6 Comic Villains That Should Be Paired With Other Heroes
What is a hero without a villain? A deranged weirdo with a costume fetish, that's what. Far be it for us to judge what you get up to in your spare time, but the world wouldn't be awash in Iron Man merchandise if Tony Stark didn't have a damn good reason to blow people up with lasers.
A solidly matched hero and villain can elevate both into the iconic. And, honestly? So can less solidly matched pairings. Comic books have been around for 80-plus years, and between the bureaucracy and the trying not to go bankrupt, well, people make mistakes, is what we're saying. Sometimes, if you really look at it, that perfect hero/villain pairing doesn't actually make a whole lot of sense ...
Ra's Al Ghul Should Be A Wonder Woman Baddie
First introduced as a Batman villain in 1971, Ra's al Ghul is an immortal-ish eco-terrorist who wants to make like Thanos and kill off a bunch of humanity to save the world. Between his intellect and the rejuvenating Lazarus Pits, he's proven very difficult to kill permanently, which means he's been trying to murder everyone for damn near forever.
You know who else has been trying to save the world for forever? Wonder Woman.
Ra's al Ghul and Wonder Woman are foils for one another in a way that a billionaire in fetish gear can only dream about. They both, generally speaking, think globally -- in truth, they're trying to accomplish the same thing, only in vastly different ways. Batman, meanwhile -- time travel and liaisons with the Justice League aside -- is more or less obsessed with cleaning up crime in Gotham. Protecting individuals from suffering the same way he suffered. That's literally his mission statement.
And, look, with a shared history of 600+ years, Wonder Woman and Ra's al Ghul could have crossed paths at just about any point in modern history. That's a lot of story possibilities. Meanwhile, all Ra's really has to do to defeat Batman is wait a few more years. Old age will thwart the Dark Knight sooner or later. Because, really, what's another 50 years for a guy who remembers when William Shakespeare was on the New Release shelf at Ye Olde Barnes and Noble?
Add in the Amazons and the League of Assassins, and there's a whole warring armies thing creators could get into -- again, across millennia. The right writer could even go deep on Wonder Woman's feminist roots and have her literally fight patriarchy if Ra's decides that he wants Diana to sire his heir. We shouldn't have to wait until Batman goes missing to see these two literally cross swords.
Mr. Freeze Is A Spider-Man Rogue
Batman's rogues gallery is chock full of murderous agents of chaos: Joker and Victor Zsasz are thrill-killing psychopaths, Hugo Strange experiments on people, Scarecrow poisons entire cities with fear, Black Mask carved a face out of his father's coffin and wears it with pride. Even Gotham's mob bosses are known for their spectacular sadism.
So what the hell is a gentle, tortured scientist doing hanging out with those people?
Mr. Freeze doesn't fit Batman's gallery of crazed Arkham inmates. He's forced to be a criminal due to a tragic science accident, which is pure Spidey. Like, literally, that's the summary for most of his most famous bad guys. Freeze robs banks to further his research into life-saving technologies, or, more recently, after successfully unfreezing his wife, to retire to the country with her. Can he also turn you into a block of ice? Sure. But he's not happy about it.
Imagine Mr. Freeze reluctantly having to join the Sinister Six. That kind of regret and inner turmoil is what makes Marvel Marvel. Half of their bad guys have been good guys, at least briefly. The Thunderbolts were literally created to reform on-the-fence villains like Freeze -- and unlike the Suicide Squad, it's without planting explosives in their heads.
Not to mention, DC's already got Killer Frost, Captain Cold, the newly-minted Mrs. Freeze, and at least three other ice-based supervillains. Who's Marvel got? Nobody. They're overdue. And, I mean, there's literally an opening right there in Spider-Man's element-based enemies list. He's already going up against Sandman, Electro, Molten Man, and Hydro-Man. Mr. Freeze would fit right in.
Arcade Should Be A Batman Foe
Arcade is a homicidal nutcase that dresses like the Great Gatsby by way of Willy Wonka and lures his victims into elaborate carnival-themed deathtraps, forcing them to fight for their pitiful lives within giant-sized pinball machines and the like. Or, to put it another way, Arcade puts his enemies inside of rooms that are very dangerous. Danger Rooms, you might even call them.
Are you seeing why he's maybe not a great X-Men villain?
Professor Xavier throws his students -- children and teenagers, mostly -- into his own, far more advanced Danger Room all the time. Like, with lasers and holograms and shit. Before breakfast. The X-Men literally train inside a better version of the worst thing Arcade could do to them.
And, let's be clear, Murderworld is all Arcade's got. His backstory is essentially nonexistent. He loves killing, and he loves contraptions and -- that's it. He's not a mutant, nor is he expressly anti-mutant; his first attempt at pinballing somebody to death was against Spider-Man and Captain Britain.
In fact, most of the time that he shows up, particularly in non-X-related books, it's because some better villain hired him to clean up Marvel's surfeit of C-listers. Dude's got no reason to target the X-Men. Especially since, again, they are the one team that's trained specifically -- if accidentally -- to survive his bullshit.
On the other hand, a crazy hitman with an amusement park full of deathtraps is a slam-dunk Batman idea. As mentioned earlier, half of his rogues gallery already kills just for the hell of it, and the other half are big fans of booby-trapped toys and Byzantine schemes. And Batman ends up in more abandoned fairgrounds than Scooby-Doo. It all fits.
Not to mention, a life-sized game of Whack-a-Mole might actually be a challenge for a regular, squishy, non-metal-skinned human who can't shoot lasers out of his eyes or teleport into the parking lot.
Kraven Would Make More Sense Hunting Iron Fist
Kraven the Hunter is the self-professed world's greatest hunter. Hell, he's so confident that he put it right there in his name. An exiled Russian aristocrat from back when radio was still a big deal, Sergei Kravinoff eschews guns and arrows in favor of wrestling big game to the ground and killing it with his own two hands. Y'know, like a man. A toxic, honor-obsessed man who murders random animals for fun.
Eventually, though, Sergei gets bored with kicking puppies and skinning endangered elephants and, naturally, decides to go after the world's most dangerous game: a pajama-wearing teenager with radioactive spider powers who lives with his elderly aunt because he can't afford rent.
Um -- what?
On what planet is Spider-Man the world's most dangerous anything? Why, out of all the city-destroying, laser-eyeball-wielding, cosmically-irradiated supergenuises on Earth-616, is Peter Parker your definition of a worthy adversary? An enemy by which to prove your might?
You know who Kraven should be hunting? Iron Fist.
Let's start with the fact that, if movies have taught us anything, hunting other humans is a rich guy, private island kind of thing. And Iron Fist is loaded. Kraven should be hunting a guy who has enough money to keep things interesting, not some college nerd who has to be at class at a certain time. Sitting outside of Empire State University waiting for Peter Parker to show up isn't a hunt -- it's respawn camping, and everybody hates you for it.
Second, if you're trying to prove you're the best of the best, why go after a kid with homemade gunk-spitters that was thrown into superheroing through clumsiness and guilt? If you want to be the world's most baddest-assed of badasses, you should probably go after the guy who literally trained his entire life to be able to punch out the heart of a dragon.
And, finally, Kraven is very much magic. He guzzles a mystical serum to enhance his strength and keep himself young and pretty. He shares social circles with Ka-Zar of the Savage Land, Marvel's knock-off Tarzan, and used to bone down with the sorceress Calypso (before someone realized she was a super racist stereotype). All of which is to say that Kraven is not a "street-level" kind of character. He deserves to go up against someone who is truly his equal, be it in fighting prowess, mystical powers, or his associations with questionable racial sensitivity.
By any and all measures, Iron Fist's the guy. If for no other reason than Kraven's bruised ego. I mean, the dude killed himself out of shame. Swing bigger, man. Because, let's be real, losing to the latest in an immortal line of flame-fisted punch-gods isn't going to be nearly as embarrassing.
Mole Man Should Be Fighting Shazam
Debuting in Fantastic Four #1 in 1961, Mole Man is, at his core, a cheeseball villain who probably should have stayed in the Golden Age of Comics. Or maybe not -- even then, he was a goofy relic of an earlier time, basically walking out of a Jules Verne novel and into the pages of Marvel's Atlas-era monster mags.
Mole Man is a weird-looking dude in a cape who followed a band of intrepid explorers to a mysterious island and then fell into the subterranean kingdom of Subterranea, Marvel's unimaginatively-named version of the Hollow Earth. After accidentally blinding himself by looking at something too shiny, Moley decided, screw it, I live underground now and set about learning how to control monsters and Moloids -- the latter very much modeled after the Morlocks from H.G. Wells' Time Machine.
Despite being one of Marvel Comics' oldest characters, no writer has ever really turned him into much of a threat. Sometimes he's a benevolent ruler, sometimes he's a revenge-fueled troll, and sometimes he's easily bribed with a bag of Blu-rays.
However you slice it, this is a dude who rules over an entire underground world, full of building-sized beasts, and he's still a joke -- which is 100% why he should be a Shazam villain.
Shazam is, like Mole Man, a hero out of time. A boy who can transform into a barrel-chested cape-wearer if he says a magic word is an inherently hokey concept. But with Shazam, it's a feature, not a bug. In a universe where Doctor Doom regularly takes over various countries and a malfunctioning Thor clone/robot can permanently murder a long-standing hero, it's genuinely weird that a guy with countless monsters at his disposal can't even win a single battle.
Not so much in Shazam's corner of the DC-verse, though. One of Shazam's archnemeses is a talking caterpillar. He hangs around at the Rock of Eternity and fights the Seven Deadly Sins. He could take out Superman if he wanted to, but instead, he shares his superpowers with his brothers and sisters.
Mole Man makes no sense fighting cosmic scientists who wave around pocket-sized reality erasers and talk purple planet-eaters out of the buffet line. But a perpetually do-gooding teenager? Absolutely.
Green Goblin Is A Better Iron Man Villain
The Green Goblin is an integral part of Spider-Man's history and was, especially in those early days, his preeminent nemesis, or his preeminenemesis, if you will. I mean, the dude tossed Gwen Stacy off a bridge and forced Spidey to kill his own girlfriend -- a death that haunted him even more than Uncle Ben's. He spawned other Green Goblins and the Hobgoblin, and that was before he was retconned into a perpetual string-puller working behind-the-scenes -- which, by the way, was precisely when the Goblin became an Iron Man villain.
During the "Civil War" and "Dark Reign" arcs, Norman Osborn, the man beneath the Halloween costume, distances himself from his Green Goblin past and becomes Marvel's version of Lex Luthor, a ruthless businessman seeking power at all costs. He climbs up the governmental ladder, completely legally, eventually ousting Tony Stark from office, and reimagining S.H.I.E.L.D. as H.A.M.M.E.R. Norman then creates his own Dark Avengers (twice) to do bad things, like trying to murder the real Avengers, under the guise of defending freedom and hot dogs and what-not.
He even, and pay attention here, makes his own Iron Man-esque suit of robo-armor and takes up the mantle of Iron Patriot to further the ruse.
After being defeated in these far more expansive efforts, Osborn returns to his spider-hating roots, becoming the Goblin King and relaunching his personal crusade against the wall-crawler. But, honestly? That doesn't feel right anymore. Osborn outed himself as an Iron Man villain. Marvel shouldn't have walked away from that.
Compared to Spider-Man's grab-bag of superpowered small-time crooks, Norman Osborn better fits the profile of Tony Stark's high-end, business-industry villains like Justin Hammer and Obadiah Stane. Even his origin mirrors Tony's, except that his accident with his own products made him a monster instead of a hero.
I mean, let's look at the birds-eye summary: he's a super genius that flies around on his own cutting-edge technology, blowing stuff up with aplomb. And, y'know, bombs. In and out of the suit, Osborn vs. Stark just makes more sense.
Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and assorted B-movie monsters, and he recently added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby. He's also on Twitter a bunch.
Top Image: Marvel Studios, Columbia Pictures