Villains. Superheroes can’t live with them, yet they can’t live without them. They often act as the yin to hero’s yang, constantly reminding them why they got into crime fighting in the first place. Every hero has two or three villains that are their “mortal enemies.” We could go on and on about the greatest foes in comic book history, but let’s talk about the Justice League.
Established in 1960, this legendary team of DC’s greatest heroes has seen its share of changes over the years. In order to spice things up every now and again, writers change the League’s line up, creating a mix and match of A-list, B-list, and sometimes even D-list heroes on the roster. Sometimes the writers will really throw readers for a loop and add a villain or two to the ranks of the superhero-only team. Many times this happens as a “one-off” story that reverts the character back to being a villain by the arc’s end, or the character is said to have been “reformed” and given up a life of crime.
Either way, seeing a bad guy among the ranks of Superman and Batman is jarring, to say the least. Without further ado, here are 15 Supervillains You Didn’t Know Were Part of the Justice League!
Though she has been through countless reimaginings and retcons since her first appearance in Batman #1, Selina Kyle’s story has basically stayed the same. After growing up under terrible circumstances, Kyle turned to a life of crime as an adult; she donned the “Catwoman” moniker and began robbing Gotham City. It was only when the Dark Knight intervened that her life of crime came to an end. Or did it? Catwoman flip-flops back and forth between friend and foe to Batman, sometimes even acting as his love interest.
In 2012 DC decided once again to shake things up and completely re-do their Justice League roster. With this team change also came a change of the League’s identity. Heroes like Catwoman, Green Arrow, Katana, and Martian Manhunter were said to be more of a “special ops” type of force rather than the traditional superhero style of team that normally encompassed the league. Unsurprisingly, it was found out that Amanda Waller had assembled this team of rag-tag heroes as a counter measure in case the real Justice League ever decided to go rogue.
14. Clock King
If you’ve ever wanted to see how many times it was possible to redo a villain, look no further than Clock King. Originally William Tockman was just a common criminal obsessed with everything time-related. Then, he was redone for the ’66 Batman TV show as a chubby guy who was the brother of the Mad Hatter and obsessed with timepieces. He was shown in both the Teen Titans comic books as well as Batman: The Animated Series as a lanky, well-dressed man who had clocks on his glasses and tie. Most recently Tockman was re-imagined for the Arrowverse as a brilliant computer hacker.
In 1989, a large group of D-list villains joined together to form a new Injustice League. Unsurprisingly, they were quickly defeated by DC’s greatest heroes. A few months later, a few of the members encounter each other in an unemployment office and witness a terrorist attack. The villains (including Clock King) sprang into action, taking down the threat, and were hailed by the media as heroes. G’nort (one of the lamer Lanterns) witnesses this, and convinces the Justice League International to create a new branch for the “former” villains, the Justice League of Antarctica. This version of the League was defeated by a bunch of killer penguins, and quickly disbanded.
13. Major Disaster
And the award for Most Confusing Supervillain Costume goes to… Major Disaster! The name says it all: What on Earth is he supposed to be? The origins of the character have him as a common criminal who accidentally discovers the secret of Green Lantern and the Flash, and then vows to become their most powerful enemy. He found some scientists to build him technology that could replicate powerful natural disasters. Then, he donned a purple costume with knee-high boots? Later, he went with a more military-style suit, but that still only kind of makes sense…
Major Disaster was a member of the Justice League on three separate occasions. The first was alongside Clock King on the Justice League Antarctica. Next was in the 2000s, when the Batman himself personally asked the reformed criminal to take his place following a brief stint with the Suicide Squad. After Batman and the rest of the team returned, they asked their former villains to formally join. Disaster was called upon once more to be a part of the Justice League Elite. However, he left the League for good after an incident in which, in an inebriated state, he was directly responsible for his teammate Hawkgirl getting severely wounded.
12. Killer Frost
Much like several other characters on this list, Killer Frost is a title that has been taken up by multiple people over the course of DC’s history. The first of such characters was Crystal Frost, a college students who was accidentally locked into a thermafrost chamber and gained the ability to steal the heat out of peoples’ bodies and use it to expel ice out of her hands. After Frost’s death, her friend and colleague Louise Lincoln took on the title of the villain by recreating the same experiment. The third version, Caitlin Snow, appeared in the New 52 as a scientist who was accidentally exposed to an experimental coolant.
Caitlin Snow, unlike her predecessors, was more of a “grey” character; she simply wanted to find a cure to her illness and was willing to go to extreme lengths to do so. Frost eventually joined the Suicide Squad, which then led to her finding a temporary place on the Justice League when the villain Eclipso started possessing its other members. He tried to take over her body too, but Snow’s willpower was too strong and the attempt only unlocked her desire to do more good in the world.
11. The Huntress
“But wait a minute,” you may be saying, “the Huntress isn’t a bad guy!” Well, it depends on which version you are talking about. The most well-known Huntress is the alt-universe daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle who had been trained by her parents to carry on their legacy. The second interpretation of the character came after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Helena Bertinelli was the daughter of a mob boss who witnessed the murder of her entire family and vowed revenge on Gotham’s criminal underworld. Unlike her predecessor, she was not above murder, maiming, and blackmail. Think Hit-Girl if she had been on the other side!
Eventually Helena saw the error of her ways. After Tim Drake (the third Robin) helped clear her of a murder case and she had a brief fling with Nightwing, the Huntress toned down her act to a more Batman-like function. The Caped Crusader liked this new version of Bertinelli so much that he endorsed her to become a permanent member of the Justice League. She remained with the team for years, but sadly she reverted back to her old ways; she was kicked off the League after Batman had to stop her from killing Prometheus.
Winslow Schott is a brilliant inventor who has a passion for all play things. Though he is mild-mannered in his everyday life, he does a complete 180 whenever his “Toyman” persona takes over. As the supervillan Toyman, Schott uses his genius to create lines of toys with sinister purposes; exploding cars, lethal pogo sticks, and hypnotic dolls are all familiar parts of his repertoire. The Toyman has antagonized several of DC’s flagship heroes through the years, but it is Kal-El who remains his greatest enemy.
The third incarnation of Toyman, a teenage inventor named Hiro Okammura, was a much more friendly character. First appearing in Superman #177, he acts as a goofy sidekick to the Man of Steel. Much like the villains who held the title before, Okammura uses his intellect to help solve issues technological in nature and build giant mechs to fight alongside his heroes. In Superman/Batman #45, the World’s Finest give Toyman the title of “Honorary Justice League Member” after he uses nanobots to cleanse the world from a Kyroptonite smog that Lexcorp has released into the atmosphere.
How awesome is Prometheus? Recently on the hit show Arrow, the character has been completely reimagined into one of the larger street-level threats in the DC Universe. After witnessing his criminal parents get gunned down by police officers as a boy, the character swore to spend the rest of his years hunting down and exterminating the forces of justice. He went off to foreign countries and trained with the best of the best in the world of marital arts. He eventually discovered a group of monks who worshiped evil and whose temple was built on an alien spacecraft. He used this technology to discover the “Ghost Zone,” where he set up his base of operations.
Prometheus has been a member of the Justice League since he was a young boy. Back in the day he had won a contest that allowed him to join the superhero team on a day of adventure. He donned the costume of “Retro” and was given the status of honorary member of the League. As a villain, Prometheus is able to use the powers of the Ghost Zone to go back in time, use his cover as “Retro” and try to take out each member of the group. Worst. Teammate. Ever.
8. Tomorrow Woman
It’s not often that a villain is created specifically to join their enemy team. As the experiment of Professor Ivo and Professor T.O. Morrow, Tomorrow Woman was a villain who had a four-lobed mutant brain that gave her special telekinetic and telepathic abilities. Her job was to infiltrate the Justice League as a “new hero.” Once she had gained the team’s trust, the android was set to self-destruct and wipe out the entire League.
However, as she became more and more familiar with her teammates, Tomorrow Woman discovered the concept of free will (thanks, Superman!). She refused to accept her programming and ended up sacrificing herself by detonating her internal bomb and taking down a powerful enemy spaceship. The android would appear twice more: first, she was resurrected by Hourman so that he could have somebody to talk to about the philosophy of a robot’s life. Later, Tomorrow Woman was shown to be part of an alternate-universe version of DC’s Trinity (normally Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) consisting of herself, Green Arrow, and Black Adam. By the end of this story, the powers of timeline alteration cause her to become a full-fledged human being.
7. Despero (L-Ron)
Forget Starro, Despero was the big bad that started it all when it comes to the Justice League! The character was the first villain that the superhero team fought within the pages of their own comic book and has remained a constant threat in the years since.
Despero is a powerful warlord that first encountered the Justice League when he chased a band of intergalactic rebels to the League’s home base. He used the power of his hypnotic eye to put everyone but the Flash out of commission; he then engaged the Flash in a literal game of chess that he won thanks to his telepathic eye. Despero was only defeated when Snapper Carr is able to trick him.
During one of Despero’s encounters with the Justice League, his not-so-loyal servant L-Ron and the Green Lantern Kiliwog use the villain’s own slave collar to switch his and his underling’s mind. Right after this switch takes place, L-Ron’s body and Despero’s mind are completely destroyed. With Despero’s body and abilities, L-Ron becomes a member of the Justice League Task Force.
The reverse Superman is one of DC’s more odd villains. Bizarro hailed from the distant planet htraE, a cube-shaped celestial body that had “Bizarro” versions of every character in the DC Universe. The most famous of tehse is Bizarro, a backwards-talking, white-skinned version of the Man of Steel that is actually made stronger by Kryptonite. Every power that Superman has, this guy has in reverse: he has heat breath, ice vision, and the ability to see short distances behind his body. Because Superman is very smart and handsome, Bizarro is dumb and ugly.
In “Emperor Joker”, Batman’s greatest foe gains the reality-warping powers of Mr. Mxyzptlk. The Joker uses these powers to create a twisted world filled with sick jokes and pain; he even makes it so the Dark Knight is tortured and killed in a different brutal way every single day! In this world, the heroes we all know and love are perceived as the villains.
When Superman first appears, Joker calls upon the Justice League to wrangle him back to Arkham. When the team shows up, we discover that their leader in this reality is Bizarro. The status quo is reset at the story’s end, but it was quite fun seeing Bizarro play the hero!
5. Captain Cold
This entry shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as Captain Cold has made his more heroic tendencies known recently in Legends of Tomorrow (where he is a fan favorite). However, don’t forget Leonard Snart’s roots! The character has always been the most iconic of the Flash’s rogues gallery, as well as the leader of the group whenever they decide to team up. For years, Snart was DC’s go-to ice villain (Mr. Freeze was a D-lister, at best, until the ’90s).
Near the end of the now-famous New 52 line of comic books, Captain Cold became the hero his fans always wanted him to be. Alongside another great villain (that we’ll get to later), Snart joined up with the Justice League after he assisted them in their hard-fought battle against the Crime Syndicate of America.
Captain Cold didn’t last long as a good guy; when the DC Universe was rebooted once again with DC: Rebirth Snart reverted to his evil ways.
4. Power Ring
Newton’s Third Law seems to be in full effect in the superhero world. For every hero, there is an equal and opposite villain to counterbalance their power. In the case of the Green Lantern, this villain would be Power Ring. This supervillain came from the alternate reality Earth-Three, where he was part of the Crime Syndicate of America with alt-universe versions of DC’s greatest heroes. Although he bears a striking resemblance to Hal Jordan, Power Ring got his powers from an ancient monk that bestowed upon him a mystical ring that acts as the source to his powers.
In the aftermath of the “Trinity War” story, Power Ring is dead, brutally murdered by Sinestro. Left ownerless, the villain’s ring goes off to find a young woman named Jessica Cruz as its new host. At first she refuses, but the ring breaks her will and forces her to accept its offer via psychological torture. She lashes out at everyone she encounters, but Batman is able to depower her ring and bring her back to a sane state. After this incident she is extended an offer to join the Justice League and Hal Jordan takes her under his wing.
3. The Creeper
Ew… just one look at Jack Ryder makes you realize why they call him “The Creeper.” Similar to our earlier Huntress entry, this character operates in much more of a grey area than most heroes and villains. At his best he is a powerful ally to DC’s heroes and at his worst he’s comparable to the Punisher in season two of Daredevil. After succumbing to a handful of scientific experiments Ryder gains a Jekyll and Hyde-like ability to transform into the Creeper, a being with superhuman abilities and agility. In the current continuity, the Creeper is part of a race of demons rather than created by a man-made experiment.
He may not be a “supervillain” in the traditional sense, but the Creeper is often more of a foil than a friend. That said, DC’s finest trusted him enough to offer him a spot on the Justice League in the ’70s. This was short-lived, but Ryder found a more permanent role within the offshoot of the Justice League International; he was a part of this team for a time in the late ’80s and a recurring member in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon series.
2. Maxwell Lord
Maxwell Lord is a special kind of evil. He’s not brash or boastful. He doesn’t laugh manically as he spells out his evil schemes to his enemies. No, Lord is what we like to call “Frank Underwood Evil.” The billionaire puts on the front of a mild-mannered business man as he insidiously manipulates others to do his evil deeds behind closed doors. Lord may have started off as your typical harmless character with extremist ideals, but by the time Countdown to Infinite Crisis came around he was the head of an entire criminal organization. Plus, he killed the Blue Beetle!
Because he is always putting on that air of being just another one of the good guys, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Lord’s been able to join the Justice League before. Heck, his first appearance showed him manipulating the Justice League by creating a ruse which forced them to reform after the horrifying events of Crisis on Infinite Earths. After his initial appearance, any instance where Lord turned evil was able to be explained away by a possession or a computer virus or a cyborg clone. This meant that, until the revelation that he was the head of Checkmate, he acted as the uneasy ally in Justice League lore.
1. Lex Luthor
Hold the phone there: The Lex Luthor, a member of the Justice League of America? The same Lex that does whatever it takes to bring down the Man of Steel and drag him through the mud, worked side by side with Kal-El? Even among the other superheroes of the DC Universe, Luthor is a powerful villain who is not to be trusted. No matter how innocent he appears to be on the outside (he was even elected President once!), there’s always some diabolical scheme brewing underneath that bald head of his.
This was exactly the case when he decided to join the Justice League alongside Captain Cold in 2014. After defeating the Crime Syndicate of America once and for all, Lex fears that there is a larger threat looming beyond the threads of the multiverse, and believes the people of Earth must get to it first. At first the Justice League wants to leave well enough alone, but Batman realizes that if Luthor went on his crusade unchecked, it could lead to the death of them all. The team reluctantly lets the billionaire join them. Luthor remained with the Justice League (amidst lots of tension, we must add) all the way until the “Darkseid War” story that ended the New 52.
Were there any other supervillains out there that have joined the Justice League during its long-tenured history? Let us know in the comments!