6 Greatest Henchmen of All Time
It’s about time this blog got around to more actual henchmen fun! I named my blog Henchman-4-Hire for a reason, to revel in the world of minions and middle class super-villainy. These are the sorts of characters I enjoy, much more so than the actual bad guys. The henchmen are just more fun! They do all the dirty work. They get to be where the action is, while their bosses sit up and wait for the final act. Sometimes it’s the henchmen who actually get to develop as characters, because like the hero, the villain is rather static. And sometimes the henchmen are just there as a warm-up act for the hero.
They die inglorious deaths. They never get the girl. Often they’re killed by their own bosses. But still they can become as beloved as the villains themselves.
This is a list of the 6 greatest henchmen in pop culture. From comics to movies to TV, who are the best minions and right-hand men and women? Some of the choices are just my opinion, and just on here for fun. Others have taken the role of henchperson and made something special out of it. There have been tons of henchmen over the years, but these 6, I think, are some of the most memorable. They’ve really made a mark on pop culture.
For the purposes of this list, we’ll focus on individuals rather than entire groups of henchmen. And I’m only choosing characters who are clearly subservient to a lead villain. Sure, Darth Vader followed the Emperor, but Vader was first and foremost the lead villain (or hero of the Star Wars saga, give or take a trilogy).
Now let’s get started!
Honorable mention: Bob, Agent of HYDRA
I wanted to put Bob on this list, but in the end, he simply hasn’t made any sort of mark on pop culture. Besides, he’s become more of a sidekick than a henchman. The reason I’m putting him as an honorable mention is to reveal, once and for all, the identity of the grinning, thumbs-upping image on the front page of this blog. It’s Bob, Agent of HYDRA! Someday I hope to commission an original and unique Henchman for my site, but for now, Bob is filling in.
Bob became an agent of the evil terrorist organization HYDRA because he was looking for a steady job and wanted the dental plan. Eventually he ran into the merc with a mouth, Deadpool, and was coerced into helping Deadpool flee the HYDRA compound. From then on, Bob became Deadpool’s sidekick and was no longer really one of the nameless, faceless henchmen of HYDRA.
Still, I highly salute the idea of taking one of those nameless, faceless henchmen and turning him into an actual character! In fact, that idea pops up later on this list…
6. Bebop and Rocksteady
The classic blundering oaf henchmen, Bebop and Rocksteady are the minions of the Shredder and the sworn enemies of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A mutant warthog and rhino, they were more a comedy duo than an actual menace. But that wasn’t always the case. In the first few episodes of the Ninja Turtles cartoon, these two were actually kind of badass. They were bigger and stronger than the turtles, and they used machine guns. Sure, guns weren’t honorable, but who needs honor? Point was they were an actual threat. But the Turtles kicked their butts easily. Still, Bebop and Rocksteady were so much fun that they stuck around. They could be quite funny.
Their designs are so wonderfully unique. Whereas the Turtles were simple and clean, with matching colored masks and bands, Bebop and Rocksteady couldn’t be more different. Their bodies were oddly shaped and grotesque, covered in hair and warts. Their voices were almost sickly in their awesomeness. They even sounded stupid. And they wore actual clothes. The two had more modesty than the mostly naked Turtles, it seems. Bebop is the 80s punk rocker, and Rocksteady the militaristic gun-nut. Though I can’ t remember if either personality was explored beyond just the look. Maybe Bebop had a boombox with him at some point.
The two were great henchmen because they were loyal and could be put to good use with menial labor. They were great and memorable characters because they were funny, uniquely designed and there was always the far-reaching possibility that they might actually win this time. Heck, they found the Turtles’ secret sewer lair that one time. That’s gotta count for something.
Everybody loves Muttley! Or at least his laugh. Hopefully I’m not dating myself too badly for all the youngsters out there who read my blog, but Muttley was the henchman of Dick Dastardly, creating a classic Hanna-Barbera villain pair. They first appeared in as the villains in Wacky Races in 1968, and went on to star in their own spin-off: Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines. They were World War I Axis pilots trying to kill an Allied carrier pigeon. They chased that pigeon just like Wile E. Coyote chased the Roadrunner, with wacky planes and hijinks. Sort of like how all old cartoons involved chasing to some variety. And it had a great theme song!
Muttley is a great henchman because of his laugh. Everybody remembers that laugh. He couldn’t talk, not even in typical old cartoony doggie speak, but he was nonetheless anthropomorphic. Essentially a little hairy human. It was that laugh, that snicker, that makes him memorable. Uniquely his own and wickedly fun. Definitely a bad guy’s laugh. He also grumbled, usually at Dastardly’s expense. As loyal as Muttley was, he still found it hilarious when Dick failed to catch that pigeon.
In Wacky Races, the pair drove the Mean Machine. It was a purple death rocket-car, with appropriately sinister-looking bat wing spoilers. I can’t remember if they ever won any of the races or not. Surely they must have gotten on big W.
Flying bowler hats! Movie henchmen don’t get any more menacing or memorable than Oddjob from James Bond’s Goldfinger. Voiceless, ruthless and more than a match for Bond in hand-to-hand fighting, Oddjob was the villainous Goldfinger’s go-to guy for all that bad guy stuff. He knocked out Bond and killed that one chick by covering her skin with gold paint. Now that’s a badass and stylish way to kill somebody. It’s not often that fiendish death-traps actually work. Oddjob is the poster boy for menacing right-hand-man. He was mute (except for a few grunts), did as he was told and actually posed a challenge to Bond – and we’re talking Connery’s Bond.
And if we’re talking about stylish ways to kill somebody, it doesn’t get cooler than a flying, deadly bowler hat. Sure he’s a good fighter and stood up to the worst that Bond could throw at him, but the man knows classy. A deadly bowler hat is both stylish and memorable. Oddjob made one appearance in one film, but that bowler hat has survived through the ages. It’s been parodied in everything from Austin Powers to Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers. They even tested his hat-throwing style on Mythbusters! The James Bond series gave the cinema world its best henchmen, and Oddjob stands above them all as one badass mofo.
Starscream may have been Megatron’s right-hand-bot in the original Transformers cartoon, but he’s more famous for always trying to overthrow his boss and take his job. He’s sycophantic only when it suits him, and power hungry the rest of the time. Those qualities were so memorable from the original cartoon that Starscream was one of the few Decepticons in the modern Transformers movies who actually got a name and made return appearances. I think we can all agree that Michael Bay didn’t really care too much about the personalities of the Transformer characters in his movies, let alone how they connected with the original cartoon. But Starscream is so well known in his role as henchman that he’s one of the few Transformers to maintain his own familiar personality. Now that’s staying power.
Starscream has had a number of different versions over the years since Transformers keeps getting rebooted in cartoon after cartoon. But all of his versions usually share the desire to usurp Megatron and become leader of the Decepticons. Starscream believes more in trickery and guile than brute force, and he feels he is vastly superior to Megatron. Still, he’s usually in the subservient role. Even sarcastically sometimes, since he rarely hides his desire to take over. But Megatron knows not to fear Starscream, since Starscream will always toe the line – at least until he is 100% sure that it’s his moment. That’s happened a few times over the years, for a story or two, but most of the time Starscream is the lead henchman.
2. Henchmen #21 and #24
Henchman #21, and to a lesser extent his pal #24, have raised the role of henching to an art form. Not only are they the inspiration for this site’s name, but I’ve actually cosplayed as Henchman #21 at a few comic book conventions. They are hilarious. The Henchmen are supporting characters in the cartoon The Venture Bros., a modern day parody/satire of the old Johnny Quest adventure show. The lead villain on The Venture Bros. is the Monarch, and he has a whole army of butterfy-themed henchmen to carry out his nefarious plans. Just like Bond villains have whole armies of nameless, faceless henchmen (also like HYDRA), the Monarch has his own. Henchmen #21 and #24 started out as just two of many, guys who treat ‘henching’ as something of a 9 to 5 job. That’s where the humor lies.
Check out this brilliant scene of what it’s like to get ready for work.
They’re schlubs whose day job is to dress up like butterfly-men and do their master’s dirty work. One of the humorous aspects of villainy in The Venture Bros. is that there is a rulebook and a supervising agency. There are rules for ‘henching’, rules that must be followed. The two guys have to be loyal to their leader, know what he wants them to do before he does and carry out his orders without question. But they also complain about their uncomfortable costumes, the low pay and the fact that they get beat up by the good guys every time. It’s a brilliantly hilarious satire of what it might really be like to work as one of these super-villain’s henchmen.
And what’s great about these characters is that they’re not being made fun of on the show. Yes they are comedic characters who have silly lives, but the show’s creators treat them with a lot of respect. They know, to some extent, that what they’re doing is silly. But they embrace it whole-heartedly with the love of a true geek. Henchmen 21 and 24 are fully-rounded characters, with hopes, dreams, fears and everything else one might need in life. And when #24 unceremoniously leaves the show at the end of Season Two, #21 has a real emotional reaction. He buffs up and becomes the badass henchman in that picture I posted. They may just be part of the nameless, faceless crowd, but Henchmen 21 and 24 are treated like real people, and the show is more hilarious for that.
The two may not be very well known (though Venture Bros. popularity is growing), but for their contributions to the world of henchmen they deserve the second spot.
While the fanboy in me would like to give them the No. 1 slot, the real choice is by far the greatest henchperson of all time!
1. Harley Quinn
Our own Miss Harley Quinn. The Lady in Red and Black. The single greatest henchperson ever. Just look at that smile, those colors; remember that voice that was so squeaky and yet so awesome at the same time. Harley Quinn is a model that all henchmen should aspire too. Because unlike most other henchmen and women out there – and the reason why she is No. 1 – Harley Quinn has actually equaled, if not surpassed, the popularity of her boss. So much so that in both comics and cartoons, Harley Quinn has a life and stories all her own. She has become a solid, well-rounded character completely separate from her role as henchwoman, but she will forever be known as the Joker’s girl.
Harley Quinn made her debut in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series in the mid-90s. She was created for the show to be the Joker’s henchgirl. Everybody knows the Joker. The Dark Knight is one of the highest grossing movies of all time, and Heath Ledger won that post-humous Oscar for the role. Well the Joker was a big villain in Batman: The Animated Series, and writer Paul Dini needed someone to help Joker with a scheme. He got college pal Arleen Sorkin to do the voice, and gave Harley some of Sorkin’s character traits. The costume and name are, of course, taken from the old timey harlequin characters; which is a great touch, since she’s not just Joker Girl or something lame.
Like how Batman has Robin instead of just Batboy.
From that one appearance, Harley Quinn was a huge hit with the fans! She’s funny and fun, and Sorkin has such an amazing and unique voice for the character. Harley was the Joker’s long-suffering girlfriend. Joker treated her like crap, but she’s psychotically devoted to him like a lovesick puppy. It would be sad and tragic in real life, and sometimes it was in the cartoon too, but it’s mostly played for laughs. There was always a sense that maybe, just maybe, Harley wasn’t just a sycophantic freak. That she had her own personality just below the surface, one that didn’t like how the Joker treated her. That made her immensely sympathetic to the viewer. Still, episode after episode, she worked side-by-side with the Joker, doing his dirty work and often falling victim to some of his practical jokes. She was a great henchperson.
Harley became so popular with the fans that she eventually made the jump from the cartoon to the comics. First was’ Mad Love’, written and drawn by Dini and Bruce Timm, the lead designer/producer of the show. It told the tragic origin of how Dr. Harleen Quinzel was the Joker’s psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, and how he played to her sympathies with fake stories of his childhood, eventually getting her to fall in love with him and help him escape. From then on she was hooked! ‘Mad Love’ was a huge success, and it wasn’t long before Harley appeared in the actual Batman comic books. She kept the same origin and costume, she just started appearing alongside the Joker as his henchgirl in the normal comics continuity. People loved her!
She even got her own ongoing comic book for awhile. It ran for 38 issues.
Harley was so popular that she was going to be one of the villains in the proposed fifth Batman movie from the mid-90s. Remember Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, those horrible bombs that killed the franchise? Well Hollywood was planning a fifth: Batman Triumphant. Harley was going to be one of the villains, re-written as the Joker’s daughter come back for revenge. But the incredibly negative reaction to Batman and Robin sunk Batman Triumphant before it ever went into production. We know Harley was going to be a villain because a script was written that would have teamed with her Scarecrow and possibly Man-Bat. She coulda been a star!
Instead, it was the cartoon episode ‘Harley and Ivy’ that really upped Harley’s profile.
In the episode, Harley is kicked out of their lair by an angry Joker. Alone, Harley runs into fellow Bat-villain Poison Ivy and the two team-up in a Girl Power sort of crime spree. Poison Ivy was a well-established Bat-villain at the time, both in the cartoon and in the comics. But some genius at Batman: The Animated Series (Dini again, I believe) decided to team the two female characters up for an episode like Thelma & Louise. The pair were an immediate hit! Soon Harley and Ivy were teaming up in the comics, and their friendship became something unique among villains. They really were friends. They didn’t just stab each other in the back. Suddenly Harley had a life outside of the Joker. Soon, both in the cartoon and the comic, she’s going on solo adventures and openly opposing the Joker at times.
And that’s why Harley Quinn is the greatest henchperson of all time. Created as a one-off character for a single episode, she soon sky-rockets in popularity until she had her own life, her own friends and her own stories completely free of her original boss. Yet she was never a bad henchperson. She wasn’t trying to usurp the Joker. In fact, she still loves him in that weird, twisted way of theirs. So she will always be linked to the Joker, always be his right-hand-lady. But she’s more than earned her own spot as one of Batman’s most popular villains.
Of course, with popularity comes bastardization.
What’s that? A writer has created a unique and excitingly fun character, with an awesome costume and style? And the fanboys love her? Hey marketing executives, what else do we think fanboys love? By jove, you’re right! Fanboys are just perverted fat guys living in their parents’ basements who only buy comics to look at the sexy women. Quick, somebody completely alter the wonderful Harley Quinn so that she’s nothing more than a hideous pin-up doll! Those perverts will love her even more now!
So what do you think of my list? Did I truly pick the 6 Greatest Henchmen of All Time? Did I miss any of your favorites? Let me hear about it in the comments!