My 6 Favorite Villains
What makes a favorite villain? How do I choose? I came across an AskReddit thread the other day asking people for their favorite villains, and it made me pause. Who were my favorite villains in pop culture? I could tell you dozens of my favorite heroes, both large and small, most of whom I connect with on a personal level. But for some reason, I couldn’t think of any real villains that I would consider my “favorite”. I couldn’t think of any villain characters that I had a real connection with or interest in.
So I gave it a lot more thought and I think I’ve come up with a pretty solid list.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of bad guys I like. Magneto is probably the greatest comic book super-villain of all time, and I love the character, but I don’t have any real personal interest in Magneto. Darth Vader is probably the greatest villain in pop culture history, but I’ve never really cared about Vader (though his recent revival has been awesome).
Al Swearengen in Deadwood is a phenomenal villain who I really liked on the show, but again, not a character I connect with on a personal level — plus he was kind of a hero by the end. Heck, a lot of good villains I like end up being converted to the side of the angels by the end, or I only really started caring about them when they became heroes, like Ben Linus on Lost.
I think I’ve come up with a pretty solid list. Here are six(ish) villains who stay villains (so far) and who I do like as characters on a personal level. I’m surprised at how difficult it was to make this list, but I’m happy with it. Be prepared for some long-winded explanations.
And please feel free to share your own favorite villains in the comments!
I love video games. But as I thought back to all the great games I’ve played over the years, I couldn’t really think of any villains I liked. And most of the villains I’m interested in, I only like them for their heroic aspects, or I despite their villainy. Smoke is often portrayed as a villain in the Mortal Kombat games, but I specifically love him because he’s a really a good guy. I like anti-heroes and mysterious adversaries in video games. I don’t particularly like any of the outright villains.
Except Wario. He’s my guy. Whenever it comes time to pick a Mario Kart driver or a tennis player, I always pick Wario, even if he’s not the best. He’s a funny-looking little troll dude, and he’s just plain great.
Wario is definitely my favorite character in the Mario Universe, and not just because he’s a funny Bizarro-version of Mario. I love Wario because Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins for the original Game Boy was the first Mario game I ever actually owned. And I loved that game! I knew every secret on every level. I replayed it over and over again. I nearly broke the Game Boy’s processor the one time I tried to collect every turtle shell in one level and send them all racing back and forth in a tiny little hole — it was awesome! You’re looking at a guy who never got to play the original Mario games unless I was over at a friend’s house, and even then it was only the first level or two.
6 Golden Coins was my jam, and Wario was the main bad guy. None of that Bowser vs. Princess Toadstool nonsense. My game featured an evil version of Mario and he was cool as heck! He could even gain the same powers as Mario, like the fireball. And then he went on to star in his own super fun games! Wario is just plain great!
5. Obergruppenführer John Smith and
Inspector Takeshi Kido
I don’t think I’ve given myself a chance to gush about one of my new favorite TV shows, The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime, so here we go. Two seasons have come out so far, with more on the way, and those two seasons are absolutely worth using up your free 30-day Amazon Prime membership trial to watch. Season 2 was the best show on TV last year, and I haven’t felt this emotionally invested in a prestige drama in years. I love this show so much.
And that has to do, in large part, to the lead villains, Nazi Obergruppenführer John Smith and Japanese Inspector Takeshi Kido. What High Castle has done with these two evil characters is nothing short of brilliance.
If you have yet to see The Man in the High Castle, SPOILERS to follow. I seriously urge you to go watch it before reading this entry. Skip ahead to #4.
It’s a show about an alternate history where the Axis powers won World War II and conquered America. The Nazis control everything east of the Rocky Mountains and the Japanese Empire controls everything to the west. The show is set at least a decade after the war, so life in these territories under these new regimes is pretty much set. This is just how the world is now. There is an American resistance force, but they’re low key domestic terrorists. The show isn’t about the heroic American Resistance battling the evil Nazis and Japanese.
But it could have been, and it would have been so easy to make a show like that.
Instead, The Man in the High Castle introduces a diverse cast of characters and begins weaving them around one another as it tells its story. Some of the characters are pure heroes. Some are conflicted heroes. Some are jerks. Some are smudged saints. Some are just crazy. Some are cruel. Some are just following orders.
The beauty is that the show goes to great lengths to upend our expectations. The handsome, conflicted villain who falls in love with the heroine? Surely he’s going to end up being a good guy, right? Nope! He’s a dumbass who gets twisted up in all the wrong ways. Or what about the handsome white guy whose family is killed by the bad guys and who joins the American Resistance. Surely he’s the hero, right? Nope! He’s a bitter jerk whose actions end up being more selfish than noble.
The important thing is, these characters all have their role to play in the larger narrative. Everyone is wound together, placed like dominos in the correct order so that, when the climax arrives, everything plays out like a masterful symphony of action and drama.
And in the most surprising roles of all are Obergruppenführer John Smith and Inspector Takeshi Kido.
Smith is the Nazi leader in the America, based in New York City. Kido is the chief police investigator of the Japanese forces in San Francisco. They are unquestionably villains and are presented as such. They whole-heartedly support and believe in their respective evil empires and they go out of our way to torture, maim and endanger the show’s ‘heroes’. Kido is responsible for killing that one man’s family, after all. They are not nice guys.
But as the story plays out over the two seasons, we begin to get a better sense of their mettle. The overall plot involves several high-ranking members of the Nazi Party who want to provoke a war with Japan, during which they can crush their one-time allies and conquer the entire world, instead of sharing it. Basically, they are even eviler Nazis.
Neither Smith or Kido want war. It would be devastating, because the Eviler Nazis have no problem using nuclear weapons on Japanese cities. And as the story progresses, Smith and Kido must step up and do their part to stop the impending war, but at the same time, they don’t switch sides and join the American Resistance or anything so simple. They don’t start working with the ostensible ‘heroes’. Both men stay true to their respective sides, both men remain ‘bad guys’, but they take the steps they must take to ensure the safety of the world. In fact, the shows ‘heroes’ have smaller roles to play than Smith and Kido. The fate of the entire world comes down to the quick thinking and noble cores of these two villains — and it’s amazing.
My rambling is not doing it justice. Watch the show and be amazed at how easy it is to root for a Nazi officer to save the world.
Smith and Kido are such fascinatingly deep characters. They are clearly the villains on the show, set in their horrible ways. But in those wicked lives, they are still human beings. They are still capable of making choices for the greater good, capable of being selfish and flawed. They are still capable of choosing family over ideology. The show could have so easily just made them simple bad guys, a Nazi and a cruel police officer, but instead it made them people.
4. Joker from The Dark Knight
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I don’t particularly care for the Joker. He’s just not my cup of tea. Not in the comics, not in the cartoons and not in the movies — at least not until The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger’s Joker rewrote the entire playbook, not just for the character, but for movie super-villains in general. It’s no shocker that the world loves Heath Ledger’s Joker, so I’m not really rocking the boat on this one. But he’s probably my favorite movie villain of all time. He’s cooler, wilder and more dangerous than Darth Vader or Hannibal Lecter or Freddy Krueger or Hans Gruber or anyone you want to know. The Joker in The Dark Knight is the Joker defined. He’s super-villiainy defined. He’s movie character defined.
Now if only the Marvel Cinematic Universe could provide as villain as amazing as him.
3. David the Animorph
I am a self-professed lover of The Animorphs book series that came out when I was a kid, and I know I’m not alone. Animorphs was great! You can’t convince me otherwise. And I’m really curious why we don’t have a new Netflix show or a movie right about now. It’s the perfect time to cash in on the nostalgia. But whatever. That’s another list for another time.
The Animorphs was about five ordinary teenagers who are given the power to transform into animals in order to fight off an alien invasion. They were given this power by the good guy aliens to fight the bad guy aliens. This led to a huge Young Adult book series where the kids juggle their private lives with their alien war, with a focus on how this effects their ordinary teenage lives. It was great. There were all sorts of great bad guys in the book, from Visser Three to the Hork-Bajir to the Crayak, but my favorite was David the Evil Animorph.
David was a new kid at school who just happened to find the alien device that gave the Animorphs their powers. Once the bad guys figured out he had the device, they tore David’s life apartment, forcing him on the run with our heroes. Being kids themselves, they had no idea what to do for David other than to give him the power and let him tag along, hopefully ignoring the fact that his family and life were gone. David already had an attitude problem, and suddenly having these strangers enlist him into their war and tell him what to do didn’t fly with him.
I’m pretty sure I especially loved David because I’ve always been a fan of the ‘bonus’ member of any team, at least since the Green Ranger became the sixth Power Ranger. So obviously I was pre-disposed to love the sixth Animorph. And yeah, David turned against the team and tried to kill them, only to end up with an even more tragic defeat, but he was still a great character. David had a whole trilogy of books devoted to him, with an epilogue book later down the line. He was a big deal, and he was a pretty cool jerkass.
2. Darth Maul
That double-bladed lightsaber really did a number on me. I was no big Star Wars fan growing up. I’d seen most of the original trilogy and liked the series just fine, but it wasn’t until the Prequels that my love of Star Wars really started ramping up — and I remain a Prequels apologist to this day. Darth Maul is only a minor character in The Phantom Menace, but he makes such a wonderful impression. Just think of how impossible it must have been to design a follow-up to Darth Vader. How do you create a character who fills the same niche as Vader, but somehow also stands apart and perhaps even stands equal?
Darth Maul pulls it off, in my humble opinion. Obviously he’s not as iconic as Vader, but he accomplished everything he needed to accomplish in The Phantom Menace. He’s evil and scary, with an instantly iconic and terrifying look. His double-bladed lightsaber is just plain cool, there’s no denying that. And he uses it in one of the best lightsaber fights of the Prequels. It’s the fight that elevated lightsaber fights to the art form they are today (the lightsaber fights in the OT are fine, but they’re still just guys smashing sticks at each other (and yes, I realize that the prequels went too far with the fights by the end)). Darth Maul is a pure, action badass.
It helps that he was introduced at around the time I was getting into the Expanded Universe, and there were some good early Darth Maul stuff. Like the novel, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, and the original Darth Maul comic from Dark Horse.
That solidified my love for the character.
I completely agree that it was pure fan service to bring Maul back in The Clone Wars cartoon, but I still enjoyed it. They gave him a solid origin story and made him a pretty badass villain for a few seasons. They even pit him against Palpatine in a really cool duel. But the resurrected Maul really came into his own in Star Wars: Rebels, elevating that show into something truly awesome.
In Rebels, Maul is an old man, but still dangerous. He’s seeking revenge against pretty much everybody, and he stands a pretty good chance of swaying the cartoon’s main character, Ezra, to the Dark Side. It doesn’t work, of course. But Ezra’s story is made infinitely cooler by the addition of Darth Maul, especially since the show puts Maul in a more thoughtful role instead of just making him a villain they need to fight. Maul actually gets to interact with the main characters, really fleshing him out.
And his death scene is perfect. Not the one from Phantom Menace, his real death scene.
I’m kind of surprised that the Blob ended up being my favorite villain of all time, but I suppose it makes sense. My reasons for liking the Blob are probably the strongest on this list. My love of the Blob also kind of extends to other members of the Brotherhood of Mutants, like Toad, Pryo, Avalanche and a couple others. They’re a good group of villains.
I love the Blob for a lot of reasons. We’re both a couple of fatties, and fat people don’t get a lot of comic book characters, so I suppose there’s that. I loved him in the ’90s X-Men cartoon, where he was a big, funny asshole of a guy. He was even kind of OK in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, though the less said about that the better.
The main reason I love the Blob is because, there but for the grace of God, he could have been an X-Man.
What I mean by that is Blob is just an ordinary mutant, pretty much like all of the other X-Men. When it comes to super-teams, the X-Men have a pretty specific and pretty low bar for membership. The Avengers, the Defenders, the Justice League, the Justice Society, the Teen Titans and most other teams are collaborations between the greatest superheroes. They’re all good guys with unique origins that band together to fight evil. But that isn’t how the X-Men were formed. The X-Men are basically just a team of mutants banding together to support other mutants.
And Blob fits that criteria. In fact, in his fist appearance all the way back in Uncanny X-Men #3 in the 1960s, the X-Men met the Blob while trying to recruit him to the team. It just so happened that the Blob was too much of an asshole to get along with anybody else, and the X-Men gave him the boot. So instead, Blob hooked up with Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
That kind of encapsulates why I love the X-Men as well. They don’t have some epic origin with dead parents or a desire to save the world from threats no single hero could tackle. They are just people whose minority status happens to involve super-powers and who decide to join together for support. And their best villains — the Brotherhood — are just like them, but with conflicting personalities or views of the world. I don’t really care for the weirder X-Men villains, like Mojo or the Brood or the Shi’ar or any of that nonsense. Give me a good moral argument between the X-Men and the Brotherhood and I’m sold.
And that’s why I love the Blob. He’s not a despot or a maniac or a psychopathic villain trying to take over the world or kill everybody. He’s just a mutant with a bad attitude. And while it’s never really happened with the Blob specifically, similar characters like Toad and Avalanche have been shown to be able to put aside their differences and work with the X-Men. Because they’re all just mutants. They’re all just folk.
Blob is just another guy. And sure he’s bigger than most and is kind of an asshole, but like all good X-Men characters, what makes this mutant so special is that he’s just as human as anybody else.
Huzzah! This was my 300th List of Six (give or take any previous lists I forgot to sort into the proper category)! It’s been a blast writing them all, and I’m not about to stop now!
And don’t forget to share your own favorite villains in the comments below!