While DC’s legendary trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are easily the company’s three most valuable IPs, when it comes to the fourth most valuable, there’s a bit more contention. But without a doubt, one of the main candidates for the position is DC’s resident Scarlet Speedster, the Flash. In print for decades up on decades, spread among four different characters, and inspiring an entire lineage of speedsters, the Flash has become the gold standard for speed-based heroes. But as the common expression goes, a hero is only as good as their villains.
Fortunately, Flash has a unique and storied rogues gallery, self-titled the "Rogues". But while most other heroes dealt with dramatic and dangerous criminals, Flash’s opponents tended to be more, for lack of a better word, silly. But just because they were more comical than they were serious doesn’t mean they weren’t threatening forces who more often than not put the fastest man alive through his paces. So the Flash can go ahead and lay claim to all his titles and accolades, he can have his seat at the Justice League’s table and a personal museum in Keystone City, but to truly measure how of a hero he is, we have to rank his most dangerous opponents.
Of all of Flash’s villains, Rainbow Raider might be the silliest, which is certainly saying something. Born Roy G. Bivolo (no, really), the future super criminal was a colorblind artist whose optometrist father devoted his life to fulfilling his son’s poor career choice. Though he couldn’t cure Raider’s colorblindness, he did create a pair of goggles that could project beams of hard light. How the desire to cure a genetic mutation caused him to create revolutionary, military-grade weapons technology is beyond all logic. Nevertheless, Rainbow Raider decided to use the goggles for crime purposes when his colorblind art went unappreciated.
Though he often clashed with Flash, his most notable escapade was actually against Batman. After seeing a therapist for dealing with his constant defeats, Raider became convinced that he’d be successful if he just tried fighting a different opponent. He switched places with classic Silver Age Batman villain Doctor Double X with predictably negative results, and even the demon Neron considered him too pathetic to include in his cabal. He is eventually put out of his misery by Blacksmith who kills him with his own art. However, his death inspired a small cult of supervillains called that Rainbow Raiders, all of whom committed suicide in the "Blackest Night" storyline because they thought they were important enough to be Black Lanterns. They were wrong.
The Top is one of Flash’s most iconic villains but ranks very low on this list because he has just the worst luck. First of all, his powers, despite being silly, are homegrown from sheer force of will, as in he literally taught himself how to spin so fast that he could deflect bullets. After years of this, his brain was able to unlock dormant cell structures which gave him hyper intelligence and even some impressive psionic powers. Unfortunately, not only did Flash’s connection to the Speed Force nullify these powers, but they reacted adversely with Top’s new neurology to actively destroy the supervillain’s brain cells. On his deathbed, Top initiated a plan so stupid and destructive that it forced the Rogues to team up with Flash to stop him. His undead spirit then gains the ability to possess the bodies of those that are comatose.
Cool, right? But on only the second time he does this, Flash embroils him in the "Identity Crisis" story by asking Zatanna to rewire his brain to make him a hero, driving him mad as a result. After returning to sanity, he helps his fellow Rogues shake off their own reprogramming and is killed again by Captain Cold for his troubles. Seriously, at this point Flash should just let this guy rob a bank -- he’s earned a break.
Though one of Flash’s most historic enemies, Rag Doll ranks low on the list for two distinct reasons.For starters, his superpower -- being triple-jointed -- is super lame. He’s basically just super-flexible and he wants to fight a guy with super speed? How exactly did he think that was going to work? Also, despite being handed more opportunities than a supervillain of his caliber deserves, he constantly fails to get a leg up. He was one of the founding members of the Secret Society of Super Villains, but even with their resources couldn’t successfully put the Flash down for good. He’s escaped death so many times that he was eventually championed by the demon Neron, but failed his master so consistently that Neron withdrew his blessing.
Interestingly, Rag Doll’s one of the few comic book characters who’ve aged in near-real time. He debuted in 1942 and by the '80s, he was depicted as being in his mid-60s. Not that it mattered though because Rag Doll’s true power has always been his craftiness. Even as an old man, he was able to form a cult around himself that allowed him to commit major crimes as a senior citizen. On the other hand, his first loss to Flash was in a treasure hunt, so he might not be all that smart.
Almost all of Flash’s primary villains stand out as gimmick characters, not necessarily meant to be interesting or reflective, but rather to fully embody a unique aesthetic denoted by the writers and artists. And perhaps no other Flash villain is representative of that than Golden Glider. The younger sister of Captain Cold, Lisa Snart based her whole supervillain persona based on a copy of her brother’s cold gun and her Olympic-level figure skating skills. Really. What’s more, she would frequently use high-tech jewelry sewn into her skating outfit as explosives and hypnosis devices.
She was mainly motivated mostly by the death of her coach and boyfriend, the Top, and only clashed with Flash a few times before his death in Crisis on Infinite Earths. When Wally West took over the mantle, she expressed noted disinterest in returning to crime as her vengeance had been satisfied. Her New 52 appearances were as confusing as the comic line itself and while Lisa Snart has been seen in the "Rebirth" series, Golden Glider has yet to debut. Still, she makes the list for being an iconic villain who, when partnered with her protective older brother, turned out to be fairly competent all things considered.
Classic Flash super villain Pied Piper is essentially the epitome of entitlement. Born to a wealthy family, Hartley Rathaway turned to crime out of boredom. He spent most of his young life experimenting with sonic technology, inspired by the high-tech earpieces which cured his deafness, and he used these innovations to hypnotize, torture, and even kill people through soundwaves. His powers are pretty insane considering their potential for assassinations and surprise attacks, but he ranks fairly low on the list because he can’t really stay a villain long enough to be effective. After the death of Barry Allen, Piper actually when straight and became a hero alongside Wally West, but briefly returned to villainy in the aftermath of the "Identity Crisis" event, where it was revealed that almost all of the Rogues had been brainwashed either by the Top or Zatanna.
Fortunately, Wally was able to put him into a coma by reminding Rathaway of their friendship. After the "One Year Later" time skip, Piper was back to being a villain and a leading member of the Rogues, but they were too busy being on the run to be effective criminals at this time. The last time he was relevant was during "Final Crisis" where he helped to kill Inertia before turning himself in for his crimes.
The supervillain that the Trickster is most often compared to is the Joker, which is bizarre because outside of a few very broad similarities, the two are very different characters. James Jesse started his career in crime as a kleptomaniac circus acrobat who used stage tricks and colorful costumes to pull off his more audacious heists. However, his mania began to quickly worsen as his exploits became more esoteric. After being tricked into helping the demon Neron and smooth talking his way out of hell, the Trickster fully succumbed to psychosis, becoming a goofy, rambling personality, accentuated by being brainwashed by the Top.
However, this new perspective actually made him a hero and he took it upon himself to collect any and all fallen gear from fights between the Rogues and the Flash. He even got requited by the FBI to start a civil war among the Rogues. In the fallout of said war, Trickster found himself shackled to the Pied Piper, on the run from multiple factions, and accused of killing the Flash. After getting his nose broken three times in the course of a day by Batwoman, Deathstroke, and Batman, Trickster sacrificed himself to save Piper. And how did Piper thank him? By dragging his body through the desert before finally cutting the hand off his corpse.
Sometimes the real power of a supervillain isn’t a metahuman ability or special talent, but rather a severe case of raw charisma that they can use to manipulate and scheme to their hearts’ delight. Such is the case of the soul vampire Cicada. Though his powers are certainly impressive, effective immortality and the mystic ability to absorb the life force of others, his feats as a cult leader are much more impressive. After butchering his wife and child at the beginning of the 20th century, Cicada was struck by lightning during a suicide attempt which gave him his powers. Over the course of 100 years, he collected a sect of followers with whom he plotted to resurrect his family.
This in and of itself isn’t necessarily evil, but decides that he is related to the Flash because they both gain their power from natural electricity. To Cicada’s diseased mind, this logically means that the people Flash saves are perfect, albeit unwilling sacrifices whose life energy could restore his wife and child. He even succeeds and captures Flash to force him to watch his work undone. But then his wife’s first move once back in the land of the living was to reveal who killed her in the first place and Cicada was forced to slaughter all his followers before being captured himself.
Sometimes comic book characters are cool because they have a dichotic relationship with their respective heroes. Some have an instantly iconic look or gimmick that immediately endeared them to fans. And some, like Double Down, are cool simply because their powers and concept are just an explosion of awesome creativity. Double Down was just a typical gambling addict in Keystone City. Then, sick and tired of constantly losing the money he stole as a con man, he murdered a rival gambler to get his cash back. Little did he know that said gambler was actually holding a cursed deck of cards which embedded themselves in Double Down’s skin.
Later, he discovered that he could mentally control the cards, which by that point had literally melded with his body. His control over his cards was so precise that he even cut Superman with them once, although using too many at once will painfully peel off the outer layer of his skin. It’s good that he has one of the coolest powers in all of comics because his actual exploits are pretty lackluster. So far, he’s escaped from prison, but who hasn’t in DC comics, had a few brief run-ins with the Flash, and helped unsuccessfully ambush Green Arrow and Black Canary’s wedding. But if writers were to use him more often, they could have a valuable IP on their hands.
He throws boomerangs. Sure, some of them explode, but they’re still boomerangs, one of the least practical weapons ever designed by man. Still, the Australian super criminal George “Digger” Harkness, even while splitting his time between the Rogues and the Suicide Squad, has become one of the most enduring Flash villains of all time. And perhaps one of the reasons why is because, while he doesn’t have any special powers or abilities, Captain Boomerang has a very precise survival instinct that has kept him alive and relatively safe for most of his comic lifespan. He’s managed to live for years as a member of the Suicide Squad despite being openly racist and sexist against ringleader Amanda Waller simply by being cowardly but effective in the field, constantly looking out for himself by making sure the mission is completed according to his specifications.
Using this methodology, he’s actively killed or failed to save several members of the Suicide Squad just to keep himself in the land of the living. His experiences with the Rogues have been somewhat less successful. At various times under their banner, Boomerang has lost his hands, been killed multiple times (this is comics after all), and even gained the ability to make boomerangs from pure energy only to have it promptly taken away. Still, he’s had a storied comic legacy that continues to this day. All while using freaking boomerangs.
Wow, the character Heat Wave has not aged well. So much so that the CW’s Arrowverse has actively kept the character from having any perceivable depth because the little intrigue there is to mine from him is from a bygone era best left in the past. Let’s start with his costume. When Mick Rory decided to turn his acute pyromania into a career of crime, he made himself a fire-retardant suit made of asbestos. So reasonably, the thing should kill him after about an hour. Also, he met his ‘best friend’ Leonard Snart when the two fell in love with the same newscaster and competed to see who could give her the bigger story by committing the biggest crime.
He briefly went straight after being mind-controlled by the Top and was then sacrificed to summon the demon Neron. After returning to life (comics!) he went on something of a soul-search, studying with monks, working for the federal government, and eventually falling back to his criminal ways. Not long after that, he was recruited by Inertia to kill the new Flash, Bart Allen, a mission Heat Wave actually succeeded in, much to his chagrin. Before the New 52 turned him into a generic pyromatic pyromaniac, he was haunted by the murders he’d committed, including his family, several children, and even a few heroes. Try putting that on primetime.
It says a lot that Magneto, a major player and iconic villain from several Marvel comic lines, shares his super powers with the relatively small Flash enemy Magenta. Long after breaking up with Wally West, Frankie Kane developed her magnetic powers quite suddenly and accidentally killed her entire family as a result. Understandably confused and terrified, she was quickly folded into Cicada’s cult where she became a lieutenant with the moniker, Magenta. After the cult fell apart following the reveal that Cicada was actually responsible for the very acts he was attempting to reverse, Magenta became a part of the New Rogues where she was quietly one of their most powerful members before she managed to figure out her personal issues through the unorthodox therapy of being a criminal and turned face.
Even though her tenure in Flash’s rogues gallery was a fairly short one and she didn’t make much of an impact outside of her tangential role in Cicada’s cult, she ranks fairly high on this because of the strength and versatility of her power. As stated previously, she’s basically just Magneto, complete with magnetic-powered flight, electric concussive blasts, and general metallic manipulation. Basically the whole shebang just in a less genocidal package.
Of all of Flash’s villains, perhaps none of them have developed like Abra Kadabra. His first evil act that put the stage magician from the future at odds with the Scarlet Speedster? Using 64th century technology to force his audiences to clap for his magic show. Seriously. He even escaped from Flash for the first time by forcing him to clap. The two clashed numerous times over the course of the silver age, with writers making increasingly creative use of the potential his advanced techno-sorcery could provide. At one point, sick of constantly losing to the Flash despite his superior technology, he initiated a contract with the demon Neron which involved tricking and capturing five members of the Rogues to be sacrificed in exchange for legitimate magical powers.
With his new abilities, he was able to erase Wally’s girlfriend Linda Park from the timestream and it took two Flashes, one from an alternate dimension, to stop him. At that point, he’d become so powerful and had so outgrown his silly, time-traveling origins that when he was rebooted for the Rebirth line, he was a legitimate sorcerer embedded in Wally West’s psyche who was so strong that he could literally throw people into the speed force, trapping them there unless they had a sufficient enough emotional bond to ground them back to reality.
Originally debuting under the moniker of Mister Element, Albert Desmond adopted his better-known name after finding the legendary Philosopher’s Stone and gained the ability to transmute materials. The problem was that Albert Desmond wasn’t actually Doctor Alchemist and never was. Turns out the entire time he was a villain, it was as an alternate personality called Alvin Desmond, who is also his celestial, astral twin. And if the concept of a split-personality metahuman who can turn one substance into another with a fantastic macguffin sounds familiar, it’s because Doctor Alchemy is basically Firestorm except as a disheveled gremlin of a villain.
Though that’s fairly impressive in its own right, but his true claim to fame actually comes from the CW Flash show, where he was played by Harry Potter’s Tom Felton and reimagined as psychic entity that remembered the Flashpoint timeline that Barry had accidentally created. His power was updated from simple transmutation to metaphysically crossing timestreams, allowing him to grant super human abilities to people who had them in Flashpoint, including the CW version of Wally West. Though he’s ultimately put down by a coalition of Flash’s crew, the ability to transcend time itself basically made him a veritable god. Pity only the CW could see the character’s potential for it.
At this point, it’s hard to remember that Gorilla Grodd was originally just another Flash villain. The telepathic super gorilla has had such a vast impact on the DC Universe, from the hidden utopia of Gorilla City to several versions of the Secret Society of Super Villains, that it now sounds ludicrous that he was once constrained to only one hero. And even then, the Flash? By now Grodd has almost been in more Batman cartoons than he’s been in Flash comics. Still, he did, in fact, debut in 1959 under the Flash’s title and was a primary opponent of the speedster for many years before branching out into more wide-scale villainous schemes. At first, he was just a particularly large gorilla with superintelligence, but as his backstory started to expand, so did his powers.
It wasn’t long before Grodd had an entire civilization of technologically advanced, intelligent gorillas at his beck and call, had a grab bag of psychic powers, and was known as one of the most powerful telepaths of the DC Universe. In a way, he should be even closer to the top of this list. So why isn’t he? Well part of it is that his main goal hasn’t changed much since his first appearance: to devolve humanity back into apes, no doubt a novelty in the early '60s, but kinda boring today. The other reason? Turns out that Grodd has failed in this endeavor at least 18 times, a failing record among Flash’s villains.
One of the major problems in DC lore is an overreliance on ice-based villains. So the real trick to Captain Cold isn’t defining him by his ice guns but by what sets him apart from the likes of Mr. Freeze and Icicle. And that largely falls on one thing: he’s a career criminal who actively learns from his mistakes. Leonard Snart was a fairly common crook in a criminal crew before he first clashed with the Flash. He quickly realized he was going to need to step up his game in order to compete with this new breed of vigilante. Using a convenient news article about cryogenics as inspiration, Snart crafted his own ice gun, inadvertently reaching the scientifically unobtainable absolute zero. He quickly became one of the Flash’s most iconic and prevalent villains, mostly because he was one of the first criminals who became a super criminal in direct response to their respective hero.
This was demonstrated further after the death of Barry Allen in "Crisis". Without the Scarlet Speedster to compete with, Snart and his sister went into business for themselves as bounty hunters who actively worked with law enforcement. He would eventually return to his villainous ways, even becoming the long-term leader of the Rogues and participating in the brutal murder of Bart Allen. He may just be another ice villain, but Captain Cold stands just a step above the rest.
Among his other claims to fame, Mirror Master is the only Flash villain to have as many incarnations as his enemy. Four different people have claimed the moniker, but only two of them are worthy to make this list. Sam Scudder was the first Mirror Master and developed the mirror technology which allowed him to refract light, create life-like holograms, and access the endless mirror dimension. His gimmick was perfectly suited to deal with the Flash. After all, Flash would have to be fast enough to find and beat dozens of different Mirror Masters before the real one managed to pull off his evil scheme, pushing the Scarlet Speedster to his limits.
Scudder died pretty emphatically during "Crisis", but his gear and name were soon picked up by Scottish assassin Evan McCulloch, whose tragic backstory injected a lethal dose of flavor to the character. After being recruited by a shadowy government agency to massacre Animal Man’s family, he almost immediately turned on them, helped Animal Man save his family, and then went on to become a legendary criminal in his own right. Still, he maintained a heroic streak that kept him from ever stepping too far into the underworld, such as when he restrained Dr. Light and actively hunted Inertia after the latter successfully conspired to kill Bart Allen.
Shade, the man who commands the night, was one of the first rivals of the original Flash, Jay Garrick. He was always shrouded in mystery, never given an explicit backstory, motivation, or explanation outside of his all-black garb and a few brief comments suggesting that his ability to manipulate shadows and manifest darkness came from his iconic cane. It wasn’t until decades later, after slowly transitioning to an anti-hero and not visibly aging, that some shreds of his origins were finally revealed. Turns out he’d been a Victorian era noble involved in some manner of mysticism which cursed him with ageless immortality and his night-based super powers. As an after effect, he is perpetually hunted by a family of assassins and he’s had to slaughter entire generations of them.
Despite remaining deeply personal throughout the years, he’s been known as something of a team player, at various times joining forces with the Injustice League, the Secret Society of Super Villains, and the Rogues. Over the years, he’s had exchanges with all of the Flashes, played a significant role in the Starman comics, clashed with Green Arrow and the JSA, though at this point he has largely put his villainous ways behind him.
His powers might have been controlling the weather itself, but he was as cold enough of a person to be an ice villain. One of his first crimes was to loot his dead brother’s work and claim the technology which initially allowed him to manipulate the atmosphere as his own. After years of fighting and losing to the Flash, he died as a sacrifice to erect the demon Neron. Normally such an event would initiate some manner of soul searching and introspection. But not Mirror Master. Upon being returned to life by Wally West, he went straight back to crime like a clingy boyfriend. Later, he learned he had an illegitimate son who was beginning to show a natural affinity for Weather Wizard’s technology-based power.
Wanting this power for himself, he was prepared to dissect and kill his own child, only pausing long enough at the last second due to a sudden burst of empathy, allowing the Flash to save the kid. However, Weather Wizard would bring this track full circle a year later by participating in the murder of Bart Allen. The only time Weather Wizard showed true, homegrown emotion was when Inertia threatened to kill his son. After failing to bluff his way out of the situation, Wizard was forced to witness his son’s murder, sending him into a rage that helps him kill Inertia in response.
One of the more recent additions to the Flash’s list of enemies, Godspeed debuted under the "Rebirth" line where he was initially a hero, a fellow speedster and cop who helped Flash to train the new wave of speedsters created by a Speed Force storm. However, Godspeed quickly learned the insane quirks that come with access to the Speed Force and started using them for his own devices. He began by slaughtering a group of speed criminals and forcibly stealing their connections to the Speed Force, previously thought to be impossible, enhancing his own considerably. After that taste of power, he turned his gaze upon the more peaceful recruits, stealing the speed and life of several new speedsters before Flash deduced his identity and confronted him.
In their fight, Godspeed revealed that he had pushed the boundaries of the Speed Force even further by cloning himself. Unlike a normal flashback clone or speed clone, this copy was capable of thinking and moving independent of its creator and proved to be extremely effective in battle as a result. In the end, it took Barry and Wally together to stop him before he massacred every villain in Iron Heights. He may be new, but Godspeed has already shown the potential to surpass the Flash and still has future stories available to him, chances to grow his legacy and lore.
The best villains are the ones that are mirrored reflections of their hero. Batman’s all-black gruffness is matched by the loud exuberance of the Joker. Superman’s self-enforced generosity is countered by Lex Luthor’s all-consuming ambition. But in the case of Eobard Thawne, he may have taken this position a bit too literally. As a speedster criminal from 25th century, Eobard adopted a reverse color scheme of his hated enemy before running back in time to defeat Flash on his home turf. Though used inconsistently over the years, he’s murdered several prominent Flash characters, including Iris West, Johnny Quick, and Max Mercury. He seems to get more powerful with each appearance and more often than not requires multiple speedsters to keep him down, which has forced the elderly Jay Garrick out of super hero retirement more than a few times.
He eventually reveals that he was a progenitor of all of Barry Allen’s misery, the source of all his strife who used time travel to ruin his life. He’s known to collaborate with his future and past selves to ensure positive outcomes in his personal life, often at the expense of others. However, his control over the Speed Force goes beyond simple time travel and edges into unbelievable. At the moment he died during the "Flashpoint" event, Eobard literally froze his own personal time, allowing him to live for several more months as he desperately searched for a way to survive, eventually transposing his consciousness into his "Rebirth" self.