For every protagonist, there is an antagonist, and where would any work of literature be without a good antagonist? Just as what would a king be without it’s subjects? Any comic book creator worth their salt knows that villains are just as important as the heroes, if not more. There have been baddies in literature since the very beginning — think Homeric’s oral poetry and Circe’s alluring sirens, and for a good reason. After all, what would be special about Odysseus if he hadn’t encountered travails on his way home?
Readers love a delightfully villainous character—especially one with a complex backstory and an intriguing alter ego. Villains keep the plot moving and add just enough flavor to keep the storyline juicy. To celebrate villainy in its comic book form, we decided to review some of the most exciting villains that have graced the storyboards of both DC and Marvel comics.
With The Batman hitting cinemas near you soon, we’ll kick things off with our favorite botanist villain.
Poison Ivy – Batman #181
Poison Ivy, aka Dr. Pamela Lillian Islay, first appeared in DC Comics‘ Batman #181, which was published in 1966. Created by writer and artist duo Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff, we get her villainous appeal. With her troubling backstory, impressive skills, and near-genius intelligence, Ivy possessed everything readers need to stay intrigued. It helps them empathize with her misanthropic actions against Batman and Gotham City, however, her evil isn’t justified.
As a former botanist, Ivy has been gifted with The Green, an otherworldly force that allows her total control over plant life and is immune to toxins and other poisons. As per ExpressVPN‘s infographic on Batman villains and their alter egos notes that Poison Ivy is somewhat of a cross between Earth guardian and eco-terrorist, with the former persona serving as the perfect way for Ivy to hide in plain sight.
Magneto – The X-Men #1
Magneto, otherwise known as Max Eisenhardt, made his debut in Marvel’s The X-Men #1 way back in 1963. Despite these early origins, Magneto, much like Poison Ivy, is an enduring character who still appears in modern Marvel productions. First created by the late Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, Magneto is a human mutant with superpowers that allow him to generate and control magnetic fields.
Magneto has always had a complicated relationship with humans, believing that mutants are superior in many ways and ought to reign supreme over the world.
Given his first appearance in 1963, less than 20 years after WWII, critics and commentators have been quick to draw parallels between Magneto’s story arc and the racial and ethnic discord in both Europe and the United States. Later, iterations of Magneto show significant character development, with writers fleshing out his backstory and making his paths even more complex.
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Doctor Doom – The Fantastic Four #5
Born Victor von Doom, this Latverian monarch is more commonly known as Doctor Doom, one of the comic world’s most illustrious villains. The not-so-good Doctor first appeared in Marvel’s The Fantastic Four #5 and was brought to life by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the same duo behind Magneto.
This inventor and scientist is a victim of fate as his mother struck a dubious deal with the devil, trading her soul in return for her son’s high position in the monarchy.
Behind the skull-like mask, Doom is a deeply troubled individual who was once good. Occasionally, the hyper-intelligent villain struggles with perfectionism and arrogance — often allowing meddling superheroes to thwart his schemes. Beyond his intellect, Doom is also a powerful sorcerer and commands an army of “Doombots”, AI replicas of himself that can kill.
Good characters survive throughout the annals of history because of their complexity, intrigue, and ultimately, all the ways in which they reflect human nature. From Poison Ivy’s misguided efforts to prioritize plants over people to Doctor Doom’s obsession with perfection, take a closer look at any enduring comic book villain, and you’ll find a common theme: humanity in all its abject flaws.