The Marvel Universe started small, from its traditions as a showcase for monster tales and crime stories. When it introduced superheroes with Fantastic Four #1 in 1961, some of the earliest antagonists in inaugural titles such as Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil weren't world-beating villains but low-level crime bosses. Even the villains in the Iron Man feature in Tales of Suspense were, comparatively, small caliber. But even if they don't rule worlds and universes, these guys are still megalomaniacs and still rule their territories with an iron fist. They believe they are the lords of all they survey. The fact that sometimes what they survey is possessed by a rival is just an inconvenience to be pushed aside. The fact that rivals come after what's theirs is an invitation to war.
One of the first crime syndicates to appear in Marvel Comics was the Maggia, which first showed up in The Avengers (Volume 1) #13 (February 1965). Many supervillains have been part of the Maggia at one time or another, as footsoldiers, capos, lieutenants or dons, taking the lessons they learned as underlings to found their own criminal organizations. Others use their connections to take over and expand their empires. In any case, they make for strong challenges to the heroes who try to keep law and order. Here are 25 of the worst Marvel supervillain bosses.
25 THE KINGPIN
At the height of his powers, the Kingpin was said to grab a portion of every dollar that flows through New York City. He has no superpowers but has a cunning mind and the bulk and strength of a Sumo wrestler. The Kingpin debuted in Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1) #50 (July 1967), and was a minor antagonist for the wall-crawler, although he spent his last night before retirement thrashing Spider-Man to a pulp (Amazing Spider-Man #197, October 1979).
The Kingpin came out of retirement in a big way in Daredevil (Volume 1) #170 (May 1981). It was in Daredevil that he gained a name -- Wilson Fisk -- and became a power player in the Marvel Universe, once secretly backing a puppet candidate for mayor of New York. Currently in Daredevil, the Kingpin became the mayor.
24 JUSTIN HAMMER
Justin Hammer was a wealthy industrialist and business rival of Tony Stark, in more ways than he knew. Readers first saw Hammer in Iron Man (Volume 1) #120 (March 1979), and learned in subsequent appearances that he augmented his legitimate holdings with criminal sidelines. He bankrolled supervillains, paid their bail, supplied them with upgraded high-tech equipment and sent them on missions against his competitors -- all for a mere 50 percent of the take.
Hammer worked behind the scenes for years before Stark knew, taking remote control of the Iron Man armor and using it to snuff out Carnelia's official appointee to the United States (Iron Man #124, July 1979), just to steal a contract. He battled Stark by proxy many times, ultimately resolving to destroy him for good -- and wound up frozen to death in space, in the miniseries Iron Man: Bad Blood #1-4 (September-December 2000).
Billy Russo was a hitman who freelanced for the New York mobs, so known for his good looks that he was called "the Beaut." He was hired by Frank Costa, head of the Costa crime family, to eliminate anyone associated with Frank Castle, a Marine who became The Punisher after his wife and children were caught in the crossfire of a botched hit in Central Park.
The Punisher takes revenge on Russo by tossing him through a plate-glass window. Russo survives after multiple surgeries, but his face is now a mass of stitches and scars, leading him to be rechristened Jigsaw. He became a recurring antagonist for The Punisher. Jigsaw first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1) #162 (November 1976).
22 LORD SHINGEN
Shingen Harada was the head of Clan Yashida in Japan, with a lineage that reaches to the Imperial Throne. His claim to the throne, however, is muddied because Clan Yashida is also is prominent in the Yakuza, the ancient crime syndicate. Lord Shingen first appeared in Wolverine (Volume 1) #1 (September 1982).
Shingen is the father of Wolverine's love Mariko Yashida, but Shingen pressured Mariko to wed a fellow Yakuza boss to cement an alliance of their clans. Shingen manipulated Wolverine into terminating a rival Yakuza chieftain. He also fought Wolverine in a duel, but cheated, making Mariko lose respect for Wolverine when he went into a rage. She and Wolverine eventually reconciled. Wolverine destroyed the Yashida clan and ended the life of Shingen in a duel to the death in Wolverine (Volume 2) #61, March 2008.
The man known as Hammerhead grew up poor in New York, with dreams of becoming a gangster. His first appearance was in Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1) #113 (October 1972). He was recruited into the Maggia after putting down a bully and his girlfriend for revenge in a movie theater showing The Godfather Part II, and staying to watch the film. One day, he is found battered and beaten near to death by disgraced surgeon Jonas Harrow.
Harrow operates for three days, replacing his shattered skull with a steel alloy. The amnesiac man's only memory was of a movie poster of The Al Capone Mob, inspiring him to start his own crime family patterned after 1930s gangsters. From there, he became a regular antagonist of Spider-Man.
20 THE OWL
One of Daredevil's earliest antagonists is The Owl, who first appeared in Daredevil (Volume 1) #3 (August 1964). He was Leland Owlsley, a noted financier known as "The Owl of Wall Street" for his business acumen. Unfortunately, his empire collapsed under investigation by the IRS for tax fraud, money laundering and various shady deals. Once exposed, he quit all pretense of respectability and openly embraced a life of crime.
The Owl also started using a serum that gave him limited flight capability, but developed a dependence, and later became paralyzed in his legs, using an exoskelton for mobility. Further experiments to reverse this reduced his humanity. The Owl also made a bid to topple the Kingpin as New York's undisputed leader of crime, but failed.
19 (NOT) FU MANCHU
The criminal warlord Zheng Zu was known as Fu Manchu in his earliest appearances in the Marvel Universe, beginning with Special Marvel Edition #15 (December 1973). That tale introduced us to his son, Shang-Chi, who was raised from a toddler to be a living weapon in Fu's service. But Shang-Chi turned against Fu and they became lifelong enemies.
Zheng Zu has used many names over his decades on Earth -- he was born in 1840 -- and has amassed power through his leadership of secret criminal societies and cults, with an overarching goal of world domination. He once tried to marry his daughter Kwai Far to the Black Panther (Volume 4) #11 (February 2006), and sent an army after the Panther when he refused.
Willis Stryker -- known as "Diamondback" because of his prowess with a knife -- and Carl Lucas were running buddies in Harlem, as shown in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (June 1972). Both were in a gang called The Rivals, but Lucas reformed and Stryker didn't. They didn't let that end their friendship; instead, it was Stryker's jealousy over Lucas' new girlfriend Reva Connors.
Stryker planted drugs in Lucas's home, getting him sent to prison. There, Lucas underwent the procedure that turned him into Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. Diamondback freelanced as a criminal and eventually held his own turf in Harlem. To cement his hold, he developed gimmicked, explosive knives that could cut Cage's steel-hard skin, and faced off against his old friend.
17 THE BIG MAN
The Big Man stood more than six feet tall, and wore a mask, an ascot, a double-breasted suit, and thick-soled boots. He secretly ran the rackets in New York City, aided by a trio of thugs called the Enforcers -- Montana, Fancy Dan and the Ox. No one knew his true identity, especially as he used a device to amplify and distort his voice.
His other job, however, was at the Daily Bugle newspaper. There, he was known as longtime reporter Frederick Foswell, a modest, unassuming sort. Foswell first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1) #10 (March 94), but his racket was exposed and he was defeated by Spider-Man.
Lonnie Lincoln had a rough childhood in Harlem. Bullied in school because he was an albino, he became a bully, himself. Lincoln started a protection racket, and threatened Joe Robertson when he tried to write about Lincoln's activities.
Lincoln came back into Robertson's life when they were adults. Robertson had become city editor of the Daily Bugle newspaper, and Lincoln had become a hitman and muscle for hire, known as Tombstone because of his pale skin and strength. Robertson testified against Tombstone for past crimes, which led to them both being sent to prison and made Robertson a target for Tombstone's wrath, as told in Spectacular Spider-Man (Volume 1) #137-150 (April 1988-May 1989).
Silvio Manfredi fell in with the Maggia while he was a teenager, eventually becoming the head of his own crime family. His long hair inspired his nickname "Silvermane." He went to prison for tax evasion, and his territory was absorbed by rivals, but he rebuilt it. Fearing old age, Silvermane pursued schemes to restore his youth. He also moved to control all the families, facing off against the Kingpin.
The synthetic illicit substances his organization sold ended the lives of many of its users and transformed teen runaways into Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen into the heroes Cloak and Dagger. Silvermane suffered a heart attack from one of Dagger's attacks and was rebuilt as a cyborg. He first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1) #73 (June 1969).
14 THE ROSE
The Rose came to crime naturally, although he resisted it. He is Richard Fisk, son of Wilson and Vanessa Fisk, who spent his childhood in boarding schools and learned only in adulthood that his father was the Kingpin of Crime. Ashamed that his life of leisure was financed by criminal deeds, Fisk resolved to topple the Kingpin's empire.
The first time out, he became The Schemer, fighting the Kingpin directly. Later on, he adopted the masked persona The Rose, a mid-level lieutenant in the Kingpin's organization and worked to take him down from within. Fisk's first appearance as the Rose was in Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1) #253 (June 1984).
13 BLACK MARIAH
Mariah Dillard first appeared in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire (Volume 1) #5 (January 1973). She led a band of crooks named the Rat Pack in a devious criminal enterprise, using bogus ambulances to pick up corpses and then stealing whatever money and valuables they could get off the bodies -- and then taking their keys and looting their homes and offices to boot.
Dillard, known as "Black Mariah," ran afoul of Cage when he investigated the death of Frank Jenks. After he captured her and she spent time in prison, she turned to drug dealing after her release. She partnered with a woman named Jennie Royce, who developed powers with the Supersoul Stone.
12 MA GNUCCI
The Punisher made a bitter antagonist in crime boss Isabella "Ma" Gnucci, after he ended her sons Eddie, Bobbie and Carlo. She first appeared in The Punisher (Volume 5) #4 (July 2000). Gnucci went all-out to get revenge, hiring a trio of hitters to take the Punisher out. The Punisher hit back against the hitters and her brother.
Things escalated, and at one point the Punisher feeds Ma Gnucci to the polar bears at the Central Park Zoo. She becomes a multiple amputee -- which still doesn't dampen her rage. When the Punisher burns down her mansion, the armless, legless Ma Gnucci bites him, so he drop kicks her into the flames (The Punisher #12, March 2001).
11 TYGER TIGER
Jessán Hoan was a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Business School, and a top employee at the Hoan International Bank in her home of Singapore. Pirates known as the Reavers targeted the bank, taking Hoan and ending several members of her family. They brainwash Hoan to use her financial acumen, but the X-Men rescued her, in Uncanny X-Men (Volume 1) #228 (May 1988).
The brainwashing did give Hoan new skills as a fighter, but at the cost of some of her scruples. She moved to Madripoor and took on the persona of Tyger Tiger, a new crime lord, although she would not engage in slavery or drugs. In her new position, she frequently sparred and partnered with, Wolverine.
10 COUNT NEFARIA
Luchino Nefaria was a wealthy nobleman in Italy, who also believes in old world values and that, by rights, he should rule the world. He first appeared in The Avengers (Volume 1) #13 (February 1965). Seeking more power, Nefaria becomes a player in the Maggia, and also sinks money into high-tech research.
He had battles with the Avengers, Iron Man and the X-Men, and eventually sought superpowers of his own, undergoing a process that gave him the combined strengths of Power Man, the Living Laser and Whirlwind multiplied by a factor of 10. The process aged his body and then altered it so that he was now composed of ionic energy.
9 MADAME MASQUE
Count Nefaria's daughter, Giuletta Nefaria, became his protegé in the crime business. Her mother passed during her childbirth, so Nefaria had her grow up with financier Byron Frost and his wife Loretta, and they renamed her Whitney. Nefaria came back into her life after the Frosts passed on and invited her to join him in the Maggia. She accepted, and Nefaria trained her well enough that she took over as Big M when Nefaria went to prison.
As Big M, she battled Iron Man, but an ill-fated escape led to her face being damaged in a plane crash. Because of that, she fell in with Mordecai Midas, who fashioned a gold mask for her face; after that, she became known as Madame Masque.
John McIver and his younger brother Quincy grew up in St. Croix in the Caribbean, living on their wits and whatever they could steal. John first appeared in Iron Fist (Volume 1) #15 (September 1977). John attacked a storekeeper during a robbery and from there, turned to major crime. He became a Maggia chieftain in Europe, and aspired to expand to the United States. Eventually, he underwent the same procedure that gave Luke Cage his powers, but it turned him into metal.
Quincy lost both arms and legs in a boating accident and was transformed by Roxxon into a humanoid snake with a long tail and bionic arms. He also took the name "Bushmaster" and joined the Serpent Society. He first appeared in Captain America (Volume 1) #310 (October 1985).
Viper began as Ophelia Sarkissian, an orphan in Hungary who lived on the streets. Early on, the right side of her face became damaged, and she took to wearing her hair long to hide the scars. She and a dozen other orphans were raised by Hydra operative Kraken, and trained in its ways. She rose through the ranks and became Madame Hydra. Eventually, she struck out on her own and took the name Viper.
As a mercenary, Viper went to Madripoor and became a student of the spy and assassin Seraph. They rescued Wolverine from Sabretooth and Seraph demanded Wolverine swear loyalty to Viper. She collected that debt years later by blackmailing Wolverine into an arranged marriage to take the Madripoor throne. Viper first appeared in Captain America (Volume 1) #110 (February 1969).
6 GEOFFREY WILDER
Geoffrey Wilder and his wife Catherine were petty crooks in Los Angeles in 1984, when they were taken while making a getaway by the Gibborim, an ancient race of giants that ruled Earth in ages past. The Gibborim pledged to augment the power held by the Wilders and five other couples, recruiting the Wilders to serve as "The Thieves" in a group called The Pride. With the support of the Gibborim, Geoffrey Wilder became a crime boss in Los Angeles.
The Pride held sway over the Los Angeles criminal underworld for 25 years, but each couple had one child, and their children rebelled, forming a group called The Runaways to oppose them Geoffrey and Catherine Wilder first appeared in Runaways (Volume 1) #1, July 2003.
Ulysses X. Lugman ran several legitimate enterprises from his home base in Miami But he also was a crimelord known as the Slug, engaging in drug trafficking. He first appeared in Captain America (Volume 1) #325 (January 1987), when Nomad and Captain America investigated his links to the Kingpin. He has also battled Spider-Man and the New Avengers.
Slug weighs in at more than 1,000 pounds, the fat around his torso protecting his vital organs from injury. He has no superpowers save for a keen, cunning mind. He is largely immobile, using a personal hovercraft to get around. He has been known to smother underlings in his massive folds of fat.
4 THE FIXER
Roscoe Sweeney first appeared in Daredevil (Volume 1) #1 (April 1964). He was a gangster who ran crooked boxing matches, and the broke and desperate Jack Murdock ignored the Fixer's reputation and signed on with him, needing money to care for his recently blinded son Matt. Murdock won a series of fights and was set to go for the championship against Rocky Davis.
The Fixer ordered Murdock to throw the match, revealing to him that his previous wins were fixed. Knowing Matt was in the audience, Murdock refused to take a dive and won by a knockout. The Fixer retaliated by having Murdock done away with. Matt adopted the Daredevil persona and confronted the Fixer, who perished of a heart attack.
3 THE ARRANGER
Every successful mogul or crime boss, whether engaged in legal or illicit activities -- or both -- needs a trusted advisor to help keep his enterprises humming. The most successful mob boss of all, the Kingpin, has such a man in his employ: Oswald P. Silkworth, known to one and all only as The Arranger. He first appeared in Marvel Team-Up #138 (February 1984).
The Arranger lost his grip on things during a turf war in which he ordered a failed hit on the Lobo Brothers of Texas, and they retaliated. The Chameleon and Hammerhead gained territory, and the Kingpin ordered the Arranger's death for his incompetence. He was finally "laid to rest" in Spectacular Spider-Man (Volume 1) #165 (June 1990).
2 BOSS MORGAN
Boss Morgan, who first appeared in Captain America (Volume 1) # 152 (August 1972) was known by no other name. His reputation carried all over Harlem, as he had his fingers in various criminal enterprises -- drug dealing, racketeering, etc. He had frequent run-ins with The Falcon, and turf wars with Cottonmouth and the Kingpin.
In The Punisher (Volume 1) #2 (February 1986), The Trust retaliated against several mob leaders, including Boss Morgan, on word that the Kingpin had been assassinated. Morgan was in an elevator that crashed, but survived, although he was left a paraplegic and began using a hoverchair. But he was done in by Bullseye during a prison riot in Daredevil (Volume 2) #86 (August 2006).
1 JACK O'LANTERN/HOBGOBLIN
Jason Macendale got his start in the underworld after a stint in the Marines and time in the CIA as a field agent. His violent tendencies got him kicked out, so he became a mercenary and terrorist. He started working with the Hobgoblin to expand his underworld contacts and influence. But the alliance didn't hold, and they became rivals during a turf war over the Kingpin's properties.
Ultimately, Jack o'Lantern stole the Hobgoblin's battle van and equipment and attacked him -- or, at least, he got Ned Leeds, the man then known as the Hobgoblin. Jack o'Lantern then took on the Hobgoblin persona. Macendale first appeared as Jack o'Lantern in Machine Man #19 (February 1981). He became Hobgoblin in Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1) #289 (June 1987).