Counting down the absolute BADDEST bad guys to ever grace the pages of the Stan Lee-verse...
By: Jimbo X
Like many youths who grew up in that oh-so-wonderful time to be alive called the 1990s, I was an avid comic book collector. Keep in mind, this was at the zenith of the medium's grim and gritty era, so for every decent series like Untold Tales of Spider-Man and Major Bummer, you had about 50 Priests, Fighting Americans and Trenchers ... and hoo boy, let's don't even get into the period's deluge of "bad girl" offerings, where it seemed like every indie publisher out there had at least two or thee concurrent titles that consisted exclusively of huge-haired bimbo-assassins and demonesses finding different ways to showcase their tits over the course of 24 pages.
Even though I went out and snatched up as many first edition copies of Young Heroes in Love and Madman that I could, for the most part, I never actually read any of the comics I hoarded. With the exception of some of the old school Spidey titles and a few weirdbeard independent offerings (Milk & Cheese FTW) I found myself bored and unimpressed with the one-dimensional writing contained in just about every pseudo-edgy Dark Horse, Valiant and Image title, and holy shit, the Marvel and D.C. comics from the era - with a few notable exceptions - where just utter and complete shit. I mean ... the fucking Spider Clone saga, people. The motherfucking Spider Clone saga.
Fortunately, it was also a good time to snatch up a lot of golden and silver age reprints, and a lot of still-pretty-decent stuff from the late 1970s and early 1980s could be picked up for dirt cheap (and if the stories themselves weren't any good, the cheesy, ephemeral advertisements more than made up for it.)
Through the multimedia barrage of the printed page, old-school and contemporary cartoons, cross-platform video games - and of course, that temple of fledgling consumer folklore, the toy store aisle - the miscellaneous heroes and villains of the Marvel-verse became our mythological figures, the demigods of our materialistic youth culture. Up until junior high age, me and my pals used to bicker back and forth about which obscure comic leviathan we just found out about could kick who's ass in a one-on-one battle. I vividly recall almost coming to blows with another student, who dared suggest that M.O.D.O.K. could beat up Fin Fang Foom, and hoo boy, God help your ignorant ass if you DARED bring up a D.C. villain in any of our philosophical discussions. Even eight-year-olds know Solomon Grundy and Gorilla Grod are stupid as shit, and no amount of corporate drivel could've convinced us otherwise.
Naturally, such juvenile banter would lead to theories a plenty about who the absolute baddest of the baddest in the Marvel pantheon was. Of course, the field of comic books have changed considerably since 1997, and there are a ton of newer characters introduced since who - canonically, anyway - are probably more powerful and tougher than any of the characters on my list. Frankly, I don't give a fuck about any super-being that emerged after George W. became president - these are the Marvel heavies as a I remember 'em, and by golly, as far as I'm concerned, they represent the alpha and the omega and a whole bunch of squiggly Greek things in between. If you disagree with my methodology, you and your opinion can kindly go jack off to the latest edition of Archie (maybe the one where he gets shot by a racist saving the life of an interracial gay politician) or one of those new Batman comics where all the cops in Gotham City are evil black-kid killers. These were my comics and my characters as I recall them, and that's all that matters, Jose or Josina - and if you disagree with my picks for the greatest Marvel super-villains ever, you are undoubtedly a goddamn communist.
And now, without further adieu, let's hop into the countdown, why don't we?
When you look at the pantheon of Marvel villains, you can’t help but feel sorry for The Blob. In a universe where people have been given the ability to control gravity, electricity, time and the atom itself, what “superpower” does he get stuck with? The ability to be really, really fat. For that reason alone, he’s one of the more sympathetic bad guys in the canonical universe, and when you really get down to the meat and potatoes (and macaroni and cheese and Hot Pockets and deep fried Oreos) of it, he’s actually one of the more ingenious characters in the Marvel library. He’s literally so fat that nothing can hurt him – shoot him, stab him, punch him, try to run him over with a tank, it’s all fruitless. Plus, he can actually use his magical adipose tissue as an offensive weapon, too – lest we forget that one time in the '90s Fox toon when he tried to suffocate Rogue in his flab. Add in the fact that he appears to wear a 1980s pro wrestling unitard everywhere he goes, and you’ve got yourself the makings of one of the most underrated antagonists in any fandom.
After a while, it gets kinda’ hard coming up with new gimmicks. There’s really only so many viable super powers out there before you start getting into stuff that’s just too obscure (hence, the existence of such ennui-inducing C-baddies as Lightmaster, The Tinkerer, and The Living Tribunal help us, even Mercurio the 4-D Man). That’s what makes Bullseye such a refreshing change of pace – instead of being some bio-engineered or supernatural freak with the ability to control LCD screens on Tuesdays, he’s just a normal – albeit extremely skilled – dude who excels at killing people using just about anything. If he's stuck in a room with one hand tied behind his back and there's half a paper clip laying on the floor, welp, that's all he needs to kill your ass dead five times over. He's standing on top of a rooftop and he has an apple core in his hand? Watch out, buddy, because his marksmanship is so excellent he can check your windpipe from 500 feet away. In addition to having one of the coolest, least absurd super villain costumes in the Marvel cosmos, he also is one of the better written characters in the Stan Lee-verse. He doesn't have some long, convoluted backstory, nor has any writer ever truly attempted to give his character some sort of rationale for being a sociopathic mercenary (uh, just forget all that stuff about him being a minor league baseball player, though.) He's just a dude with super-accurate hand-eye coordination and no qualms whatsoever about murdering anyone who gets in his way - and that sinister simplicity unquestionably makes him one of the most interesting baddies in the Marvel canon.
Great aesthetics does not always a great villain make (see pretty much every Superman villain not named Lex Luthor for validation of such a claim), but in the case of old Juggy, it’s hard to separate the awesomeness of the character concept from the character’s conceptual design: it’s an eight to 10 foot tall dude who weighs somewhere between 800 pounds and two tons wearing tank armor with a giant metal dome on his noggin. But you see, the real beauty of the character is that his overall power is a vector quality instead of a scalar one. It’s not just the fact that he’s big and strong, it’s the fact that’s big, strong and super-fast, too. The character is basically a cognizant freight train, proudly eschewing the melodramatic symbolism for good old fashioned blunt force. Yeah, the whole magical ruby and getting the shit beat out of him by his daddy origin is pretty lackluster, but who cares? The dude is a ketchup-colored tank that can just run through anything he wants to, making him the perfect foil for the multitudes of smaller and more agile characters in the Marvel mythos - especially a certain wall-crawler from Queens.
Yeah, I know the official backstory is that he’s some sort of super-powered Egyptian half-deity or something like that, but let’s call it like it is: the same way Mephisto is Marvel’s way of shoehorning the devil into its mythology, Apocalypse is basically a canon stand-in for the Anti-Christ - the reverse-Jesus of the Book of Revelation who is responsible for ushering in the mass extinction of humanity. Even now, I'm not really sure what the canonical scope of his powers are - I'm pretty sure he can do everything but fart lightning, though - but really, the simple fact that the character looks the way he does tells you everything you need to know. A bona-fide giant demi-god that's at least semi-immortal, he stands out as both a daunting physical and cerebral menace, who promises - not threatens - to usher in a nuclear holocaust that will kill each and every one of us. And if that hasn't sold you by now, remember: old blue-boy here is cited as a major philosophical influence on Mike Tyson himself!
The old ‘90s Saban cartoon (or maybe it was the original "Days of Future Past" story arc - my memory ain't as sharp as it used to be) had a great line about the Sentinels being “walking monuments of hate” (or something along those lines) and that’s ultimately the thing that makes the characters so captivating. Granted, they aren’t characters in the traditional sense – basically, they are all a bunch of mass-manufactured robots that are programmed to seek out and enslave super-humans – but that cold, unthinking inhumanity also makes them so much more interesting than your average mutant megalomaniac or metahuman super-criminal. They can’t be reasoned with, they can’t be bribed and they will never cave into pity – they just do what their genocidal programmers told them to (uh, that might be a metaphor for something, I think.) While there have been attempts to give the Sentinels more personality over the years (the original Master Mold and the oh-so funky Nimrod being perhaps the most noteworthy), I've always thought the villains have worked best as nameless, faceless, virtually reason-less killing machines who deep fry mutants and shoot harpoons through their intestines with frigid, unemotional efficiency. And speaking of allusions to Hitler's Willing Executioners...
By now, we are all keenly aware that the original X-Men run was an allegory for the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. And if the peaceful co-existence espousing Professor X was meant to personify the philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr., than the more militant, pro-segregationist ideology of Magneto was probably meant to mimic that of Malcolm X. The unfortunate implications of naming the Nation of Islam stand-in "The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants" aside, Magneto has remained one of the more interesting, sympathetic rogues in the Marvel universe. You really can't say he's straight up evil, just a dude with insane power that's out to avenge historical wrongdoings and prevent further atrocities from occurring ... even if it means he's got to levitate a steal beam through someone's skull or blow up a nuclear power plant every now and then. Over the years, Magneto has been retconned into a Holocaust survivor, which by default, gives him a more than reasonable excuse to take the actions that he takes (although I'm still not entirely sure how the dude was able to construct, let alone finance, a home base on a fucking asteroid.) Magneto, ultimately, hits just about every qualifier necessary for a great villain: cool aesthetics, a unique and imposing super power, and most interestingly, a rock-solid philosophy behind his doings that is not only comprehensible, but for the most part, entirely justified.
The Kingpin really shouldn’t be that intriguing of a character. I mean, all things taken into consideration, he’s just a really fat dude who runs a criminal empire. We have those in real life, so what sort of appeal is he supposed to have in a cosmos littered with God-like super-beings? Carlton Fisk - depending on who writes him, either a Rupert Murdoch-type media baron or a Tony Montana-ish organized crime mastermind - works as a super villain because he possesses the greatest superpower of all ... he has money, and lots of it. In a way, The Kingpin is sort of like an inverse Batman, a really rich dude who decides to use his wealth and power to royally fuck shit up and support his own interests instead of serving vigilante justice. It's kind of been asserted that The Kingpin is the big power player behind the scenes of all the non-cosmic-or-demigod-being super-villain crime in the Marvel universe, essentially making him the one man criminal empire that makes super-villainy sustainable as a career path. He's already an interesting character, but when you begin to think of him as the Sam Walton of super-being crime - which I suppose would make heavies like the Sinister Six the comic book equivalent of part-time Wal-Mart employees - he suddenly becomes one of the most fascinating characters in the entire Marvel universe.
One of the laziest comic tricks is to simply drum up a mirrored version of a superhero as his or her primary foe. Reverse Flash, Sinistro, Black Adam – all ho-hum, incredibly lazy archenemies, without question. Venom, however, stands out as perhaps the only mirror villain to actually be worth a hoot, providing a nearly perfect conceptual, thematic and aesthetic foil to the Web Slinger. A pissed off journalist, dying from cancer and doing a shit load of steroids, ends up having an intergalactic monster that literally feeds off rage bond to his body, in the process, giving him superhuman abilities ... coupled with a compelling desire to chew on human brains, or if in a pinch, large quantities of chocolate. There are scores of lumbering, muscle bound villains out there, but Venom breaks the mold by being a towering yet incredibly nimble adversary. He can shoot webs and lift insanely heavy objects over his head like Spider-Man, but he can also use his living costume in all sorts of inventive and nefarious ways ... like literally sending himself over the Internet through broadband cables. While Marvel pretty much ruined the character with the Maximum Carnage arc (in which he more or less turned face, passing the super villain mantle on to a far-less interesting foe in the process), the old school, Todd McFarland-drawn Eddie Brock remains one of the coolest - and most intriguing - super villains to ever grace the Marvel Comics library. Well, just as long as he isn't being played by that little shit from That 70s Show, naturally...
02. Dr. Doom
Adolf Hitler with super-powers - that's pretty much always been who and what Dr. Doom represents as a character. Although bogged down by a needlessly bizarre supernatural backstory involving his mother's soul and an abstruse Faustian bargain, Dr. Doom at his best has always been a relatively straightforward, stylized take on the despotic, autocrat archetype. Yeah, I know that technically, The Red Skull is probably thematically more like Der Fuhrer, but as far as I am concerned, the tyrannical leader of Latveria is a much better representation of the hyper-powered Nazi ubermensch. At heart, Dr. Doom is your classical aggrieved, beaten dog gets revenge story; a poor, of the soil youth, Victor Von Doom - a genius polymath ironically doomed by his own egotism and victim complex - slowly rose to power, following an absurd, semi-mystical path that almost eerily (and almost certainly intentionally) parallels that of a certain mustachioed Austrian who wound up killing a whole bunch of Slavs in the 1940s. As leader of Latveria, he is a politically untouchable character (a brilliant plot device, no doubt) who manages to do most of his nefarious work in the shadows, as if running a Bavarian utopia nation-state was just a super-elaborate front for his schemes to take over the world (in a way, one can almost view the quasi-Medieval country as a representation of what Hitler's ideal Germanic kingdom would resemble.) More so than just about any villain in the Marvel Universe, what makes Dr. Doom such an incredible threat isn't sheer power - rather, it is his cunning intellect. The Doombots and the laser cannons in his palms are snazzy and all, but that's not why Dr. Doom is considered by many to be the villain in the Marvel cosmos. In a universe filed with atomic beasts that can uproot 50-foot-tall buildings and swing them like baseball bats and beings with virtually godlike abilities to control people's minds and manipulate elements on the periodic table like kids messing around with an ant farm, Doom is a character who is feared - if not outright worshiped - because of his intelligence. Whether he is in Castle Doom, the Baxter Building or Stark Industries, everybody knows he is the smartest man in the room - and when a brain that magnificent belongs to a despotic, vengeance-obsessed narcissist with armaments so technologically advanced they border on being magical, how can you need be scared shitless?
With apologies to Thanos and The Beyonder, the biggest, baddest character in the entire Marvel mythos has always been – and always will be – Galactus. He’s the ultimate awe-inspiring villain, a character so absurdly powerful that he is seen as less of a character than he is an unstoppable cosmological force. At his core, the characters is basically the in-universe version of the God of Abraham – a virtually omnipotent figure who can do whatever he wants, anytime he wants to do it, and none of our puny technologies (save for that deus ex machina exemplar Ultimate Nullifier) can do anything to stop him from literally killing every living thing on the planet. The best part? It’s not even something he does out of spite or ire – he’s just a far greater universal being that sees our entire reality as nothing more than a food source. While Galactus has been defeated by several hyper-obscure, super-duper-natural beings that only hardcore, never-touched-a-breast comic book nerds have ever heard of, by and large, Marvel writers have maintained the character's air of classical awesomeness, positing him as a being so powerful, so destructive and so unstoppable that boring old moral qualifiers like "good" and "evil" no longer apply. Whereas every other villain on this list is just another character, Galactus - complete with his ragtag assortment of outlandish "heralds" who could kick the shit out of at least 95 percent of the Earth-based Marvel heroes - represents a virtually unconquerable aspect of the universe itself, a force of nature on par with death and time itself. Simply put, no villain in the pantheon of Marvel creations does such a masterful job of inspiring wonder, dread and existential terror than this 29 foot tall, 18 ton, purple-bedecked devourer of worlds. And to quote a good chum who visited Mike Tyson while he was in prison and debated him on which comic character was the baddest? "Mike, Galactus eats planets. How can you beat that?"