A decade on from the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, hundreds of characters originating from Marvel Comics have finally been brought to life on the big screen, much to the joy -- and sometimes frustration -- of comic book fans. From iconic heroes like Captain America to more obscure side characters like Ego the Living Planet, the MCU’s movies are appealing to both casual and hardcore comic book fans alike. While character is definitely one area in which the Marvel Cinematic Universe shines however, the studio has also come under fire several times over the years for its handling of the properties’ villains. Sure, the issue is something that Marvel has attempted to address in recent years, giving fans compelling villains like Thanos and Killmonger, but the “villain problem” is something that’s still often talked about regarding the MCU.
Regardless of your opinions on the movies’ villains however, there’s no denying that the MCU’s TV shows are responsible for creating some of the franchise’s most beloved bad guys to date -- as well as a few that aren’t so great. From Netflix’s dark and gritty superhero shows to Marvel’s more network-friendly projects like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Runaways, Marvel TV has consistently pumped out some truly memorable antagonists that do justice to their comic book counterparts -- with some even becoming far more riveting than their original versions ever were. In that vein, CBR is here to take a look at 10 villains Marvel TV got right -- as well as 10 that kind of dropped the ball.
20 RIGHT: THE ABSORBING MAN
Initially appearing as a brainwashed HYDRA operative in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Carl “Crusher” Creel -- referred to in the comics as the Absorbing Man -- has the ability to take on the physical properties of any substance he comes into contact with. Unlike his comic book counterpart however, the show’s version of Carl is a somewhat sympathetic character, eventually freeing himself from HYDRA’s grip and forming an alliance with the show’s titular team.
Between being manipulated into joining HYDRA, becoming General Hale’s protégé and later assisting S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s clear that Carl just wants a place to belong -- a place where his incredible abilities can be put to good use.
19 WRONG: ELEKTRA
Though her status as a villain is questionable, Elektra is undeniably one of the most darkest characters in the MCU, especially following her unfortunate brainwashing in the wake of her apparent demise. While the character’s journey in Daredevil’s second season was arguably a satisfying one however, it’s her role in The Defenders that ultimately cheapens the character’s impact.
As a member of the Chaste struggling to control her own violent nature, Elektra was given a compelling, complete character arc, but her immediate resurrection and use as a mindless puppet of the Hand undermines her entire story in Daredevil. What’s worse, Elektra remains brainwashed for the entire run of The Defenders, giving the character no sense of redemption before being buried under several tons of rubble.
18 RIGHT: KILGRAVE
By far the most terrifying character in the entire MCU, Kilgrave didn’t appear in Jessica Jones until several episodes into the first season, though his chilling presence could still be felt in spades. By the time he does appear though, it becomes immediately apparent how this monster has had such a traumatic impact on Jessica’s life.
A tortured, tragic character himself, the show does a great job at lending pathos to a truly irredeemable villain but after watching his vile, sadistic method of tormenting those around him play out, you’ll feel an uncontrollable urge to take a shower. Played against type by the great David Tennant, Kilgrave is bound to go down as one of the most iconic villains in superhero media.
17 WRONG: DIAMONDBACK
Unfortunately living in the shadow of Luke Cage’s previous, and far more captivating, villain Cottonmouth, Diamondback was possibly the show’s biggest miscalculation. The ingredients for a good villain are all there, of course -- a strong personal tie to our hero, a physical threat, an opposing ideological viewpoint -- but Diamondback just feels a little too cartoonish. His outfit doesn’t help in this regard, and the character was simply introduced far too late into the season.
Hot on the heels of Cottonmouth’s departure, Diamondback’s emergence in the narrative simply doesn’t match up to the conclusion fans were hoping for, with so many being invested in the story of Cornell Stokes that the inclusion of Luke Cage’s long-lost brother just felt like too little, too late.
16 RIGHT: THE PRIDE
Set to return for a second season later this year, Runaways is based on the comic book series of the same name, following a group of superpowered teenagers who discover their parents are part of an evil cult known as the Pride.
The show does a great job at developing all of our heroes in just ten episodes, but perhaps more surprisingly, gives equal weight to their parents -- making each member of the Pride feel like conflicted, sympathetic individuals rather than over-the-top supervillains. This is actually a notable improvement from the critically-acclaimed comics, with the show feeling much more layered and impactful as a result, focusing not only on the complex relationships between our heroes, but their parents too.
15 WRONG: HIVE
While Hive is hardly a beloved Marvel Comics villain, it’s still hard not to be disappointed with the way Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. handled the character in his season three arc, where he plots to assimilate all the world’s Inhumans into his hive mind, creating an unstoppable army. Despite being built up as an incredibly powerful Inhuman -- as well as a catalyst for the creation of HYDRA in the first place -- Hive never really leaves much of an impression.
What’s more, he later takes over the body of Grant Ward, one of the MCU’s most beloved villains, essentially ending the show’s most fascinating character and replacing him with someone far less interesting.
14 RIGHT: JIGSAW
Although Billy Russo doesn’t earn the “Jigsaw” moniker until the very end of The Punisher’s first season, the character has a long, rich history with Frank Castle in the comics, and that carries over well into the Netflix show. A former military buddy of Castle, Billy Russo continued his life of crime following his exit from the shady, unsanctioned black ops unit set up by William Rawlins, with the Punisher’s resurgence threatening to bring Russo down.
The complicated relationship between Frank and Billy is one of the show’s most successful elements, painting a tragic picture of pain, grief, violence and PTSD for both characters -- with Billy’s superficial charm convincingly masking the monster beneath.
13 WRONG: DAVOS
It’s no secret that the first season of Netflix’s Iron Fist wasn’t exactly well received by both critics and fans, with the show’s plot, pacing and characters coming under fire for being somewhat bland and uninspired, especially in comparison to the acclaimed Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.
Davos in particular remains one of Iron Fist’s weakest characters however, serving as an ally-turned-enemy of Danny Rand following his escape from K’un-L’un. Feeling abandoned by Danny, not to mention jealous of his status as the Iron Fist, Davos comes off more as a bitter ex than a fleshed-out villain -- though it’s possible that the show’s second season could remedy this.
12 RIGHT: AIDA/MADAME HYDRA
The primary antagonist of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s stellar fourth season, Aida, like her comic book counterpart, is an artificial intelligence created by Dr Holden Radcliffe, serving as an ally of S.H.I.E.L.D. for much of the season. After becoming corrupted by the Darkhold however, Aida turns on the team, trapping them in an artificial reality known as the Framework -- a place where HYDRA has conquered the globe.
Taking on the mantle of Madame Hydra, Aida is cold, calculated and incredibly intelligent, besting S.H.I.E.L.D.’s efforts to escape at every turn. Sure, she may sound like the typical “evil AI” stereotype, but it’s the way the character draws out the inner conflict of our heroes that make her such an effective villain -- even managing to turn Leo Fitz into a sadistic HYDRA loyalist along the way.
11 WRONG: GRAVITON
Easily one of the best supporting characters in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s entire run, General Glenn Talbot has been a magnetic presence in the show since season one. Having an intense love-hate relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. -- and in particular Agent Coulson -- Talbot is a constant thorn in the team’s side, yet somehow remains likable.
Gradually becoming more of a friend to S.H.I.E.L.D., his character development was swiftly undercut after absorbing a large amount of Gravitonium and turning evil almost immediately. Not only is it almost impossible to take his new Graviton persona seriously thanks to his lame design and laughably maniacal personality, but his villainous turn has absolutely no build-up, ultimately feeling like a complete waste of a fun character.
10 RIGHT: COTTONMOUTH
The impact that Cornell Stokes, aka Cottonmouth, had on Luke Cage’s first season despite only appearing in seven of its 13-episode run is really quite something. Arguably the best aspect of the entire first season -- and that’s saying something -- Cottonmouth is an intimidating, relentless adversary for Cage, while still managing to feel very much human thanks to his violent, tragic past.
Performed masterfully by Mahershala Ali, Cottonmouth’s cool demeanor and air of control belie a seething rage, as well as an uncontrollable lust for power that makes him a surprisingly complex villain. Watching Stokes’ ambitious plans slowly unravel before his eyes is always fascinating -- it’s just a shame the character’s tenure on the show was cut short in favor of a far less interesting villain.
9 WRONG: BAKUTO
One of the founding members of the Hand, as well as an unmatched martial artist and master manipulator, Bakuto’s presence in Iron Fist season one should have been far more intriguing and daunting than it ultimately was. While the idea of the villain coercing underprivileged youths into joining the Hand is arguably an interesting one, Bakuto simply never feels like a true threat, lacking any real depth or well-defined personality.
This is a problem compounded by his subsequent appearance in The Defenders, taking an uninspired villain and giving him even more screen time, all without bothering to further develop his character.
8 RIGHT: MISTER HYDE
Named after the famously literary character, Mister Hyde is the superpowered alter-ego of Calvin Zabo, a brilliant scientist and father of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Daisy Johnson. Featuring prominently in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s second season, Calvin gets himself wrapped up in the escalating war between HYDRA, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans, performing some truly unforgivable acts along the way.
Despite this, Mister Hyde remains a character with charisma and pathos, thanks in no small part to Kyle MacLachlan’s great performance. It’s later revealed that Calvin is merely trying to protect his family, and eventually turns on the nefarious Jiaying to save S.H.I.E.L.D. and his daughter, giving him a satisfying redemptive arc.
7 WRONG: MAXIMUS
Funnily enough, Maximus is actually one of the stronger aspects of Marvel’s ill-fated Inhumans show, though that’s not really saying much. The devious, de-powered brother of the Inhumans’ leader Black Bolt, Maximus spends the show’s few episodes attempting to usurp his brother’s role as King of Attilan.
Admirably brought to life by actor Iwan Rheon, Maximus may be fun to watch, but his history with Black Bolt doesn’t hold as much weight as it should, leaving their relationship feeling somewhat hollow. Considering the strength of other notable sibling rivalries in the MCU -- Thor and Loki, for instance -- the Black Bolt-Maximus relationship just feels like a less interesting re-tread of that idea.
6 RIGHT: DOCTOR FAUSTUS
Though he remains one of the MCU’s lesser known villains, Doctor Faustus has actually had a surprisingly large impact on the Marvel Universe as a whole, wreaking havoc in Agent Carter as a member of the Soviet group, Leviathan.
Able to manipulate and brainwash his victims, Doctor Faustus racked up a rather large body count during the Agent Carter’s first season, providing the show with a healthy dose of Cold War paranoia and tension. After eventually being apprehended by Peggy Carter and the SSR, Faustus is seen plotting with none other than Arnim Zola himself, implying that he may be partially responsible for Zola’s future plans -- including the brainwashing of the Winter Soldier.
5 WRONG: NUKE
Based on the character Nuke from Marvel Comics, Will Simpson is the ex-cop boyfriend of Trish Walker, playing a fairly prominent role in the first season of Jessica Jones after falling prey to the sadistic Kilgrave. Acquiring temporary super-strength from an addictive batch of pills cooked up by IGH, Will’s mood is heavily affected by the substances, causing him to become uncontrollably violent when provoked.
Although the show’s intention was clearly to make Will a sympathetic, flawed character, the fact that he’s simply not likable -- even before taking the aforementioned pills -- makes the character feel like a superfluous addition to the show’s otherwise tight plot.
4 RIGHT: BLACK MARIAH
A criminal mastermind and politician operating out of Harlem, Mariah Dillard’s family tree is a rich tapestry of organized crime, shady dealings, betrayal and violence, and Mariah more than lives up to her family’s name in that regard. Incredibly cunning and manipulative, Mariah is a compelling presence in both seasons of Luke Cage, standing out as a highlight of an already great show.
The TV show’s version of Black Mariah is also much less cartoonish than the villain found in the comics, serving as a far more imposing villain, regularly gaining the upper hand against Luke Cage without the use of a single superpower.
3 WRONG: THE OWL
One of the key players in the first season of Netflix’s Daredevil, Leland Owlsley is a shrewd, dastardly accountant assisting Wilson Fisk in his rise to power. Despite making frequent appearances, Leland doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the show besides conspiring with Madame Gao, eventually getting himself offed at the hands of a vengeful Kingpin.
A far cry from the comic book version of the character, Leland isn’t a superpowered criminal in the show, completely stripping the character of the little appeal he had. The only connection between these two incarnations of the Owl is their background in finance, making his presence in the show feel like unnecessary fan service.
2 RIGHT: KINGPIN
Kicking off the MCU’s highly anticipated series of Netflix shows with a bang, the first season of Daredevil introduced one of the best villains -- some would argue the best villain -- in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Shown to be very much human, even capable of fierce love and friendship despite his intense anger issues, Wilson Fisk is a character you can almost root for.
Running a seemingly unstoppable criminal empire from Hell’s Kitchen, it doesn’t take long for Fisk to butt heads with Daredevil. Cunning, physically intimidating and willing to get his hands dirty, Fisk is a threat in almost every sense of the word, with even his brief appearance in the show’s second season being intense enough to send a shiver down your spine.
1 WRONG: THE HAND
Arguably the most underwhelming part of Marvel’s Netflix Universe so far, the Hand are an ancient group of ninjas involved in all manner of criminal activity worldwide. Though their comic book counterparts are portrayed as a near-unstoppable force of nature, the Netflix shows fail to make the organization feel anywhere near as threatening, especially considering their recruitment of kids, incompetent leadership, internal power struggles and regular defeat at the hands of Daredevil -- who himself is far weaker than he’s traditionally portrayed in the comics.
Sure, it’s always fun to see a live-action version of the Hand in Daredevil considering the group’s intense history with the character, but here’s hoping they manage to pack just a little more punch going forward.