A few times a year I’ll visit elementary schools and do a history of comic books presentation for a class of grade 5 or grade 6 students. I know what they like, I’m light on the actual history and heavy into the ‘get them involved’ stuff. The jist of my class is that superheroes are usually creations of the times, important issues of the age spawn heroes that can deal with those issues, Captain America fighting WWII being a glorious and obvious example. I’ll ask the class what the issues of the day are and the answers range from socially sensitive topics to utterly hilarious topics. I then split the kids up into small groups and ask them to create a superhero that is able to fight against what ails the world today.
One world wide concern that always seems to lead the pack is the environment. Kids are very aware of global warming and environmental issues and they have every right to be concerned as to what kind of world is waiting for them when they grow up. The kids are very excited when they present to me EnviroWoman, Captain Nature etc, we even have some fun with how the costumes will look.
Nice little lesson right? Well I’ve only just begun, the excitement they show me at the thought of creating a hero pales in comparison to the reaction they give me when I tell them they now have to create some villains. Villains!!! This is where the teacher looks at me and I do a mic drop.
I’ll state the obvious, villains can make or break a superhero. Name me the two most collected heroes in our hobby and I’ll name you the two heroes with the best and the deepest rogues gallery of villains.
What sparked me onto villains this week was a discussion I had with my pal Mike, I was trying to pawn off a run of early Daredevil on him and he said no, he said nobody wants to collect the early run of Daredevil because there are not enough good villain introductions. Well we have the Owl in #3, Stiltman in #8 and the Gladiator in #18, B listers at best and when compared to the villains the Amazing Spider-Man title was churning out… never mind the Vulture in #2, how about Doc Oc in #3, Sandman in #4, Lizard in #6, Electro in #9 and then the unmatched string of Mysterio #13, Green Goblin #14 and Kraven #15 with the first 20 issues capped off with Scorpion at #20. No wonder amazing Spider-Man is the most collected title in comics.
Batman of course is the other hero with the hall of fame cast of villains. I’ve known a couple of guys that have had a collecting focus on Batman villains, these collections were mouth watering.
What comes first though, the chicken or the egg? Are these heroes better because they have the best villains or do they have the best villains because they are the best heroes? I tend to think the former, I think great characters like Superman suffer because of a lack of a deep stable of A list villains.
Collecting villains has been one of the most profitable collecting strains in the past decade, today even the most insignificant villain introduction (at the time of publication) gets market attention, you never know if that villain will be the next to get attention from other media like TV, films or video games.
Much like how movies turned Guardians of the Galaxy, a C list team (in the comic book world) into an A list team in the mass market pop culture world, movies have changed the desirability of villain first appearances, a good example is Thanos in the Avengers films. Though we are deep into villain mining I do think there are some underappreciated and undervalued first appearances still out there.
Who’s the greatest comic book villain of all time? I will call the Joker the greatest comic book villain creation ever but I can’t seem to peg down who should be in second place. Is it Magneto? Lex Luthor? Doctor Doom?