For the month of September 2013, the villains have taken over DC Comics in an event appropriately titled “Villains Month”. Many of the publisher’s signature titles have been temporarily rebranded for the month.
The month of September has routinely been an important publishing period for DC Comics: in 2011, September saw the launch of The New 52, DC’s relaunch of several of their largest and most indelible titles; in 2012, September was branded “Zero Month” and used to tell several of the heroes’ origin stories. Now, this month, the villains have stepped to center stage. “Villains Month” consists of 52 one-shots of various members of DC’s rogues gallery temporarily taking over titular duties from their heroes. All of this comes in conjunction with Forever Evil, a villain-centric crossover; DC’s first crossover event since 2011’s Flashpoint which served as the catalyst for their “New 52” relaunch. Needless to say, this month is a pretty big deal.
With all of this exciting stuff going on, we here at Project Fandom thought we just had to get in on the fun, so we’ve had ProFans Chanse and John compile a list of a dozen of their favorite DC villains. Keep in mind that this is not intended to be a list of the best of DC’s villains, but a subjectively chosen list of favorites.
One of the few creations of Jack Kirby to not belong to Marvel, Darkseid is the dark lord of the planet Apokolips, and the “Hades” of an alternate pantheon of gods. He’s basically a rock-faced Hitler with the powers of a god, who wants nothing more than for the entire universe to bow to him. He started early, killing his own brother to acquire even more powers. He is invulnerable, super-strong, and super-fast, on par with Superman. He can time travel; he’s telepathic, telekinetic, and the Omega Beams he shoots from his eyes are capable of knocking down, disintegrating, transmuting, and even resurrecting. Darkseid figures heavily in DC’s “Final Crisis” crossover event and is one of the chief baddies in the New 52 run of JLA.
Deathstroke the Terminator often gets written off as DC’s Deadpool, but aside from somewhat of a superficial resemblance, I do not agree. He’s really more of “What if Captain America were a mercenary?”. He’s vicious, ruthless, fast, smart, as strong as ten men, and for the right price he can be on your side. His mercenary tendencies have landed him on the side of good for small spells, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t like it. He does have a strange tendency to fight teenagers (as he is an archenemy of the Teen Titans), but he’s fought Batman to a standstill, and in his the New 52 title, “Deathstroke”, he’s shown he can even take punches from Lobo, so that maybe cancels out the “picking on kids” bit.
Black Adam was created simply to be the evil counterpart of Captain Marvel (the DC comics guy, not the Marvel comics girl), but has evolved into one of the more interesting anti-heroes in the DC universe. Imbued, at the incantation of “Shazam!” with the same magical superpowers as Captain Marvel, Black Adam uses these powers in defense of his African nation of Khandaq. His unwavering loyalty to his people and loved ones, coupled with experiences of slavery and loss as a boy, make up for a volatile personality. At once honorably noble and violently vengeful, Black Adam ends up on both sides of the good/evil spectrum more often than any other character in the DC universe. Because his “evil” extends from trauma and experiences that anyone can sympathize with, I continually find myself rooting for Black Adam in spite of the atrocities he is capable of. Pick up “52”, written by the superhuman complement of Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, and Keith Griffen, and witness Black Adam murdering supervillains live on television, then saving his brother-in-law from slavery and paraplegia by sharing his power, to get a sense of what this character is capable of.
If you don’t think a giant hyper-intelligent gorilla with psionic powers is bad-ass, I’m not sure I can help you. The Flash’s archnemesis has an insatiable hunger for power (and occasionally human flesh). My favorite aspect of Grodd, though, is his ambition; He will settle for nothing less than the complete eradication of the human race. This monkey don’t play.
I’m going a little off-book here, as the Rot is not a villain in the traditional sense. It’s more of an elemental force that expresses itself in the form of several villains such as the unspeakable Sethe and the various members of the Arcane family. The Rot is the embodiment of all the death and decay in the natural world. Balanced against the Green (plant life) and the Red (animal life), it is a necessary force to keep the cycle of life intact. When out of balance, however, it seeks to overwhelm the other two, and, using its powerful avatars, destroy all life on the planet. You can get your fill of death and decay in the excellent “Rotworld” storyline in the New 52 titles, Animal Man and Swamp Thing.
Villain Icon Choice
Few villains are as widely recognized as the crooked corporate executive/mad scientist, Lex Luthor. His bald badness has been harassing Superman for over 70 years, armed with nothing but his superior human intellect. (Though his superior human intellect often arms him with Iron Man-like battlesuits and Kryptonite guns.) The body count he’s tallied over the years, in his blind hatred for Superman, aside, he’s the sort of villain a real hero needs. Bringing Kal-El’s less touted abilities to the forefront, he forces Supes to out-think him, so every confrontation is not just a matter of a superpowered punch to the face. My favorite take on the character is in the TPB “Superman: Red Son,” by Mark Millar. The story tweaks him a little bit so he’s not quite a villain, but it certainly doesn’t make him a nice guy.
I am an unabashed Green Lantern fan; yes, I even like the Green Lantern film. I love how the story treats willpower as a superpower, and I enjoy the idea that–if you just desire to be a hero hard enough–you could be chosen to join the Green Lantern Corps. That’s the story of Hal Jordan, but it’s also the story of Thaal Sinestro; he wanted so badly to keep his home planet of Korugar safe that a series of fortuitous events led to him receiving his ring and membership in the Corps. The great thing about the Green Lantern universe, and its use of the emotional spectrum, is that it is able to so clearly demonstrate the dangers of giving too much power to one emotion. Not to get into too much psychoanalysis mumbo jumbo, but the same abundant willpower that led Sinestro to becoming one of the Green Lantern Corps’ greatest heroes also led him to overthrowing his home planet and naming himself its dictator; all in the name of safety. This, of course, eventually led to his removal from the Green Lantern Corps, the creation of the yellow power ring and Sinestro Corps, and history has since seen Sinestro become the greatest nemesis of the Green Lantern Corps.
Brainiac may be the most complicated of Superman’s enemies. He’s been a conquering alien, a maniacal android, a murderous robot, a swarm of nanobots, and several other forms. That’s what I like the most about the character; he was first introduced in 1958 as an alien invader, and it wasn’t until 1964 that he was “revealed” to be a machine. Ever since then, he has continued to evolve right alongside the ever changing computer technology of the world; from diodes, to Y2K, to nanobots, the character of Brainiac has had the luxury of real world science influencing its in-universe pseudoscience, and I love that. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the best Brainiac storyline: the bottled city of Kandor. When Brainiac was first introduced as that “alien invader”, he had come to Earth looking to shrink Metropolis and take it with him; it was later discovered by Superman that, decades prior, Brainiac had done this same thing with Kandor, the capitol city of Krypton. Anyway, it’s a fantastic piece of writing that brought a piece of Superman’s destroyed home planet into play, while simultaneously giving him one of his greatest foes. In 2008, this storyline was retold by Geoff Johns in Superman: Brainiac; the DC Animated Universe recently adapted that story arc into Superman: Unbound.
Vandal Savage is simply a damn intriguing character. He is one of DC’s oldest villains; both in terms of publishing history (the character was introduced all the way back in 1943) and in in-universe history (he is an immortal whose life dates back to 50,000 BC). Savage began life as a literal caveman; it wasn’t until an encounter with a meteorite that he became both immortal and highly intelligent. He’s a nearly impervious, masterful tactician; almost a bit of a mixture between Batman and Superman. If you weren’t familiar with the character until this very moment–hopefully you were, but if you weren’t–that should just be awesome enough for you to instantly love this guy. Savage’s best storyline, to me, actually happens to be an arc that is unique to the DC Animated Universe; namely, the Justice League animated series. In the two-part “Hereafter”, a series of events caused by Savage’s lust for power results in the destruction of the human race. In this arc, Savage is forced to spend thousands of years living with his regret, which turns him into a good guy… whose existence is nullified when he helps a time-traveling Superman save the day. I’m just very intrigued by the concept of immortality and how it affects you over time; for this reason, Vandal Savage remains a very interesting villain.
Captain Cold is the leader of The Rogues, a group of baddies who are always causing a mild amount of trouble for Flash. I say “mild amount” because they are not your typical villains; no group of ne’er-do-wells has ever fit the term “career criminal” as well as Captain Cold, Mirror Master, et al. They’re motivated, not by a desire to stop Flash, but by a desire to… be criminals. Of course, this has led some to criticize the Flash comics for what would appear to be “weak” villains; what Captain Cold and crew lack in comic book villainy, they more than make up for in humanity. That sounds like a very pretentious way to put it, but fuck it; I’ll be pretentious. It’s the same quality you find in the best Batman villains; they feel like people instead of characters, and sometimes that’s what you want. Captain Cold is a guy who almost kind of tried to be a comic book villain but failed into his Flash-antithetical persona out of necessity. That’s kind of the way the Flash comics have been written ever since the character’s relaunch during the Silver Age, when Barry Allen only gave himself the “Flash” name because he had read the earlier Jay Garrick Flash comics. It’s a very self-aware franchise, and that’s just a hell of a lot of fun.
After having just said all of that stuff about how Flash is always dealing with somewhat lovable villains, sometimes he has had to face some serious comic book villainy shit. That’s where Anti-Monitor comes in. As the antagonist of 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, one of DC’s biggest and most classic miniseries events, Anti-Monitor came up against not only Flash, but also Superman, Supergirl… and freaking everyone. That’s the point of a crossover, of course, but Crisis is every bit of the word “event”. Originally, Anti-Monitor was an enemy of the Green Lantern Corps, but his creation caused problems for everybody in the DC Universe. Using weaponized antimatter waves, Anti-Monitor fucks things up in a big, bad way; so bad, in fact, the villain is so powerful that he simply cannot be used very often. He’s huge, and he basically has the ability to end any-and-everything. To date, he’s only shown up four times, in crossovers: Crisis on Infinite Earths, Sinestro Corps War, Blackest Night, and Brightest Day.
Villain Icon Choice
Everyone is familiar with The Joker; if not from the comics, then at least from Heath Ledger’s masterful portrayal of the character in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy. The Joker is Batman’s greatest enemy, and–in many ways–the only person who really understands Bruce Wayne. Like water smoothing over rocks, in Batman and The Joker, the decades have given us a nearly perfect cohesion of antithetical partners in mythology. As Batman’s traumatic life has led to his unwavering dedication to justice and the belief that everyone can be saved, The Joker’s life of dark comedy has created in him a man who sees no salvation in anything. The Joker’s stubborn belief that absolutely everyone is evil, deep down, results in his refusal to kill Batman; at the same time, Batman’s stubborn belief that everyone is salvageable results in his refusal to kill The Joker. This ideological–and clinically insane–tug of war is what gives us the greatest rivalry in all of comics. The only way one of them wins is if the other chooses to fail, and their willpower–not unlike that of a Green Lantern–will never let that happen. Perhaps the best Joker story, to date, is Alan Moore’s one-shot: Batman: The Killing Joke.
There you have it, ProFans; our contribution to DC’s Villains Month. If you’d like to grab some of this month’s villain-centric titles, a few that go on sale today are Aquaman #23.1 “Black Manta”, Batman #23.2 “The Riddler”, and Justice League #23.2 “Lobo”.