The thing that sets a good hero apart from a great one is the quality of their villains. Sure, being super strong or able to fly is cool, but it’s the rogues the heroes face that set Superman and Wonderman apart.
And let’s face it, the life of the villain is just as cool as the hero's, if not cooler. Sure, the hero gets a tower or a Bat-Cave, but the villains get secret lairs too, and they use them to plot, scheme, and throw awesome parties (presumably). They also get to have a pretty wild life with no responsibilities, running around town blowing stuff up. Maybe, just maybe, they even get to rule the world someday. Be honest, haven’t you wanted to be a bad guy at one time or another? It’s good to be bad.
Here are The 25 Greatest Comic Book Villains Of All Time, Ranked.
With a name like Apocalypse, you know he’s not going to fall into the ‘cute and cuddly’ category of comic book characters. Often erroneously referred to as the first mutant (that's actually Selene) En Sabah Nur was born in ancient Egypt at the time of the Great Pyramids construction. His tribe believed him to be a freak due to his facial markings and threw him into the desert to die while still a child.
Eventually, his powers manifested and he became fast, strong, and most importantly, immortal. He conquered much of the world until he came across a starship constructed by the cosmic beings known as Celestials. He bonded their technology with his own body, increasing his power tenfold and giving him his familiar armoured appearance.
Apocalypse took several identities over the centuries, often assuming the names of gods, or becoming the inspiration for myths and legends. His goal was always the same, to provoke conflict so that the weak would die and the strongest survive, therefore making humanity stronger.
Apocalypse is beholden to the Celestials and has sought to attain godhood to escape them. So far, he has been unsuccessful, and was last seen being taken to them with the promise of great suffering to come.
At first glance, Bane is a muscle-guy in a ridiculous mask. But he’s so much more. He’s one of the few villains to do the unthinkable; he completely and utterly defeated the Batman. It wasn’t just through use of brawn either, he studied his prey, watching for weaknesses, until he set up a series of events which caused Batman to run around Gotham until he was exhausted and then Bane struck. Not only did he break Batman’s spine over his knee, he had also deduced his secret identity and broke him psychologically as well as physically.
Strong, smart, cunning, and ruthless, Bane is as much an equal to Batman as any of his villains. Truthfully, it’s only that he has never been as great a villain as he was during Knightfall (where he broke Batman) that keeps him from being higher on this list. Maybe one day he will be remembered for more than Breaking the Bat over 20 years ago.
23 General Zod
While there have been several incarnations of Zod over the years, much remains consistent. Unlike Superman’s father, Jor El, Zod was a warrior not a scientist. He believed that Krypton should pursue a military course of action to survive and was eventually banished to the phantom zone. Blaming Jor El for his exile, when he is freed he is dismayed to learn Krypton has perished and the lone survivor is Jor El’s son, Kal. Kal had since taken the identity of Superman on Earth, and Zod fixated to taking his revenge on Kal. Zod has sought to rule Earth many times, and is always thwarted by Superman. In most incarnations, he demands that his foes “Kneel before Zod” which has become parodied across popular culture.
On the face of it, Zod is a mere invader from outer space. In reality, he’s much more than that. He’s Superman unbound by his morals, he’s the embodiment of what Lex Luthor and many other fear about Superman himself. Such godlike power, without the desire to serve, it’s no wonder the government stockpiles Kryptonite.
22 Doctor Octopus
Despite being the villain most in need of a makeover (the bowl-cut and pot-belly aren’t cool) Doctor Otto Octavius is one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes and one who has done what few others have even gotten close to doing, he defeated Spider-Man. And not a temporary defeat either, he killed him and took his body, and both aspects of his life, for a really long time.
Otto is a genius with advanced knowledge in nuclear physics and cybernetics as well as numerous other fields. Despite his physical shortcomings, he has four super-strong mechanical appendages fused with his spine which make him able to go toe-to-toe with Spider-Man, Captain America, and Daredevil. Through clever planning, and employing the sinister six, he even took down the Avengers before embarking on his plan to fry half the world with an “Octavian Lens”.
Nuts? Sure. Morally bankrupt? Absolutely. But don’t underestimate Doctor Octopus because he looks ridiculous, many have done that and regretted it.
Wilson Fisk may not have any superpowers, but he’s still risen to the top of the criminal underworld and taken on Spider-Man, Daredevil, and many others. Often, he’s mistaken for a mere obese man, but this is just a façade. His massive frame belies a fierce fighter, well-versed in sumo and other martial arts.
For years, Fisk maintained his cover as a wealthy philanthropist but was eventually exposed and sent to jail. Shedding the mask of respectability, Fisk became even more dangerous as he took over vast portions of New York and commanded an army of Hand ninjas. While this era was ended by Otto Octavius (In Spider-Man’s body) he had a contingency plan ready and slipped away from the battle, leaving a body double in his place. Since then, he has once again bounced back and found himself in a position of power.
Often mistaken for a mere thug, Wilson Fisk is tactically brilliant, often scheming successfully against geniuses such as Spider-Man and Norman Osborn.
There will be those that say Catwoman has no place on this list due to her moral ambiguity and semi-regular team-ups with Batman. But, she’s got enough of a criminal history to give her a place here, especially as she has been a foil for the caped crusader over the years.
As one of the few foes of Batman who can match him both physically and mentally, Selina Kyle is probably the one person in the world who could make Bruce Wayne happy. She understands both sides of Bruce and is the one woman that could truly share his life.
What truly makes Selina a great villain is that she’s not all bad, therefore utterly unpredictable. Both for Batman and for the reader. Like The Joker, she’s tied to the Bat, but will possibly be forever beyond his reach.
19 Dark Phoenix
While Jean Grey is the heart and soul of the X-Men and one of the sweetest people in the Marvel universe, the Dark Phoenix is one of the gravest threats ever faced by the X-Men and their allies.
Due to numerous retcons, The Phoenix is either a cosmic being that impersonated Jean while Jean’s body was in a hibernation cocoon and is capable of possessing mortals as its avatar, or the Phoenix is a part of Jean herself. It largely depends on the need of the writer at the time. What remains constant is that The Phoenix force is beyond the concept of good and evil, but can become corrupted in the wrong host and can become hell-bent on destruction.
When Cyclops became the sole avatar of The Phoenix during Avengers Vs X-Men, it took the combined efforts of almost every super being on earth to stop him, including Avengers, X-Men, The Hulks and many more.
While Mystique doesn’t have the physical power to bring down mountains, she can use her skills, cunning, and shape-shifting power to bring down governments. Having lived for well over a hundred years, Mystique is one of the oldest mutants in the Marvel Universe. Due to her power, her DNA doesn’t age as it constantly reconfigures itself. As such, she remains a woman in her prime and possesses the skills, experience, and training of several lifetimes.
Along with being one of the best spies who has ever lived, Mystique is a lethal soldier and is skilled with firearms, explosives, knives, and multiple martial arts. She’s also an expert hacker and has regularly broken into secure files in the Pentagon.
Besides all this, Mystique is a master manipulator and despite her many misdeeds often manages to get a second-chance from those who should have written her off years ago, especially her foster daughter, Rogue, and her son Nightcrawler.
Brainiac is one of Superman's oldest and most dangerous enemies. A sometimes techno-organic, sometimes fully synthetic being with a twelfth-level intellect he travels the multiverse seeking unique civilizations to shrink, which he then adds to his collection. His sole purpose is to find that which is unique, catalogue a sample, and destroy the original. Given his travels, and his intellect, his knowledge is far superior to any other being in the universe.
A regular foe of Superman, versions of Brainiac have been popping up for decades. Having once attacked Krypton, he shrunk the city of Kandor and added it to his collection. He is one of the few beings Supergirl actively fears.
It has been revealed that all previous incarnations of Brainiac are mere avatars for a god-like Brainiac that exists beyond time and space. He could well be one of the most powerful beings in all creation, and the one foe Superman will never truly defeat permanently.
16 Ra's Al Ghul
Ra’s Al Ghul doesn’t see himself as a villain at all (the best never do, do they?) he simply seeks a better world, one which exists in peace and balance. His methods are the very definition of “Ends justify the means” however and he is prepared to kill a massive portion of the world in order to bring the population under control.
He has lived for centuries due to semi-frequent baths in his Lazarus Pits, which restore him to his youthful vigour. Over the years, he has amassed many followers (The League of Shadows) and has agents in key positions across the world.
Despite being a foe of Batman, he and the Dark Knight share massive respect for the other’s skills. Ra’s deduced Batman’s identity, and considers Batman to be a worthy successor despite their opposing world views. The two are related by blood via Damien Wayne, Batman’s son, and Ra’s grandson via his daughter, Talia.
15 Red Skull
If there’s any way to make a villain seem more evil, it’s simple: make them a Nazi. In terms of sheer evil, few can match the Red Skull. There’s no twisted version of making the world better, there’s no moral ambiguity, he’s a flat-out monster of a human being and represents the very worst humanity has to offer. He’s also a megalomaniac and is obsessed with gaining ultimate power by way of the cosmic cube, with which he seeks to re-shape reality into a twisted dystopia of his own design.
While not yet successful, he has inflicted many terrible things upon his nemesis, Captain America. Besides swapping bodies with him and leaving him to die, orchestrating Cap’s downfall via proxy agents, and numerous attempts to kill or maim Cap, he did get closer to killing Cap than anyone else. His agent, Crossbones, and a hypnotised Sharon Carter assassinated Cap on the steps of the Capitol Building. Sure, he was later revealed to be unstuck in time and later revived, but still, let’s give him credit for coming close.
14 Harley Quinn
Harley is an excellent character, with so much more going on than is immediately obvious. Far from being simply the Joker’s stunningly-hot sidekick, Harley Quinn is a force of nature in her own right. Unlike The Joker, Harley isn’t a full-tilt bad guy. Her moral ambiguity has seen her go from bad-guy, to reluctant hero, to anti-hero, to hero… and back again several times. When it comes to madcap comic book characters who have gone far beyond their creator’s expectations, she’s in a league of her own.. with maybe Deadpool for company.
Her relationship with The Joker is one of spousal abuse. Far from affectionate or loving towards her, when he was her patient in Arkham, he told her whatever he needed to in order to gain her compliance. He used her issues from her childhood to get inside her head and then literally destroy her, re-creating her as he saw fit and turning her into a twisted version of herself. While she knows this, she can’t ever get away completely and is often drawn into his madness.
Depending on how you look at it, Ozymandias is either the hero or the villain of the Watchmen. His vast intellect allows him to see the outcome of the situation the world is in and he devises a complex plan to steer the world in the direction he chooses. While his intentions may be noble (to save humanity) his methods are despicable.
His plan to unite humanity was to cause a catastrophe so great that it would prevent a nuclear war. Then, he would murder his accomplices and cause the psychological deterioration and exile of Doctor Manhattan, the only person who could stop him. His plan is discovered by his former ally, The Comedian, who Ozymandias personally kills using his superior reflexes and fighting skills.
While he is successful in preventing the United States and Russia from starting a nuclear war with each other, he does so by destroying New York and uniting the super-powers against a supposed alien invasion. He kills millions, to save billions.
Venom is the nightmarish mirror-image of Spider-Man. While he resembles Spidey in general, he has enormous muscles and a huge jaw full of razor-sharp teeth and a slobbering tongue. He’s certainly not your “Friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man!”
Essentially two merged beings, the symbiont used to be joined with Peter Parker until it began to take control and was forcibly removed with the assistance of the Fantastic Four. It then joined with disgraced journalist Eddie Brock who also hated Parker for discrediting him. The two became one, and fuelled with hatred became more powerful than Spider-Man. Over the years, Venom has gone from Spider-Man’s arch enemy, to anti-hero. Eddie and the suit even went their separate ways and the suit found new hosts such as former Scorpion, Mac Gargan, and school bully turned war hero, Flash Thompson.
Venom represents not only a dark mirror of Spider-Man, but also personifies the “Great power, great responsibility” mantra. When Peter wore the suit, he had greater power than ever. In losing control of that power, Venom was born. Everything Venom has done since is more that weighs on Parker’s already strained conscience.
If you take Batman’s skills and put them in Captain America’s super-soldier body, you get Deathstroke! A skilled soldier, Slade Wilson was given the most dangerous missions and after numerous successes was given additional training by Captain Adelyne Kane in black ops techniques and quickly became the best fighter she’d ever seen. He was quickly promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Due to his skills, he was chosen for a secret experiment by the government and imbued with enhanced physical attributes as well as the ability to use almost all his cognitive processes at all times, making him far smarter and more tactical than ever.
Leaving the army after a mission which disgusted him (a massacre on civilians) he became a gun for hire. Quickly becoming the world’s most successful mercenary, Deathstroke began to cross swords, both figurative and literal, with many super humans, most notably the Teen Titans and Justice League.
One of the biggest-bads in the Marvel Universe is Thanos. Despite being heavily inspired by DC’s Darkseid, Thanos has developed into his own man. Obsessed with death, to the point of falling in love with the personification of it, Thanos is a nihilist and seeks to end all life everywhere as a tribute to her.
Thanos usually seeks out items of incredible power, such as Cosmic Cubes or Infinity Gauntlets in order to destroy life, which he sees as abhorrent. This has brought him into contact with The Avengers who he can stand toe to toe against.
While a powerhouse in his own right, his dreams of attaining godhood make him one of the most dangerous foes The Avengers have ever faced. So far, the only obstacle he cannot overcome is his subconscious knowledge that he is unworthy of godhood. Should he defeat his demons, he may well be unstoppable.
Thanos may be the Xerox, but Darkseid is the real deal. Able to match Superman blow for blow, Darkseid is a foe that the Justice League really don’t want to tangle with. Not only is he a powerful foe on his own, he’s also the ruler of Apokolips and commands a vast army of Parademons.
Darkseid is a megalomaniac who seeks to conquer the universe and sees all individuals as a mere extension of the state, and thereby himself. He indoctrinates children to be utterly loyal to him, with disobedience being punished by death. Possessing the Omega Force, Darkseid is already extremely powerful. It is not enough to extinguish free will from the universe however and so he seeks out the anti-life equation, which is fabled to give its user total control over the thoughts and emotions of all sentient beings in the universe.
Despite his raw power, Darkseid is highly strategic and often employs agents to do his bidding while he manipulates events from behind the scenes. His special interest in Earth, specifically his belief that within their collective consciousness exists the fragments of the Anti-Life equation, has led him into conflicts with the Justice League.
Thaal Sinestro served as a Green Lantern for many years and was considered to be the greatest member of the Corps. It became apparent that Sinestro was not what he seemed to be however. His sector of the universe was indeed almost completely free of criminal activity, but it was so as Sinestro ruled with an iron fist and the people he was supposed to serve, were terrified of his power.
The planet Koruger went from being his home, to his kingdom. From there he began to forge a society free from individuality, and one controlled by fear. Eventually, the citizens of Korugar rebelled and his methods were exposed. He was put on trial by the Guardians of the Universe, and tanks to the testimony of fellow Green Lantern Hal Jordan, he was banished to the Antimatter Universe.
This was not the end of Sinestro, rather it was the beginning. He wound up on the planet Qward where he encountered the weaponers there, beings who hated the Guardians and the Lanterns as much as he did. They built a ring that harnessed yellow energy (fear) in the same way as his old ring harnessed green (will). In time, he became the greatest enemy of the Green Lanterns and formed his own cops, each powered by the ability to evoke great fear.
The title God of Mischief doesn’t really do Loki justice. Far from a mere trickster, he’s a master of lies and manipulation on a cosmic scale. He is also a sorcerer on a par with Doctor Strange and possesses the ability to transmute matter from one form to another, teleport, project his astral self, cast illusions, shapeshift, and fire energy blasts. While he may lack the physical power of his adopted brother, Thor, he’s no slouch either.
His primary goals have been to rule Earth, Asgard, and the rest of the nine (now ten since the discovery of Heaven) realms. To this end, he has caused havoc on epic scales and it was during one of his plots that he manipulated the Hulk to go on a rampage, which accidentally caused the formation of the Avengers.
While Loki has conspired with other villains, such as Norman Osborn, Doctor Doom and the rest of the Cabal, he’s essentially out for himself and even other villains rarely trust him.
Not much says “Bad Guy” like the desire to eat a planet. Not driven by anything as trivial as good or evil, Galactus is driven by an insatiable hunger. A hunger that can only be temporarily satisfied by the consumption of the energies of whole planets. Which would be ok, y’know, if not for the sentient beings that live on those planets.
Before this universe even existed, Galactus was a being known as Galen and lived on the world of Taa. Unlike the rest of his world, who refused to listen to him, Galen realised that his universe was about to end and flew into the maelstrom known as the big crunch, either to find a way to survive cosmic Armageddon, or meet a glorious death.
Reborn in our universe, Galen went from mortal man to a near-omnipotent being and an essential part of the eco system of the universe.
5 Norman Osborn
Contrary to popular belief, The Green Goblin isn’t Spider-Man’s greatest enemy. Norman Osborn is. While they are one in the same, it’s Norman’s own personality that is truly the worst part of himself, the part of him that is the Green Goblin is possibly the one part of his persona that has ever stopped him from being an even greater threat due to its insanity.
While in the persona of the Goblin, he was responsible for the death of Gwen Stacey, one of Comic Books most enduring, and sad, deaths. It was later revealed that prior to killing Gwen, Norman had seduced her and she had fallen pregnant with twins. It was also Norman that was responsible for orchestrating the events of the ‘90s Clone Saga, a storyline that tormented Spider-Man (and his fans) for several years.
Norman would eventually, through sheer dumb luck, be appointed the head of world security after the Skrull invasion. Using criminals, he created the so-called Dark Avengers and turned the benevolent (for the most part) S.H.I.E.L.D into the malevolent H.A.M.M.E.R. Taking out any who opposed him, he forged a suit of armour akin to Iron Man’s and as the Iron Patriot began to exert more and more control over the world until his insanity was eventually revealed to the world and he was imprisoned.
He has since escaped, and once more terrorises the world.
4 Lex Luthor
Pretty much a Bond-villain before Bond villains were even a thing, Lex Luthor is one of the greatest villains of the DC universe. The polar opposite to Superman, he is one of the most intelligent men to have ever lived and sees himself as far above ordinary men. His hatred of Superman is legendary. In some versions, it’s due to an incident when both were children, in others it’s merely due to believing that Superman is a threat to mankind and must be eradicated.
Despite possessing no superpowers, Lex Luthor is Superman’s greatest foe. While he cannot match him blow for blow, like Darkseid or Doomsday, he has used his genius to unleash much pain on the man of steel, such as Metallo, Bizarro, an Orange Power Ring, and various Kryptonite weapons. He’s never quite managed to defeat Superman, and was shaken when Doomsday appeared to. He reserves the right to defeat Superman himself.
Despite his villainous nature, Lex is a charming and charismatic Billionaire who once held the office of the President of the United States of America. Bringing various super-humans under his influence, by exploiting their patriotism, he even managed to make Superman an enemy of the state.
It’s sometimes hard to see Magneto as a villain. In his mind, he’s simply defending his people to ensure that a Holocaust like the one he grew up in never occurs again. Raised in Auschwitz, Magneto was one of the few survivors of the Holocaust the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews. He saw from a young age humanities potential to harm those we see as “different” and adopted the philosophy that mutants would suffer the same fate if they did not band together and fight back.
His opposing world view has brought him into repeated conflict with his friend, Charles Xavier, who believes that given the opportunity man and mutant can co-exist in peace. To this end, he has faced the X-Men many times and has taken up arms against them when he would rather they join him.
Despite his intentions, he has taken to outright villainy at times. Both in an “Ends justify the means” sense, and due to his vicious temper. When the Soviet Union attacked him, he sank a nuclear submarine and raised a volcano beneath a city as a lesson. When Earth tried to prevent him using his magnetic powers, he unleashed an EMP so powerful it knocked out electricity all over the world. When the X-Men retaliated, he tore out Wolverine’s Adamantium skeleton.
While it’s hard not to root for him at times, he’s done some pretty evil things which are hard to forgive.
2 Doctor Doom
Doctor Doom, or simply “Doom”, has been one of the primary villains of the Marvel Universe since the very beginning. Initially a foe of the Fantastic Four, and in particular Reed Richards, he has gone on to be a major enemy of The Avengers too. A technological genius, Doom’s mind is a match for Reed Richards and Tony Stark. He is also an expert sorcerer who can match the likes of Morgan LeFay and Doctor Strange.
As a boy, Victor Von Doom was an impoverished, but carefree Gypsy. He went to America to study, and while there caused an accident to literally blow up in his face, scarring him for life. Driving himself mad, and resenting the seemingly-perfect life of fellow super-genius Reed Richards, Doom conquered his native country of Latveria and declared himself the monarch.
Obsessed with proving his mind superior to all others, Doom has locked horns with heroes and villains alike. He appears to have some measure of mutual respect for Loki, but would probably turn on him if it benefitted him.
1 The Joker
The Joker isn’t interested in ruling the world. He isn’t even interested in money, or power, or fame, or even life. He just cares about one thing: Batman. The two are distorted reflections of the other. Bruce is sane (as much as a man tortured by the murder of his parents and dressed as a bat to beat up villains can be) and the Joker is insanity personified. Batman dresses in darkness, The Joker is a freaking Clown! Where Bruce does his best to maintain his sanity, the Joker revels in his madness.
The Joker has no set agenda. He simply wants to cause mayhem, kill as many people as possible, and see anarchy reign. Beyond that, his only other reason for living is to torment Batman. While the rest of the criminal underworld of Gotham is tearing each other apart for territory, money, and power, the Joker is simply tearing down buildings and revelling in the mayhem.
It’s his insanity, and lack of clear motives, that make the Joker the greatest villain of all time. His unpredictability, and lack of concern for even his own safety, make him the one foe that has proven to be Batman’s greatest nemesis.