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Between Marvel Studios and the DC Extended Universe, its a great time to be a comic book lover.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, in particular, invited a whole new demographic into the wonderful world of comics. Phase 3 brought with it a host of new fans, many of whom were learning about superheroes for the very first time. Characters like Iron Man and Black Panther have become household names, as have a number of popular villains.
Following the heartbreaking ending to Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos reached an immortality of sorts. While the MCU had already introduced viewers to a number of memorable antagonists, none reached the scope of the Mad Titan. When he snapped his fingers, Thanos changed the way we look at movie villains. He may be gone in the official MCU canon, but the mark that Thanos left behind lingers. With his fall, many viewers are wondering what other great villains Marvel may have in store for us.
Some of these characters have already cropped up in the MCU, or in related Marvel content. While some antagonists failed to shine on-screen—looking at you, Whiplash—some superpowered baddies carved out a permanent place in our memories. Marvel comics have been going for nearly 80 years, so there are more than enough options to choose from. In no particular order, here are the 10 best Marvel villains.
The best Marvel villains
Potentially the most powerful character on this list, Dark Phoenix is a force to be reckoned with. The recent Dark Phoenix movie adaptation bombed in theaters, but the creation of this overpowered heroine-turned-villain is one of the most popular Marvel comic storylines to date.
Jean Grey became Dark Phoenix for the first time in the mid-’70s, thanks to writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne. The first female member of the X-Men was transformed into Dark Phoenix after being exposed to a cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force. Jean was able to use the power she gained from the Phoenix Force for good, at first, but was eventually overwhelmed by it. This loss of control led to the deaths of billions when she devoured a star, accidentally creating a supernova. Jean was eventually forced to end her own life—temporarily, of course—when she realized she couldn’t control the overwhelming power within her.
Abilities: Jean Grey is an alpha-level telepath, who can read the minds of other humans as well as animals. She can project her own thoughts onto others, as well as control their actions. Her telekinetic abilities allow her to move objects with her mind, which eventually leads to her gaining the ability to fly, as well as use a concussive blast to fight enemies. When transformed into Dark Phoenix, all of her original abilities are multiplied immensely, giving her access to an enormous amount of power. As Dark Phoenix, Grey can absorb massive amounts of energy and even resurrect the dead. When the Dark Phoenix has full control, she is considered an even greater danger than the planet-consuming Galactus.
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Written by Roy Thomas and visually created by John Buscema, Ultron is a favorite among Marvel comic fans.
A robot created by Hank Pym, Ultron gradually gained independent thought and rebelled against his creator. He proceeded to be remade a few dozen times, tormenting the Avengers in new ways with each manifestation. By the 2000s, Ultron was on version 18.
Abilities: Ultron’s appearance and power portfolio have varied from form to form, but a few abilities have stayed with him. Superhuman speed, strength, and stamina as well as the ability to fly have long aided him in his quest against the Avengers. He can shoot a variety of deadly blasts from his eyes and hands, including one that allows him to control his target’s mind. Enhanced intelligence grants him the ability to repair himself and adapt to situations inhumanly quickly. Despite being composed of the practically indestructible adamantium, Ultron is soundly defeated by the Avengers time and again.
This world-consuming villain first appeared in Marvel comics back in the ’60s. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Galactus was intended to change what readers expected from a supervillain.
Far and away one of the most powerful Marvel villains to ever exist, Galactus came from a universe that existed far before our own. His god-like abilities separate him from typical villains in a very important way—he doesn’t destroy planets out of evil, but out of necessity. He is so powerful as to require the energy from an entire planet to sustain himself.
Abilities: Described as “the physical, metamorphosed embodiment of a cosmos,” Galactus does not have a permanent corporeal form. As close to a god as Marvel characters come, Galactus can do almost anything. He expertly wields telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation, transmutation of matter, resurrection, and a number of other incredible abilities. Galactus is not only capable of destroying entire solar systems, but also of recreating worlds when the urge strikes him.
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Magneto’s status as an on-again-off-again ally of the X-Men cemented him as a favorite among Marvel readers long ago. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the early ’60s, Magneto is considered by many to be one of Marvel’s most sympathetic villains.
It’s hard to hate a character inspired by civil rights leader Malcolm X. Magneto’s tragic backstory cemented him as a complex and intriguing villain, particularly after his time in Auschwitz was expanded upon in 2008’s X-Men: Magneto Testament. While his willingness to embrace violence to achieve his goals marked Magneto as a villain, his obsession with protecting mutant-kind won many readers over. Throughout the years, Magneto often allied himself with the X-Men and other heroes, flip-flopping between hero and villain depending on the storyline.
Abilities: Magneto’s ability to manipulate magnetic fields has granted him a wide range of powers over the years. His control over all things metal is certainly a perk but is far from the only talent his mutation gives him. His ability to fly comes from metal bracers worn around his wrists and ankles. He can create force-fields strong enough to withstand immense power, and can even turn himself invisible. On top of his impressive list of mutant abilities, Magneto’s genius-level intelligence often gives him a boost.
Thanks to Tom Hiddleston’s charming portrayal, the Asgardian god of mischief has found a place in many of our hearts. Marvel’s version of the clever antihero first showed up in the early ’60s, thanks to Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby.
Loki’s resentment for Thor and his fellow Asgardians began during his youth. After Odin defeated his father, the Frost Giant Laufey, he adopted Loki out of a combination of pity and duty. Loki grew up small and clever in a world that appreciated only strength and valor. Due to his differences, the young Loki quickly grew to resent his adoptive brother and found every opportunity to cause mischief in his life. While he often bounced between outright villain and antihero, the more recent incarnations of Loki tend to lean toward antihero.
Abilities: As a Frost Giant of Jotunheim, Loki wields a number of impressive abilities. While he is not as large as his race would imply, Loki is far stronger, faster and more durable than your average sorcerer. Loki’s intellect often aids in his schemes, as does his ability to create illusions. His ability to fly, teleport, read minds, and shapeshift have all come into play many times before, as has his near-immortality. On top of his magical ability to bounce back from all but the most dire of wounds, Loki made a deal with death to assure that nothing—even beheading or getting choked out by a Mad Titan—would mean his permanent end.
Created by Jim Starlin and Mike Friedrich in the early ’70s, Thanos quickly became a mainstay in Marvel comics lore. Then, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame brought Thanos to mainstream popularity. Many viewers were unfamiliar with the nihilistic Titan prior to the first Avengers’ short teaser, but as the MCU expertly wove hints toward Thanos’ goals into subsequent films, interest in the Mad Titan grew.
Thanos was born on Titan, Saturn’s moon, to two Eternals. Though he spent much of his childhood as a pacifist, Thanos gradually developed an obsession with death. Throughout his life, much of Thanos’ motivation came from his desire to impress the physical manifestation of death, Mistress Death. The many children he adopted and sired were often sacrificed in an attempt to garner her favor.
Abilities: This mutant Eternal is remarkably strong. Even without the Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos is capable of wielding world-ending power. His impressive speed, strength, durability, and stamina are mere side-notes compared to his other abilities. Essentially immortal, Thanos can survive without food, water or air and cannot die of old age. He can manipulate matter and has use of telekinesis and telepathy. On top of everything, Thanos is incredibly intelligent and a master strategist, which often aids him in his bloody schemes.
This sentient alien sludge first came into our lives in the mid-’80s thanks to Randy Schueller, Tom DeFalco, and Ron Frenz. A liquid-like alien symbiote, Venom is one of the more creative and off-center villains Marvel writers have thought up.
The symbiote first found its way from the Planet of the Symbiotes to Earth following a massive space battle in which Spider-Man‘s suit was damaged. He willingly accepted the symbiote—which he did not yet understand to be an alien—and had a brief dark phase that definitely didn’t include dancing. After Peter rejected the symbiote, it bonded with several other humans. Eddie Brock, Mac Gargan, and Flash Thompson all eventually donned the strange alien suit, but it never abandoned its obsession with Spider-Man.
Abilities: The symbiote has to be one of the most creative villains on this list. Bonding to a host is necessary for its survival, but the symbiote wields a number of powerful abilities all on its own. It displays skill in shapeshifting, telepathy, and invisibility even when not bonded. When connected to a host, the symbiote grants enhanced speed, strength, and durability, as well as viciously sharp teeth. After bonding with Spider-Man, the symbiote mimics his powers. This grants all subsequent hosts the ability to use a variation of his web-shooters and elude his Spidey Sense.
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Cain Marko, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the mid-’60s, is one of the oldest Marvel creations on this list. The virtually unstoppable man has shown up in countless crossovers and side-stories over the years, rampaging his way through X-Men, Spider-Man, and even Deadpool comics.
Step-brother to Professor X, Marko and the young Xavier had a rocky relationship. After joining the military, Marko came into his powers on duty in Korea. A strange red ruby granted Marko his incredible abilities, which came from a deity known as Cyttorak. Once imbued with his magical abilities, Marko spent years tormenting the X-Men, Spider-Man, and anyone else who got too close.
Abilities: That goofy helmet does more than protect Marko’s head—like Magneto’s iconic helmet, it protects him from psychic interference. Considering his family ties, it is no surprise that Marko would choose to make the headwear a staple of his uniform. Thanks to Cyttorak’s gem, Juggernaut is empowered with incredible strength and durability. He is capable of destroying mountains with his fists, and can even lift and toss entire buildings. Virtually unstoppable when in motion, Juggernaut is at his most dangerous once he gets moving. Thankfully, his vulnerability to mental attacks has long allowed Xavier to keep him in check.
Another early Marvel villain, the Kingpin is the only unpowered addition to this list. The Kingpin has been an adversary to Spider-Man, Daredevil, and even the Punisher since his creation in the mid-’60s by Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr.
Born to a poor family in New York City, Wilson Fisk began physical training at a young age. After his discovery by Don Rigoletto, Fisk worked his way through the ranks before eventually killing his boss. One of New York’s most notorious crime bosses, Fisk warred with heroes and his fellow criminals for years before meeting Vanessa. Their marriage, as well as the birth of their son Richard, eventually inspired Fisk to give up his life of crime. Unfortunately, these things never last long.
Abilities: Fisk’s impressive strength came from years of hard training, in response to childhood bullying over his weight. Bone-crushing muscle hides beneath his heavyset build, which he can use to rip limbs from bodies and go all “the Mountain” on people’s skulls. A master of multiple forms of martial arts and unarmed combat, the Kingpin has bested numerous capable heroes. Add to this his admirable intellect, and the Kingpin is a force to be reckoned with.
One of the world’s first-ever mutants, Apocalypse was created several decades after most of the characters on this list. The mid-’80s saw writer Louise Simonson and artist Jackson Guice create the immortal mutant, who was intended to raise the stakes for the recently formed X-Factor team.
En Sabah Nur, as he was originally named, began his life in Aqaba. Following the destruction of his adoptive family by Kang the Conqueror, Apocalypse was born. Utilizing ancient celestial technology, Apocalypse rampaged through ancient Egypt—even besting the great Ozymandias. In the following years, Apocalypse convinced countless cultures that he was a deity. Eventually, he made his way to modern times. Primarily using his powers to encourage henchmen to fight for him, Apocalypse became a massive headache to a number of popular superheroes—namely the X-Men.
Abilities: Apocalypse’s power portfolio is unique. Due to his ancient roots—not to mention his grasp of celestial technology—Apocalypse is capable of almost anything. His mutant powers grant him the ability to control his form as he wishes; changing his body, transforming his limbs into weapons, and even regenerating entire body parts. He is immortal, which is mostly unnecessary considering his ability to reknit his body as needed. On top of his abilities, including technopathy (the ability to communicate with technology), Apocalypse is, like the best Marvel villains, super smart. Add to this his abilities as a master strategist, and Apocalypse is all but impossible to defeat.
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Nahila Bonfiglio reports on geek culture and gaming. Her work has also appeared on KUT's Texas Standard (Austin), KPAC-FM (San Antonio), and the Daily Texan.