There are plenty of reasons that villains in the comic book world decide to use their powers for evil, instead of good. Some bad guys do just want to take over the world – megalomaniacs, gods and the criminally insane, mostly. The majority have more relatable motivations, though.
Magneto wants to protect mutants from what he sees as their inevitable oppression by the human race, Ra’s al Ghul is an eco-terrorist, and Wilson Fisk and his ilk are protecting their businesses and territories. Some are after power, many after money, and even more are out for revenge. Then of course, there is one of the most famous motivations of all – simply wanting to watch the world burn.
But amidst all those driven by fear, anger, and hatred, there are some villains who have a purer motivation: love. These guys didn’t start out bad, they were driven to a life of crime by their all-consuming love – what purer motivation and sadder story could there be?
15. Poison Ivy
Proving that it doesn’t have to be love of another person that drives a villain, Poison Ivy is an eco-terrorist, motivated primarily by her love of plants and of the planet itself.
Love has cropped up in other parts of her story, too. Post-Crisis, the Poison Ivy origin story shows her becoming the botanical villain because of her love of Dr. Jason Woodrue. Woodrue was her college professor and seduced the young Pamela Isley in order to experiment on her with a plant-based poison that nearly killed her, and turned her into Poison Ivy. Having used her, Woodrue then abandoned her to become the eco-obsessed villain we know today.
Later, Ivy turned the tables, seducing Clayface with her powers and convincing him that they were husband and wife. Clayface, under her spell, goes on a criminal rampage out of his “love” for her, not realizing that isn’t not love, but her hypnotic powers controlling him.
14. Doctor Doom
Victor Von Doom, despite a tragic childhood that lost him both parents, had a chance at a happy future. A scientific genius who went to school with Reed Richards, he could have become a successful scientist in the US, but his love for his mother was his undoing. Cynthia Von Doom was a powerful witch who died when invoking the demon Mephisto. It was through his mother’s mystical books and artifacts that Doom began to train himself in the magical arts, and attempt to battle Mephisto for the soul of his mother.
However, it was in school when the desire to resurrect his mother set him on the path to evil. Victor created a machine to bring his mother back from the netherworld, and in his arrogance and impatience, he ignored Reed’s warnings that he had miscalculated. The machine exploded, disfiguring him and leading to his expulsion from university. The shame and disgrace drove him over the edge into hatred and villainy.
13. Captain Cold
One of the Flash’s best-known enemies, comic book Leonard Snart is a petty criminal whose life of crime stems largely from his poverty as a child and a desire to take revenge on The Flash for putting him away. In The Flash, however, Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) has become an increasingly relatable villain, and before he became a hero in Legends of Tomorrow, he was driven by a desire to protect his sister, Lisa (Peyton List).
During “Family of Rogues” in season two, Lisa surprises Team Flash by asking for their help after Leonard is kidnapped. The team discovers that Leonard is working with his father again – under duress, as Lewis Snart has threatened to kill Lisa unless Leonard helps him with a heist. This episode makes it clear how much Lisa means to Leonard, and how much of his life has been shaped by his love of his sister and his need to protect her from their father.
12. General Zod
One of the most dangerous villains on Krypton and one of Superman’s best-known foes, General Zod and his wife Ursa were exiled for attempting to take over Krypton. Like many villains, Zod’s primary motivation is power. However, when he first came to Earth to take on Superman, he was doing it for the love of his son, Lor-Zod (AKA Christopher Kent).
Lor-Zod was conceived in the Phantom Zone, and when he was able to escape it, he traveled to Earth and met Clark Kent and Lois Lane, who took him in. General Zod, however, was able to use his son’s escape from the Phantom Zone to escape himself, and followed Lor-Zod to Earth. Zod and Ursa were furious to find their son being raised by Superman, and attacked him (and Lois) in an attempt to take back their son. Although they were also bent on world conquest, their desire to get Lor-Zod back was at least partially motivated by parental love for the boy – although he eventually sided with his adoptive parents and became a hero on Earth when he grew up.
Like many comic book villains, Floyd Lawton had a miserable childhood. He, his brother, and his mother were all abused by his horrible father in a tragic origin story that ended with Floyd accidentally shooting his beloved brother dead (and saving his father in the process). After training as a sharp-shooter, Lawton became the assassin Deadshot, a mercenary who never misses. Although he is also motivated by money, some of what he does is motivated by love for his daughter, Zoe. When his daughter was kidnapped, for example, he teamed up with Batman and took on Kobra to save her.
In the recent Suicide Squad movie, this love is much more of a driving factor in Deadshot’s life. Here, Lawton (Will Smith) hires himself out as an assassin in order to make money to support his daughter and give her a good life, and is only caught and imprisoned because he is with her when the government tracks him down. His love for Zoe (Shailyn Pierre-Dixon) is shown as a key element of his character, and is used by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to control him and make him a compliant member of the Suicide Squad.
10. Star Sapphire
Although Carol Ferris is now in control of her Star Sapphire powers and has become a hero of the DC universe, in her earlier days she was more of a villain – and was driven by her love of Hal Jordon (Green Lantern). At this time, her Star Sapphire persona was almost entirely separate from her day-to-day life as Carol Ferris (who also had feelings for Hal), and something of an evil alter-ego. Her various attempts to win over Hal occasionally helped him, rather than hurting him, but she was still primarily a villain with a bit of a Green Lantern obsession.
Of course, in all iterations, Star Sapphire remains motivated by love – as she and her Star Sapphire corps are powered by love as an emotion. As one of the Lantern Corps, their color is violet and their powers and rings are charged with love. Carol Ferris remains the original Star Sapphire.
9. Barbara Kean
In the comics, Barbara Kean was married to Jim Gordon, and is a minor character, neither a true hero nor villain. In the TV series Gotham, however, Barbara Kean is rapidly rising to the top of Gotham’s villainous heap, and she is doing it all for love. She starts out as the young Jim Gordon’s fiancée, but their relationship quickly becomes strained and ends on a sour note.
Her descent into madness begins with her relationship with the serial killer known as the Ogre. Although Jim believes that she is being held against her will, the Ogre has actually awakened Barbara’s violent nature, and she falls in love with him, killing her parents with his help. After Jim rescues her, Barbara is driven insane – the loss of the Ogre combined with seeing Jim in a new relationship drives her to join the villains of Gotham, where she embarks on a life of crime hoping to kill Jim’s new girlfriend and somehow win him back.
Although her obsession seems to have abated somewhat now, and she is in a new relationship with Tabitha Galavan, Barbara may still be in love with Jim – or may be continuing to build a criminal enterprise due to her love of Tabitha. Only time will tell what her mad love will drive her to next.
8. Black Adam
Black Adam has his roots in Egyptian mythology, as does his true love, Adrianna Tomaz, AKA Isis. The evil counterpart to Billy Batson’s Shazam, Black Adam is an ancient warrior who has acted as both hero and villain at different points in his history, as well as ruler of the country Khandaq.
When Intergang offered him a slave girl in an attempt to gain his help, Adam was furious, and murdered their representatives on the spot. After freeing the girl, Adrianna, the two fell in love, and she gained the powers of Isis. For a time, these two were happy, and Adrianna/Isis was a positive influence on the harsher side of Black Adam as a ruler. However, after Isis was killed by one of the Horsemen, Black Adam went on a murderous rampage in an attempt to both avenge her and resurrect her. This love-driven crusade caused chaos and left a trail of death behind Black Adam, and although Isis was eventually resurrected, they both ended up being turned into statues – far from a happy ending for these two lovers.
7. Vandal Savage
The Immortal Tyrant is driven by a thirst for power in the comics, but his recent appearance on Legends of Tomorrow created a very different backstory for the DC villain. In this version of events, Savage (Casper Crump) didn’t begin life as a caveman exposed to a meteorite. Instead, he was an Egyptian priest, in a story that connects him with the origin story of Hawkman (Falk Hentschel) and Hawkgirl (Ciara Renee).
In the Arrow-verse, Savage was madly in love with the Priestess Chay-Ara, but she loved only Prince Khufu. Furious at what he saw as her betrayal, Savage killed both of them out of rage and jealousy, and that would have ended things. However, their death coincided with a meteor shower, one that made Savage immortal, and created both Hawkman and Hawkgirl, dooming them to an endless cycle of reincarnation. Every lifetime, Savage kills the reincarnated forms of Chay-Ara and Khufu, but remains in love with Chay-Ara, hoping every time that he can win her love and keep her by his side.
Peyton Riley started life as the daughter of a crime boss in Gotham City, so it’s no surprise that she became involved in a life of crime herself. Married to an abusive gangster, Peyton first met the sentient Scarface dummy when he was with the first Ventriloquist, Arnold Wesker. She pleaded with them to spare her husband’s life after he stole from them – a request granted when Scarface decided he liked her. Later, when Wesker died, Peyton rescued the Scarface doll, and took up the mantle of Ventriloquist herself.
Although she is motivated largely by revenge, furious that her husband attempted to kill her after she saved his life, Peyton also becomes convinced that the Scarface doll loves her. As such, she is willing to do anything for the doll, allowing the Scarface persona to take over her, and committing crimes on behalf of her “lover”. Completely submissive to Scarface, she is the real puppet in this “relationship”.
Although Wade Wilson isn’t usually considered a pure villain, he’s certainly not a true hero, either. The insane mercenary has killed his fair share of innocent people and battled against good guys as well as alongside them, and his motivations are as complicated as his mental process. However, he was driven by love back when he was Wade Wilson, and a (relatively) normal man.
Although his comic origin is complicated, a simplified version was recently brought to this big screen in Deadpool, and that’s the one that we are going to focus on here. In this version of his origin, (which is closely connected to his comic backstory, though not identical) Wade (Ryan Reynolds) is a mercenary who falls in love with a prostitute, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). When he is diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he leaves her, unwilling to hurt her with his failing health – and hoping that the Weapon X program can cure his disease. Weapon X manages this, but his resulting healing factor leaves him horribly disfigured. Everything he does from that point on, the bloodshed, murder and mayhem, is all an attempt to reverse this, so that he can be reunited with his true love.
Even superheroes can have frighteningly obsessed fans, and one of those is Carrie Cutter, AKA Cupid. An ex-special ops soldier who is madly in love with the Green Arrow, Cupid commits her crimes as a way of showing him her feelings. As well as training as a soldier, she volunteered to be experimented on in an attempt to remove her fear. The experiment succeeded, but at the same time it intensified her other emotions (as well as her physical strength).
When in Star City, Green Arrow thought she was in trouble, and tried to save her life – an action that became warped in her damaged mind, and began her obsession with the archer. After that day, Cupid started killing the Green Arrow’s enemies to help and ‘protect’ him, although she also kills others for little to no reason, and even attempted to kill (and die with) Green Arrow himself.
The Mad Titan isn’t one to stop at low-level crime to impress the object of his affections. Instead, this mutant Eternal would wipe out galaxies for the woman he loves. And the woman who would be wooed by the death of billions? None other than Mistress Death herself.
Love is not Thanos’s only motivation, as he is also driven by loneliness, desire for power, and anger toward his father and the other Titans. However, his love for Death is steadfast, and two of his best-known evil plots were conceived to impress her and try to win her love in return.
At first, Thanos attempted to use the Cosmic Cube to bend the universe to his will, and to give Death the planet Earth as a gift. However, his plan was foiled by the Avengers. Later, he sought the Infinity Gauntlet, intending to use it to wipe out the stars for her and rule the new universe by her side. He was again thwarted by the heroes of the Marvel universe, but still loves Death deeply. So deeply, in fact, that he became jealous when Deadpool flirted with her, and cursed the Merc With A Mouth so that he could never die and be with her again.
2. Mr Freeze
Victor Fries has one of the most tragic backstories in comics. He only turned to villainy in a desperate attempt to save the love of his life. A gifted scientist with an unhappy childhood, Victor thought that he had finally found happiness when he met Nora. Victor and Nora married, and for a time the two had everything they wanted… until Nora was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Desperate to find a way to save his wife, Victor decides to put his wife into cryo-stasis until he can find a cure. He hopes to one day be able to revive and heal her, so that they can be together again. However, he has to steal from the company he works for in order to build her cryo-chamber, and when the boss finds out he sends his goons to attack Fries. They attempt to kill him with cryo-technology, but end up leaving him able to survive only in sub-zero temperatures. Building himself a cryo-suit and freeze gun, he becomes Mr. Freeze. Since then, almost everything he does is still connected to his search for a way to cure his wife – or to take revenge on the men who changed him.
1. Harley Quinn
Although Harley Quinn has reclaimed her independence in recent comics, it will be a long time before her time as the Joker’s lapdog is forgotten. Originally a psychologist, Dr. Harleen Quinzel was working at Arkham Asylum when she met the Joker. During their sessions, Joker manipulated the young doctor, twisting her mind and making her fall madly in love with him. And we mean “madly” in the most literal sense. The Joker drove Harley insane, until she helped him break out and became his oft-abused sidekick.
For years, Harley did everything that he asked, gleefully joining in on his evil plans, happy to be used and have her life risked to help her puddin’. Although many argue that Joker seems to care for her at times, most of the time he treats her as disposable – just another lackey to be used and discarded. She, on the other hand, is (or was, given recent events) completely in love with him. Hers was never a sane love, but an obsessive one resulting from a broken mind. Now, however, Harley has kicked Joker to the curb, and is now in a much healthier (although still villainy-driven) relationship with Poison Ivy.