For a comic to succeed, a good hero needs a good villain. It's the yin and yang of the genre, and plenty of once promising heroes have faltered and failed due to lackluster adversaries. So when a comic company hypes up a new villain, fans tend to approach the new baddies with trepidation. After all, advertising alone can't make a villain interesting. In the end, a villain lives and dies due to fan reception of their storyline. Sure, there have plenty of villains that lived up to the hype, but there have been many villains presented as "the next big thing" that totally flopped.
The failure of a villain can occur for numerous reasons; the design might be lackluster, the story might not click with readers, or the baddie might just be downright bad. But no comic company sets out to approve a bad villain. If a company feels like a bad guy has potential, they'll build the character up, releasing ads that whip fans into a hype frenzy. But not every baddie can be a Green Goblin or a Joker, no matter how hard they are pushed. Sometimes, a villain just doesn't click. Those are the ones we're interested in highlighting here!
There's an old adage that goes ,"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." While this might be true of horseback riding or break dancing, it doesn't necessarily apply to comic book characters. You see, if a character is introduced, and ultimately fails, it might be to just put the character out to pasture. Sure, there are plenty of characters that didn't quite work when first introduced, only to find success later in life.
Eclipso is not one of these characters, try as DC might to push this perennial second-rate villain as the next big thing.
Since debuting all the way back in 1962, Eclipso has been a generic supervillain, a genie-esque spirit summoned from a black diamond, and even the manifestation of God's wrath. DC's writers seem determined to get Eclipso to stick, leading to plenty of re-toolings and just as many ads and promotions surrounding the new and approved version of the character. Eclipso has been the focal point of both a solo series and several crossover events, but no amount of fresh coats of paint have been able to get Eclipso to stick as a big threat in the DCU. Essentially, Eclipso has been presented as the "next big thing" for more than a decade, but this is a villain that just can't seem to make it as big as the publisher wants.
There was a time in comic books when slapping "Goblin" on something automatically meant big sales. Green Goblin remained a popular Spider-Man villain, and the arrival of Hobgoblin reignited fan interest in the "hooded guys flying around on hoverboards" sub-section of Spidey villains. Problem was, there just weren't enough Goblin characters to satisfy fan demand. So writers Gerry Conway and Sal Buscema got to work creating a new Goblin, which caused Marvel to fly into an advertising flurry, taking out ads building up this mysterious new Goblin as the next big Spider-Man villain. That would have been fine, if the resulting supervillain didn't land with a resounding thud.
This new demonic Goblin, dubbed "Demogoblin," brought hellfire and brimstone to the Goblin family, zipping around on his flaming Goblin Glider and hurling hellish Pumpkin Bombs. Debuting in Web of Spider-Man #86, Demogoblin was obsessed with the eradication of sin, leading to constant clashes with Spidey. After his initial storyline failed to garner much interest among fans, Demogoblin would be demoted to background villain, popping up for the occasional battle, only to be defeated and disappear. Ultimately, Demogoblin was unceremoniously killed by Hobgoblin, putting an end to this flop.
13 CLAYFACE III
A legacy villain is a tricky thing to pull off. After all, when you introduce a brand new character using the name of a previously established character, fans are naturally going to compare the character to previous incarnations. So when the decision was made to introduce a third iteration of Clayface, fans were curious as to how the character would work. Would he be crazy, like the first Clayface? Would he be a tragic figure, like the second Clayface? Nope and nope.
What fans got instead was a new spin on the Clayface name that was so bland, he quickly slip into obscurity.
Preston Payne, aka Clayface III, was a scientist that had injected himself with the blood of Matt Hagen, the second Clayface, in a desperate ploy to cure his hyperpituitarism. As this is comic books, the plan backfired, and Payne became a walking pile of mush. Unlike the previous Clayface iterations, Clayface III took to wearing an exo-suit a la Mr. Freeze in an attempt to control his form. Also, he wore a silly cape and briefs. Clayface III proved to be just a little too different for Bat-fans, and the villain would quickly disappear, allowing the first Clayface to reclaim his title.
12 MISTER MIND
A villain doesn't always get a strong push upon creation; sometimes, it can take a while for a company to get behind a character. Such was the case with Mister Mind. This inch-high Shazam villain debuted all the way back in 1943, but he wouldn't find himself in the spotlight until 2005. With a storyline that cast Mister Mind as the next big threat to the DC Universe, it seemed as though the star of this mind-controlling worm was set to rise. Unfortunately, even after nearly destroying all of reality, this villain soon dropped off the radar again.
Despite being a worm that wears glasses, Mister Mind has proven himself to be a true threat to Shazam and the Marvel Family. In 2007, Mister Mind took a break from bothering the Big Red Cheese to become embroiled in the events of the company-wide crossover event, 52. In the story, Mind begins his metamorphosis, setting off a chain of events that culminates in the worm assuming a new form as a monstrous creature intent on consuming all of time and space. Ultimately defeated, the story heavily hints that Mister Mind could one day change again, and paints the worm as a potentially universe-threatening foe. But afterwards, Mind resumed his duties as a C-list villain, and rarely pops up outside of issues of Shazam, seemingly indicating that the once heavily-hyped villain won't be getting a big push again any time soon.
11 DARK BEAST
Ah, the age old "Here's a new character that is like a previously established character, but he's eeeeeeevil" trope. Ever since Star Trek's seminal "Mirror, Mirror," writers have loved to trot out evil versions of good characters from alternative universes. It's a tried and true plot, and "evil character from evil universe" has resulted in some fun stories. Case in point, the insidious Dark Beast. A dark and twisted version of the X-Men's resident amicable blue furball, Dark Beast played a large role in the mega-popular Age Of Apocalypse event, and seemed poised to become a major threat in the main Marvel U. Problem was, this once-promising X-baddie made less of a splash and more a thud.
Unfortunately, Dark Beast's promising storyline was brought to an abrupt halt.
Serving as Apocalypse's resident mad scientist, Dark Beast was all too happy to torture in the name of science. When the AoA came to a screeching halt, Dark Beast jumped ship to the main 616 Marvel Universe and promptly infiltrated the X-Men and began a campaign of terror. Unfortunately, the promising storyline was brought to an abrupt halt due to the appearance of Onslaught, and Dark Beast was subsequently lost in the shuffle of the ensuing Onslaught event. Dark Beast would continue to pester the X-Men and make sporadic appearances over the years, but he went from "next big thing" to "another forgotten X-baddie" quicker than you could say, "Oh my stars and garters."
10 RED VULTURE
In 2009, the decision was made to shake up Spider-Man's rogues gallery. After all, Spidey had been fighting the likes of Doctor Octopus and Mysterio for decades; wasn't it about time to introduce some fresh faces into his bad guy repertoire? As a result, ol' Web-Head was pitted against many new baddies in quick succession, including a new version of The Vulture. Billed as "Red Vulture," this new villain was a big departure from the classic Vulture. Gone was the old face of Adrian Toomes, replaced with the bloodthirsty Jimmy Natale. Red Vulture became a big threat to Spidey, and the villain was advertised as a new kind of Spider-Man villain. And then... poof. Just as quickly as he appeared, Red Vulture was gone.
With his razor sharp fangs and blinding acid spit, Red Vulture was a far fry from The Vulture Spider-Man was used to. Red Vulture became a big thorn in Spidey's side, and even managed to briefly blind the Wall-Crawler with his acid spit. But Red Vulture, much like many of the other new Spider-Man villains introduced at this time, proved to be a dud, and the character dropped off the face of the Earth, only to later be stabbed to death by The Punisher. A fitting end for a crummy legacy villain.
Murmur seemed to have everything a character needs to become popular. Created by the popular Geoff Johns and debuting during the writer's beloved run on The Flash, Murmur was presented as a major threat to the Scarlet Speedster. A deranged serial killer obsessed with silence, Murmur crafted a virus dubbed "Frenzy" that threatened to rip Central City apart. Though the plan was foiled, Murmur became a member of Blacksmith's incarnation of the Rogues, and seemed destined to become a big threat to The Flash.
But despite receiving a heavy push from Geoff Johns, this villain would soon fall off the face of the Earth.
Clad in his trademark white mask and armed with his trusty knife, Murmur was a big departure from The Flash's standard rogues. Joining forces with the likes of Blacksmith, The Trickster, and Girder, Murmur was presented as a true threat to The Flash, willing to kill anyone in pursuit of his insane quest for absolute silence. Johns made ample use of Murmur, and it seemed as though the character would become a reoccurring threat to Wally West, but subsequent Flash writers opted to stay away from the deranged serial killer, causing the villain to slip into obscurity. Despite a promising debut, Murmur hasn't been seen since the events of One Year Later, and it's questionable if this once heavily promoted Flash rogue will ever return.
If "rising to prominence and then disappearing into obscurity" was an Olympic sport, Neron would easily take the Gold. Debuting in an event entirely centered around the villains' machinations, the hellish Neron seemed poised to join the likes of Darkseid and Mongul in the pantheon of "universe threatening bad guys." Advertising presented Neron as a threat so great, the DC Universe might never be the same after his interference. Point is, this villain was supposed to be a big deal. But did Neron ultimately prove to be as big a deal as the hype made him out to be? Not so much.
Debuting as the big bad in 1995's Underworld Unleashed, the demon-lord Neron schemed to conquer the Earth by offering heroes and villains their heart's desires in exchange for their souls. Through his machinations, Neron nearly destroyed the Earth, but was ultimately defeated, but not before swearing vengeance. Despite subsequent appearances that presented Neron as a big threat to the DCU, this demon-lord would later be retooled into a minor demon that pestered the likes of John Constantine and Ambush Bug. Neron occasionally pops up in small roles, but his days of threatening the Earth seem to be behind him. Once one of the biggest threats to the DCU, this largely-forgotten villain went from "next big thing" to "who?" in no time flat.
7 KANJAR RO
The Justice League has fought some of the biggest villains in the DC Universe. When a villain scraps with the JLA, he's officially made; after all, just look at the likes of Despero and Darkseid. These are feared characters, reserved for only the biggest of fights with DC's premier super team. But that's not to say that every baddie to go toe-to-toe with the League is automatically an A-Lister. Just look at Kanjar Ro.
Kanjar Ro debuted all the way back in Justice League Of America #3 in 1961, and much like the bad smell in your car, he's never quite gone away.
As dictator of the planet Dhor, Ro rules with an iron fist, primarily thanks to his "Gamma Gong," a high tech gong that, when rung, renders people unable to move. As one of the JLA's oldest villains, Kanjar Ro has been brought back time and time again, each time presented as a major threat that could potentially destroy the League. But no matter how many times the guy has been re-tooled or re-introduced, Kanjar Ro just can't seem to stick. Despite plenty of high profile storylines that presented him as a big deal baddie, Ro primarily toils in relative obscurity these days.
6 LADY BULLSEYE
When making a new character inspired by a pre-existing one, it's important to ensure that the new character is capable of working independently without relying entirely on their name. A good example: She-Hulk may be inspired by Hulk, but She-Hulk is able to work independently of the Hulk. A bad example: Lady Bullseye. Yes, this oft-forgotten Daredevil villain was billed as the next big baddie for ol' Horn Head, but after a strong initial outing, this ninja villain made like her profession and disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Inspired by the kill-happy Bullseye after witnessing the psychopathic assassin effortlessly take out the Yakuza that had kidnapped her, Lady Bullseye would follow in Bullseye's footsteps, embarking on a life of crime and murder-for-hire. Lady Bullseye would cross paths with Daredevil while employed by the ninja clan known as the Hand, leading to a knock-down, drag-out fight. Lady Bullseye and Daredevil would briefly become allies when Matt Murdock assumed control of the Hand, but Daredevil would once again draw the ire of the assassin after departing the clan. Despite vowing vengeance on Daredevil, Lady Bullseye has been rarely seen since, only popping up on occasion to fill villain-of-the-week duties. For a character so heavily promoted by Marvel, Lady Bullseye sure failed to live up to the hype.
The philosopher Drake once said, "Started from the bottom and we here." Well, Helspont is kind of like that, but "Started from the bottom, then got really popular, and now we're back at the bottom for some reason" would probably be more applicable to his situation. Yes, starting life as the big bad of Image Comics' mega-popular WildC.A.T.S., Helspont seemed poised to make a splash upon jumping to the DC Universe. Despite strong hype and fan interest, Helspont definitely didn't make a splash. In fact, he barely made a ripple.
This once heavily hyped villain landed with a thud, and has essentially dropped off the map ever since.
In 2011, Helspont made the jump from his native Wildstorm Universe to the main DCU, and was immediately given a strong push as a major Superman villain. In the subsequent storyline, Supes and Helspont engaged in a fight so fierce, it nearly broke the moon. Inevitably, Superman triumphed, but Helspont swore revenge. But then... nothing. Yes, despite a strong marketing push and a storyline that painted Helspont as a villain more than capable of giving Superman a run for his money, he promptly disappeared and hasn't been seen since.
If you were to look the term "dropped ball" up in a dictionary, you'd likely see a picture of Monarch. Yes, this villain was at one point in time DC's biggest bad, and the company was all too eager to push the villain as a threat large enough to put the entire DCU in danger. But then a leak, outing the heavily promoted secret identity of the new villain, threw a wrench into the storyline. Cue last minute rewrites, a disappointing ending, and one flop of a villain.
Debuting as the main antagonist in the crossover event Armageddon 2001, Monarch was a ruthless tyrant hailing from a war-torn future that traveled into the past to stop a fellow time-traveler from killing the hero that would eventually become Monarch. he easily took down some of DC's strongest heroes, and the mystery deepened as to Monarch's identity. As the story ramped up, and hype grew to an all time high, it was leaked that Monarch was actually Captain Atom. Wanting to preserve the twist of the story, the ending was retooled to reveal that Hank Hall, of Hawk and Dove fame, was actually Monarch. Fan reaction to the revelation was mixed, but DC attempted to stick with the villain and establish Monarch as a big threat to the DCU. But the damage was done: a lackluster twist killed all momentum for Monarch, and the villain quickly faded into obscurity.
Here's a rule of thumb to remember: if a character is billed as "a new character for a new generation," they are almost always going to be bad. When a writer attempts to tap into a generation and create a character that appeals to that generation, it typically doesn't go very well. We give you Exhibit A.) Anarky. This Batman baddie was presented as a new kind of villain for the '90s, but no amount of Pogs or Jnco Jeans could make this character relevant in that or any other era.
While DC was high on the character, fans couldn't quite say the same.
Debuting in the pages of Detective Comics just shy of the Grunge Era, Anarky would rise to prominence in the '90s, fighting against the Caped Crusader is a campaign of, well, "anarky." Unlike your standard Batman villains, Anarky saw his campaign as necessary, and was typically presented as bordering on anti-hero. Seeing potential in the character, DC gave Anarky a solo series, following the bargain bin V For Vendetta wannabe as he embarked on adventures of his own. While DC was high on the character, fans couldn't quite say the same, and Anarky's series was canceled after only eight issues. Despite a strong initial push, Anarky would subsequently drop off the face of the Earth, not appearing in a DC comic for almost 6 years. Sure, Anarky has popped back up and has managed to garner some fans in comics and even on TV, but for a villain once promoted this hard, he is barely hanging on.
Vulcan is like the Tesla Model X of the supervillain world, because this guy went from "heavily hyped big bad" to "totally forgotten" in ludicrously fast time. Yes, at one point in time, this long-forgotten-X-Man-turned-scary-space-baddie served as one of the biggest threats to the galaxy, and big storylines seemed to suggest that Vulcan was going to become a major player in the Marvel Universe. But then Vulcan dropped off the radar faster than you could say "forgotten Summers brother."
Gabriel Summers, aka Vulcan, debuted in X-Men: Deadly Genesis, serving as a member of a team of X-Men that went M.I.A. after being sent out to rescue the original X-Men. While Professor Xavier assumed Vulcan and his teammates died, it was discovered that Vulcan was very much alive and very much upset. Cue plenty of fights with the various X-teams, before Vulcan opted to head into space. Using his powers of energy absorption and manipulation, Vulcan took over the Shi'ar Empire and began a campaign for galactic supremacy, leading to clashes with the likes of the Inhumans and the Kree. In the War Of Kings crossover event, Vulcan seemingly died in battle against Black Bolt, but as Black Bolt was shown to have lived, Vulcan's final fate remains unknown. Vulcan hasn't popped up since, which is odd, considering the strong story push the character was receiving. Villains come and go, but to have a galactic-level threat like Vulcan just disappear is bonkers.
When you hear the term "all-powerful cosmic villain," you probably don't imagine a man with a jheri curl in a white leisure suit. Yes, though he may look like a background extra on Miami Vice, this is actually the Beyonder, one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe. At one point in time, this walking '80s punchline was pushed as the biggest threat in the Marvel U, and served as the big bad of one of Marvel's biggest events of all time. But you would be forgiven for not knowing this, as Beyonder has all but disappeared.
Essentially a walking, talking multiverse, Beyonder is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful.
Debuting in Secret Wars, Beyonder transported some of Marvel's biggest heroes and villains to his Battleworld, forcing the captured characters to duke it out for his amusement. When Secret Wars sold like hot cakes, Beyonder returned for Secret Wars II, in which he came to Earth and basically acted like an omnipotent toddler, turning buildings to gold and becoming a professional wrestler. This supremely goofy storyline killed Beyonder's popularity, and the villain would swiftly disappear soon after. Despite being one of the most powerful forces in the universe, the Beyonder has rarely been seen since. For a villain that knows all, you'd think this once heavily-hyped shmuck would have seen his fall from grace coming.