Every comic reader knows that a good supervillain is the key to a really good story. Fortunately, the history of DC Comics is rich with some of the most memorable bad guys in history. Batman's gallery of insane rogues alone is more memorable than almost all of the villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe combined. These bad guys and gals usually play a major role in shaping the lives of the heroes. This comes in the form of killing sidekicks, brutalizing loved ones, and just being absolutely terrible at every turn.
Sometimes, though, the shoe is on the other foot, and these supervillains get taken down in some pretty damn pathetic ways. Sometimes, it comes from an unexpected back stab (or kick), and other times, the sidekick with no pants inexplicably hoists them by their own alien petard. It's tough for even the greatest of villains to come back from moments like these because fear is their greatest tool. Once the superheroes can't stop laughing at you, it's pretty tough to ever seem scary again. If you'd like to be in on the joke with these superheroes, check out this guide to the 15 Most Pathetic Villain Defeats In DC Comics History.
As supervillains go, Prometheus was about as mid-'90s as it got. His gimmick was that he could load CDs (remember those, kids?) into his special helmet and they would let him instantly learn various fighting styles, kind of like Neo learning kung-fu in the first Matrix movie. Because of this, he was even able to kick Batman's ass on account of somehow having a CD of Batman's fighting style that he had previously learned.
After his first run-in with the Justice League, Prometheus left his helmet behind. This gave Batman the perfect opportunity to study how it worked. Later on, Prometheus returned as part of a new Injustice Gang and nabbed his helmet before attacking. Batman won the fight by loading the special helmet with the fighting skills of one man: Professor Stephen Hawking!
After this, the Dark Knight is able to take Prometheus down with a single punch (and, by the transitive property, has punched out one of our world's greatest minds). Exactly how Batman had a special CD of Stephen Hawking's fighting skills remains a mystery.
14 Lex Luthor
In the final issue of Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman, it looks like Lex Luthor is going to win. He ingested a special concoction that gave him the powers of Superman for a period of twenty-four hours. This is more than enough time, he reasons, to take over the entire planet, and he gets a big surprise when Clark Kent reveals himself as Superman and fires a gravity gun from the Fortress of Solitude at Luthor.
From there, things get weird. Luthor's brain starts working on Superman's level, too, and he has a kind of epiphany about the beauty of the world and about the pettiness of his hatred towards Superman. If Lex having a mid-battle, midlife crisis wasn't embarrassing enough, it turns out the gravity gun had accelerated the passage of time in his body, returning him to his normal self.
This means that Superman outsmarted the self-styled smartest man in the world, right after helping him see that Luthor's entire life had been a waste.
Most of Catwoman's most embarrassing moments come from the way she has been portrayed in various media. This includes artists and writers who see her as nothing but a sex object and her completely awful portrayal in the Halle Berry Catwoman film. Unfortunately, embarrassment seems hardwired into Catwoman's character, which we can see from her very first appearance.
Strictly speaking, she wasn't even Catwoman in her first appearance, instead going by “The Cat.” Her debut included a bizarre scheme in which she impersonated an elderly person on a yacht so she could steal some valuable jewels. Batman foils her plot by bodily yanking the old woman mask off her and uttering the completely creepy line “Quiet, or papa spank!”
Thus, she had to lose her valuable jewelry haul and find out the Dark Knight likes women to call him “daddy,” all at the same time.
Ultraman is a member of the Crime Syndicate of America, which is essentially an evil Justice League from a parallel world that is basically an evil fun house mirror of our own universe. The good Justice League is brought to Ultraman's world by their Lex Luthor (who was the last superhero of that universe), but this had a side effect: seeking to restore balance, the universe transported the Crime Syndicate over to the JLA's Earth. This gave Ultraman and the others the chance to take over the world, starting with Washington, DC.
Which is a good plan, except for the fact that Ultraman is taken out almost immediately by Martian Manhunter. Keep in mind that Manhunter's main weakness is heat, so a guy who can shoot laser beams from his eyes is theoretically at a big advantage. Nonetheless, Martian Manhunter shows off his telepathy and shapeshifting all at once, pointing out to Ultraman that the fight was lost as soon as he thought about taking on Manhunter. Even for an invulnerable evil guy, that's gotta hurt.
11 White Martians
Speaking of martians, the Justice League has previously clashed with the Martian Manhunter's natural enemies, the White Martians. In a memorable JLA storyline, they came to Earth as fellow superheroes and offered to restore peace and prosperity to the world, but it was all a ploy in order to position themselves to destroy the Justice League. Each of these Martians is strong enough to take on Superman, and we see dramatic scenes of various League members taking out individual Martians.
The strength of these White Martians is hilariously undercut by Batman, though. He figures out what they are before anyone else (because he's Batman), and he knows their weakness is fire. He lures four of them into a circle of gasoline and lights a match before knocking all of them out. As if one human beating four Superman-level aliens isn't embarrassing enough, the League saves the Earth by telling everyone their weakness, making every single smoker on Earth deadly to this invading force.
10 Doctor Light
We see Doctor Light's defeat in the iconic Identity Crisis story, and it feels a lot like karma. After all, the inciting incident for his beatdown is that he infiltrates a Justice League base. The only person there is the Elastic Man's wife, Sue Dibny, and Light proceeds to rape her. The League soon returns and stops him, but he threatens to target all of their significant others. Thus, the League members present reluctantly let the magical Zatanna wipe his brain to remove memory of the incident.
In and of itself, this might not have been that embarrassing; it's not like Doctor Light actually had a fair shot against even a partial roster of the Justice League. However, the mind wipe seems to lower his intelligence, and this is offered in the comic as a retcon for why Doctor Light went from being a Justice League villain to somebody who got his ass handed to him by the Teen Titans. It only took one moment for him to go from someone the League was terrified of to someone that the League's sidekicks could easily kick around.
Darkseid has pretty consistently been a major league threat to the universe. It usually takes the might of the entire Justice League to defeat him, and he's enough of a badass to have become the looming threat in the growing DC Expanded Universe of movies. However, on one memorable occasion, it didn't take a punch of laser eyes to beat him... all it took was a song.
In the timey-wimey mess that was the Final Crisis storyline, Darkseid seems destined to win: even when he is dying (due to a combination of Batman shooting him and Flash bringing The Black Racer), Darkseid's spirit is somehow dragging all of reality with him.
Eventually, there is only Superman left in a mostly-empty universe, but Darkseid pops up to try to snag a machine Superman is building to save all of creation. So, Superman sang at a special frequency that was able to destroy what was left of Darkseid, after which he finished his machine and fixed the universe. Apparently, songs can kill, so we finally have an explanation for why Superman nearly murdered Pat Boone that one time.
While he doesn't always get the respect of villains like Lex Luthor or Doomsday, Mongul is a pretty powerful Superman villain. He threatens entire planets, drives around a Warworld, and was originally portrayed as much stronger than Superman. All of this makes it that much more embarrassing that Robin was able to one-shot him!
In the iconic Alan Moore comic “For the Man Who Has Everything”, Mongul busts into the Fortress of Solitude and infects Superman with an alien plant that makes him live out an extremely vivid dream life while his real body is incapacitated.
Ultimately, though, Robin is able to help remove the thing and throw it on Mongul, trapping him in his own weird space snare. If losing to the kid with no pants isn't bad enough, Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman go back to celebrating Superman's birthday while Mongul just sits there in a dream world where he managed to win.
Bane has had an interesting history of differing portrayals. Sometimes, he's portrayed as a mindless brute, as with the execrable Batman and Robin movie. Other times, he's a dangerous tactician who talks like Sean Connery with his hands over his mouth, like we see in The Dark Knight Rises. However, one consistent feature is that Bane is super-strong. After all, he's the man who broke Batman's back! However, all it took was one hit by Catwoman to break Bane.
In a particularly weird Batman tale, Bane was using Psycho Pirate to make himself feel better in his moments of existential dread. Psycho Pirate is extremely dangerous, though, so Batman, Catwoman, and a motley crew of villains go to confront Bane. Catwoman pretends to betray Batman to Bane, but when Batman gives her the signal, she kicks Bane once, seemingly breaking his back and ending the fight in one hit.
The man who broke the Bat and terrorized all of Gotham City got taken out by a thief in size eight shoes.
6 Brainiac of Earth 2
Over on that evil Earth 2, Ultraman kept a weird kind of servant in the form of Brainiac's head in a jar. Brainiac portrayed himself as a humble servant, but he secretly plotted to destroy both the Crime Syndicate and the Justice League. Brainiac basically set the plot in motion so the two Earths would collide, giving him enough juice to ascend to godhood (albeit on the backs of billions of dead people).
The key to Brainiac's plan is that at this point, the CSA and JLA are trapped on each other's worlds. Due to the rules of the universe, the bad guys can't win on the good Earth and the good guys can't win on the bad Earth, which seemingly ensures Brainiac's victory. However, the JLA simply stop trying to defeat Brainiac on the bad Earth, which allows Flash to swap the teams to their rightful dimensions.
Ultimately, this is both embarrassing and dark, as the JLA wins by giving up and effectively sentences Brainiac to laser eye torture at the hands of Ultraman.
5 Emperor Joker
When you think about it, the sheer amount of death and terror the Joker manages to inflict is really impressive. As Heath Ledger's Joker points out in The Dark Knight, he was able to plunge Gotham City into terror “with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets.” The idea of Joker having ultimate power is absolutely terrifying, and this was the premise of the "Emperor Joker" storyline.
This story outlines what Joker would do if he had the god-like powers of Mr. Mxyzptlk. He takes over the world, torments heroes and villains alike, and he has Batman murdered in increasingly-gruesome fashion each and every night. Eventually, Joker decides he wants to destroy all of reality, but there's just one problem: that would mean destroying Batman too.
Superman shows Joker that he is incapable of getting Batman out of his brain, and will therefore never truly defeat the Dark Knight. This finally breaks Joker's spirit, and Superman and Mr. Mxyzptlk proceed to put the universe back together.
It doesn't get much more pathetic than losing control of the entire universe because you can't stop thinking about your best frenemy!
4 Mr. Freeze
As foes go, there are few scarier than Mr. Freeze. He's strong, cold-hearted, and has a freeze ray, and all of this combined makes him a very difficult foe for Batman to defeat. Part of what makes him so scary is that he is usually fighting to save his wife Nora, who has been cryogenically frozen before she could die. Because of this, Mr. Freeze's most embarrassing defeat came when Batman pointed out his entire life was a lie.
In Batman Annual #1, Freeze was in the middle of his usual heart-tugging monologue about why all of his crimes are about saving his wife. Batman finally got fed up and dropped a truth bomb (it's in the belt next to the shark repellent bat spray) on Mr. Freeze: Nora was not and never has been married to Mr. Freeze. Instead, she was a woman cryogenically frozen in the 1960s after developing a fatal heart condition. Mr. Freeze actually wrote his dissertation on her, fell in love with her, and created an entire deranged fantasy about being married to her.
After this, Batman proceeds to knock Freeze out with a cool heating gadget, but chances are, it didn't burn nearly as much as the truth about Nora.
3 Harley Quinn
Harley Quinn mania reached its fever pitch after the premiere of the Suicide Squad movie. The film captured Harley Quinn's fanatical devotion to the Joker. That devotion gives her strength, so even when she is defeated she remains confident and in control. It's only fitting, then, that Harley Quinn's most embarrassing defeat did not come at the hands of the Caped Crusader but at the Joker's!
During the strange Death of the Family story, the Joker returned (after retrieving his severed face from the police) to terrorize Batman. He ropes Harley Quinn into this plot, but eventually tries to kill her by dumping her into a vat of chemicals. Harley survives, but Joker knocks her out and chains her in a room full of corpses. When she wakes up, he drops the bombshell on her: she is not the first Harley Quinn, and she will not be the last.
For someone who devoted her entire life to the Joker, it is supremely embarrassing to find out he sees her as nothing but a disposable sidekick. If she dies, Joker will probably just recruit one of those countless Harley cosplayers and be good to go!
Because of fanboy fixation, though, Harley Quinn has several moments of pure fanservice, and this is something that transcends dimensions. In the Injustice comic, she had an unlikely team-up that led to a very unlikely victory: she defeated Lobo!
Lobo actually started as a parody of over-the-top violent characters that have crazy healing factors. He is a super-strong alien that killed his entire race and is able to give Superman a run for his money. In an Injustice Annual, Lobo was about to fight (and likely kill) Green Arrow and Black Canary when Harley Quinn showed up. Unbeknownst to them, she was juiced up on a pill that gave her super-strength, so she simply hopped on Lobo and completely ripped his head off!
It's a super-embarrassing moment for the Main Man Lobo, and is a bit bittersweet in retrospect: over in the main DC universe, Lobo and Harley had a brief (albeit doomed) romance that involved a lot of alien fighting and very little clothing.
1 Black Adam
Black Adam is a world-class threat. He is the evil opposite to Captain Marvel, aka Shazam!, and like Shazam, he is a mortal man who can speak a magic word and be transformed into someone with the power of the gods. In the 52 series, Black Adam becomes enraged by the murder of his family and starts attacking countries he thinks are responsible, eventually clashing with pretty much all the heroes of the world.
The battle itself is not very embarrassing, as there are few characters in the DC universe that it takes so many people to defeat. Shazam eventually sends a lightning bolt that transforms Black Adam into a human again. Normally, this would be no problem, as he would say his magic word and return to his powered self. However, Shazam managed to change the magic words to “chocolate egg cream,” and Adam was defeated because he could never guess such a goofy phrase.
Ultimately, Black Adam's threat to the entire world was ended by the name of a dessert... and it doesn't get much more embarrassing than that.
To see if the big screen defeats can live up to these epic comic book fails, be sure to check out the Justice League movie when it premieres on November 17th, 2017. In the meantime, tell us about your favorite villain beatdowns in the comments!