Once upon a time, supervillains were plentiful in comics, and each one could be easily recognized and described in an epithet of a few words based on their names. Hence, you hear the name “Captain Cold” and you immediately think, “Oh yeah, ice powers,” or when you hear “Gorilla Grodd,” you immediately think, “gorilla.” You don’t hear Captain Cold and think “flamethrower,” or Gorilla Grodd and say “human?” Supervillains, especially in the Golden and Silver Ages, each had a schtick where, when you saw them on the cover, you knew what you’d be getting. The kitsch factor for such characters was through the roof!
Nowadays, (sorry if I sound geriatric) supervillains, like the comic medium itself, have become more serious and, I must say, less fun. It’s no longer so easy to remember who each villain is, or what their powers are. I constantly confuse The Black Glove, The Black Hand, and Black Mask. Even Spider-Man’s recognizable Rogue’s gallery has become confusing: Mac Gargan, the former Scorpion, is now Venom, there’s a new female Scorpion, and Eddie Brock, the original Venom, is now Anti-Venom. What’s worse is, to accomodate the seriousness of modern comics, so many of the classic kitschy villains have been more or less fazed out, forced to make the occasional, underwhelming, obligatory cameo. I for one would like to see a return of the novelty villains. Here’s the top five supervillains I’d like to see return to comics.
#5: The Penguin
My theory is that Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, was created as a rather mean-spirited caricature of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Today, FDR is one of our most beloved presidents. He brought an end to The Great Depression and saw America through a very terrifying world war. It’s weird to think people can possibly dislike FDR, but some have, even in the comics industry. One strange example: Little Orphan Annie (look it up!). Grant Morrison, in his book Supergods, has described Batman as originally a capitalist superhero. He was a billionaire who beat up on petty criminals. It’s only fitting then that his nemesis would be someone similar to FDR who taxed the rich and gave huge amounts of money to federal projects and welfare. Anyone who raises taxes is inevitably seen as a crook, and that’s exactly what The Penguin represents. He might be a cruel caricature of a democrat, but I can’t help but say I want to see more of him.
#4: Mole Man
What I love about Mole Man is that you never know what to expect with him. Like The Penguin, Mole Man isn’t a physically imposing villain, but he’s the ultimate rabble-rouser, a demagogue. As his appearances in Fantastic Four comics suggests, he has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of subterranean cronies who run the gamut of puny, bug-eyed humanoids to giant monstronsities. In recent years, after fighting the Fantastic Four so many times, he’s become a minor threat, but I’d like to see him make a comeback.
#3: Monsieur Mallah and The Brain
Originally, Monsieur Mallah and the Brain were a crime duo thought up by Grant Morrison during his years writing for Doom Patrol. Considering how Doom Patrol was a team of some of the weirdest characters in the DCU, it was only fitting they had weird enemies. Monsieur Mallah and The Brain were definitely that. Mallah is a gorilla who dresses like a communist rebel (most likely a pun on “gorilla” and “guerilla”), and The Brain is, well, a brain in a jar–the brains of the operation. In a weirder twist, they were also lovers. After Grant stopped writing Doom Patrol, it seemed no other writer wanted to touch them until years later when writers Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges reintroduced them as part of their Salvation Run storyline, only to brutally kill them off near the end! They’re both killed from being thrown off a cliff by Gorilla Grodd–on a distant planet no less! Try coming back from that one… Well, since the entire DCU has been rebooted, a return of Monsieur Mallah and The Brain isn’t impossible (although it’s unlikely).
#2: Mister Mind
Mister Mind was the genius leader behind the Monster Society of Evil, a group that challenged Captain Marvel (Billy Batson) for a full two years way back in 1943. This is known in comics lore as the first long story arc to ever appear in a superhero story. Mister Mind must hav been a pretty powerful and indestructible dude if it took The Marvel family two years to defeat him, right? Actually, Mister Mind was in reality a 2-inch worm. My theory is that Mister Mind was inspired by the title character of The Wizard of Oz. At first he’s monolithic, huge, and incredibly intimidating, but then it’s revealed, behind the curtain, he’s not so big after all. Jeff Smith was hired by DC to retell The Monster Society of Evil storyline in a single graphic novel, and he did an amazing job with this. Make sure to look that up if you want to read more about Mister Mind (I doubt DC will bring him back anytime soon).
#1: Mister Freeze
Mister Freeze was one of the many novelty villains created by Bob Kane, the original creator of Batman. His name at first was Mr. Zero, until the 60s camp classic Batman series renamed him Mister Freeze. For the next 30 years or so, Mister Freeze floated around in comic book limbo until Paul Dini reinvented his character for the cartoon Batman The Animated Series. A few years later, he’d be reinvented again, and this time he’d be played by Arnold Schwarzenegger! To my mind, Batman and Robin is the ultimate example of “so-bad-it’s-good” cinema, and that owes a huge debt to the merciless punning of Mister Freeze. Some of my favorite lines include “freeze in Hell,” and “cool party.” I have a hard time deciding which Freeze I like more: the austere scientist created by Dini, or the absurd maniac played by Arnold. I’d be happy seeing either version resurface in the comics.
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What supervillains would you like to see more of?