The Unjustly Forgotten: Justice League Supervillains You Should Totally Think Are Awesome
September is Villains Month at DC Comics. We're about to stuff ourselves so full of villainy, we'll have to puke. And how better to celebrate than by going over a list of my five favorite Justice League villains ever!?
Okay, they're not my favorites. Well. They are. But all of them are my favorites. Except for Gorilla Grodd. Monsieur Mallah is a better talking gorilla than Grodd will ever be, and we certainly don't need TWO talking gorillas. Also Mallah has a beret. Case dismissed.
My personal approach, whenever discussion veers toward villains, is to complain about the ”good ones” that aren't being used. Most of these are nostalgic and campier-than-Caeser-Romero Silver Age villains I remember from worn-out copies of classic collections and team-up stories at the library, where I spent most of my time as a kid trying to avoid other kids. I'm not going to complain about characters who got their shot. The Key, Starro the Conqueror, Queen Bee, Doctor Destiny and the Shaggy Man, for example, all got a second chance to shine in Grant Morrison and Mark Waid's now legendary runs on JLA. While that was admittedly 15 years ago, those characters were at their best in those stories. That's all one can ask—a reboot that does justice to concept, plot and character alike.
Individual heroes' rogues galleries, like those of the Flash, Superman or Batman, are known well enough. We don't need a lecture on why guys like Professor Zoom, Parasite and Poison Ivy are perfect pernicious profligates to punch; we've already discussed it a hundred times. To say they're brilliant characters would be superfluous and redundant.
I'm also not going to dredge up Dark Age villains like Neron, Prometheus, Doomsday or Magog. Not because I don't like them, but because my focus is on the ones I feel are unjustly “forgotten”. This is also why classic villains like Vandal Savage, Darkseid and the Crime Syndicate, who have recently featured in popular stories, don't get a paragraph of their own. They've had enough page space already, those greedy punks.
My call to remember, such as it is, exists mostly to remind you of villains that, while they may have been recently used in DC comics stories, deserve so much more of the spotlight. Grant Morrison saw potential in a silly 60's gimmick-villain called The Key and turned him into one of the most terrifying menaces the League ever faced. His version is still used today, albeit in the background of other stories. But any character can be rendered relevant and interesting again with a good writer. And that's what I hope happens to these:
Despero is the tyrannical ruler of the planet Kalanor, and he first appeared in the very first issue of Justice League of America. Since then he's been sadly neglected, mostly because when writers do use him they change his powers and modus operandi like I change shirts on a hot day. Meaning at least six times. But Despero makes a great villain because he has brains and brawn in equal share.
He's also a freak among his own people. His third eye is an unique mark not even members of his own race share. Possessing great intelligence, telepathy and telekinesis, Despero also possesses the Flame of Py'tar, which is the object of religious devotion among his kind. It also allows him unfathomed strength and stamina that has allowed him to take down even folks like Superman, Captain Marvel and the Martian Manhunter.
The bummer here is that this guy, with his psychic abilities and massive strength, is a perfect foil for the Martian Manhunter—an increasingly popular DC superhero who has infamously failed to accumulate much of a self-contained rogues gallery despite sixty years in publication. Both are freakish outcasts of a sort. One has devoted his massive powers to serving people; the other to enslaving them. Why isn't this resource being tapped? He's appeared in several stories over the last few years but they've always seemed oversimplified and never managed to tap his full potential. We can only hope someday this character gets used to full effect, perhaps even rivaling recurrent villains like Darkseid or Black Adam. Plus I just really want to see as many pages as possible of a huge purple guy with three eyes beating the crap out of the Justice League.
First let me say this: Kobra's costume is cooler than Bender from the Breakfast Club eating ice cream in a meat locker on Neptune. On top of that, the guy is a warrior, trained from birth to lead the Cult of Kobra.
Also known as Jeffery Burr, Kobra has access to highly advanced weaponry and technology as well as his own personal prowess in battle. But the weird part is this: unknown to the Cult, our new favorite snake-themed sinner had a psychic connection with his long-lost, formerly-conjoined twin, Jason. Which means one felt what the other felt, allowing Jason to participate in covert government operations attempting to locate Kobra and his followers. That's some mad plot potential right there.
The bummer? They killed both twins off, and ever since then the genius dynamic of connected but warring brothers is lost. The twin was resurrected after a while as the new Kobra but there wasn't any distinguishing plot complication. In light of the current focus on building a stable of emorable villains, DC needs to take advantage of their (somewhat) recent total continuity overhaul and bring back the Burr brothers.
- KILLER FROST
Dr. Louise Lincoln is not the first woman to be known as Killer Frost. This makes her stand out among hundreds of villains as one of the few continuing a legacy—much in the style of the numerous Green Lanterns, Flashes and even Batmans that have passed on their masks and names.
Another aspect that makes her cool (I swear to god that's not a pun) is that among a plethora of ice-themed villains like Mister Freeze, Captain Cold and The Icicle, Killer Frost is female—and while forbidden romances between heroes and villains are a dime per dozen, which of them has more delicious irony than that which flared up between Frost and the perpetually combusted hero Firestorm? Famously sparking some chemistry between them in DC's 1986 blockbuster event “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, Killer Frost is a murderous hell-raiser, but feelings of infatuation still muddied her devotion to acts of violence. How sweet.
The bummer is that while she's present whenever villains accumulate for another Legion of Doom class reunion or Injustice Society euchre night, she carries the cross of an eternal background character... cursed to wander the earth without much exposure and sadly little page-space. They're rebooting her in DC's eponymous Villain's Month title, but my hopes are not high that she will afterward continue to receive the focus her character deserves.
This is a big one. This guy has been a nuisance to heroes since before the Justice League got its own title, yet he hasn't seemed to warrant so much as a background cameo appearance in anything I've read over the last five years. Dubiously the arch-enemy of highly under-rated superhero Ray Palmer, aka The Atom, Chronos has a ridiculous costume that only comics can justify and the ability to tamper with time itself.
Imbedded in his hilarious eyesore of a supervillain suit is circuitry that can actually alter or reverse the local flow of the timestream. This allows him, by the power of Einstein's Relativity and the wildly elastic credibility of comic book science, to put people in stasis, travel in time, and use years as a destructive force to crumble buildings or rust bullets to dust. Some stories suggest he may have even been getting cheat tips from his future self. I'll give you a whole paragraph break just to consider how utterly, pants-soilingly dangerous that technology is.
See? Scary. But the bummer is, between Chronos' flamboyant fashion sense and readers' lack of interest in both the more science-themed characters of the Silver Age comics and The Atom himself, there hasn't been much market for this potentially entertaining character. With a radically dangerous gimmick, infinite potential for villainous time-traveling exploits, and a tabula rasa for new writers to define the personality of his previously shallow characterization, Chronos deserves to be retooled and revisited. I, for one, would be a fan.
Okay, I know I said Silver Age but this guy is a straight-up, old-school Golden Ager—perhaps THE quintessential Golden Age villain, in fact. UH was superhero comics' first recurring supervillain. That's right. This guy got a second appearance before Lex Luthor or the Joker did. He's also Superman's first supervillain—not a gangster, monster or robot—an actual mad science hooligan with bright red pants, superpowers and a monkey face.
Which leads me to wonder why his appearances lately have been so few and so far between. Claiming not to remember his true name or original features, Ultra was a paraplegic genius with mastery of several scientific fields who sparred briefly with Superman before transplanting his brain and consciousness into the body of a famous actress, and exploited his position for some time before once again changing, this time into a powerful and agile albino ape in red trousers. An egotist and an elitist, the power-mad sophisticate went on to weild crazy mad-science weaponry and a large vocabulary at the Justice Society and the Justice League after a revived interest during the late 80's.
The bummer? Nobody seems nostalgic for over-the-top 40's mad science monkeys. Even though this guy could beat up Grodd AND Monsieur Mallah in a gorilla showdown with one arm tied, sipping a martini and generally looking cooler than either of both because he's an albino with a bulging forehead and red pants, the market for resurrected camp supervillains hasn't availed itself. Yet. But I have faith...
This is my list of favorite forgotten and underused Justice League supervillains. If you want to start a march on DC immediately demanding a full ongoing series for each, I don't blame you and I will gladly join. (As long as we can also depose Bob Harras while we're at it. He's the real-life supervillain of the comic book industry.)
Enjoy Villains Month and all the cash-grabbing 3D holographic variant covers you can afford. Cheers.