10 Insanely Creepy Comic-Book Supervillains
After David Tennant's dark turn as the mind-controlling Kilgrave on Netflix’s Jessica Jones, Season 2 of Netflix's Daredevil (now streaming) may seem a little tame on the villain front.
Sure, there's an army of ninjas called the Hand, which can occasionally revive the dead; a vigilante named the Punisher, who murders criminals to avenge the death of his family; and a beautiful assassin named Elektra with ties to Daredevil's Matt Murdock: all plenty of fun, but a snooze compared to Kilgrave, or even Daredevil's first-season big bad, Kingpin (Vincent D'Onofrio).
Comic books -- and the increasing number of movies and TV shows based on them -- have given us plenty of supervillains who are sadomasochists with a taste for cosplay, but not all of the genre's bad guys have been mind-controlling monsters (though wait until you meet the Mandrill).
Here's a sampling of some seriously dysfunctional characters who have made their way through comics (and occasionally onto the screen -- don't let us down, Preacher), ranked from pretty creepy to downright terrifying.
10. The Joker (Batman)
There's no way you could do a list of deviant characters from mainstream comics without including the Joker. Ever since his first appearance in 1940, where he began using a lethal gas that made his victims die with giant smiles on their faces, the signature villain in nearly every Batman movie, live-action TV series, or cartoon has been a serial killer with style.
There's probably no purer example of the character's Dexter-times-Hannibal-squared madness than Batman: The Killing Joke. This controversial comic from 1988, written by Watchmen's Alan Moore and with art by Brian Bolland, included the Joker crippling and violating Batgirl Barbara Gordon (which involved him taking explicit photos of her naked, bleeding body) and also imprisoning and torturing her father, Commissioner Gordon. An animated direct-to-video movie based on the comic is in the works, though the R rating the content demands may be a hard sell.
9. Golden Glider (The Flash)
Flash comics of the '70s could hardly have been more different from the CW's The Flash, as its titular hero is a dull, married suburbanite. Efforts to spice up Flash's adventures included his wife being murdered (she got better), Angel Dust, and his Rogues Gallery of supervillains adding some unexpected relationship drama. When the figure-skating Golden Glider joined the Rogues, she was dating another Rogue, the Top.
The Top died while fighting the Flash, and GG became completely unhinged, eventually turning a hapless patsy into a superhero called the Ringmaster in hopes that Flash's wife would dump him for the new hero. But Glider unexpectedly fell for Ringmaster as well, adding further complications to a story that would have already demanded years of counseling for everyone involved. Sadly, the CW version of the Glider lacks both skating imagery and obsessive love issues.
8-7. Dr. Alchemy and Mr. Element (The Flash)
If you thought the problem with the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was that they weren't both evil monsters, then this pair introduced during DC Comics' Silver Age in the late 1950s is just for you. Albert Desmond was a man with a split personality who used his knowledge of chemistry to commit daring crimes as Mr. Element.
One day, he found the fabled Philosopher's Stone, which gave him the power to transform elements into other elements. Then he became an entirely different villain named Dr. Alchemy. Apparently, both personalities were characterized by a tendency toward bad aliases.
6. Maxima (Superman)
One of the classic conundrums with the Superman-Lois Lane romance (once readers were old enough to really think about it) was whether or not they could consummate their relationship. Sci-fi author Larry Niven wrote a famous -- and profoundly disturbing -- 1969 essay on the subject, “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex.” Beyond that, jokes about Kryptonite condoms and the occasional “maybe Superman and Wonder Woman should get together instead” musings were about as far as that line of inquiry went... until the introduction of Maxima. A super-strong va-va-voom alien queen who needed to find a worthy mate to extend her lineage, her obsession led her straight to Superman. The character eventually appeared in a Cinemax-worthy turn on Smallville (a show that tastefully dealt with similar issues in other episodes by using heat vision as a metaphor for premature ejaculation), but the idea of a baby-crazed superwoman wanting to make Superman an absentee dad was just messed up, in any medium.
5. Mastermind (X-Men)
Introduced the same year as Kilgrave (1964 was a good year for mind control, apparently) in the pages of The X-Men, Mastermind earned membership in the “Brotherhood of Evil Mutants” with his ability to project vivid, realistic illusions. In the 1980s, an amped-up version of the character -- who could send his illusions directly into his victims' minds -- kicked off the series' best-selling “Dark Phoenix Saga” by using his powers to gradually and completely seduce Jean Grey, a.k.a. Phoenix, into a whole range of romance-novel-type situations, until he “persuaded” her to join the S&M-inflected “Hellfire Club” as its “Black Queen.” His tampering would eventually unleash the full extent of her godlike powers, leading to the deaths of millions of innocent beings around the universe. Smooth.
4. The Mandrill (The Defenders)
Adolescent-male mind-control fantasies came with a price in the case of Mandrill. With scent-based powers that only worked on women and a physical deformity that made him look like his animal namesake, the Mandrill wasn't exactly getting the best tables at the hottest restaurants, no matter who he could get to smell him. But the perks of being able to skip out on cab fare...
... and assemble a "Fem Force" that looked like extras from an aerobics video ...
... didn't make life easy for the Mandrill, and his own mother eventually shot him. Family therapy was called for. Lots of it.
3. Sleez (Superman)
Even in an industry where villain names are as unsubtle as “Doctor Doom,” Sleez stands out. A 1980s character connected to the New Gods family of characters created by comics legend Jack Kirby in the ‘70s, Sleez lived in the sewers of Metropolis, literally feeding on people’s emotions. Upon introduction, he manipulated Superman and the statuesque New God Big Barda into, um, making a porn film together. Seriously. But since he used mind control, apparently, no harm was done, and it was never mentioned again.
Big Barda has been victimized (beyond that name) a few other times, such as that time the shape-shifting Plastic Man disguised himself as her dress:
But being a superhero gets Plas a pass on the “perv” label, as it would most anyone, right? Well, anyone except...
2. Bueno Excellente (Hitman)
Just to be clear, this character is intended to be a joke, a member of the misfit (at best) superhero team Section Eight, introduced in the pages of the 1990s DC Comics series Hitman, and revived as part of the recent All-Star Section Eight miniseries. While his powers are never exactly shown, they come from a pretty specific place...
Bueno is the creation of artist John McCrea and writer Garth Ennis, who also penned Preacher, a mature-readers series whose awesomely perverse characters could have easily filled this whole article. But if you can only cite one Preacher villain as a perv, you’ll have to “meat” the final entry on our list...
1. Odin Quincannon (Preacher)
Like an NC-17 Boss Hogg, Odin Quincannon was the unelected boss of a small Southern town -- in this case, Salvation, Texas. But Quincannon wasn’t merely a thug, and his membership in the Klan was just a piece of his perverted puzzle. It turns out that Odin’s ownership of a local meat-processing plant gave him the opportunity to indulge in an unusual fetish, one that it’s hard to imagine will survive the transition to the upcoming AMC Preacher series (though they’ve cast Watchmen’s Jackie Earle Haley in the role), unless I’ve missed episodes of Walking Dead or Breaking Bad where characters did anything close to having blood-soaked sex with giant statues made of meat from different animals. You’ll never look at a turkey the same way again.
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Ivan Cohen is a freelance pop-culture journalist who has written comic books and cartoons for DC Comics, IDW Publishing, and Warner Bros. Animation. As a child, an episode of Super Friends (where the heroes were replaced by villains via time-travel shenanigans) gave him nightmares. He's on Twitter @ivanmcohen.com.