<p>A hero is defined by his or her villains, and that's especially clear in the world of comic books and genre entertainment. <p>Next month, in fact, the Villains take over at DC Comics, as every series goes on hiatus, replaced for one month by a Villain-centric special. <p>Previously, Newsarama has ranked the individual villains opposing heroes like <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/10-best-spider-man-villains-111108.html>Spider-Man</a>, <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/10-best-batman-villains-111116.html>Batman</a>, <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/10-greatest-justice-league-villains-120126.html>the Justice League</a> and <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/10-greatest-avengers-villains-120111.html>the Avengers</a>. This time around, we take a look back at which character has the best rogues gallery as a whole, pitting different pop cultural franchises against each other.
Are Darkwing Duck's archenemies an odd choice to start out our countdown of the greatest rogue's galleries in pop culture? Perhaps, but when you look at the evidence, it all makes sense. <p>Drawing from the enemies of characters like Batman, Spider-Man, Superman and the Flash, Darkwing Duck's nemeses are some of the most colorful, recognizable, and ingenious pastiches of popular villains ever conceived. Like the hero himself, villains like Negaduck, Bushroot, the Liquidator, Megavolt, Quackerjack, Tuskernini, and Moliarty draw on age-old traditions of not just comic books, but detective fiction, pulp novels and sci-fi stories. Five of them even banded together to form the Fearsome Five, a cartoon spin on Spider-Man's foes the Sinister Six. They may be funny, furry, and sometimes goofy, but the villains that populate St. Canard embody some of the boldest archetypes in comics and cartoons.
Daredevil may have one of the oddest and most eclectic collections of villains in all of comics. Though he started out facing enemies that had previously debuted in Spider-Man and other Marvel titles, Hornhead quickly began facing off against a litany of characters too weird to be pulpy, too pulpy to be true supervillains. <p>Dardevil's rogues range from the truly bizarre, such as Stilt-Man, the Matador, or the Ani-Men, to the psychotic, such as Bullseye, Nuke, or the Purple Man, to crime lords like the Kingpin, or the Owl, and to villains that embody concepts as elemental as Mr. Fear or the Jester. As odd and unconventional as they may be, Daredevil's villains are never mistaken, and suit their alternately brooding and swashbuckling nemesis to a perfect "T." And hey, where else are you going to find not one, but <i>two</i> frog-themed villains in one rogues gallery?
They may not be as recognizable as some of their contemporaries, but the enemies of Iron Man are almost as perfect a realization of a concept as have ever crossed paths with a hero. Conceived in the darkest part of the cold war, Iron Man is a representation of the American arms race, and the quest for industrial superiority. To that end, most of his most iconic adversaries are rival scientists, spies, and soldiers from well beyond the iron curtain. <p>Characters like the Crimson Dynamo, the Titanium Man, and the Unicorn all got their start as Russian infiltrators attempting to steal or destroy Stark technology, and perhaps Iron Man's greatest foe of all, the Mandarin, was a dictator and despot with aims at conquering not just America, but the world from his base in communist China. Of course, the threats aren't always from overseas, as foes such as the Spymaster, Justin Hammer, the Iron Monger, and Madame Masque have all menaced Iron Man from inside the USA. Where ever their origins lie, the enemies of Iron Man are the perfect counterpoint to the themes of technological and ideological superiority that lie at the heart of the Iron Avenger's stories.
OK, so they may not have as many comic book appearances under their belt as even the enemies of, say, Darkwing Duck, but the super-spies and diabolical madmen who live in the world of Ian Fleming's James Bond are easily as iconic and memorable as any super-villains in Marvel or DC's oeuvre. <p>Thugs like Francisco Scaramanga, Jaws, and Odd-Job are as much household names as Bond himself, and masterminds like Auric Goldfinger, Ernst Blofeld, and Dr. No have been parodied, referenced, homaged and portrayed so many times that almost anyone would understand the reference. On top of that, most of them are just damn cool, with gimmicks such as Scaramanga's golden gun, or Jaws' unbreakable teeth setting the standard for high concept espionage intrigue for decades. And, if you're anything like me, you've spent hours trying to get just the right spin on a bowler hat flung off of your head at any number of targets. Cool, calculating, and downright dastardly, the villains of James Bond are some of the most important in the history of fiction.
When it comes to Superman's archenemies, it all comes down to a few names: Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Bizarro, General Zod, and Doomsday. <p>Sure, secondary villains like Metallo, the Parasite, and the Toyman may have a solid reputation among fans, but the aforementioned five are some of the best known, easily recognizable, and highly feared villains in all of comics. Lex Luthor alone could've reached this rank in the list, based solely on the strength of his "brains vs. brawn" relationship with the Man of Steel, but it's the pace-setting ingenuity of characters like the malformed, opposite-speaking Bizarro, and the alien, unassuming Brainiac that really make Superman's rogues a force to be reckoned with, and that's not even mentioning the widespread (but admittedly nerdy) cry of, "Kneel before Zod!" in a moment of triumph, or the instant ubiquity of Doomsday, the villain that murdered Superman. They may not be as numerous or varied as the enemies of Batman or the Flash, but the ideas and concepts that have come from these characters have inspired countless others almost since the beginning of superhero comics.
So the enemies of Dick Tracy aren't a "rogues gallery" per se, and most of them (even the ones most of us would think of first) only showed up in one or two strips throughout the character's history, but without them we wouldn't have nearly as many of the colorful, twisted, and dynamic villains that populate today's comics. <p>Characters with names and personalities tied to their physical features like Pruneface, Flattop, and the Blank undoubtedly paved the way for multitudes of costumed criminals in both comic books and other works of fiction. On their own, they may not have the presence of villains found in other strips, but as a whole, Dick Tracy's gaggle of cleverly nicknamed, physically distinct and ruthlessly demeanored gangsters and thugs set the stage for decades of villains and menaces to follow.
If the fact that the FF count the unimpeachably awesome Dr. Doom as their arch-nemesis wasn't enough to earn them a place on this list, then consider for a moment characters such as Galactus, Annihilus, the Frightful Four, the Super-Skrull, and on and on. <p>Born of a marriage of high-concept sci-fi and traditional super-hero comics, the Fantastic Four have constantly come into conflict with villains as ingenious, despicable, and deadly as they are innovative. Villains like Galactus and the Skrulls redefined what could be done with superhero comics, exploring concepts like the nature of divinity, and identity while simultaneously providing conflicts for some of the most groundbreaking, exciting, and visually electrifying comics ever created. The influence of Dr. Doom alone on popular culture, and the role of super-villains in fiction is almost incalculable, and that's why the villains of the Fantastic Four make this list.
The villains that perhaps coined the term "rogues gallery" in relation to superheroes, the enemies of the Flash are some of the most distinct, elemental, and varied in all of comics. <p>Following the Silver Age concept of sci-fi super-heroes, the Flash's villains were likewise inspired by super science and atomic age theory, giving rise to characters like Captain Cold, whose simple gimmick of a freeze-ray belies a criminal ego the size of Mt. Rushmore, and Gorilla Grodd, a super-intelligent ape with psychic powers. Add to that a bevy of uniquely menacing concepts like the Mirror Master, who uses illusions and mirrors to vex the Scarlet Speedster, and Captain Boomerang, who utilizes an arsenal of trick boomerangs, and there are almost no other heroes who can boast an enemies-list as colorful, unique, and enduring as the Flash. <p>Sure, there are also duds like the Turtle Man, who was so slow that the super fast Flash didn't know how to deal with him, but for every guy like that, there's a character as deep and layered as the Trickster, or the Pied Piper, two of comics' first reformed villains. Even though the man on the street may not know exactly who Professor Zoom (though the recent <i>Flashpoint</i> movie helped his Q rating) or the Weather Wizard are, there are very few rogues galleries as fun, innovative, and iconic as that of the Flash.
The Dark Knight Detective is one of comics' most enduring, most iconic, and most popular characters, and none of that would be possible without the denizens of Gotham City's dense and dangerous underworld. Batman may be a household name, but the Joker, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Catwoman, Two-Face, and the Riddler are just as recognizable, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. <p>Start digging deeper, and you'll find villains like the Scarecrow, Ra's al-Ghul, Clayface, Killer Croc, and Harley Quinn, all of whom boast a level of infamy almost unmatched in comics. Batman's villains aren't just well known; they are brilliant examinations of aspects of Batman himself, from the Joker's exploration of loss of control, to the Scarecrow's use of fear as a weapon, to the Riddler's obsession with puzzles and clues, each of the Caped Crusader's nemeses embodies a direction that Batman himself could have taken, if not for his discipline, determination and unfailing sense of justice.
All right, I'll get this out of the way first: there's always going to be a debate as to whether Spider-Man actually has the best villains, or whether that dubious distinction belongs to our number two contender, Batman. <p>It's as old a debate as Star Wars vs. Star Trek, the Rolling Stones vs. the Beatles, or any of the countless pop culture feuds that predominate our comic shops, record stores, and living rooms around the world. That said, here's why the deadly foes of Spider-Man come first on this list. The main factor is their connection to Spider-Man. From his arch-enemy the Green Goblin, who was secretly his best friend's father, to the Lizard, who started out as his high school chemistry teacher, to Dr. Octopus, who once dated his dear old Aunt May, no other hero has as personal a connection to his adversaries and the conflicts they embody as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. <p>On top of that, villains like the Sandman, Venom, Electro, the Rhino, Mysterio, and the Vulture are as simple, elegant and creative as comic book characters get. You can look at any Spider-Man villain and almost instantly understand the concept at hand, and find yourself immersed in the world of the Webslinger. <p>Further, there's a thematic element of science gone wrong to all of Spidey's foes that underlines the core ideal of his adventures: that with great power there must also come great responsibility, and that those who have the strength to help others have an obligation to do so. Spider-Man's foes are, like him, great men with great minds, great power, and great determination. The thin line that separates the hero from the villain is simply the sense of responsibility that guides one to use those gifts for good.