In superhero comics, a compelling villain is one of the most important aspects of the story. Their actions drive the plot forwards while providing the hero chances to prove their strength. Of course, if every hero fought the same foe each month their stories would get stale very quickly.
And so the concept of a rogues gallery was born, a roster of recurring villains that can be brought back to plague heroes whenever needed. The medium of comics is home to countless memorable villains, with schemes ranging from simple bank robberies to galactic domination. But some heroes’ collections of foes manage to stand out from the pack.
Here are our picks for the five strongest rouges galleries in comics:
5. Green Lantern
If this list was being made even a decade ago, there’s no way that Green Lantern’s villains would place so highly. Sure Hal Jordan and the Lantern Corps have always had some decent enemies, like the telepath Hector Hammond and the legion of robotic enforcers known as the Manhunters. But none of these foes had quite the resonance or panache to take them to the next level; GL’s most iconic antagonist, Sinestro, was even left “dead” for years. But Geoff Johns’ decade-long run on the series revitalized the franchise. Along with introducing dozens of new villains like Ranx the Sentient City, Johns made many existing DC characters like Cyborg-Superman into true “Green Lantern Villains”. The Corps have even come into conflict with the Anti-Monitor lately: as resumé-padders go, that’s not too shabby.
However, the true strength of Green Lantern’s rogues gallery lies in the seven other emotional Corps that have recently emerged. Led by enemies both old (Sinestro, Atrocitus, Black Hand) and new (Larfleeze, Indigo-1), these “rainbow” corps function as counterparts to the Green Lantern Corps as a whole, and each group is composed of its own mini-gallery of allies and villains. The sheer number of different Lanterns now roaming the galaxy has created not just epic space battles, but uneasy alliances. The Green Lanterns’ frequent need to team up with their most reviled enemies means that they are constantly kept on their toes and creates some spectacular ever-shifting dynamics.
4. Fantastic Four
A superhero could do a lot worse than to have Doctor Victor Von Doom as their personal arch-enemy. The Latverian dictator has tremendous amounts of both magic and technology at his disposal, and is amongst the most iconic villains in comics. But while Doom may be the Fantastic Four’s most frequent foe, he’s certainly not their only one, or even their most powerful enemy. From the classic (Mole Man) to the weird (Klaw, a man transformed into living sound) to the “not really evil but, just hates Reed Richards anyway” (Namor), the FF are never lacking an interesting villain to fight.
Yet what makes the Richards family’s opponents so impressive is the scores of cosmic-scale entities that challenge them on a weekly basis. When Galactus, Annihilus, or a Skrull invasion shows up at Earth’s doorstep, the rest of the Marvel universe sees an enormous threat worthy of a crossover event. But for the Fantastic Four, it’s just another Tuesday at the Baxter Building.
Spider-Man’s rogues gallery is filled with elegantly simple villain designs. Just glance at a character like Electro, the Vulture, or the Scorpion and one can immediately understand their gimmick and power-set. Plus, Peter Parker’s stable of enemies has a wonderful thematic consistency. The vast majority of Spider-Man’s foes are either animal themed or victims of a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong (or both!). As a result they provide an immediate contrast to Peter Parker; they exploit their new-found powers for their own selfish ends and show Peter what he might become if he abandoned had never learned the responsibility that goes with great power.
Additionally, some of Spider-Man’s greatest foes have strong personal ties to the hero. The symbiote Venom bonded to Peter and knows his every secret. Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) is the father of Peter’s best friend, and his obsession with the web-slinger led the Goblin to murder Peter’s first true love. Curt Connors is a mentor and father-figure to Peter who frequently transforms into the monstrous Lizard. Even Doctor Octopus once dated and almost married Peter’s sweet old Aunt May. Having enemies personally connected to him ups the stakes for Peter Parker, and certainly helps reinforce the sense of never-ending tragedy that constantly seems to plague Spider-Man.
2. The Flash
Unlike the other heroes on this list, The Flash doesn’t really benefit from having an iconic and classic arch-enemy. While Professor Zoom and Gorilla Grood certainly can be big threats within the DC universe, their name-recognition outside of comics is virtually nil. Couple that with the rather bizarre sci-fi gimmicky nature of many of his foes — Grood is a telepathic super-intelligent ape, Mirror Master uses mirrors to hypnotize, teleport, and ensnare people — and the fact that at first glance it seems a man called Captain Boomerang wouldn’t pose a threat to a man running at lightspeed and Flash’s rogues gallery is often overlooked by the casual superhero fan.
But this is doing Flash’s enemies a disservice. After all, the nature of superhero comics means that the hero is almost always going to win in the end: what’s important is to have the villain provide an interesting challenge. And in that regard, the Flash’s enemies are a fantastic collection of rogues. The sheer variety of his foes, from the aforementioned Mirror Master and Captain Boomerang to the freeze-gun wielding Captain Cold and meteorologically-inclined Weather Wizard, provides The Flash with countless colorful and unique obstacles to overcome. On top of that, the Keystone Rogues themselves are a great cast of characters themselves, sharing a nice fraternal relationship with one another and (for the most part) adhering to a strict code of honor that protects women and children. How chivalric.
It’s a great set of villains. Just not as good a collection of foes as those that plague our next hero…
Of course it’s Batman. It had to be Batman. The Caped Crusader has the single best roster of quality villains in comics, if not all of fiction. From The Joker, Two-Face, and Catwoman right on down to Scarface and Killer Croc, Gotham’s underworld is filled with powerful, interesting, and visually striking criminals to constantly plague Bruce Wayne. Batman’s field is so deep that Hollywood was able to make five movies containing ten different villains before it felt the need to repeat itself (Fox’s Fantastic Four couldn’t even go two movies without doubling up on Doctor Doom). Even his D-listers like Calendar Man or Man-Bat have gotten stories that allow them to shine.
Of course, what makes Batman’s villains so well-known and popular is how well they serve as dark mirrors to different aspects of Batman’s personality. Scarecrow uses his own mastery of fear and intimidation to pursue a life of crime. Ra’s al-Ghul is driven to create a better world, but, rather than slowly fight to improve it, would rather destroy everything and start anew. Poison Ivy uses her sexuality as a weapon whereas Bruce Wayne suppresses that side of himself. The Joker fights for chaos just as powerfully as Batman fights for order. His best foes show the flip-side to parts of Batman, forcing him to examine his own code and redouble his discipline lest he become the very villains he fights against.
But what do you think? Upset that Spider-Man or The Flash missed out on the top spot? Distraught that Superman didn’t even make the list, despite facing off against the likes of Lex Luthor, Zod, and Brainiac? Do you think there’s another hero (or heroes) that should be on the list?
You have one recourse: Comment!