Every hero has them, those villains that return to plague them again and again, who develop an obsession that means committing crimes is as much about enticing the hero as seeking material gain. Whether Batman and the Joker or Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, the rivalry of such heroes and villains echoes down through the ages. And yet, the fact remains that while there are undoubtedly many fantastic pairings of heroes and villains, there are just as many that fail to set the world alight. Many heroes have an arch foe that is more laughable than dangerous, while the fixation of some villains towards their chosen heroic foes may be entirely one-sided.
Never ones to shy away from a challenge, we at CBR have delved deep into the teetering stack of back-issues in order to uncover the arch-foes who are more sad than bad. The characters on this list may have delusions of grandeur or believe that they're the baddest of the bad, but in the grand scheme of things, they can't compete with the Lex Luthors and Jokers of the world. Mad, sad and dangerous to know, CBR counts down 15 of comicdom's lamest arch shmoes.
Bullseye first appeared in 1976's Daredevil #131 and has been a thorn in Matt Murdock's side ever since. He's killed two of Matt's girlfriends (Elektra and Karen Page), has long been obsessed with Daredevil and has worked for the Kingpin, Matt's eternal adversary. He was even the main villain in the 2003 Daredevil movie, portrayed by Colin Farrel. So, with this pedigree, why does Bullseye merit a spot on this list?
The primary reason is that Bullseye's appearances over the years -- particularly in the decade since his movie debut -- have left him overexposed. He's appeared in miniseries, solo series, team books, all of which have tried to up his cool factor. There's a fine line between being a deadly assassin and being a cartoon character, and as his methods of killing people became ever more outlandish, Bullseye continues to jump the shark.
Way back in 1960's Brave and the Bold #28, Starro the Conqueror was the first villain to face the newly formed Justice League of America. Despite facing off against other heroes in the years since, including Booster Gold and the Teen Titans, it's with the Justice League that Starro is most associated. One of the most unmistakable villains, Starro has a great look: resembling a giant, one-eyed starfish, miniature spores of itself can attach to the faces of its victims, placing them under its mental control.
The reason that Starro merits a place on this list is that, despite the often epic scale of its plans -- including the mental manipulation of heroes and civilians alike -- there's rarely a real sense of danger, or that his foes are in trouble. Typically, the threat is resolved simply by freezing him or otherwise immobilizing his physical form, resulting in the conqueror becoming the conquered.
Created by Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness during their run on the original Deadpool solo series, T-Ray was established as Deadpool's primary adversary in the title's first year. The two were the alpha males of the Hellhouse, the mercenary bar where Deadpool was assigned most of his jobs. However, unlike Deadpool, who at the time was attempting to become a better person, T-Ray had no qualms about killing innocents or taking on the bloodiest assignments.
The problem was that T-Ray was a rather undefined character. There were vague hints of a mysterious past and links to magic and mysticism; then, after the title's first year, he was gone. When he reappeared at the end of Kelly's run, it was to reveal that he was the true Wade Wilson, a reveal that many fans hated and led to T-Ray being consigned to limbo for years thereafter.
Reminiscent of the many exotic creatures that populated Marvel's monster magazines in the 1950s, Zzzzax first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #166, by Steve Englehart and Herb Trimpe. Formed from the fusion of a nuclear accident and the minds of both terrorists and nuclear engineers, Zzzax became a long-running Hulk foe. However, the result was the same whether Zzzax was facing the dumb, green Hulk, the smart Hulk or the Rick Jones Hulk: he was defeated on each occasion.
Part of the reason that Zzzax isn't particularly memorable as an adversary is that there's no strong central personality, with the creature being able to absorb human brain energy and take on the personality of its victims. The brief period where General "Thunderbolt" Ross was in charge of the creature gave it a personal stake against the Hulk, but otherwise the greatest challenge that Zzzax poses the Hulk is in spelling his name correctly.
11 BARON STRUCKER
As the head of Hydra, Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker has crossed paths with a number of Marvel heroes, including Captain America on numerous occasions. However, his most enduring rivalry has been with Nick Fury, with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra spending years locked in conflict against each other. Strucker is evidently a survivor, being born in the late 19th century, but his journey over the years doesn't paint him in the most flattering light.
While Strucker may fancy himself a chess master, envisioning he and Fury as old foes locked in eternal conflict, the truth isn't quite as impressive. Strucker has consistently come second best in all areas of his life, as an absentee father, a poor leader and a feeble foe. Summing up his career, his joy at discovering that Hydra controlled S.H.I.E.L.D. was short-lived. Nick Fury revealed that the reverse was true, shortly before shooting Strucker in the head.
10 HECTOR HAMMOND
How big a name is Hector Hammond in the Green Lantern mythos? So big that he was one of the featured movies in the 2011 Green Lantern film, where it's fair to say the portrayal of the character was not met with universal approval. Hammond first appeared in 1961's Green Lantern #5, as an unscrupulous criminal who became a rich celebrity. Later appearances would see him develop an enlarged brain and psionic powers, abilities that he used to plague Hal Jordan over the years.
Hector's drawback is similar to that which affects Modok and The Leader, two Marvel villains that share similarities with Hammond. Somehow, genius level intellect never seems to be the advantage for villains that might be expected, an enlarged brain proving a poor defense against a hero's power. Still, Hector was responsible for the creation of the second Royal Flush gang, proof that there were some decisions that he got right.
It's not only Spider-Man who has to contend with animal-themed foes. Manfred Haller originally designed his elephant-themed suit to explore hostile areas, and intended to promote its abilities by capturing She-Hulk. Why an elephant? Because, as Haller explained, the animal was "dependable, versatile and incredibly powerful." The two first fought in Savage She-Hulk #17, with Haller's suit proving no match for her strength and skill.
The sheer zaniness of the Man-Elephant character meant that he has returned on several occasions. The second Man-Elephant appeared in Sensational She-Hulk #51, where he attempted to turn normal elephants into humanoid versions like him. The original, Haller, would later return during Peter David's run on She Hulk. Now calling himself Behemoth, he set out for revenge on She-Hulk for a perceived slight, proving that an elephant never forgets.
With Richard Ryder evolving into a major cosmic player after his starring role in the Annihilation event, it's easy to forget that many of the foes in his original solo series were throwaway or just plain weird. One such foe was Diamondhead. Arch Dyker first appeared in Nova #3 (1976) and returned many times throughout this run. A criminal who was mutated by a diamond-hard laser, Dyker developed a diamond-like body that he used to enhance his criminal career.
To be fair, Diamondhead was occasionally a threat to Nova at the time, with his low-level cunning complementing his powers. He formed the Terrible Trio with Condor and Powerhouse, and his betrayal almost led to the destruction of the Nova Corps. With Nova's increase in power since those days, Diamondhead is now totally outclassed. In a memorable scene in Nova #2 (1999), Rich accidentally shattered Dyker's form into a million pieces.
7 CLOCK KING
Do you long for the good old days when villains had a theme and utterly embraced it? Then, friend, Clock King is the villain for you. Wiliam Tockman was originally told that he had six months to live, His desire to care for his terminally-ill sister led to him being caught and incarcerated after robbing a bank. While in prison his sister died and Tockman later found out that there had been a mistake: his medical records had been swapped with another patient. This led to Tockman's obsession with time, and his desire for revenge on Green Arrow.
Tockman deserves points for being part of the Injustice League, the most entertaining super group that ever lived, but even his biggest fan would be hard-pushed to defend his exploits. Whether a solo hero, leading his own team or having a very short-lived stint as a member of the Suicide Squad, where his time ran out.
6 MISTER MXYZPTLK
For letterers, Mister Mxyzptlk is the ultimate foe. With a name that sounds like the result of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets chewing a gumball, he must present a constant challenge. For Superman, the interdimensional imp poses a rather less serious threat. Making his comics debut in 1944's Superman #30, Mister Mxyzptlk was typically presented as a magical trickster, forever complicating Superman's life. The way to defeat Mxyzptlk and send him back to his home dimension was to get him to say his name backwards, a trick that Mxy fell for with hilarious regularity.
It's great to have a break from villains that are all death and destruction, and if any hero should have villains that are more mischievous than sinister, it's Superman. Yet while Mxyzptlk may have made it his life's work to torment the Man of Steel, it's doubtful whether Superman shares his joy in their "special" relationship.
5 BARON MORDO
First appearing in Strange Tales #111 as a fellow disciple of the Ancient One, Mordo turned against his master, marking the beginning of his long-running feud with Stephen Strange. The Ancient One trained Strange to oppose Mordo, with many of the early Doctor Strange stories featuring Mordo's attempt to kill his old mentor. In later years, Mordo would transfer his attentions to Strange himself, becoming his frequent foe.
The simple problem with Mordo is that while he may see himself as Strange's great nemesis, he's rarely shown as a threat. Either Strange is able to thwart Mordo's plans or, more frequently, Mordo wrecks his own plans through a combination of vanity, cowardice or stupidity. Mordo deserves points for tenacity, though, taking over the Sanctum Sanctorum in Marvel's current Secret Empire event.
Created by Peter David and Sam Kieth in Marvel Comics Presents #85, Cyber is so '90s it hurts. Huge muscles, armored skin, plentiful teeth -- yet for a time, he was hyped up as the next big Wolverine villain. The hook for Cyber is that he not only presented a physical challenge to Wolverine, but also a psychological one. His skin (apart from his face) was covered with a layer of adamantium. Retractable claws contained powerful hallucinogens specifically designed to affect Wolverine, meaning that Wolverine was often terrified of Cyber.
But in reality, Cyber was all mouth and no trousers. Despite his tough talk and his declarations that he was Wolverine's nemesis, he met a grisly end. The circumstances of his death were particularly embarrassing, his body being devoured by deathwatch beetles under the command of Genesis, a z-grade X-Men villain.
M'Baku, better known as the Man-Ape, is a long-time foe of the Black Panther, first debuting in Avengers #62, from the creative team of Roy Thomas and John Buscema. One of Wakanda's greatest warriors, M'Baku gained his powers by consuming the flesh of a sacred white gorilla and bathing in its blood. This augmented him with strength, durability and other aspects of the great beast. And, just in case the origins of his powers weren't obvious enough, M'Baku rocks one mean gorilla skin.
M'Baku's career as T'challa's arch-foe has been somewhat unsuccessful. In his first appearance he was presumed dead when he was crushed by the Black Panther totem, representing something of a career highlight for him. Membership of the Lethal Legion and Masters of Evil would follow, as well as numerous solo escapades, but M'Baku has consistently failed to cause T'challa any great concern.
2 THE PENGUIN
Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot is one of Batman's most enduring adversaries, first appearing in 1941's Detective Comics #58. With his distinctive look of Top Hat and tuxedo, he's been a focal point of the '60s Batman series, the Batman Returns film and the current Gotham TV series. Yet it's somewhat difficult to account for exactly why the character has achieved such longevity in the comics, or why he has come to be considered one of Batman's greatest foes.
He can be entertaining to read about, with his modern status of "legitimate" club owner giving him an interesting place in Batman's world. Yet when used as a crime lord or even just a straight up supervillain, it's hard to imagine that he could cause Batman problems for more than, ooh, 30 seconds or so?
1 THE VULTURE
Readers of Amazing Spider-Man #2 (1963) were treated to the debut of a new villain from the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko team. Adrian Toomes was a bald old guy who dressed in green and, with the aid of a specially designed harness, could fly. Surprisingly, this flying grandpa became a recurring Spider-Man villain and will be the main villain in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. Who would have thought it?
Fans of the Vulture may point to the clashes between him and Spider-Man as a representation of the youth vs age conflict. What's undeniable is that the only way the Vulture can be seen as a legitimate threat to Spider-Man is by artificially hindering Peter's capabilities. Hence, we've seen him fight Vulture with a broken arm, without any webbing, with a headache and so on. If your big villain can only be a threat by de-powering his foe, then perhaps it's time for the Vulture to be retired.
There you have our choices for 15 awful arch foes! As always, let us know where we've got it right or where you think we got it oh so wrong, either by leaving a comment here or on Facebook!