer, plain and simple. He manipulates the symbiote to form a number of deadly weapons such as axes and swords, showing no regard for human life. Carnage is a loose cannon who will murder anyone, and that makes him Spider-Man’s most dangerous villain by a wide margin. If Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures have any stones, they’ll finally introduced Carnage to the big screen in Spider-Man’s new film franchise. We’re licking our chops at the thought of Venom and the wall-crawler teaming up to battle Carnage.