When you think about the best superheroes in the history of comic books, you can’t help but think of their rogues galleries. The best comic book heroes invariably have the best villains. This could be a chicken and egg thing, though, where we become interested in certain heroes because they have such a great selection of villains. In some cases, readers become almost as interested in the top villains as they are in the top heroes.
However, what they’re really most interested in is the rivalry between the hero and the villain, that interconnected animosity that makes the combination of the characters in a story more than just the sum of their collective parts. It is in the contrast between hero and villain that both characters really get a chance to shine, especially when characters fight each other a number of times, as each fight builds the history of their rivalry, making it richer and richer over the years. Here, then, are the 15 greatest superhero/supervillain rivalries in comic book history.
15. Batman vs. Ra’s Al Ghul
While Batman travels all over the galaxy with the Justice League of America to fight super villains and otherworldly tyrants, in his own title he tends to stick with defending Gotham City. One notable exception is when he fights against Ra’s Al Ghul. When introduced by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams in the early 1970s, Ra’s Al Ghul was a way to take Batman out of Gotham and place him into a sweeping adventure reminiscent of James Bond movies. Al Ghul is an eco-terrorist who wants to improve the world by killing most of the people on it. Batman is one of the few people in the world that he actually respects. He even calls him “Detective” as a sign of that respect.
Adding to their complex relationship is the fact that Batman and Al Ghul’s daughter, Talia, have had a longstanding romance, including even marrying at one point! Their relationship led to a child, too, with that kid being Batman’s current Robin, Damian Wayne. So when Ra’s fights Batman, he fights against his own grandson!
14. Spider-Man vs. Venom
The enmity between Spider-Man and Venom began before Venom was even a character. During the “Secret Wars” event mini-series, Spider-Man gained a new black costume. As it turned out, the costume was actually an alien symbiote that was trying to bond with Spider-Man! Spidey broke free from the costume, but the costume escaped from custody and ended up bonding with a disgruntled reporter by the name of Eddie Brock, who blamed Spider-Man for ruining his career, as Brock had gotten an interview with who he thought was a serial killer known as the Sin-Eater that Spidey proved wasn’t the actual killer.
So you now had a super-strong alien who hated Spider-Man for spurning it combined with a man who hated Spider-Man for ruining his career. That combination became the villain known as Venom. Venom fought Spider-Man for a number of years, but Brock did not see himself as a bad guy – he only killed people he felt were bad, so he and Spider-Man often ended up having a begrudging alliance. Brock later lost the symbiote. It briefly bonded with the villain known as the Scorpion before the U.S. government acquired it and gave it to Flash Thompson, who used it to become a hero. However, a change is coming soon and Venom is becoming a villain once again.
13. Thor vs. Loki
The rivalry between Thor and Loki goes back well before the two ever appeared in a Marvel Comic (interestingly enough, by the way, alternate versions of Thor and Loki appeared in a couple of Marvel Comics back in the early 1950s) as theirs is a rivalry that long existed in Norse mythology, where the God of Thunder and the God of Mischief were often at odds with each other.
In the comics, they have a fascinating rivalry because while Loki has done a lot of evil things in the comics, he is still Thor’s half-brother and that relationship is still an important one to Thor. This often keeps him from treating Loki like a true villain all the time. In addition, Loki is so unpredictable that occasionally his interests align with Thor’s and they do end up working together. That uncertainty is a nice change of pace for such a rivalry.
12. Avengers vs. Ultron
The connections between the killer robot Ultron and the Avengers go extremely deep. Ultron was created by Hank Pym, a founding member of the Avengers. Once sentient, Ultron upgraded himself and went off to built an android, the Vision, who ended up breaking away from Ultron and joining the Avengers. Ultron also based Vision’s brain patterns on the (at the time believed to be dead) Wonder Man, who was also an Avenger. So when it comes to Ultron, it really is a bit of a family affair for the Avengers.
Besides those connections, one of the things that makes Ultron such a popular recurring villain is that he is constantly upgrading himself, so each time the Avengers fight him, it’s a different take on Ultron. This gives writers a wide lane to tell all sorts of different stories with Ultron, including a few rare examples where Ultron actually ended up on the same side as the Avengers!
11. Spider-Man vs. Doctor Octopus
When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced Doctor Octopus in the third issue of “Amazing Spider-Man”, he was a shock to the system because here was a villain who was more than a match for Spider-Man in terms of raw power. Up until this point, Spider-Man hadn’t really been physically challenged, but early fights with Doctor Octopus really forced the young hero to ask if he really even should be doing this anymore. He always found the courage to come back against Doc Ock, however.
Over the years, Doctor Octopus has been a reliable foe, but his stature among the Spider-Man Rogues Gallery was slipping until a recent storyline in which a dying Doctor Octopus managed to switch bodies with Spider-Man, trapping Spidey in the dying body while Doc Ock became the new, Superior Spider-Man. He was even pretty good at it, too, to the point that he was able to recognize his failings as a hero and erased himself from Spider-Man’s consciousness, allowing Peter Parker to return. An interesting end to their rivalry to say the least.
10. Daredevil vs. Bullseye
When he was introduced, Bullseye was “just” a villain with a cool gimmick (the ability to turn anything into a deadly weapon with unerring accuracy) and an awesome costume. However, when Frank Miller took over the writing duties on “Daredevil,” he quickly established Bullseye as a large threat to Daredevil, having him become the Kingpin’s top assassin. Things went to another level when Bullseye killed Elektra, a challenger to his role as Kingpin’s top agent and also the love of Daredevil’s life.
The death of Elektra sealed Bullseye’s spot as one of Daredevil’s greatest enemies, but things took an even worse turn when Bullseye then killed Karen Page, the other love of Daredevil’s life! Naturally, this has amped up all future fights between the characters to a whole other level of hatred. Recently, during the “Shadowlands” crossover, Daredevil actually killed Bullseye, although (this being comics), the villain was later resurrected by the Hand.
9. Wolverine vs. Sabretooth
When the man who went by the name Logan was a young man, he began being tortured by a man named Victor Creed. Every year, Creed would visit Logan on his birthday to show him that, if he wanted to, he could end his life. One of those years, he even seemingly killed Logan’s girlfriend. As time went by and their memories were altered by a mysterious government program, Logan and Creed ended up working together as secret agents.
Years passed (and more memories were altered) and the two men met up again, only now Logan was Wolverine of the X-Men and Creed was the vicious assassin known as Sabretooth, working for Mister Sinister’s Marauders to help slaughter innocent Morlocks in the “Mutant Massacre.” The two characters had a pair of memorable fights during that crossover that solidified this pairing as one of the top rivalries in comics. Over the years, there had been hints that Sabretooth was actually Wolverine’s father. Also, at one point, Wolverine actually beheaded Sabretooth (but, this being comics, he got better). Nowadays, it is Wolverine who is dead while Sabretooth (who had his personality altered during the “Axis” crossover) is the one working alongside the X-Men.
8. Green Lantern vs. Sinestro
Hal Jordan is often referred to as the greatest Green Lantern of all-time. The problem with that designation is the fact that the Green Lantern who people thought was the best before Hal came along was Sinestro, who was also Hal Jordan’s training officer. Sinestro was the brightest light in the Green Lantern Corps, but over time, he became so obsessed with protecting his home world that he slowly became a tyrant. He was ultimately exiled from the Green Lantern Corps, but was then rewarded with his own yellow power ring by the Qwardians, the Corps’ sworn enemies. He fought against the Corps and his former trainee, Hal Jordan, for many years with his yellow power ring.
In recent years, though, Sinestro has drastically increased his power base. No longer is he just a solo villain with a yellow power ring, but as the leader of the aptly titled Sinestro Corps, he is now the head of an entire legion of the universe’s worst villains, each with a yellow power ring of his own.
7. Daredevil vs. Kingpin
While Bullseye had the most direct physical impact on his life, Daredevil’s greatest foe is actually Wilson Fisk, the so-called “Kingpin of Crime.” For although Bullseye does the actual killing, it is almost always at the direct behest of Fisk. Daredevil already was an enemy of Fisk just by virtue of the whole “Kingpin of Crime” thing, but things took a much more personal twist when Fisk discovered Daredevil’s secret identity during the classic “Born Again” storyline. Fisk systematically destroyed Matt Murdock’s personal life and then tried to kill Daredevil. However, Murdock was able to escape, recover, and take down Fisk.
Since then, the two have had an odd relationship. Fisk has the secret identity of Daredevil in his hands, but he has not chosen to use it, as they instead played a strange game of cat and mouse over the years, with Murdock, at one point, actually severely beating Kingpin and declaring himself the new Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen. Recently, with Daredevil’s secret identity hidden once again, they have taken on more of a traditional hero/villain relationship.
6. Captain America vs. Red Skull
You don’t get much more basic, in terms of rivalry, than a superhero representing the United States during World War II versus a super villain representing Nazi Germany. That’s what initially drove the rivalry between Captain America and the Red Skull, and it’s what continued to propel their rivalry in modern times, despite the war being over for over seventy years now. The Red Skull still represents the ideals of the Nazis, which makes him the perfect counterpoint to the symbol of all that is right with America, Captain America.
Over the years, one of the ways that the Skull has been able to hold his own with Captain Americas is through the use of the Cosmic Cube, a powerful reality-altering device. Most recently, a sentient version of the Cube has naively aligned itself with the Skull, who then convinced the Cube to use its power to alter Captain America’s past, so that now the stalwart symbol of America, Steve Rogers, is secretly a member of the Skull’s Nazi spinoff group, Hydra. Hopefully Cap gets back to his old self soon!
5. Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin
In “Amazing Spider-Man” #39 (by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.), Spider-Man finally discovered the secret identity of the Green Goblin, a villain who had been giving him a hard time for two years at that point. He was shocked to learn that the Green Goblin was actually Norman Osborn, the father of Peter’s best friend and college roommate, Harry Osborn! Osborn, too, was shocked to learn that Spider-Man was Peter Parker. Luckily, Osborn’s mental health deteriorated to the point where he blocked the truth from his mind and stopped being the Goblin. Eventually, however, Osborn would go on to kidnap and then kill Spider-Man’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy.
Green Goblin seemingly died in the aftermath of Stacy’s death, but returned years later as it was revealed that he had bankrolled a number of operations over the years designed to screw with Spider-Man, including convincing Peter that he was a clone of the real Spider-Man! After a stint where he stopped bothering Spider-Man to take on a position of power in the United States government, a disgraced Osborn went back to bothering Spider-Man during the “Superior Spider-Man” era, where he revealed that he was now constantly changing his appearance so Spider-Man would never know just who was the real Green Goblin!
4. Superman vs. Lex Luthor
In one way of looking at it, Lex Luthor‘s opposition to Superman can almost seem like a noble one. Luthor is “just” a man who uses all of his knowhow and ingenuity to stand up against a powerful alien invader of Earth. Of course, the only person who looks at it that way is Lex Luthor himself, as everyone else sees him for the opportunistic xenophobe who convinces himself that he is doing the “right” thing while he is really just causing trouble for one of the greatest things ever to happen to Earth.
Over the years, Luthor has tried different approaches against Superman. He was once a well-respected pillar of the business community who would secretly strike at Superman. For a time, he was even President of the United States! But most typically, he is an egotistical jerk who is obsessed with proving that he is better than the Man of Steel, and if people get hurt in the crossfire, well, who cares?
3. Fantastic Four vs. Doctor Doom
Victor Von Doom and Reed Richards are sort of like a case of “Goofus and Gallant,” with both men being geniuses who feel isolated from the rest of the world and prone to wanting to control everything around them for what they view as the “greater good.” The difference is that “Gallant” Reed ended up finding a way to connect with people outside of himself, like his college roommate, Ben Grimm, or his grad school sweetheart, Sue Storm, while “Goofus” Doom never was willing to connect with anyone. As a result, Reed became the famous leader of the Fantastic Four while Doom became the masked villain known as Doctor Doom.
Most of the fights between Doom and the Fantastic Four over the years have revolved around Doom trying to prove he’s smarter than Reed, or moreover just a better person. This came to a head during the recent “Secret Wars” crossover event when Doom ended up as, in effect, God of the Multiverse. He then found a version of Sue Storm and made her his wife. In the end, though, Doom couldn’t handle the power and ended up having to concede it to none other than Reed Richards, who is currently trying to fully fix the damage done to the Multiverse, alongside his beloved wife and children, forever keeping him in touch with his humanity.
2. X-Men vs. Magneto
Like some of the other examples on this list, at the heart of the rivalry between the X-Men and Magneto lies one of those “two sides of the same coin” character connections. Here, that coin is reflected in Magneto and Professor Charles Xavier. Both believe in mutants not being treated poorly by humanity, however, they have completely opposite views in terms of how to achieve that feat. Magneto feels that the only way of achieving their goal is to essentially go to war with humanity and prove that mutants are superior, while Xavier wants to protect humanity from evil threats and prove that mutants are a friend to humankind.
One of the great joys of the “X-Men” comics in the 1980s was to slowly see Magneto come around to Xavier’s way of doing things. While Xavier has been dead for a few years now, he would be pleased to see that Magneto is working with the X-Men nowadays, trying his best to be a better man instead of just a dominant mutant.
1. Batman vs. Joker
Finally, the most famous rivalry in all of comics is also one of those “mirror image” situations, where Batman’s obsession with law and order finds itself contrasted by the Joker‘s evil embrace of chaos. The Joker, meanwhile, sees the existence of Batman as something that drives him to be who he is. There is a classic storyline called “Going Sane”, where the Joker thinks that he has killed Batman and finds that he is sort of lost without him. Without the Batman there to compare himself to, who is the Joker?
The most famous Batman/Joker storylines highlight their connections to each other, from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s “The Killing Joke” (which ends with the two sharing a laugh at the absurdity of their constant clashes) to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Death of the Family” (which showed the importance of Batman in the Joker’s life, in his own twisted fashion).
Which superhero/supervillain rivalry is your favorite? Let us know in the comments section!
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