Everyone knows that villains have to be evil, but some villains are more evil than others. Some, for instance, just want to rob banks, or get revenge on the hero, or steal state secrets, or force his attentions on a woman, or just get the better of his peers. All negative qualities to be sure, and all involving, to one degree or another, a choice: the conscious choice by the villain to do something he knows to be wrong. Which will be the criteria for those top super-villains included on the following list. All must be in a position to understand the difference between right and wrong and still choose to do wrong. Those who are insane (Joker) or robotic (Ultron) need not apply…for now!
And what is the nature of evil? Of course, our churches have helped define good from bad and so have our civic laws, or at least the laws of democratic societies. Laws under authoritarian governments, mostly designed to oppress the ruled and prevent any challenge to the established order, don’t count. Western civic laws based on say, Roman civil law or even Canon law, presuppose certain universal beliefs about the nature of man; that no matter a person’s background, thou shalt not steal or covet thy neighbor’s wife or take another life can safely be considered common ground no matter a person’s religious beliefs or political persuasion. It follows then, that true evil must knowingly and willingly threaten both the fundamental moral order held in common by all men as well as the very root of civilization itself. And to do so on a grand scale makes for the most vile of villains or in our case, not necessarily the best villains, but the Top 10 Most Evil Villains in Comics!
10) Mr. Mind
One of the most evil super-villains in comics history was also one of its smallest. But don’t be fooled by Mr. Mind’s glasses or old time radio looking voice box hanging around his neck, or even the fact that he looks like a worm! In fact, Mr. Mind possessed one of the most powerful brains of all and used it to try to concur the universe until stumbling over the inconsequential-seeming Earth. There, in a lengthy serial that ran in Captain Marvel Adventures #22-46, he assembled a Monster Society of Evil and battled the Marvel family to a fare thee well. Although defeated, tried, and convicted for the deaths of 186,744 people, Mr. Mind survived the electric chair and has remained a threat to the Earth ever since.
The god of the Dark Dimension, the flame-headed Dormammu was only a curse word before making his first appearance in Strange Tales #126 (1964). There, he was revealed in all his evil glory with the ultimate aim of entering our dimension and adding mankind to his coterie of worshipers. Once, in Strange Tales #146, Dormammu’s hubris was such that he even dared to assault Eternity, an aspect of the real God, in an attempt to become master of the entire universe! In lesser conflicts, the Earth has been lucky to have Dr. Strange on duty so that Dormammu’s evil schemes have never been successful.
Any way you slice it, it’s hard for any villain to top the combined hatred of a billion billion beings as a motivating force for evil. Mangog first appeared in The Mighty Thor #154 (1968) and was created by Odin following a titanic battle in the dim mists of history after the defeat of a world that had threatened Asgard and the order of the universe. In punishment, Odin combined the entire evil population into a single being called the Mangog and then locked it away. Unfortunately, it was released and with the combined power driven by millennia-long hatred, the Mangog sought revenge on Asgard by drawing the Odinsword from its scabbard and thus ringing in Ragnarok, the end of all things! Whew!
7) Emerald Empress
Arguably one of the most powerful villains, male or female, the Emerald Empress first appeared in Adventure Comics #352 (1967) as a member of the Fatal Five who teamed up with the Legion of Super-Heroes to help defeat the Sun Eater. After that, the Five became regular enemies of the Legion but eventually the Empress’ evil nature outgrew even those of her colleagues and she went solo. Over the years, she became progressively more sadistic and ruthless until, finally defeated, was discovered to have been in a symbiotic relationship with the Eye of Ekron, the source of her power.
6) Black Adam
Black Adam first appeared in Marvel Family #1 (1945) when he arrived on Earth after being banished to a distant star by the wizard Shazam and took 5,000 years to get back. Black Adam was originally an Egyptian named Teth-Adam to whom Shazam entrusted the powers he later gave to Captain Marvel. But Adam allowed himself to be seduced by them. He killed the pharaoh and took over Egypt, a first step in ruling the world. Arriving back on Earth from his banishment, Adam battled Captain Marvel and the rest of the Marvel family and was defeated.
Having first appeared in of all places, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olson #134 (1970), the villain who was destined to become DC’s number one baddie, was barely mentioned. Later, as creator Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga grew, the role of the evil ruler of the planet Apokalips would grow along with the news of his search for the “anti-life equation” whose ultimate use was never really explained. (A hint about what it was might be found in the Outer Limits episode “The Guests,” wherein an alien seeks completion of an equation whose solution would mean the end of all life on Earth). Whatever the purpose of the anti-life equation, judging from Darkseid’s merciless behavior, it couldn’t mean anything good for the human race!
Why Thanos ahead of Darkseid when it’s pretty obvious that creator Jim Starlin was only doing his own take on Darkseid? Because, unlike Darkseid, Thanos was a bit more three dimensional. He, at least, had some personality, albeit a ruthless one, and a reason for being evil. It seems that Thanos was in love…in love with the personification of Death. A love for which he’d do anything to consummate including killing every living being in the universe to prove his worthiness. Through his evil career (which began in 1973 with Iron Man #55 ), Thanos sought for any item that could fulfill that desire including the cosmic cube, the soul gems, and the Infinity gauntlet. Though it appeared that he was killed at one point, evidence indicates that he is still alive and still as determined as ever to destroy all life everywhere!
3) Dr. Doom
The scariest thing about Victor von Doom isn’t his diabolical genius, his diplomatic immunity, or his near ruthless determination to destroy his enemies and rule the world. No, the scariest thing about him is the preview readers have had over the years of what life under the rule of Doom would be like: happy, carefree, and thankful, just like the citizens of Latveria, the postage stamp sized Bavarian principality governed by Doom. There, the people are provided with their every need: there’s no want, no unemployment, no poverty. And as has been seen in various issues of the Fantastic Four (starting in 1961 with FF #5), the people who live in Latveria are perfectly content to hand over their personal freedom in exchange for government largesse — exactly the sort of situation we find creeping forward in our own world.
And that is the scariest thing about Dr. Doom and why he is ranked so near the top of any list of the most vile villains of all time. Professing that his only intention is to level the playing field and bring contentment to everyone, he asks in trade only for blind loyalty to the State (c’est lui). Saying so, he echoes certain ideologues in our own time who say they need to bypass Constitutional authority in order to achieve those lofty goals. Persuaded by the candy-coated rhetoric, many otherwise intelligent people are willing to let them do it. Shudder.
2) Red Skull
The personification of evil. Not a man, not any person, really, but pure symbol. A metaphor for how hate can come to consume a person and transform them into a monster. No magic potion is needed. No bite from some were-beast, nor possession by the devil. Man has been granted free will. The will to choose between good and evil. No one compels him to choose wrongly. But if he does, that dark road, if not abandoned, can lead to where the Red Skull ended up.
Although he first appeared in Captain America #1 (1941), it wasn’t until Tales of Suspense #66 (1965) that we learn the Skull began life as a homeless orphan, beaten and abused by street toughs in pre-war Germany. By the time he was working as an anonymous bellboy in a hotel where Hitler was staying, he was primed with hate and resentment. Perfect clay from which Hitler could mold the perfect Nazi, the Red Skull was born, never to be seen without his hideous crimson skull mask. In his own words, the Skull bragged about being behind every atrocity committed by the Nazi regime and much more after the fall of the Third Reich.
Since those years, in its very anonymity, his character has become total evil. A living metaphor of all that could go wrong with men if they chose wrongly. And as the memories of World War II grow dim, the specter of what the Skull represents can be seen today in the Ukraine, the China Sea, in the murderous events occurring in the Middle East, and even in the streets of European cities as a rising tide of antisemitism once again rears its ugly head. That’s why the Red Skull deserves his place near the top of any list of the most evil villains of all time. As the Skull himself once boasted: “Whenever a city was leveled, a town was sacked, the Red Skull was there! Whenever there was injustice, tyranny, ruthlessness, the Red Skull was there!” And he still is.
Who but the devil himself could occupy the top spot on any list of the most evil villains, even in comics? No matter what guise he appears in whether it’s Satannish or the many different versions of Lucifer that have plagued our heroes across the entire history of comics, there can be no doubt that he’s the motivating force behind much of the strife and heartache suffered by our comics good guys. That said, Mephisto is still powerless unless he has the cooperation of a willing subject. A man (or woman!) has to decide first for himself to do good or evil and if the latter, ends up falling prey to the prince of lies. And though many have gone under, others have managed to defy and free themselves from Lucifer’s clutches as had Marvel’s Ghost Rider and even the devil’s own offspring, the Son of Satan!
That said, the prince of lies is not without his methods of persuasion. Sometimes it can take the form of temptation as it did when he first tried to win the soul of the Silver Surfer (Satan’s first appearance in the guise of Mephisto was in 1968 with Silver Surfer #3) or in the use of logic and philosophy as he once tried against both Dracula and Dr. Strange. But no matter the suavity and sophistication Satan might display on the surface, you can bet your bottom dollar (but hopefully, not your soul!) that he’s literally up to no good!