Renovating a Rogues Gallery: What Makes a Lasting Villain?

When it comes to superhero comic books, it is not only the hero that hooks the reader. No, there is more to it than that. There are also the villains, those figures who exemplify wickedness and the darker impulses of mankind that stand in opposition to our champions of justice. They can grip a reader’s attention in a multitude of ways, from colorful personalities to fascinating concepts to even serving as a dark reflection of our hero. After all, what is the selfless might of Superman without the selfish brain of Lex Luthor? What is Batman’s battle for order without the Joker’s war for chaos? These heroes shine when brought to battle against the villains who threaten their world, with some even amassing a collection of villains who they regularly fight. These hordes, these rogues galleries, are just as much a part of these comics as the heroes. However, how do they form? What makes one villain stick when ten others will fall into obscurity? In truth, there are a multitude of factors that can make a villain pop and connect as part of a rogues gallery. To examine this subject, I will use some newer villains that have become threats for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.

In Superman’s rogues gallery, one new addition has been the supervillain Livewire. First introduced in Superman: the Animated Series, Leslie Willis was a Metropolis shock jock who delighted in mocking anyone. In particular, she loved to tear into Superman and mock his do-good attitude. During a live concert to hype up her show, a lightning storm broke out and threatened to harm the crowd. Before one such bolt could strike Willis, Superman had arrived to save her. However, as he was saving her, a bolt struck Superman and the shock transferred through to Willis. Waking up in the hospital, she had found that she had become ghostly pale, her hair turned a bright shade of blue, and she could even control electricity. With her new powers, she set out to knock Superman down a few pegs. Now, she has quickly become a steady member of Superman’s more prominent foes, and for good reason. Not only do her powers allow a writer to come up with some visually interesting battles against Superman, she also offers a good personality counterpoint. Superman is a figure known for his dedication to goodness, to helping out others however he can. It is fitting, then, for there to be a villain who would start out already possessing a cynical attitude towards that. With this combination, Livewire has earned a spot fast among Superman’s villains. She was eventually brought into the comics, has appeared in numerous video games, and has even been a recurring threat in the Supergirl television series. Of course, Superman is not the only one with new threats.

In the world of Batman, one of the more recent foes to gain traction is Professor Pyg. First introduced in comics back in 2007, Professor Pyg’s back story is sparse. What little is known is that his real name is Lazlo Valentin and that he was part of a secret spy organization, before he was exposed to his own personality-eroding drug. These days, he has taken on the name of Professor Pyg and he seeks to make people perfect. He does this by subjecting them to a horrible surgical procedure that turns them into his loyal Dollotrons, lobotomized pawns with masks seared into their skin. Now, there are two factors that have made him stand out fast in the crowd. Firstly, there is the chilling nature of Professor Pyg. Though he is insane like many Batman villains, he is not portrayed the same as them. Many of Batman’s villains have their insanity showcased like many villains in media: eccentric and out there, but still largely in control of their faculties. Professor Pyg, on the other hand, seems genuinely disturbed.  His lilting, almost world-salad-like speech patterns give his dialogue a stilted, off-center quality, along with the horrific nature of his actions. However, it is not merely the horror that makes him stand out. After all, there are plenty of failed Batman villains who simply operate as murderers or torturers. It is his goal that helps offer him a chance to shine on. Like many of Batman’s rogues, Professor Pyg has a particular gimmick and endgoal that helps to offer personality to his actions. He does not commit his crimes merely to be sadistic. In this case, it is to serve his pursuit of making people perfect, even through horrific means. The end result of these two factors, of the horror and the gimmick, is a villain that feels like a more realistic variation of the classic Batman villain mold. His presence has been growing, as he has been making regular appearances in the comics, served as a major antagonist in the one-season long Beware the Batman cartoon, and was the subject of a side quest in the Batman: Arkham Knight video game. Now, I have discussed Superman and Batman foes. It is time for me to bring up a newer Wonder Woman villain.

Among the many foes of Wonder Woman, a newer threat that has emerged is Veronica Cale. Once a poor white trash girl, Veronica Cale worked hard and rose up in the world to become a scientific genius. She would even go on to co-found Cale-Anderson Pharmaceuticals, becoming a real success story thanks to her hard work and dedication. However, it is not enough for Cale. She wants to take Wonder Woman down. She sees Wonder Woman as someone who got by with incredible gifts, instead of having to struggle and work hard to earn her place. She sees Wonder Woman’s message of peace as pathetic, considering it so easy to preach such a message when you possess the might to force it. For Cale, she believes that if anyone should be the “Wonder Woman”, it should be her. Now, she makes for an interesting addition to Wonder Woman’s villains. Plenty of them possess great power, such as Cheetah’s animal-inspired abilities or Circe’s mystic spells. Some serve as good ideological counterpoints, such as Ares and his obsession with war or Dr. Psycho and his insane misogynistic streak. Very few specifically oppose her place as a feminist icon. More than that, she challenges Wonder Woman using nothing more than her genius, a skillful manipulation of media, and just the right partnership with powerful criminals. This offers her an interesting facet to explore as an opponent of Wonder Woman, as it allows for examining the nature of what makes an inspiring figure. Wonder Woman may possess powers and gifts that have aided her quest of justice, but it is her actions that make her such a beloved female hero and feminist icon. In comparison, Veronica Cale may have made her success with her own two hands and determination, but her desire to be a feminist icon comes from a selfish place and feeling that she deserves such recognition. Thus, she has earned herself a spot among prominent Wonder Woman villains, ever since her introduction in comics in 2003.

Within the world of superhero comics, plenty of supervillains have risen to prominence and become eternal thorns to these great heroes. Whether it is through compelling powers mixed with interesting personality, an inspired variation on a familiar archetype, or a way to explore a different facet of a hero, these villains grab the reader’s attention and ensure that they will stick around.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s