Every hero needs a good villain. In fact, most heroes need several. Supervillains are the backbone of superhero media: without them, the heroes’ adventures would feature far more attempts to rescue cats from trees than devastating cataclysms. Still, some supervillains rise above mere troublemakers, engaging both hero and reader in a larger dialogue.
The most notable villains explore at least one aspect of what makes a particular hero a hero, but the best explore a multitude. From a twisted version of an origin story to a fearsome reimagining of what certain powers could do to a psyche, the best villains are the dark reflection of a hero.
10 Sabretooth embraces what Wolverine tries to overcome
For most of his history, Wolverine has had two central conflicts. Before he was known as James Howlett, his mysterious past was a constant source of pain. Before, during, and after searching for his memories, Logan struggled to contain his wild side in battle.
Sabretooth/Victor Creed is a complete repudiation of these things. While Logan’s lack of memories and the knowledge of his violent actions tormented him, neither of them bothered Sabretooth. In fact, Creed’s embrace of his violent nature marries the evil Wolverine fears with the animalistic urges he tries to hide.
9 Ares is the dark side of Wonder Woman’s mercy
When Wonder Woman left Themyscira, she sought to appeal to the good within humanity and spread the ideals of peace, justice, and love. Although the search for her was fraught with conflict, Wonder Woman never gave up, using her divinity to understand the mortal world rather than force it.
Rather, manipulating mortals is central to the identity of the Greek god Ares. Unlike Wonder Woman’s person-oriented attempts to spread the ideals of Paradise Island, Ares uses magic, threats, and mind control to spread war. through the Earth. Ares stands as the worst case of what a god could be, not the example Wonder Woman sets of what one should be.
8 Professor Zoom is really a reverse flash
The Flash has one of the best rogues galleries in comics. Since Jay Garrick’s first adventure in 1940, the bearers of the Flash mantle they’ve battled everything from mind-controlling gorillas to blue-collar tech thugs. Still, at the heart of all these conflicts is Flash’s desire to do good.
While Barry Allen, Wally West and the rest seek to improve the lives of others, Eobard Thawne is driven by the desire to ruin one man’s life. His dark approach goes against the Flash’s light-hearted kindness, instead devoting his entire existence to singular cruelty.
7 Nuke has none of Captain America’s thoughtfulness or idealism.
When Steve Rogers underwent the Super Soldier Program to become Captain America, he did so because of what he believed his country could do. Repeatedly, he fought the idea that he should do what the US government tells him, holding on to the lofty ideals learned in a life of just fighting.
Frank Simpson couldn’t care less. Nuke borders on nationalist parody, viewing the US government as an unblemished institution for which no action is too evil to defend. Much like the devastating weapon from which it takes its code name, Nuke destroys on command.
6 Sinestro’s interpretation of willpower removes Green Lantern’s ideals of freedom
Hal Jordan is often called the greatest of the Green Lanterns due to his mastery of willpower. He has used this talent to fight monsters, control other lantern rings, and defeat the parasitic embodiment of fear. Although selfish, Hal is not a tyrant; his strong will is a tool of help, not subjugation.
Before Hal was the greatest of the Green Lanterns, that title belonged to another: Thaal Sinestro. Exercising a similar mastery over the will, Sinestro used his abilities for universal conquest. While a Green Lantern, Sinestro created a fascist dictatorship on his home planet of Korugar, a move in complete opposition to Hal Jordan’s high-flying interpretation of free will.
5 Justin Hammer is Tony Stark without Iron Man
In creating Iron Man, Stan Lee sought to create a hero that readers might not like at first. Weapons designer and capitalist who profited from human suffering, Tony Stark’s gradual repentance and redefinition of himself is just as important to the hero as his wit, jokes and hubris.
Justin Hammer is a Tony Stark who never saw the light of day. Without an event like the kidnapping that caused Stark to become Iron Man, Hammer only grew more ruthless, stopping at nothing to take down his competitors. By outfitting supervillain thugs in high-tech armor, Hammer stood as a monument to what Tony Stark almost became.
4 Hush explores Batman’s motivations with all his skill and ruthlessness
Most of the Batman villains reflect a certain aspect of the Caped Crusader: Penguin shares his wealth, Riddler boasts a similar intellect, and Joker reflects his desire for control. The Caped Crusader is perhaps the most storied character in comics, but Batman’s own personal motivation. can be summed up in a famous quote: “I am revenge”.
Hush is also revenge, using his dark desire to become as amazingly adept as the Dark Knight himself. Hush is Batman if the hero was selfish instead of selfless. In his plastic surgery transformation, Hush also illustrates how much of a character Bruce Wayne is to Batman and how easily they can get lost on a mission.
3 General Zod Think Superman’s power is a right of conquest
While Batman is seen by many as an example of awesomeness, Superman is often held up as an example of goodness. Despite being a complete powerhouse, the character remains one of the most pure of heart in fiction. The best Superman stories build on this, exploring how best to help the world instead of hitting it too hard.
General Zod, Superman’s longtime foe, may share his home planet, but his spirit is completely different. Zod sees his immense power not as an opportunity to spread good, but as an excuse for evil. Each character reflects a different kind of power fantasy, Zod, the antithesis of the Superman thesis.
two Green Goblin has what Spider-Man wants
Peter Parker has it all without having any of it: he’s a family man who keeps losing his family, a hero recognized and mistrusted by his community, a brilliant mind who needs to steal his money. Parker Luck aside, Spider-Man remains one of the happiest heroes in comics.
On paper, Norman Osborn outperforms Peter Parker. He wealth, respect, children: all the things Parker wants but has a hard time holding on to. Still, the Green Goblin’s obsession with destroying Spider-Man causes him to lose everything. Despite Spidey’s problems, Goblin’s refusal to appreciate what he has reveals that Spider-Man’s way is better.
1 Omni-Man and Invincible don’t define family the same way
Mark Grayson is human. A kind-hearted boy with a loving family and a great group of friends, the titular hero of Invincible he’s instantly accessible to readers in a way that many other types of muscle comics aren’t because of how downright relatable he is.
Of course, this setting does Omni-Man’s reveal as world conqueror so devastating Being Invincible is Mark’s act; Being Nolan is from Omni-Man. Each character is dedicated to his loved ones and the past, but how they define him is a tragic, yet ultimately uplifting look at how they define family.