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The Most Tragic DC Villain Origins, RANKED

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The Most Tragic DC Villain Origins, RANKED

We here at CBR love to hate bad guys. Luckily, DC Comics has given us some of the most villainous characters in all of comic books. Characters such as the Joker, General Zod and Ares have been terrorizing our heroes for decades, but what drove these characters to become what they are? What made them want to hurt people? Why does Atrocitus need to kill in a seemingly uncontrollable manner? When did Black Lantern find his deep-seeded passion for death? What exactly turned the Joker into Batman’s greatest foe and does he even know himself?

RELATED: Worst Origin Stories Ever

In this list, we will take a look at the torments that drove the villains to be what they are, who hurt them and why. Some of these entries will also delve into the endgame for their character, so consider this your SPOILER ALERT!


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Dexter was an ordinary house cat from Earth who lived with a little old lady that he loved. They had a simple, happy life with their main joy being each other’s company. One night, during a home invasion, Dexter’s “Mother” was murdered. During the investigation, the cops kicked Dexter out of the apartment thinking he was just some stray, and he was forced to live on the streets in a box.

After an unknown amount of time, some guys called him over and to have some amusement, shoved Dexter in a bag and threw him off of the Brooklyn Bridge, joking as he fell if he would die on impact or not. As he was falling, a Red Power Ring flew to Dexter sensing his unfathomable rage, transforming him into Dex-Starr. In his rage, he killed the guys and made a vow to kill the person responsible for his owner’s death because he’s “a good kitty.” The biggest thing that Dex-Starr holds onto are the last kind words his owner said to him; “You make my life better you silly cat, and I know if you could talk, you would tell me the same thing.”


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Harvey Dent was the White Knight of Gotham City. The new D.A. had gotten elected on a very firm stance about shutting down the mob getting criminals off the streets. The citizens of Gotham believed in Harvey Dent, and that included Bruce Wayne. Bruce knew that as Batman he could only get so much done, that beating down on the crime families would only go so far; but Bruce believed Harvey could do some real good for the city.

When the Joker arrived on the scene, he established that his entire purpose was to prove that the whole city would “eat each other” if given the opportunity, and he proved his point in certain aspects. Harvey and his girlfriend Rachel Dawes were both kidnapped by the Joker’s men, tied up and attached to makeshift bombs. After they awoke to find themselves that way, the two realized they were able to talk to each other via some phones set up in the rooms. When Batman shows up and saves Harvey, Rachel is on the phone trying to tell him she will marry him, only seconds later being killed in an explosion, as a simultaneous one across town deformed Harvey Dent into Two-Face.


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When The Flash made the decision to go back in time to save his mother’s life, he never could have known that the repercussions of the trip would result in the alternate “Flashpoint” universe. One of the biggest changes (if not the biggest) was the relationship and brutal fallout that occurred between Aquaman and Wonder Woman. The pair had started having an affair which was unfortunately for them witnessed by Queen Mera. When Mera went to confront Wonder Woman, the two fought, and Mera was decapitated. Wonder Woman then left her severed noggin as a “gift” for Aquaman and wore her helmet as a trophy.

This nasty business literally jump-started the end of the world in the alternate dimension where Aquaman and Wonder Woman’s armies tore apart the world and killed pretty much anyone or anything that got in their way. Aquaman had a device that was used to flood most of Europe, and Wonder Woman and her amazons took over whatever land was left killing millions in the process. The departure from the characters’ normal personalities was nothing short of chilling, and made the erstwhile couple the most dangerous villains on the planet.


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A bright and eager young scientist named Caitlin Snow had been assigned by S.T.A.R. Labs to work in an outpost in the Arctic Circle where researcher Dr. Louise Lincoln had been working on a Self-Sustaining Thermodynamic Ultraconductor Engine that could subvert the second law of thermodynamics to create perpetual motion before her untimely death. Caitlin decided, against the wishes of her co-workers, that she wanted to continue Dr. Lincoln’s work on the machine. After Caitlin succeeded in getting the machine to work, her “co-workers” revealed themselves to be working for H.I.V.E. and their purpose at the outpost was to make sure that the machine never got up and running or went public.

To protect H.I.V.E.’s energy investments, they had killed Dr. Lincoln and tried to do the same to Caitlin by putting her in the machine. Frantically trying to escape the machine, Caitlin tore wires out of its cooling system, which resulted in her molecular structure being infused with ice. After escaping from the machine, Caitlin killed the men by absorbing their body heat and discovered the vampiric being she had become.


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In “Smallville,” Lex Luthor was thoroughly a product of his upbringing and the attitudes of those around him. Whether his father Lionel was telling him he wasn’t good enough or his “best friend” Clark Kent not wanting to tell him everything, just about every person in Lex’s life lied to him over and over again. Lex’s biggest issue was that he would ask for the truth and everyone made the decision to lie to him, thinking either that it was for the best or that Lex himself wasn’t trustworthy enough. In the case of people like Jonathan Kent, the reason was simple: he was a Luthor.

However, Lex just wanted to be viewed as a good person. In the beginning, he truly wanted to do good for the world and help whenever he could. “Smallville” had a chance to really change Lex for the better and make their own version where he could have been a good person, but they chose to keep him at least mostly true to character and have him become the villain of the story.


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Maxwell Lord IV had the chance to be a good person. His father was the head of Chimtech Consortium and had always tried to instill a sense of right and wrong into his son. He strove to set this example himself by trying his best to always do what was right. When Lord’s father had discovered that his company had developed a highly carcinogenic product, however, he couldn’t bear the guilt and committed suicide. Lord’s mother, on the other hand, was convinced that the executives of Chimtech had something to do with the death, and from that point forward brought up Lord to distrust any and all authority; this led to Lord’s own obsession with power.

Lord eventually gained the ability to make anyone do what he wished with a word, up to and including characters like Superman. That is, until he tried to have Superman kill Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman was able to distract Superman long enough to ask Lord using the Lasso of Truth how to break his control to which he responded, “Kill me.” In order to end the chaos, she broke his neck.


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Doomsday has known nothing except pain and death. An ancient scientist on a prehistoric Krypton named Bertron released a humanoid infant into the harsh, unforgiving environment. Trying to create the perfect being through a forced evolutionary process, Bertron would watch as the infant died, then collect the remains and clone a stronger version. Time after time, death after death, this continued on until the creature could withstand the environment. After that, he would be killed by the creatures that inhabited the planet.

Eventually the once infant became able to adapt on his own without the use of Bertron’s technology, being able to overcome anything that had previously killed him. He turned on his creator for this reason later on after establishing him as an enemy. Over time, the creature that would come to be known as Doomsday would tear across planets, cross paths with Darkseid, kill thousands of Green Lanterns and even the Man of Steel himself.


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In “The Flash,” Grodd was a normal silverback gorilla who was being used as a test subject in S.T.A.R. Labs. In tandem with Wade Eiling, a general for the U.S. Army who wanted to explore the possibilities of psychic powers, Harrison Wells conducted enhanced genetic therapy treatments on Grodd. Once Wells discovered that Eiling was torturing Grodd to attempt to elicit a change, Wells shut down the program and took Grodd into his own hands.

After the explosion of the particle accelerator, Grodd finally developed his psychic abilities and escaped from his cage, vowing to get revenge on Eiling for what he had done, and by extension, all other humans. After trying to take on the Flash in battle, the team decided that the best way to deal with Grodd was to send him to another dimension that had an entire city of super-intelligent apes. This, however, would not stop Grodd’s determination to defeat the Flash and take control of his home world.


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It depends on your viewpoint (and geographic location) whether Dr. Manhattan is a villain, but we can probably all agree that he wasn’t all good. Dr. Johnathan Osterman was originally supposed to be a watchmaker and follow in his father’s footsteps. Then, at 16, when the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, his father knocked away all of his watchmaking parts, telling him it is an outdated profession and that he should pursue a career in nuclear physics. While in Princeton, Johnathan met Janey Slater and the two fell in love. While on a trip to New Jersey, Janey broke her watch and Johnathan decided to fix it for her.

Realizing that his lab coat containing the watch had been left in the test chamber of the intrinsic field generator, Johnathan went to retrieve the coat and got locked in because of a safety feature. All his coworkers had no choice but to watch as he was torn to pieces by a blinding light. Months later, Johnathan reappeared as a blue-skinned naked man with incredible abilities. Dr. Manhattan is considered a villain here, because his complete lack of emotion led to his decision to side with Ozymandias’ choice to destroy different cities across the world, which led in turn to the murder of Rorschach.


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Originally a Green Lantern, Sinestro was both feared and respected by not only the inhabitants of his sector, but the other Lanterns as well. When Hal Jordan came into the picture, though, Sinestro started to lose his composure. Ganthet, one of the Guardians of the Universe, had specifically requested that Hal be trained by Sinestro, and the resulting work showed Hal the true colors of his mentor.

At one point, the pair went to Sinestro’s home world of Korugar, where Hal was shown that Sinestro ruled his planet with an iron fist and forced the citizens to worship him. For these, as well as other crimes, Hal testified against Sinestro to the Guardians, who stripped him of his power ring and banished him to Qward in the Antimatter Universe. There, he met the Weaponers, who helped him create a yellow ring to combat the green which he had come to loathe with every breath.


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We see a man who is trying to be a comedian to provide for his wife and unborn child, biggest problem being that he wasn’t funny and screwed up his punchlines. As a last resort to make a new life for his family, a deal is made with a couple of mobsters to get a big score from a playing card company next to a chemical plant he used to work for; all he needed to do was walk them through the chemical plant. Just before the heist, some police arrive to deliver the news that his wife was dead. We watch a man’s life dissolve from the tiny glimmer it was, to being destroyed overnight.

The Joker is so convoluted that even his origin remains shrouded in mystery; sometimes he remembers it one way, sometimes another, but most times, he’s probably just lying. The origin story from “Batman: The Killing Joke” remains one of the most accepted origins out of all. It shines a light on a person who was trying to do something good for a family he had built, even if it was by not so good means. The Joker was made into a sympathetic character for once instead of simply a laughing maniac, but we understood how he got there. All it took was “just one bad day.”


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Though variations have come into play at different points in time through his history, one thing has always been constant with the origin of Victor Fries, and that is his wife being his driving ambition. Victor is the world’s leading scientist in cryogenics, which is the science that addresses the production and effects of very low temperatures on the human body for healing and preservation. Fries wanted nothing more than to be able to cure his terminally ill wife, but to do so he would need funds, which is why he turned to his life of crime.

Because of his tragic origin story, Fries has become one of the most sympathetic villains in all of comics because the audience knows that no matter what he’s doing, it’s all to try and bring his wife back to him. The times that Mister Freeze are seen in anger are usually the times he doesn’t know where Nora is or if her condition takes a turn for the worse.


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Basil Karlo had only ever wanted to be a great actor. So, when he got news that one of his classic horror films, “The Terror,” was being remade with a different actor in the lead, he got a little bit mad. Donning the mask and persona of the serial killer from the film, Clayface, Karlo became a serial killer himself, killing the cast and crew in the new film in the same order as the movie. While foiled by Batman and Robin before he could make a clean sweep and kill his replacement, it was definitely not the last we would see of Basil.

Recently, Basil has become a far more sympathetic character. He has been brought in by Batman to be part of a team in “Detective Comics,” which also includes Batwoman, Orphan (formerly Batgirl, Cassandra Cain) and Batwing. In an attempt to rehabilitate Clayface, Batman gave him a band to wear which would hone in on his human DNA, allowing him to use and maintain his original form for a certain amount of time. In exchange, Basil agreed to turn over a new leaf and do his best for Batman’s new team.


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Bane has come to be known as the Man Who Broke The Bat, and for good reason. Born to serve out the jail sentence of his father, Bane was condemned to the prison Peña Duro in Santa Prisca. Alongside him, Bane’s mother also served a sentence, but in her case, it was until her death. Even though he was imprisoned, Bane’s natural abilities allowed him to excel. He learned everything he could from every book he could get his hands on and in his off time, he would work his body past its limits.

Eventually, Bane got out of the prison, but not before they decided to experiment on him with a new drug called Venom, which had killed all of the other test subjects before him. While the drug increased Bane’s physical strength tremendously, if he didn’t get another does in about 12 hours (from the tubes plugged into his brain), he would suffer debilitating side-effects.


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Clark Kent awoke one night out of a dead sleep to a sound that made him the happiest man on the planet; a double heartbeat coming from his wife. The happiness is short lived, however, when an anonymous tip leads to the death of Jimmy Olsen and kidnapping of Lois at the hands of the Joker. After asking Batman and the Justice League to help him find Joker, they found that the Clown Prince and Harley had stolen a submarine. Superman lifted it out of the water and tore into it to find the clowns operating on Lois, but is immediately hit with a gas. Looking up, he sees Doomsday in front of him and his only thoughts are to protect Lois and the baby.

It’s revealed that the gas Superman was hit with was Scarecrow’s fear toxin and that the person he was beating on was in fact Lois herself. Not only that, but the surgery the Joker was performing on Lois was to implant a trigger for a nuclear warhead in Metropolis. As soon as Lois’ heart stopped beating, the bomb went off, destroying the city. All of this causes Superman to go over the edge and become a tyrannical dictator.

What do you think is the most tragic supervillain origin? Let us know in the comments!

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