Over the course of the last couple months in my Cruel Summer series, I’ve had a good time picking apart and analyzing some of my personal favorite comic book villains, as well as bad guys I thought called for a bit more scrutiny.
Well, all good things and all that, and with this being the last day of August, it’s kinda the end of summer in my eyes, so I thought I’d finish off with quick hits on five baddies I think get the short shrift and deserve more exposure and/or recognition.
Based on appearance alone, Ahab freaked me the heck out as a kid. I was just thumbing through back issues at a store or something, came across Days of Future Present, and this guy just looked horrifying. I gathered bits and pieces over the years and the fact that he was basically the end boss of Marvel’s nastiest dystopian future and that he could reduce heroes like Cyclops and Invisible Woman to mindless “hounds” just upped his creep factor. Having actually read the event that introduced him now, I think all the pieces are there for a really memorable X-Men villain, but also that his best stories are still to come. I also think one of the cooler things done in the waning years of Excalibur was to introduce Rory Campbell as a young idealist, then slowly and agonizingly drag him down the path to becoming Ahab that he knew was his destiny but so desperately hoped to avoid. Great-looking villain and neat personal connection that make for a character who shouldn’t be sitting on the shelf.
There are a lot of New Gods villain who are vastly underused and underrated—I’m not sure if Orion’s mother, Tigra, really counts as a “villain,” but it sure seems like making her one would be a neat way to have a short-term Darkseid stand-in—but my favorite may well be Kanto, the guy so bad ass that the ruler of Apokolips, who can pretty much kill anybody any time they feel like, employs him as the official assassin of the most evil planet in the galaxy. I also love that rather than be the typical tough-talking, scraggly-bearded cliché you expect from such a job position, Kanto is this dashing dude dressed like a fop who insists on maintaining his sense of style while running around trying to get Mister Miracle in a death trap; more of this fellow, please.
I never read much Valiant as a kid, but I did get the re-release of Harbinger a couple years back, and one of the many things that impressed me about the book is just how scary Toyo Harada is. For one thing he’s immensely powerful; for another, he truly believes he’s the good guy and that he’s saving the world by taking it into his capable hands, which always makes for more interesting villains. In many ways, Harada is a lot like Lex Luthor in his immediate post-Crisis incarnation as the beloved businessman of Metropolis only Superman and a few others really know as a scumbag, but with off-the-charts telepathic abilities rather than just money and gadgets. The thing that really got me with Harada though was how he never would tip his hat as far as exactly how much of Sting’s life he was manipulating, which just added a sinister edge; he was evil and powerful in a way only Pete truly understood since the potential for both was in him as well, and to me the burden of knowing the world’s most benevolent man is a wolf in sheep’s clothing being solely on a kid is such a perfectly terrifying scenario.
In many ways, one could see Count Vertigo as a Doctor Doom knock-off of sorts, sharing the standing as European nobility as well as the arrogance and contempt for anybody not him. On the other hand, where Doom is a self-made man who clawed his way up from poverty and sports the literal scars to prove it, Vertigo was born with the silver spoon in his mouth and never had to strive for anything until years later. The missed opportunities I see with Vertigo is that here’s a major player with extremely substantial powers and impressive pedigree who for some reason spends most of his time bugging Green Arrow and Black Canary. Sure there’s some novelty to this pampered royal being taken down by an archer and a girl in fishnets, but wouldn’t he be better served going a few rounds with Superman or The Flash? I’d hone in on the stuff that made Vertigo’s best Suicide Squad appearances, specifically his need to prove he can indeed earn things on his own, and work that into a self-loathing of his underachiever status in villains and renewed motivation to take on the big guns.
Here’s a character who not only appears pretty regularly throughout the Marvel Universe but also has a pretty solid pedigree of decent stories; and yet, he’s really only ever been a random bad guy who switches dance partners every time he shows up, where I think he’s got the potential to be a great consistent foil for some hero. Hyde’s got a brains and brawn combo gimmick that reminds me of Blockbuster during the halcyon days of Chuck Dixon’s Nightwing, but he both predates that run by far and also has a not-yet-fully-tapped elegance and depth I feel beyond his DC counterpart as well. I thought of him for this list in large part because of his recent appearance in the first two issues of Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger. If you need even more reason to check out that book (which you shouldn’t), that kick-off story is the perfect blueprint for elevating Mister Hyde to prominent status in Marvel pantheon of evil. A schemer and kingpin who can also be his own muscle as well as a character conflicted as the one he takes his name from, Hyde could do great things if given the chance.