When it comes to villains, we shouldn’t just hate them. We need to peer deeper and gain critical insight into their methods and reasons for doing what they do. After all, one man’s radical is another man’s freedom fighter. Most of them carry out heinous actions because they think they’re doing so in the name of good. These include battling heroes, battling other villains and a bunch of other horrible acts that we won’t understand if we take their actions at face value. Most times, they believe they’re doing the right thing and such great individuals, well, they accomplish great things; in the words of Mr. Ollivander, “Terrible, yes. But great!
Followers of such folks, outside of being labelled soldiers, are considered cultists and disciples, but should they be chastised for believing in the philosophies of such characters, for swallowing their ideologies if those beliefs fill a void? Take Marvel’s Illuminati for example. They’ve turned on fellow heroes and destroyed whole worlds to preserve their own. That alone illustrates that desperate times call for desperate measures. Really, the term “villain” is all a matter of perspective. Some leaders, as Secret Empire is showing, provoke you into looking at both sides of the coin. With that in mind, CBR looks at 15 of these leaders you would probably die for!
SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers ahead for several comic book properties, movies and television series!
Kingpin may be the criminal who crosses heroes like Daredevil and Spider-Man but to a lot of New York’s denizens, he’s simply Wilson Fisk — a man who understands the plight of Hell’s Kitchen. This has led to him preying on such vulnerability, as recently seen in Secret Empire, where he’s helping the poor people amid HYDRA’s siege. The thing is, his generosity comes at a price, and that’s to “remember.”
Remember him for the next mayor or when he needs you to turn a blind eye. Kingpin is a grassroots villain in the sense that he’ll give back to society as long as he can profit exponentially off of it. Is it wrong? Yes, but sometimes that little help means so much to the poor. This was witnessed in Season One of Netflix’s Daredevil and we saw similar philosophies with Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Vulture.
Magneto has long been controversial for his stance on how mutants, and not mankind, should inherit the Earth. Whether it’s sequestering mutants in Genosha, scheming as Xorn or using the Brotherhood to eradicate humans, he believes his people are the next step in evolution. This mindset often led to genocidal tendencies and him being labelled a terrorist, but if you’re a mutant, you can understand why he thinks like that.
As a Holocaust survivor, Magneto experienced Jewish concentration camps and knows firsthand about lethal discrimination. Charles Xavier’s dream of mutants coexisting with man hasn’t really stopped mutants from being hunted via Sentinels or other measures, so how can you buy into his peaceful way? Sometimes, you need to fight fire with fire and in a modern age where xenophobia, racism and overall hate is rampant, especially if you’re a mutant, Magneto’s ways may well be the best for self-preservation of the species.
Zod has devolved over the last few years as a maniac who wants everyone dead so that Krypton can be reborn and thrive. However, when his intentions were first made, they were quite understandable. This is what drove Zack Snyder to paint him in such a light in Man of Steel and it was simply because he wanted his people alive again. Sadly, it meant at Earth’s expense, but truth be told, how could you not empathize with him?
If they were your people, wouldn’t you do the same? The issue of coexistence won’t matter because it comes down to only the strong surviving and honestly, after losing your people once you won’t really be that trusting to share, especially with humans. Zod was a militant but he was pragmatic at the end of the day. Only the strong survive and we accept why his disciples stick by his principles.
12. NORMAN OSBORN
Norman Osborn came a long way from the days when he was faking his death, killing young blondes and masquerading as the murderous Green Goblin. He did his time and changed into a refined general leading the Thunderbolts. His cleverness saw him take the kill-shot against the Skrull queen Veranke, which ended their Secret Invasion, as part of his vision where he felt S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers failed to protect Earth.
He was then allowed to lead H.A.M.M.E.R. to safeguard the planet and honestly, he did a fine job. Osborn wasn’t about letting invasion happen again, whether it be aliens or Asgardians. What made people stand with him was that he was willing to fight on the front-lines as the Iron Patriot and not behind diplomacy or social media. His methods may have been extreme but he was all about worldwide order.
Namor takes care of his kingdom of Atlantis, even if it means making a few enemies along the way. When he got a portion of the Phoenix Force, he did raze Wakanda, sure… but the thing is, Namor knows what needs to be done and he does so with authority. Long live the king, right?
Namor’s encounters with the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and as an early Avenger show that he has that heroic strength within him, which we saw when Thanos sent his Black Order to attack. Whether it’s the Mad Titan, Black Bolt, Hyperion or Black Panther making him step his game up, he has learnt humility and knows when to bend the knee. He may be a bit loose with the ladies (just ask Sue Storm or Emma Frost) but he’s still willing to lay down his life for those he loves.
Sinestro knows all about fighting justice on both sides of the line. He’s done it by the book as a Green Lantern and then from within the belly of the beast as a Yellow Lantern. That makes him most knowledgable as to whether the good cop or the bad cop works for maintaining order. The answer is the more aggressive one and that’s the latter! Sure, he harnesses the power of fear to do so but Sinestro knows that you need to play hardball to succeed.
He wouldn’t have formed his own Sinestro Corps if he wasn’t a charismatic leader and it shows that people are willing to follow a man who’s ready to bend or break rules to ensure the galaxy isn’t overrun by misplaced emotions and false hope. His iron fist may be yellow and unforgiving but Sinestro gets results.
X-Men fans have always joked that “Magneto was right” when it came to how he and Xavier locked horns over Earth’s mutants but after Scott Summers’ relationship with the Professor disintegrated, it quickly became “Cyclops was right.” Events such as Schism and Avengers vs. X-Men proved to Cyclops that his people were still viewed as a threat and he had to protect them by all means.
When he got a portion of the Phoenix Force, he killed Xavier, but truth be told, so many mutant spokespeople and of course, the Avengers, wanted to dictate how mutantkind should live. Sorry but after M-Day where mutants were de-powered, no one offered a hand on rebuilding their race. Cyclops’ species were treated like outcasts, so he made them ones to fear. He would perish thanks to the Inhumans later on but it reinforced why outsiders couldn’t be trusted with the fate of mutants.
With Darkseid, it’s usually up to you to submit to his rule or perish. But having made his home in the fiery pits of Apokolips, you should look deeper as to why his army of Parademons and Furies want to conquer the galaxy. He wants to rule it and use the Anti-Life Equation because he has seen that life is cruel and unjust. Under his command, he thinks he can make it better.
Given his power, why not? Anyone worthy of taking out Superman and the rest of the Justice League is totally worth it. That’s why the DCEU quickly turned to him as a villain. Scot Free (his adopted son), Orion (his real son) and New Genesis may not take to his ways, but he has seen cosmic chaos erupt under people like the Guardians of Oa and he’s not content to just idly let the universe be devoured. Also, it says a lot that he has successfully been able to govern what is essentially hell from time immemorial. It’s easy to hate the devil, but it’s hard not to respect his control.
THis one is admittedly a bit of a cheat, since Medusa has been, after shaking off her amnesia in her first appearance, much more of a hero, even serving as a member of the FF. But she is, at very least, a ruthless one. Inhumans vs. X-Men proved this. The Terrigen cloud proceeded to spread over the Earth but while it unearthed new Inhumans, it proved deadly to mutants. The cloud made mutants sterile or killed them so in effect it was making them extinct, which pushed Cyclops and Emma Frost up against Medusa.
Some say the redhead queen then turned back into a villain. Without her husband at her side, Medusa purposefully went to war knowing that for her species to survive, the X-Men had to suffer. It was a tough decision but Medusa showed just how to rule because she picked “us” over “them” and did all in her power to keep Inhumans safe and sound. She did so with a relatively inexperienced team and no matter what, her people knew she’d die before she watched them get wiped off the planet.
Thanos has some pretty dark philosophies on death and how it controls the universe. That’s never been hidden throughout his Marvel Comics career and this is what has led the Black Order to follow him. They’ve been retconned in Avengers: Infinity War as the Children of Thanos, along with Gamora and Nebula, which shows that there is rhyme within the Mad Titan’s reason.
Thanos wants to use the Infinity Gauntlet to shape reality and the cosmos as he sees fit. Sometimes that takes a little destruction and purging beforehand. You can’t build a house without setting up a foundation, and time and time again, we’ve seen this in Jim Starlin’s stories, as well as those of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Events like the Thanos Imperative and Infinity have shown us that following him could lead to brave, new worlds with a stricter degree of order, even while he courts death.
5. EMMA FROST
Emma Frost has been through a lot and knows how to play along the heroic and villainous spectrum. She’s very street-smart and yes, uses her sex appeal to protect mutants, coming a long way since the Hellfire Club. She used the Phoenix Force as well to make sure mutants were kept safe but it was during IvX that we really saw her cut loose.
Cyclops had secretly died from Terrigen poisoning so she faked a mental projection of him as a symbol. When this fake leader was killed by Black Bolt, she used it as an excuse to go after him and Medusa. It was a deep ruse but illustrates how far the White Queen goes and manipulates to save hers. She’s doing the same in Secret Empire with HYDRA and honestly speaking, she’s someone you can trust, even when doing the wrong thing, to keep you safe.
4. LEX LUTHOR
Lex Luthor usually deals with self-serving issues. However, despite his schemes, he’s a philanthropist who helps push mankind forward in terms of research, science and technology. Sure, for every two steps mankind takes forward, Lex benefits and takes ten ahead for himself and his business. That’s business at the end of the day but what makes him relatable is that he shares valid concerns when metahumans and weapons of mass destruction roam free.
His hatred for Superman can be seen as concerning because as selfish as it is, such a godlike entity can’t go unchecked. Look at what happened in the Injustice universe and so many DC books. It’s obvious from the cartoons, animated movies and films, as well, that these individuals need to be monitored. Face it, Lex helps out society more than we give him credit for and he can help protect us from alien threats if need be.
Anyone who thinks Doctor Doom isn’t worth placing faith in needs to read the Infamous Iron Man. This story from Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev shows just how redemption should be portrayed. Doom learned that he needed to work to make the world a better place after Secret Wars and so he set about it in an earnest way.
He took over from the deceased Iron Man and moved into the role by using science to make the world a brighter and better place. Over the years, the Fantastic Four and Avengers failed to understand that, as wicked as Doom got, he simply wanted to sculpt a world of order and productivity. Doom may have come off like a selfish dictator but look closely and you’ll see he actually had a vision for good. It also helps he knows magic as a backup plan if things go really bad!
2. CIVIL WAR’S IRON MAN
In the Civil War comic event, and Captain America: Civil War film, it was hard to not view Tony Stark as a pseudo-villain. He wanted his Avengers to register with the government officially but it seemed like it encroached on the heroes’ civil rights, which led to Captain America’s rebellion. Iron Man’s perspective on freedom didn’t match Cap’s but it has to be understood that such powered individuals can’t keep running around unchecked.
Transparency and accountability are necessities and help offset potential disasters as seen with Nitro (in the Stamford incident) and Wanda (in the movie). Heroes have to go on the record because they can be villains in the making and at the end of the day, it’s better to be an official cop than a vigilante. We’re not defending the Thor clone or hiring villains but Stark just wanted to bring order to a nation under fire.
Steve Rogers as HydraCap is one of the most divisive leaders in comic book history thanks to Secret Empire. With the all-American hero we know now leading HYDRA after some Cosmic Cube shenanigans, backlash has come to Marvel Comics, with many calling him, well, basically a nazi. His muzzling of the media and executing opposers, even his former Avenger allies, don’t make a great impression.
However, as he often tells Sharon Carter when he’s trying to convince her he’s doing the right thing, humanity needs to experience the dark before the dawn. Rogers has begged for our trust while he handles mankind, mutants, Inhumans and extraterrestrial affairs, because what came before, especially with S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t work. Two civil wars highlighted this and Rogers knows that to build a new world, you have to tear the old one down. It’s a harsh doctrine but it’s still true.
Let us know in the comments which despotic leader you’d follow to the death when called upon!
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