Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the most divisive superhero movies ever made; pulling down big sales, awful reviews, a rollercoaster box-office and starting heated arguments between fans, critics and just about anyone who decides to have an opinion about it. But one thing everyone seems to agree on: Wonder Woman stole the show. Even though she only appears in her trademark costume for a few minutes of screentime, Gal Gadot’s performance as the first ever live-action movie incarnation of the world’s most famous female superhero just might be the most talked-about part of one of the year’s biggest movies; and even audiences who didn’t care for the Zack Snyder-directed team-up vehicle in which she debuted appear to be eagerly awaiting her first solo movie, currently in production under director Patty Jenkins.
But while the Wonder Woman movie may have a movie star in the making in Gadot, a proven director in Jenkins and the built-in support of fans who’ve been waiting 75+ years to see it and new audiences energized by the heroine’s turn in Dawn of Justice, there’s one thing it might be lacking: A good villain.
Sure, superhero movies and shows don’t necessarily need memorable antagonists to be good (just ask Iron Monger, Yellowjacket and everybody not named Fisk on Daredevil), but a little backup so that the hero doesn’t have to carry the whole movie on their own is generally a welcome thing. Unfortunately, despite being one of DC’s three most-prominent characters and the longest continually-published superheroine in all of comics, one thing Wonder Woman has consistently had difficulty maintaining is a solid backlog of supervillains to call her own. Sure, people have heard of mainstays like Cheetah or Giganta, and fans of the ’70s Lynda Carter TV series are aware of her World War II-era Nazi nemesis Baroness Von Gunther; but otherwise, Diana has largely found herself fighting either other DC hero’s enemies or a long parade of forgettable weirdos and third-stringers – to the extent that the modern Wonder Woman stories often avoid DC-branded bad guys altogether in favor of pitting her against the gods and monsters of Greek mythology.
With that in mind, here are ten infamously-oddball archenemies probably not coming to a Wonder Woman screening near you:
10. DOCTOR PSYCHO
Wonder Woman’s creator, psychologist and polygraph-inventor William Moulton Marston, cast her primarily as an avatar to impart his (for the time) radical views on feminism, relationships and gender power-dynamics to WWII-era comics readers. But he’s also widely seen as having infused her mythos with more… “personal” touches, hence the presence of (barely) concealed references to BDSM, polyamory, lesbianism and other “alternative” relationship/sexual lifestyles that litter the pages of Golden Age Wonder Woman stories.
He also wasn’t above using the comic to settle old scores: Doctor Psycho, a deranged little-person hypnotist driven mad by intense misogyny who uses occultism and mad science to menace women, was a caricature of Marston’s onetime college mentor turned rival Hugo Münsterberg; whose ultra-conservative views on the role of women in society had horrified his more enlightened protege. While few of Marston’s singularly bizarre early Wonder Woman villains survived the Golden Age, Doctor Psycho has reappeared in each successive reimagining in one form or another. And though it seems unlikely such a character would find his way to feature films, his name does come up occasionally among hardcore fans – usually followed by a desire for Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage to take the part.
9. THE BLUE SNOWMAN
A recurring theme of Golden Age Wonder Woman enemies was women who adopted ostensibly male secret-identities to take on careers as supervillains. Case in point: The Blue Snowman is actually Byrna Brilyant, the daughter of a recently-dead scientist who uses his invention of a new kind of instant-freezing precipitation called “blue snow” to threaten and ransom farmers until Wonder Woman steps in to put a stop to her scheme.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, Brilyant decides that she needs to do all of this dressed like a grumpy blue creature in a cloak (who, it must be said, looks absolutely nothing like a snowman) who, for some reason, she also decides to present as male. The character has re-emerged sporadically in recent years, now using a suit of powered-armor that looks (slightly) more snowman-esque.
8. MOUSE MAN
If for whatever reason you’re mind happened to wander during Ant-Man and you found yourself thinking: “Y’know what might be fun? This same basic guy, but for mice!” …someone at DC already had that idea years ago. Shrunken to action-figure size by chemicals, Mouse Man (real name unknown – after all, would you want anyone to know you were Mouse Man?) dons a furry mouse costume and carries out crimes with the aid of regular mice whom he controls by repeatedly shouting the word “SQEE!”
Not exactly a Joker-level player in the DC Villain’s pantheon, he none the less briefly managed to capture and imprison Wonder Woman, and opted to celebrate this victory by… forcing her to run in place on a giant hamster wheel for his entertainment. Because why not?
Between 1968 and 1974, DC attempted to reinvigorate Wonder Woman’s image by completely reimagining the character: The other Amazons took off for another dimension, Diana lost her powers, learned martial-arts from a mysterious master named I Ching and became a mod-fashion secret agent posing the owner of a clothing boutique as cover.
The entire “I Ching Era” is often cited by fans as a betrayal of the character’s history and mythos (no less than Gloria Steinham was so outraged at the “disempowering” of comics’ original feminist icon that she commissioned the now-iconic cover of Ms. Magazine featuring Wonder Woman back in her traditional uniform) but the villainous trio known as “Them!” felt like a mean-spirited rebuke – if not outright villainization – of many of the enlightened/alternative views on human sexuality William Moulton Marston in part created Wonder Woman to embody: Depicted as a gang of brutally-unpleasant “angry lesbian hippie” caricatures named Top Hat, Pinto and Moose Momma, they terrorize the newly-depowered Wonder Woman’s neighborhood with a particular penchant for abducting, abusing and making slaves (complete with dog collars) of vulnerable young women.
6. WALT DISNEY
Or, rather, “Wade Dazzle.” Yeah.
When the aforementioned “I Ching Era” of non-powered Wonder Woman stories ended, Diana was hit with a plot-convenient burst of amnesia that robbed her of any memory of her secret agent years. Wracked with insecurity, she refuses to rejoin the Justice League unless she can prove herself worthy by undertaking 12 League-monitored (and Leaguer-narrated) adventures as part of a fondly-remembered story arc called “The Twelve Labors of Wonder Woman.”
One such labor, narrated by Batman, finds Wonder Woman battling an animatronic duplicate of herself, which she subsequently traces back to “Dazzle Land;” a theme park run by world-famous cartoon producer “Uncle” Wade Dazzle- who just so happens to go about in a mouse-ears cap. As it turns out, Dazzle Land’s rides and attractions are sucking the life-force from attendees, and that’s not all: The “Wade Dazzle” behind the scheme is actually himself a robot duplicate with a god complex, the original Uncle Wade having been secretly frozen (ha ha) for years due to an incurable illness.
5. THE CRIMSON CENTIPEDE
The surprisingly diverse world of centipede-themed supervillainy has taken on a decidedly nauseating image of late, but The Crimson Centipede hails from a more innocent (yet no less bizarre) age: A monster conjured by the Olympian God of War (and frequent Wonder Woman nemesis) Ares to give Diana a one-issue hard time in 1978, Crimson Centipede had eight arms and eight legs… arranged in two solid groupings, meaning he was constantly bent in half at the middle in such a way that makes him look oddly easy to throw off center.
4. THE STAR TRIPLETS
Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, died at 54 in 1947 – only five years after creating Wonder Woman. For twenty years after that, writing and editing duties on the title fell to Robert Kanigher, whose take on the character was decidedly different. Under Kanigher’s stewardship, Wonder Woman lost Marston’s radical politics and preoccupation with gender and sexuality – instead becoming increasingly focused on romance: Diana was now ever-eager to one day retire her weaponry and be a wife to Steve Trevor, love triangles and romantic misunderstandings dominated storylines and villains were increasingly fixated on claiming the heroine for their own.
Typical of this (let’s call it “problematic”) era were The Star Triplets, three gaunt, pale brothers with a shared romantic-obsession with Wonder Woman who temporarily bulk up into brawny, square-jawed super-men by way of a magic potion in order to better compete for her affections (read: awkwardly interrupt her during superhero business and try to manhandle her) while costumed as “Red Star, White Star and Blue Star.” This is all allowed to happen thanks to a previous unknown rule stating that Wonder Woman loses her powers for 24 hours on June 18th of each year, resulting in a story where Diana essentially tries to wait out the clock while avoiding a day of super-grabby sexual harassment.
3. CAPTAIN WONDER
Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s traditional love-interest, was meant by creator William Moulton Marston as an example of an ideal man for a new age of empowered women: A handsome, macho soldier and pilot in his own right; but also more than agreeable to playing a supporting role to (and constantly needing rescue by) a significantly more powerful female partner. But since Marston passed away, subsequent writers have often struggled with what to do with what amounts to a male Lois Lane – often killing, deleting or otherwise getting rid of poor Steve rather than figure it out.
In a 1982 story by Paul Levitz, “His Name Is Psycho,” a renewed Doctor Psycho (see #10) uses his occult powers to conjure a new body for his consciousness – a body “borrowed” from the dark-fantasies of a then-unconscious Steve Trevor. The result? “Captain Wonder,” who looks like Steve wearing a male variant on Wonder Woman’s costume with all her powers and a drive to put his female counterpart back in her place. Yes, at one point Wonder Woman actually had to fight the physical embodiment of her boyfriend’s masculine insecurity.
An interesting take, to be certain. But the odds of Chris Pine donning the Captain Wonder tights in a feature? Pretty unlikely.
2. EGG FU
There are silly villains, strange villains, outdated villains and outright offensive villains… and then there’s Egg Fu, a building-sized talking egg with a face and an accent grounded in the ugliest “Yellow Peril” stereotypes of somebody’s idea of a Chinese person.
At once preposterously goofy and horrifically racist, Egg Fu topped lists of characters DC wanted everyone to forget they ever published – until 2006, when a revamped version of the character was unveiled in the pages of the “52” weekly event miniseries with a sinister new origin, new look and a new name: “Chang-Tzu,” with Egg Fu being described as a nickname he’d rather you not use.
William Moulton Marston wanted Wonder Woman stories to be the vanguard of a new feminine-dominant understanding of the social/sexual power-dynamic, so he grounded the character’s mythology in one of the classical myths of the “old” masculine-dominant understanding. You may recall from Greek Mythology that one of the Twelve Labors of Hercules was to take the prized belt of Hippolyta, Queen of The Amazons – the subtextual inference being that only the mightiest of men could, er… “conquer” an entire civilization of inhumanly-strong women with no fear of (and no interest in) men. Marston’s Wonder Woman origin begins as a “here’s the true story” continuation of that particular myth, wherein Hercules is a sexist brute who enslaves the Amazons (and, it’s implied, sexually-assaults Hippolyta) until the warrior women overthrow him and establish a permanently male-free island civilization where Princess Diana is eventually created and grows to become Wonder Woman.
That backstory has changed a few times, but Hercules remains a recurring character throughout the Wonder Woman mythos and almost always shows up as a bad guy (or, at least, a big jerk) whom Diana despises for what he did to her people and her mother in particular – which occasionally makes things awkward: During the landmark 2003 DC/Marvel crossover JLA/Avengers (the only such crossover regarded as canon by both publishers) Wonder Woman found herself face-to-face with the Marvel Universe’s Hercules… who’s a good guy. It didn’t go well.
Interesting stuff, sure – but for a movie? Much as Wonder Woman adaptations like to mine figures of Greek Mythology to get around the lack of good original villains, it’s probably safe to assume that recasting one of the great heroes of the Western tradition (he even has his own Disney cartoon!) as an oppressive rapist is just as edgy in 2016 as it was in 1941.
Wonder Woman is a fascinating character with a fascinating history, and sometimes some fascinatingly weird villains. Can you think of any others that should probably be listed here? Let us know in the comments!
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is now playing in U.S. theaters. Suicide Squad will arrive on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 23, 2017; Justice League Part One on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League Part Two on June 14, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps. on June 19, 2020.