The world has always been fascinated by comic book heroes, whether it’s the never-ending film and TV adaptations or the celebrities obsessed with their superhero favorites. Jerry Seinfeld infamously integrated Superman in a variety of his standup appearances, as well as in his hit sitcom, Seinfeld, and the cast of The Big Bang Theory are obsessed with superheroes and comic books alike. Yet, the villain characters are starting to make their presence known more in recent years. From the storyline involving Loki in the Thor film series to the Suicide Squad film that gave rise to the obsession over Harley Quinn, it seems that people are starting to want to know more about the antiheroes and villains in the comic world nowadays.
While superheroes would be able to spend their days fighting low level criminals with ease, the truth is that it’s the supervillains that truly make the superhero storyline interesting. Would Superman still be as exciting without Lex Luthor trying to defeat him? Would Batman still be as thrilling without the Joker to provoke him? These villainous characters are the unsung heroes of the comic book world and are sometimes misunderstood. Delving a bit deeper into the origin story of these villains can help fans to understand a bit more about them, and may even change opinions on whether or not they are truly villains in the first place. Check out our list of the 15 comic book villains you will feel sorry for, and see how knowing more about their individual stories can help you to understand the character.
Oftentimes, when people think of what superpowers they would like to have, shapeshifting is top on the list. From being able to appear slimmer or look like your favorite celebrity to certain criminal activity, shapeshifting would definitely come in handy as a superpower. Mystique certainly has perfected her shapeshifting ability over the years but has crossed over more to the dark side than she probably should have. While she’s aligned herself with Magneto, it’s difficult for fans to truly identify her as a villain. Regardless, it’s her origin story that makes audiences truly feel bad for Mystique. Unlike other mutants that are able to hide their powers with ease, Mystique seems almost trapped in hers. While she can look like anyone in the world, the fact is that her natural appearance is so off-putting that she would be instantly ostracized in regular society if she let her true self be shown. It has to be a difficult feeling to know that you could never divulge your true self without being gawked at and feared. This is probably the main reason why she aligned herself with Magneto in the first place since she would be much more comfortable in her own skin if the human race were to be wiped out of existence.
14 Lex Luthor
Lex Luthor is a comic book character that seems to be widely misunderstood. While he is officially characterized as a supervillain, it seems that his only real crime is trying to rid the world of Superman. When the feature film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was released, fans could definitely see the reasoning behind Batman’s willingness to rid the world of Superman. Seen as an alien that has brought a huge amount of destruction to the Earth, it seemed reasonable that he would be a threat to humanity. This is precisely the thinking Lex Luthor had maintained in the comics. During his off time, Luthor was spending his time as a philanthropist and even used huge sums of his own money to help Metropolis in a myriad of different ways. The sympathy Lex Luthor should be given is because of the fact that he was labeled a supervillain in the first place when in actuality he was hugely charitable and was only trying to rid the world of something that he felt was harmful to humanity.
13 The Joker
After seeing depictions of the Joker on the big screen starring Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, it’s hard to think of him as a sympathetic character. His love of anarchy and his utter disregard for human life isn’t something that can be quickly explained. Yet, the origins of the Joker are somewhat shrouded in mystery. Ledger’s character referenced instances of domestic abuse, including cutting into the face to try and force a smile in the infamous “Why so serious?” line. Yet, other origin explanations include the Joker falling into a vat of chemicals that disfigured his looks and drove him insane. Both of these scenarios explain quite a lot about his psychotic behavior and both merit at least a tiny bit of sympathy for this villainous character. Perhaps this is why Harley Quinn was able to fall in love with him after treating him on a one-on-one basis at Arkham Asylum. Perhaps there is something behind that Joker exterior since it can’t be so bad if Harley Quinn continues to refer to him as her “puddin.”
12 Mr. Freeze
Originally named Mr. Zero, this villainous character was popularized by the ‘60’s TV series that referred to him as Mr. Freeze and then the name transferred over to the comic series. Like many supervillains in comics, Mr. Freeze was formerly a scientist, named Dr. Victor Fries. When his wife, Nora Fries, was diagnosed with a terminal illness, he cryogenically froze her until he could find a cure. Yet, during an accident in the lab, he is forced to wear a cryogenic suit. His powers emulate from the suit, where he uses ice and cold to inflict his murderous and destructive intent. Yet, he probably would never have even become a villain in the first place if the funding was never cut off to further his research in trying to cure his wife’s illness. From the terminally ill wife to the industrial accident, this seems like a clear-cut case of a man in desperate need of help rather than someone to poke and prod.
Sabretooth has similar characteristics as Wolverine in that he has the same healing powers and claws. Yet, the comics depict him with the fangs and animalistic characteristics that seem to be more tampered down in the Wolverine character. In the Wolverine film series, Sabretooth is shown as Wolverine’s brother but in the comic that isn’t the case. While they were both participants in the Weapon X program during the Cold War, the comic series Wolverine vol. 2 #42 definitively showed genetic testing that disputed that theory. If you take away the sibling rivalry aspect of the Sabretooth character, there should be quite a bit of sympathy for his character. Not only was he a victim of the Weapon X program but he was being punished for acting out on the animalistic characteristics the experiment had inflicted upon him. No one gets mad at a lion when it rips apart its prey and yet, the Sabretooth character is meant to behave like a domesticated cat.
In the comics, Loki is a character that has a wide range of storylines, from being part of the Olympian Gods banished to the Underworld to a bisexual character that is able to switch between genders. Yet, the most well-known version of his character was the son of Laufey, who was slain by Thor’s father and ultimately raised alongside Thor. The film adaptation depicted the death of Loki’s people a bit differently but the main theme remains that Loki was taken as a baby and raised by a man that didn’t treat him as favorably as his true son, Thor. Loki grew into a villain and actively tried to kill Thor and rule Asgard on his own but fans can’t help but feel sympathy for him because of the trials of his childhood. It has to be difficult being raised by the man that killed your father in single combat and extremely difficult to be compared to Thor your entire life.
9 Green Goblin
The Green Goblin is another villain that has been embodied by numerous comic book characters but the original involved the father and son duo, Norman and Harry Osborn. Norman Osborn came upon formula notes of a biogenic chemical compound (not knowing that his son had altered it). He continued researching it to try and complete the formula in the hopes of selling it. Audiences can’t fault him for this since anyone with the time, money, and foresight would jump at the chance at making a quick buck on something that could revolutionize the world. The altered formula became explosive and wound up altering his mental capacities and physical functions. While it did make him stronger, it also caused him to go insane. His son, Harry Osborn, took over the Green Goblin persona after Norman’s death. This became a tragic case of a son following in the footsteps of his father since Harry wound up dying after again altering the formula to make it stronger.
There are a few varieties of Catwoman in the comic world (including the Holly Robinson character that was openly gay), but for all intents and purposes the true version of Catwoman was Selina Kyle. The origin story behind Selina Kyle is extremely sad since her mother committed suicide and her father drank himself to death. After her father’s death, Kyle ran away and was living on the streets, juvenile detention, and then an orphanage. While people like to imagine Catwoman as just a burglar that liked beautiful jewels, in actuality her theft started off with stealing food from grocery stores to get by. The film adaptation starring Halle Berry was met with huge criticisms, with many believing it was the worst film she had ever taken in her career. The role was taken over by Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight film series but she was seen as a crossbreed from an antihero to almost a superhero in the end. Regardless, the Catwoman character deserves a bit of sympathy since she didn’t exactly have a picturesque childhood and she gained a misunderstood reputation having to make her own way in the world.
The origin of Juggernaut is completely passed over in the X-Men film series, where he’s seen only briefly and isn’t depicted as much more than a bulky man with an extremely hard head. Yet, the comics have a much more thorough backstory that includes a close relation to Professor Charles Xavier. Prior to him becoming Juggernaut, Cain Marko was the son of Kurt Marko, who went on to marry Charles Xavier’s mother after the death of her husband. However, it wasn’t a happy family union since Kurt abused Cain and seemed to favor Charles. This hindered the two boys from gaining a bond as stepbrothers, and even caused Cain to bully Charles in their youth. Unlike Charles that was born with the mutant gene that gave him telepathic abilities, Cain acquired his through an ancient Korean temple and spell-like chant which entailed a giant ruby. It granted him superhuman strength, which unleashed his new identity as Juggernaut. The fact that his own father preferred his stepbrother over him was bad enough but having to fight on the opposite side of him was undoubtedly worse. The helmet that moviegoers are meant to believe is to help Juggernaut pass through buildings with his head is actually a helmet that helps to protect him against the telepathic abilities of his stepbrother, Professor Xavier.
Venom is different from other villains in comic books because it’s actually a Symbiote, which is an alien race that is parasitic in nature. It envelops a host like a costume but unlike other separate entities, it creates a bond with the host’s mind rather than completely takes it over. There is definitely an influence over the host’s mind but it’s not like the host goes dormant while the Symbiote takes over. In the very first case of Venom in the comic book series, Venom made an appearance in the Web of Spider-Man #18. Its host was Eddie Brock, who was a journalist that became at odds with Spider-Man. Brock falsely accused an innocent man of being a serial killer when the true killer was discovered by Spider-Man. Brock came in contact with the Symbiote and became Venom. Brock’s status as a villain was altered to become an anti-hero with a different Symbiote but the fact that he was manipulated in the first place was a bit of a tragedy. His suicidal state after falsely accusing an innocent man undoubtedly put him in a vulnerable state and thus, is worthy of some sympathy from audiences.
5 Doctor Octopus
There is quite a bit of backstory in regards to Doctor Octopus since the comics did a great job at breaking down his persona and how he developed into the villain he later became. Otto Octavius apparently had an extremely difficult childhood filled with a violent and abusive father and bullying from his peers. His father encouraged him to use violence to fight off the bullies, while the mother encouraged him to utilize his mental capacity rather than his physicality. This all came into play when he became a nuclear physicist and invented the mechanical arms that were later fused to his body. The Doctor Octopus name was actually given to him from his colleagues behind his back when he hadn’t yet turned into the Spider-Man villain he would later become, but definitely was fitting due to the menacing mechanical arms. In the comics, Octavius broke off his engagement because of his mother’s disapproval but subsequently dealt with intense guilt when his mother died of a heart attack during one of their arguments. In the film adaptation, Spider-Man 2, Octavius had to deal with the death of his wife during a failed experiment. Either way, both of these scenarios should cause fans to feel sympathy for the Dr. Otto Octavius character even if he turned to a life of crime after his lab accident.
4 Harley Quinn
Fans became obsessed with Harley Quinn when she made an appearance in the hit film, Suicide Squad, starring the Australian beauty, Margot Robbie. In the comics, Harleen Frances Quinzel was a psychiatrist working at the Arkham Asylum and volunteered to treat the Joker. She subsequently fell in love with him, and the Joker used this infatuation to help him break out (which she did more than once). The part that differs from the Suicide Squad version was in regards to how Quinn wound up going insane. In the comics, she was driven insane after seeing the Joker return to the Arkham Asylum in a badly injured state. Yet, the film adaptation showed the Joker coaxing Quinn into a vat of chemicals, which altered her physical appearance and her state of mind. In the comics, she simply dons a jester’s costume and some face paint rather than in the film adaptation where the paleness of her face is a supposed residual effect from the chemicals. While fans don’t feel sympathy for Harley Quinn for her radical appearance change (since she still looks pretty good), but the fact that she was so blinded by love that she would give up the prestige of her medical career and delve into a life of crime is definitely a tragedy.
The origins of Two-Face in the comics is quite a bit different from how it was depicted in the 2008 film, The Dark Knight. In the comics, Harvey Dent was the district attorney in Gotham City and was left with the hideously scarred face during a court trial regarding a mob boss. The acid was thrown on his face to create the Two-Face look, and that was the catalyst to driving Dent insane. Yet, the film adaptation that starred Aaron Eckhart as the Harvey Dent character showed more of a love triangle relationship involving Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes. This became even more evident during the scene that caused Dent’s disfigurement of the face, and increased the rivalry with Batman. Rather than going insane because of the disfigurement, the film made it seem more like the heartbreak from the loss of Rachel Dawes was what turned him into the villainous Two-Face. Either way, fans have to feel sorry for a man that has his life ripped upside down by a criminal element and then has to live his life with a deformed face.
Magneto is often categorized as a villain by comic book fans since he would be more than happy if humans were wiped off of the planet and the mutants would become the dominant species on Earth. In fact, he is more than willing to help this scenario play out and even tries to thwart attempts at peacemaking between humans and mutants. Yet, once the origins of Magneto are understood, it’s easy to feel sympathy for him. As a Holocaust survivor, Magneto saw firsthand the atrocities mankind could inflict. The film, X-Men: First Class, delved deeper into Magneto’s origin story and truly showed how his experience in the concentration camp could mold his ideology. Rather than see the same crimes inflicted on the mutant race like how the Nazis were persecuting the Jewish people, Magneto took the offensive stance in order to prevent these occurrences from happening. After understanding the experience he must have had in the concentration camp and the loss of his parents, the whole super villain thing can be understood a bit better.
1 Phoenix Force
Phoenix Force is perhaps the most misunderstood in the comic world since it is its own separate entity. In the X-Men films, this distinction isn’t made clear since audiences only see the Phoenix portrayed through Jean Grey. Yet, this is not just an alter ego but a cosmic entity that can embody a host. The plus side of being the vessel of the Phoenix Force is that it will grant incredible power and abilities far beyond what the mutant already obtains. Yet, the negative side is that the host is pretty much held captive, and has no ability to truly restrain the entity. Appearing in over a thousand issues, the Phoenix Force is was a crucially important aspect of the universe and could even wipe out all of existence if destroyed. Obviously, an entity that’s capable of such destruction wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms, but it’s the host that fans truly felt sorry for. Jean Grey may have exuded incredible sex appeal when she became the host to Phoenix Force but having to do its bidding wasn’t a walk in the park. Fans should feel sorry for Grey that she lacked the ability to truly harness the Phoenix Force power without having to become the vessel to do its bidding.