Nobody is quite sure who first uttered the quote “A hero is only as good as their villain,” but comic book writers have been using the saying as a guiding light for decades when crafting the rogues gallery of our favorite heroes. Though it is possible to create a compelling superhero story that doesn’t feature an incredible villain, the good guys run the risk of going stale if they do not have a full roster of great enemies to do battle with. It’s no coincidence that the best superheroes such as Superman, Batman, the X-Men, and Spider-Man just so happen to have some of the best bad guys in all of fiction.
In fact, villains are so important to a hero’s longevity that you almost feel bad for a hero whose rogues gallery is not quite up to par. Every comic book superhero has had to do battle with an absurd villain from time to time, but a bad rogues gallery isn’t defined by the occasional bad villain. Instead, they tend to earn that reputation due to the fact they contain a far greater amount of sub-par villains than truly great ones. It’s amazing that these heroes grew to become as well-regarded as they are, given that many of their rogues do not live up to the high standards set by the many great villains of the comic book world.
Here are the 12 Worst Comic Book Rogues Galleries Of All Time.
When you think of Daredevil villains, your mind no doubt defaults to the heroes’ classic battles with the nefarious Kingpin or the assassin Bullseye. These two are not only great villains in their own right, but have a critical role in some of the greatest Daredevil story arcs of all-time.
The problems start when the Man Without Fear battles the other members of his rogues gallery. Many Daredevil villains either fall into the category of low-rent thugs hired by The Kingpin to take out our horned hero (a task they never complete), or former love interests from Matt Murdock’s unfortunate love life returning for vengeance. That’s not necessarily a bad concept, but unfortunately, it tends to result in less-than-impressive foes such as Stilt-Man, Leap-Frog, Mr. Fear or The Jester. Occasionally, a Daredevil villain will rise above their premise and provide a compelling conflict, but too often they fail to rise above their simple premise.
Much like Daredevil, most of Thor’s greatest battles involve a select few villains. Actually, many of them tend just focus on Loki, whose personal relationship with Thor and preference to defeat the mighty warrior by outsmarting him – rather than outmuscling him – makes him the perfect foil.
Most Thor villains aren’t quite so clever. The majority of the mythical warrior’s enemies are re-purposed legendary figures that typically attempt to defeat Thor in fairly straight-up toe-to-toe battles. Given that Thor is easily one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel universe, this tends to result in such characters as Ares and Pluto joining the fray in order to provide the god with a conceivable challenge. That’s a pretty effective way to add necessary spectacle to a fight, but it unfortunately results in a lack of foes that are fascinating in their own right or share a sufficient level of personal conflicts with our hero.
While Marvel Studios struck gold with their take on Loki in the original Thor, the characterization behind the villainous Malekith in the sequel was widely criticized. Thankfully, the baddies look to be getting an upgrade for Thor: Ragnarok.
10. Black Panther
It was so great to hear that Black Panther is going to finally be getting a movie of his own. The character has always been one of Marvel’s more intriguing creations, due in large part the Panther’s unique origin and fascinating mythology. It’s going to be fantastic to see that story play out on the big screen, especially if the casting so far is any indication.
What’s even more interesting, though, is trying to figure out who Marvel will select as the film’s villain, given that Black Panther’s rogue gallery is a little thin to say the least. It’s not so much that the character’s villains are outright awful , but rather that there isn’t a sufficient amount of iconic foes that stand tall from a group of fairly similar evildoers that rely heavily on well-written plotlines to appear reasonably intimidating.
9. Green Arrow
Green Arrow’s villain problem can be traced back to the origins of the character himself. It took quite a while for DC writers to really develop the Green Arrow character into something more substantial than the simple vigilante with a bow that he was during the character’s golden age. As such, it also took quite a while for them to find bad guys that could help provide him with compelling conflicts.
In many ways, it’s still something of a work in progress. Nobody is going to complain about seeing Deathstroke appear in a Green Arrow comic even though he’s on loan from the bank of DC supervillains, but even notable Green Arrow foes such as Merlyn and Count Vertigo suffer from either a lack of exposure or being a bit too one-note. The bigger problem, however, is that you can classify the majority of Green Arrow villains under the “World’s Greatest Assassin” designation, which tends to feel a bit homogenous after a while.
8. The Incredible Hulk
There’s a strong argument to be made that The Incredible Hulk is pound for pound the strongest character in all of Marvel. The Hulk’s exploits and accomplishments are the thing of legend and have sealed the great green beast’s legacy as a hero capable of total domination. Who could ever stand up to this anger-fueled behemoth?
It’s a fair question that the Hulk’s writers sometimes don’t seem to have a great answer to. Most of his villains tend to be equally large abominations (no offense intended to the actual Abomination) that engage The Incredible Hulk in Godzilla-like fights. What’s missing is a stable of compelling characters that allow The Incredible Hulk to consistently escape his character’s formula by engaging him in creative ways. Interestingly, many of The Incredible Hulk’s greatest battles actually come when he turns rogue himself and begins to clash with other superheroes.
It should be noted at this point that while a stable of great villains can certainly enhance already great characters (Batman is the perfect example of this) a great superhero does not necessarily need classic villains to still be interesting and worthwhile. Sometimes, the heroes themselves are able to generate enough interesting stories that don’t involve them constantly clashing with a roster of evil doers.
This has almost always been the case with Ant-Man. Whether it be Scott Lang or Hank Pymm, the individual in the Ant-Man suit, and the suit’s abilities for that matter, have usually been able to carry the storytelling weight through non-traditional conflicts and roles. It’s a good thing that’s the case, because if Ant-Man had to consistently rely on foes such as Yellow Jacket, Giant Man and Black Ant for fascinating stories, he might not be as beloved of a hero as he is.
6. The Punisher
The Punisher is a fascinating hero in the grand scheme of the Marvel universe. Unlike other Marvel superheroes that were gifted with incredible abilities via remarkable circumstances, The Punisher is just a guy trying to seek justice for the terrible crime committed against him and his family by stocking up on as much firepower as possible — and putting it to use.
That’s great, but it does cause a bit of an issue when it comes to creating compelling Punisher villains. Most rogues in this series don’t tend to last more than an issue or so, given Frank Castle’s preference for ending their cameos permanently. Aside from Kingpin and Jigsaw, those that do stick around longer and provide something interesting tend to just be somewhat simple tough thug-types or borrowed super power infused villains from other series.
5. Iron Man
Iron Man does have one truly great villain in his rogues gallery. A villain so devious and clever that his mere presence sometimes threatens to undo Iron Man for good, and he almost always finds a way to insert himself into Iron Man’s everyday life. He is destructive, intelligent and absurdly rich. He is Tony Stark.
The man in the suit has always been the greatest threat to ol’ Buckethead. Tony Stark’s battles with alcoholism and other personal demons routinely represent our hero’s greatest threats. There is just no way that foes such as a dragon named Fin Fang Foom, the inconsistently interesting Mandarin, or the seemingly endless wave of “evil Iron Man” archetypes could ever equal the damage Tony Stark routinely does to his alter ego.
You have to feel bad for Aquaman. The guy catches a lot of flak from the general world of superhero fans and is routinely cited as one of the lamest superheroes in comic books — but it’s just not true. You actually don’t have to look that hard to find a number of great stories and moments from the character’s lengthy history.
What is a little harder to find are great Aquaman villains. Because Aquaman is usually somewhat limited to his watery domain, this means that his writers must always try to find new ways to come up with foes that work within his unique world. Sometimes, this turns out fine enough, like in the case of Black Manta, who is a fairly interesting thorn in Aquaman’s side. Most of the time, however, you end up with villains like The Fisherman, whose basic concepts are too silly to ever be considered threatening.
It remains to be seen what kind of evil-doer director James Wan will cook up for the upcoming live-action adaptation.
The Atom began his life as a college professor by the name of Raymond Palmer, who one day acquired the ability to manipulate the size of objects and himself. He’s very similar to Ant-Man in terms of both abilities and doing battle with weak villains.
Only The Atom may have it even worse than Ant-Man. Devoid of any major villains that have come to define his gallery of rogues, Dr. Palmer has instead been forced to do battle with the likes of such enemies as The Thinker (who can think really well), Toyboy (who uses his telekinesis to control toys) and Floronic Man (who controls plants). Needless to say, it’s a pretty far cry from, say, the baddies that you tend to encounter by taking a stroll through the Narrows in Gotham City.
Hawkman and The Green Arrow have long been engaged in a feud over their political differences, as it pertains to individuals’ rights within the superhero world. You’ll occasionally find them working towards a common cause, but it’s rare to see them agree on any particular issue.
Except, perhaps, that Hawkman has the weakest rogues gallery of the two — and it’s not even close. Hawkman has long been one of those classic superhero types that have struggled to really adapt to the darker, more grounded tone of modern comics, and his rogue gallery reflects this old-school mindset. His primary villain, Shadow Thief, is just a common thief with the ability to transform into a shadow, while many of his other common foes like Hyathis are simply borrowed from the lesser ranks of Justice League baddies.
1. Wonder Woman
If you really want to dig deep into the history of Wonder Woman, you’ll find that she arguably has the worst “one-off” villains in the history of comics. We’re talking about characters like Mouse Man, The Crimson Centipede, Walt Disney (yes, that Walt Disney) and Egg Fu who is, naturally, a giant racist egg. Things get pretty rough if you dare to delve too deep.
The funny thing about that, though, is that it really isn’t much better if you only pay attention to the major Wonder Woman villains. Foes like Cheetah and the sorceress Circe aren’t necessarily considered Wonder Woman’s greatest rivals because they are uniquely compelling characters who pose a great threat to the mighty warrior, but rather because they’re more competent in comparison to the legion of uninspiring enemies Wonder Woman has battled.
Which prominant superhero do you think has the worst rogues gallery in comics? Sound off in the comments.