Yes, there are purposely only a few well-known super-villains on this list. That’s because “most wretched” isn’t synonymous with the most “powerful,” “ingenious” or “prolific.”
So, no, while characters like Lex Luthor—whose superior intellect has allowed him to go head-to-head with the likes of Superman (a proficiency that enables him to also cross paths with other heroes), despite having no powers himself—and others, who’re gifted both in mind and body, like Bane—one of the few villains who’s not only discovered Batman’s identity but is credited for breaking the bat (and the only one to do so)—aren’t vile enough.
By wretched, we mean specific delinquents who have performed certain acts that go well beyond random crimes and “just” murder, who want so much more than to just destroy the universe, like Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Even psychopaths lacking all form of empathy, who, as per Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, don’t top the list. So, no, the Joker, while included, doesn’t make it at number one.
Sometimes, it’s the villain who affects a single character in such a profoundly negative way that makes him/her more heinous than criminal masterminds who threatens an entire city… or even the entire cosmos.
Genocide isn’t despicable because she lives up to her name (and does so proficiently). It’s because she’s inveterately evil, having been created from soil samples where certain acts of genocide have taken place (Auschwitz, Logor Jasenovac in Croatia, Darfur, Rwanda and Cambodia, among possible others), all of which are housed within the future corpse of Wonder Woman.
So Genocide is basically an undead Wonder Woman filled with dirt where horrible things have happened. Oh, and Genocide had present-day Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth surgically grafted into her body, too. Genocide’s piecemeal state basically makes Frankenstein’s monster look like a bunch of Legos.
Genocide also doesn’t discriminate who her victims are, known for killing super-villains if they get in her way. But she doesn’t just murder her prey. One time, she tortured Wonder Woman’s friend Etta Candy into a comatose state and left her somewhere Wonder Woman would be able to find her handiwork.
14 Everyman (Hannibal Bates)
Everyman’s real name should give you a clue as to why he’s so vile, Hannibal Bates, who’s known for doing something that rhymes with his first name. To jog your memory, Hannibal was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in various films including the critically acclaimed movie Silence of the Lambs.
The big difference, however, is that DC’s Hannibal is a shapeshifter, a power that’s contingent on him on partially cannibalizing the person he wants to become. His transformations are pretty convincing, too, even fooling Hal Jordan's Green Lantern ring.
Even though Everyman only needs to devour a small portion of the person, he sometimes goes a little too far, eviscerating his prey in the process, because, well, he likes the taste.
And just because Everyman’s on someone’s team doesn’t mean he won’t try to eat their hair or toenail clippings. No one is safe. Heck, Everyman even killed his teammate Skyman so he could masquerade as him. In what only makes Everyman more unpleasant, he impersonated Green Arrow during his wedding night with Black Canary.
13 The Headmaster
Thaddeus Romero Hoskins was just worried that mankind would die out if they stayed on Earth. Fair enough. But that doesn’t warrant the creation of Headmen, grotesque robots with heads that share an unnerving resemblance to Hoskins on spidery legs. Oh, they also decapitate enemy soldiers by dipping their spiked limbs into the chest cavity of their victims before reanimating their bodies to act as cannon fodder for its controllers.
After creating a horde of such terrifying creatures, Hoskins became the Headmaster, going so far as detaching his head, removing his brain and placing it in a powerful bipedal shell).
Let’s be honest. Hallucinatra’s intentions (before he became Hallucinatra) were originally pure. The people on his planet were enslaved to a drug, and, in what would make D.A.R.E. proud, this lowly scientist wanted to wean them off it.
However, pre-Hallucinatra scientist soon realized that the mental and physical hold this drug had on his people was so great that the only way he could cure them was to introduce them to another, less-harmful drug.
So he created Hypomen. But there ended up being some complications. Hypomen’s success was conducive of his patients’ constant stimulation to it, so much so that once the planet’s inhabitants had been completely weaned off the first drug, they were now completely dependent on Hypomen. Irony!
That was how pre-Hallucinatra snapped, causing him to become a mad scientist who needed to do the exact opposite of what he originally wanted: to drug his people to kingdom come.
Hallucinatra did this by honing the hallucinatory properties of Hypomen (hence his name) to such a degree that he was able to drug everyone on his planet out of their minds... and became their leader as a result.
11 H’San Natall
What’s so horrendous about this particular alien race of conquerors isn’t that they, uh, conquer intelligent worlds. It’s due to a particular form of dominance that the H’San Natall performed when trying to take over the Earth, particularly to the women.
Basically, the conquerors kidnapped them and ensured they’d give birth to H’San Natall offspring. Once the deed was done, the conquerors left their future children behind, to later come back once their spawn turned 16 and use them to take over the planet. Talk about planning ahead.
Everyone knows this guy. Darkseid is that lumbering giant rock god who destroys galaxies. But what everyone might not know is that besides being essentially a futuristic manifestation of Adolf Hitler (Darkseid’s number-one goal is to eliminate all form of free will and restructure the universe in his image) is that he’s participated in the archetypal bloody game involving thrones and the pursuit thereof.
Before becoming “giant boulder man,” Darkseid was Prince Uxas, and killed his brother Drax after foolish Drax attempted (emphasis on attempted) to claim the fabled Omega Force.
But killing his bro wasn’t enough. Darkseid later murdered his mother (because she forced him to marry Tigra) and then ordered Tigra to kill their son, Orion (the both inextricably linked to a damning prophecy. The fact that not even the life of his mother is sacred to Darkseid just ups the already upped ante of his horrible nature.
Oh, and Wonder Woman was also forced to seal a portion of her soul into Darkseid so as to weaken him (seeing as he’s responsible for eliminating half of the Amazonian population). Dang. It’s no surprise that IGN ranked him as the sixth best villain of all time.
9 D’kay D’razz
History lesson: All Martians’ minds are interconnected telepathically. Martians whose minds aren't linked are different. And as history tells us, people in the majority sometime view and treat those in the minority as filth.
This particular telepathic deviation fascinated Martian D’kay D’razz to such an extent that she felt compelled to conduct experiments on these “freaks,” a disgusting pastime that led to her eventual imprisonment. Ironically, D’kay was later driven to madness after she became the apparent sole survivor of her race’s destruction (thus severing her tie to the Marian “telepathic community” and transforming her into the very thing she once tortured.)
After being teleported to Earth, D’kay, now assaulted by the interminable wave of human thought, was thrust into a deeper form of insanity: she attacked the daughter of Dr. Erdel to the point of permanent scarring and become so obsessed with procreating with Martian J’onn (Martian Hunter) that she tried murdering Miss Martian. But what’s more off-putting is that her broken mind manifests in the form of an extra mouth in her torso region.
8 Blackfire (Komand’r)
It sucks when you’re next in line to rule and you end up getting cast aside because you can’t, unlike everyone else on your planet, absorb ultraviolet light (making you capable of flight). That’s what happened to Komand’r (yes, it's pronounced “commander”); as a result, her sister Starfire was chosen by their people to succeed the throne. Again, that sucks. But that doesn’t constitute betraying your people, enslaving your sister and allowing her to be tortured… in numerous ways.
Kinda ruins Cartoon Network’s Starfire from Teen Titans, huh?
7 James Gordon Jr.
Yes, this is the same James Gordon Jr. portrayed by Nathan Gamble in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. You know, the kid that Harvey Dent, now Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart), put a gun to. But don’t let Junior’s cuteness fool you. That kid is pretty much the spawn of Satan.
At a young age, Junior displayed an affinity for violence, killing animals and ripping them apart as a hobby. While never proven, he’s the alleged culprit behind the disappearance of his sister Barbara’s friend Bess Keller.
When Junior grew up, he started taking medication that would exacerbate his inveterate need to indulge his violent impulses, not only resorting to murder but torturing his victims to an inch, nay, a millimetre of death (one particular basement scene comes to mind).
Oh, and Junior released the Joker (who ended up attacking Junior’s mom) just so Junior could kidnap his sister (later stabbing her in the femoral arteries). Oh, and, in an effort that would make the Joker proud, he attempts to poison an infant nutritional facility to create a whole host of little psychos.
6 Supremacy Groups
There are many supremacy groups in the DC Universe, and are, therefore, all despicable in their own special ways.
A xenophobic-, isolationist-promoting group, the White Triangle’s ultimate goal is to empower the Daxamite race, their belief being they’re superior and all other species are “unclean.” To promote their dogma and ensure its continuance, they keep the communities under their control ignorant of various sciences and universal truths.
The Aryan Brigade, a white supremacist terrorist organization, promoted its racist doctrine by creating a designer virus that would attack and destroy “nonwhite” DNA in humans. The members of this group includes Blind Faith, Golden Eagle, Heatmonger and Iron Cross.
Then there’s the World War II team Axis Amerika. Their mission was to target America’s superheroes and kill them so as to lower the US’ morale (allowing Hitler to prevail). Axis America consisted of Übermensch, Grösshorn Eule (“Great Horned Owl”), Fledermaus (“Bat”), the Valkyrie warrior Gudra who Hitler summoned to assassinate President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Sea Wolf, Usil, Sumo the Samurai, Tsunami and, of course, Kamikaze, a living missile.
5 Major Force
Even before this degenerate received his superpowers, thereby becoming “Major Force,” Clifford Zmeck was already a vile snake. In fact, Zmeck became a meta-human because he was already incarcerated in a high-security prison for murder and for doing unspeakable things to women. To coax Zmeck into participating in the superpower-bestowing experiment, they promised him a clean slate.
In return for his powers, Major Force was supposed to help the government on various missions, which they “enforced” by implanting micro explosives inside him, pretty much making him the sole member of his very own suicide squad. Of course, these explosives haven’t really prevented him from going nuts, but it was a valiant effort.
Here’s a few things he’s done: killed Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, Alexandra DeWaitt, stuffing her carcass in a refrigerator (Force ostensibly killed Kyle’s mother, too, and stuffed her head in an oven) and ripped the right arm off his teammate Major Victory, beating Victory viciously with it.
Plus, Force can’t really die since he’s made up of energy, not matter. Heck, the very energy from which he’s made of is capable of decimating a city when flowing from a wound like blood would a body.
4 The Joker
He’s been named one of the most iconic characters in popular culture. He’s heralded as one of the greatest comic book villains and fictional characters ever created. It’s the freakin’ Clown Prince of Crime, the Jester of Genocide, the Harlequin of Hate, the Ace of Knaves, Harley’s Puddin’. It’s the Joker, baby!
Ever since his debut in 1940, the Joker has gone through many reiterations, each one more inexplicably twisted than the last. Probably the most famous (or should we say infamous?) depictions of this psychopathic clown is the one whose stories have proliferated from the critically acclaimed Batman: The Killing Joke comic, where he’s accredited with the “creation” of the Oracle by shooting and paralyzing Barbara Gordon before torturing her father, James Gordon.
This malicious fiend is also responsible for almost one-upping Bane, who’s lauded as the man who “broke the bat,” by Joker nearly breaking the bat’s identity: having Batman nearly resort to murdering the Joker after the Clown Prince of Crime beat Jason Todd mercilessly with a crowbar, leaving him to die in an explosion. (While unsuccessful, Joker does, however, coax Grayson into beating him, the Joker, to death, even though Batman later revives him.)
There’s also the time the Joker remade the universe in his own image, wherein he tortured and killed Batman daily.
But what probably makes the Joker so emphatically disturbing is that he’s more concerned over the conveyance of his twisted philosophy on life (that mankind is inherently evil and will always succumb to darkness) than his own existence. And this isn’t even mentioning the time Joker tried to murder a group of infants, his numerous attempts to literally poison the world or his tantalizingly slow deconstruction of Harley Quinn’s freewill and individuality.
3 3. Professor Pyg
When a character is described by Grant Morrison as “one of the weirdest, most insane characters that's ever been in Batman” and whose purpose was to “seem genuinely disturbed and disconnected,” then you know that this character is going to be one messed up mofo. Meet Professor Pyg.
What makes Pyg so objectionable, however, isn’t the spelling of his name. This freak likes to, uh, experiment on people in very creative ways. And Pyg is quite prolific in his art, having created multiple “groups” of his experiments, groups based on the ways in which Pyg’s mutilated his victims.
There’s a group called Dollotrons, which consists of genderless (through castration) lobotomized humans dressed up, of course, as dolls with doll-like masks, except they’re not tied to their deformed heads but permanently fused to their faces. Then there are the Circus of Freaks, a group of humans who have various animal body parts sewn onto them. Fabulous.
2 Barton Mathis
Barton Mathis—also known by the incredibly misleading moniker Dollmaker— is not innocuous as his name suggests, but holistically pernicious. He and his whole family are all horrific freaks. In what only strengthens the many, many failures of the Mathis name, Barton’s mental degradation can be blamed on his dad. See, this father figure thought it would be a great idea to take his son on “hunting trips” where he would hunt, not animals, but humans, of which he would later cannibalize as Barton watched. Yuck!
Kids, as we all know, can be incredibly impressionable, and while Barton’s father was a truly disgusting fiend, Barton would end up outdoing his parental figure in true evolutionary fashion. Dad may have cannibalized people, but Son would later create dolls out of the skin and limbs of his victims.
Whoa. Guess that explains the name Dollmaker. To add to his “dollmaking” identity, Barton wears a mask partially made out of the skin from either his deceased father or the first Toymaker. Dude. Come on. Dollmaker, who also runs an organ trade business, created a “royal tapestry” made out of living bodies (kept alive via tubes in their stomachs) sewn together for the Joker’s special “tour” of Arkham Asylum for Batman. Of course he did. Side note: Barton’s daughter, Matilda, kidnaps children to harvest their organs and “recycles” their bodies by transforming her victims into human dolls, which she decorates her garden with.
1 Doctor Light (Arthur Light)
While not trying to diminish the grotesque nature of the other Doctors Light, Arthur Light, is, by far, the most revolting. There’s a reason why he was ranked the 84th greatest comic book villain by IGN in 2009.
Heck, this miscreant, lowlife scumbag has even attacked a later reiteration of the Doctor Light “line,” Kimiyo Hoshi, by brutally draining her energy.
However, the fact that Arthur assaulted one of his namesakes isn’t what makes him so atrocious. He later related the abysmal act (boasting of course) to one of life’s most heinous crimes against humanity. (It’s so egregious that this form of deviant behavior led a former Injustice League colleague, Cheetah, to betray and slash Arthur in the back.) Hm.
Arthur first showed a special predilection for this particular type of torture in 2004’s Identity Crisis, wherein Doctor Light … had … his way with Elongated Man’s wife, Sue Dibny. If that weren’t enough, it was later revealed (through his boasting of said crime) that the assault wasn’t an isolated incident, but just one of many.
It’s chillingly ironic (and appropriate) that Arthur would later be killed in a place where he’d just minutes before been participating in a “practice session” of the previously alluded act with women dressed as Teen Titans to later perform on them directly. Of course, Arthur’s corpse is brought back to life during “Blackest Night” story, which should be bad enough, except his reincarnation would later lead to him exploring yet another hideous pastime, cannibalism, whereby he devoured the remains of Gehanna’s corpse.
Sources: Complex; IGN.