Superhero comics love violence. From martial arts experts to super-strong brawlers and various types of exotic energy blasts, the entire genre is built around physical conflict. Although some super-geniuses might try to outsmart their opponents, other characters have embraced chemical weapons. While clouds of poison gas don’t necessarily make the most dynamic images, these toxic characters create a challenge that can’t simply be punched through. By testing their opponents’ stamina and scientific acumen, these characters can add a sense of uncertainty to any story they appear in. The fast-acting, often invisible nature of their abilities makes them the perfect candidates for covert assassinations or threatening large populaces with quick, certain and unpleasant deaths.
Since one of these characters, Doctor Poison, just made her cinematic debut in Wonder Woman, CBR is counting down the most toxic heroes and villains in comics. For this list, we’ll be looking at characters with super-powers or weapons based around poisons, weaponized diseases or other biological threats. We’ll be including characters who primarily use chemical weapons as well as those who use them as part of a larger arsenal. While these might not be the strongest characters around, their chemical arsenals make them silent, and often deadly, threats.
15. DOCTOR POISON
Doctor Poison has been a regular thorn in Wonder Woman’s side since 1942. Created by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter in Sensation Comics #2, the original Doctor Poison was Princess Maru, a Japanese biological weapons expert who encountered Wonder Woman during World War II. After co-founding the group Villainy Inc., she died when one of her creations de-aged her into oblivion.
In 1999, her granddaughter menaced Wonder Woman a few times as the second Doctor Poison. After DC’s New 52 reboot in 2011, a Russian scientist became another new Doctor Poison and tried to poison several world leaders with a drone. The current Doctor Poison, Japanese Colonel Marina Maru, debuted earlier this year as a member of the paramilitary strike force POISON. In Wonder Woman, Elena Anaya’s Doctor Poison is Isabel Maru, a genius chemist hired by the Germans to create chemical weapons during World War I.
14. OMEGA RED
While he’s more famous for his life-draining tentacles, the X-Men villain Omega Red also has the mutant ability to secrete deadly pheromones. Before a Soviet super-soldier program turned him into the cybernetically-enhanced villain, Arkady Rossovich used these toxic death spores to go on a serial killing spree throughout Europe.
Since his debut in 1992’s X-Men #4, by Jim Lee and John Byrne, Omega Red has used this chemical power with his life-draining carbonadium coils to become one of Marvel’s scariest mutants. During an encounter with Wolverine’s pre-X-Men squad, Team X, Rossovich lost a carbonadium synthesizer that he needed to stabilize his volatile powers. This incident shaped a bitter grudge between Omega Red and Wolverine, which continued until Rossovich’s death in 2009. Although Logan killed his foe, Rossovich’s remains were used to create a few clones, including the disease-generating Omega Black and a new Omega Red.
13. INFECTIOUS LASS
While toxic powers lend themselves well to villains, they can be a more awkward fit with superheroes. That’s why Infectious Lass was never fully accepted by the Legion of Super-Heroes, an intergalactic group of teenage heroes in the 31st century. Created by Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum in 1974’s Superboy #201, Drura Sehpt was an alien from the planet Somahtur. Like every Somahturian, Infectious Lass’ body was home to thousands of microorganisms which she could control and use to infect people with various diseases.
When she tried to join the Legion, she couldn’t keep her powers from infecting nearby civilians. After being rejected by the Legion, Infectious Lass helped form the Legion of Substitute Heroes with other Legion rejects. Although they were initially mocked, the Subs became valuable Legion allies. Eventually, Sehpt traveled to the present day and joined an offbeat team led by the paranormal investigator Doctor 13.
Although his mutant powers were mainly psychic, the villain Stryfe created one of the most famous plagues in comics, the Legacy Virus. Created by Rob Liefeld and Louise Simonson in 1990’s New Mutants #86, Stryfe was a clone of Cable from the far future who wreaked havoc in his own timeline and the present day. After disappearing at the end of 1992’s “X-Cutioner’s Song” crossover, Stryfe tricked Mister Sinister into unleashing the virus as part of his “legacy.”
Throughout the 1990s, the Legacy Virus was a major ongoing plotline across all of Marvel’s X-books. The mutant plague killed longtime X-Men characters like Pyro, Moira MacTaggert and Magik. In order to help avenge the death of his sister, Magik, Colossus sacrificed his life to release an instant cure worldwide in 2001. While both Stryfe and Colossus eventually returned, Stryfe’s Legacy Virus made him one of the most deadly mutants in the Marvel Universe.
Like Daredevil and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Green Arrow villain Midas got his powers after being doused with toxic waste. Midas was originally a scientist who worked with bacteria that could clean up biohazards. After being caught in a bomb blast, Midas fell into some nearby hazardous materials and emerged as a super-strong creature made out of toxic waste.
Created by J.T. Krul, Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen in 2012’s Green Arrow #3, Midas was one of Green Arrow’s first foes after DC’s New 52 reboot. Despite his abilities to absorb and secrete any kind of toxin, Midas was harmed by one of Green Arrow’s sonic arrows and was thought dead in an explosion. Although he and his robotic partner Blood Rose both survived that blast, neither has been seen since their initial adventure.
10. SPIDER-MAN 2099
While Miguel O’Hara, Spider-Man 2099, mostly had the same powers as the original Spider-Man, he also had some unique abilities, like poisonous fangs. While working on genetic research for the mega-conglomerate Alchemax in the year 2099, O’Hara was poisoned and tried to rewrite his own DNA. Although this process was interrupted, O’Hara’s genetic code was spliced with a spider’s DNA, and he received the powers that he used as that timeline’s Spider-Man.
Created by Peter David and Rick Leonardi in 1992’s Amazing Spider-Man #365, O’Hara’s Spider-Man has starred in a few successful series. While it wasn’t his primary ability, O’Hara had enlarged canine teeth that secreted a non-lethal, hallucinogenic venom that let him paralyze opponents with a bite. After the time-traveling shenanigans of Marvel’s modern heroes affected the future, a version of O’Hara, possibly from an alternate 2099, has spent time in the present day in the pages of Spider-Man 2099.
With poison-coated fingernails, Cheshire is one of the deadliest assassins in the DC Universe. Created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez in 1983’s New Teen Titans Annual #2, Jade Nguyen was taught to fight as a child. Nguyen grew up and married Kruen Musenda, who was the assassin Spitting Cobra. After becoming a poisons expert, Nguyen killed Musenda and started working as Cheshire. During her time as a mercenary, she used poison-dipped nails and blades as her signature weapons.
Despite their shared antagonism, Cheshire and the Teen Titan Roy Harper, Speedy, had a brief relationship and a child, Lian. In 1993, Cheshire also dropped a nuclear bomb on the fictional country Qurac to make a point, killing millions in the process. Although much of that history was erased in DC’s New 52 reboot, Cheshire still dated Harper and recently tried to poison all of Seattle in Green Arrow.
Along with Cheshire, Batman called Copperhead one of the two “most toxic individuals on the planet.” While several snake-themed contortionist villains have been called Copperhead, one of the current Copperheads first appeared in WB Games Montreal’s Batman: Arkham Origins. Although the game claimed that several mercenaries were using the alias Copperhead, Batman encountered one female Copperhead known as “Jane Doe.”
After using her contortionist abilities to escape from 14 prisons, Copperhead was one of the assassins who was hired to kill Batman. In addition to her fighting abilities, her signature weapons were metal claws that delivered a fatal, hallucinogenic toxin. Although she was able to poison Batman, he and Alfred were able to fabricate an antidote and defeat her fairly quickly. This Copperhead joined the DC Universe in 2016’s All-Star Batman #2, by Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr.
7. THE JOKER
Although it’s not his most obvious quality, the Joker is one of the more accomplished chemists in comics thanks to his signature weapon, Joker Venom. Since his 1940 debut in Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s Batman #1, the Joker has used variations of his trademark Joker Gas. In addition to causing uncontrollable laughter, the deadly compound leaves its victims with pale skin and an unnatural grin.
While Joker Venom’s origins and formula have varied over the years, the neurotoxin can take the form of a gas or liquid, which has usually been sprayed through a prop flower on the Joker’s chest. In Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’ Detective Comics #475, the Joker famously used a non-lethal Joker Toxin to infect all of the fish in Gotham Harbor in 1978. The chemical also played a major role in Tim Burton’s Batman, where it was called Smylex and hidden in beauty products.
Throughout Spider-Man’s history, he’s encountered several versions of the viral villain Carrion. Created by Bill Mantlo and Jim Mooney in 1978’s Spectacular Spider-Man #25, the original Carrion was a decayed clone of the Jackal, the villain who caused Spider-Man’s infamous “Clone Saga” in the 1990s. Carrion had the ability to disintegrate organic matter with a touch and used Red Dust, a chemical power that caused unconsciousness and could eat through flesh and metal.
In 1989, the remains of that first Carrion essentially possessed Peter Parker’s classmate Malcolm McBride and turned him into a second Carrion with similar abilities and equipment. In 1997, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent William Allen became a new Carrion and unleashed a virus that turned his victims into his mind-controlled zombies. In the 2016 crossover, The Clone Conspiracy, the Carrion Virus became contagious in one alternate reality and turned most of that world’s population into mindless Carrions.
5. APOCALYPSE’S PESTILENCE HORSEMEN
The X-Men villain Apocalypse transformed a few characters into his Horeseman Pestilence and given them disease-related abilities. Created by Chris Claremont and Paul Smith in 1983’s Uncanny X-Men #169, the Morlock Plague had the mutant ability to infect anyone with a crippling, fatal disease. Shortly after her debut, Apocalypse enhanced her natural powers and transformed her into his first Pestilence.
After she fell off her flying horse and died, the mutant tracker Caliban became Apocalypse’s new Pestilence and could spread a fear-inducing psycho-active virus that caused physical and mental distress. After losing her powers, the longtime X-Man Polaris became Apocalypse’s new Pestilence. In addition to restoring her magnetic powers, Apocalypse gave her the ability to absorb diseases and create deadly new “meta-plagues” from that biological data. When Apocalypse’s brain-washing wore off, she lost those disease abilities and returned to the X-Men with her magnetic powers.
Other than Joker Venom, the most feared chemical in Gotham City is the Scarecrow’s Fear Toxin. Scarecrow was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane in 1941’s World’s Finest #3, and Batman fought his first fear-gas-using villain in 1940. Those two concepts weren’t combined until 1967’s Batman #189, by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff. In that story, the former psychology professor Jonathan Crane became Scarecrow and used his trademark Fear Gas for the first time.
While the Scarecrow’s toxin isn’t famous for killing his foes, it’s caused intense, lasting psychological trauma by aggravating different parts of the brain. Although Batman has made a habit of developing antidotes or powering through the toxin’s effects, the Scarecrow has even fallen victim to his own creation on more than one occasion. In Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, Scarecrow’s Fear Toxin was almost released into Gotham’s water supply in an attempt to destroy the city.
Created by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir and Mark Robinson in 2003’s New Mutants #5, Elixir was one of the many mutant students who studied at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. After growing up in a mutant-hating household, Joshua Foley discovered his mutant ability to manipulate any kind of biological matter. Although the gold-skinned mutant only initially used his powers to heal, he also developed a death touch that could cause instant organ failure or spread various diseases.
As Elixir’s control over his powers and knowledge of biology grew, his potential abilities made him one of the most powerful mutants on Earth. During his time with the New X-Men, the X-Men and X-Force, Foley was the team’s primary healer. While he’s struggled with the conflicting nature of his powers to heal and harm, he remains on the periphery of the X-Men’s world.
Unlike most fictional characters, the DC villain Chemo began life as an inanimate object. Created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru in 1962’s Showcase #39, Chemo was originally a container for toxic waste. After the scientist Ramsey Norton dumped a failed experimental growth formula into Chemo, the waste gained some level of sentience and killed its inadvertent creator.
With the abilities to project any kind of toxic liquid, Chemo fought the Metal Men and Superman in its early days. Although it’s mimicked or merged with other characters, Chemo has mainly been used as a living weapon. During the 2005 crossover Infinite Crisis, the Secret Society of Super-Villains detonated Chemo over Blüdhaven and covered the city with its hazardous toxic waste, killing hundreds of thousands. While this incident was undone by DC’s New 52 reboot, Chemo and the Metal Men seemingly perished during their first encounter.
1. POISON IVY
Whether she’s a full-fledged villain or towing the moral line as an antihero, Poison Ivy is one of the most toxic characters in comics. While the details of her origin have evolved over the years, Ivy’s expertise in toxicology has been a part of the character since her debut in 1966’s Batman #181, by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff.
In most versions of her origin, Doctor Pamela Isley was exposed to a number of toxic chemicals that gave her the ability to control plants and produce a number of lethal and non-lethal poisons. While her decades as a thief and an eco-terrorist made her one of Batman’s most famous foes, she’s taken on a more heroic role since DC’s New 52 reboot. Through her recent adventures as a solo character and with the Justice League, Ivy has shown that even the most poisonous villains can turn over a new leaf.
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