Mega-City Law: Judge Death (Complete Case Files Volume 3: Progs 149-151)




Judge Death.


Need I say more? Well, yes – this is a story arc of three episodes, which is not exactly up there with the Judge Dredd epic storylines so far (The Cursed Earth or The Day the Law Died). However, while it is not epic in length, it was epic in impact – introducing not just one but two of Judge Dredd’s (and for that matter its anthology publication 2000 AD’s) most iconic and enduring characters, eclipsed only by Dredd himself. Firstly, the titular villain – who is THE most iconic and enduring antagonist for Dredd, the Chaos to Dredd’s Law or the Joker to Dredd’s Batman. Secondly, Psi-Judge (Cassandra) Anderson – the primary female character in both Judge Dredd and 2000 AD, in both senses of the first major female character (well, apart from Dredd’s niece Vienna, but she effectively vanishes for two decades or so before resurfacing as an adult in the Dredd storyline) and the most substantial major character.


Clearly the writers of Judge Dredd identified a problem in that Dredd lacked antagonists of substance, but particularly recurring antagonists of substance. After all, Dredd’s antagonists were typically criminals or perps, who by their nature tended to be less formidable than Dredd himself, and in any event tended to be incarcerated or killed by Dredd in their storylines. Ironically, Dredd’s most substantial antagonists have been other Judges, generally as an inversion or dark version of Dredd himself. In rough order of ascending villainy, we start with other Judges from Mega-City One, typically representing the corruption of power within the city, of whom the most iconic (and most dangerous threat to the city) remains Judge Cal. Then there are the Judges of other mega-cities, with the Soviet or Sov Judges as the most iconic – and the ones that have been the most effective in their actual destruction of Mega-City One, destroying half of it in the Apocalypse War and coming very close to destroying the other half in the Day of Chaos. (Given that the Soviet Union fell after their introduction, they are perhaps more accurately neo-Soviet Judges). But the most villainous are the Judges from another dimension, such as Judge Death – although again ironically they haven’t been as effective as human Judges in actually bringing destruction to Mega-City One, namely because Judge Death typically seems to insist on killing people by hand (literally) while human Judges have used weapons of mass destruction. (At one point he took an interest in weapons of mass destruction, but I think he just enjoys the personal touch too much).




That distinction from human Judges may tip off the secret to Judge Death as a recurring character – although he was human in origin, he is a supernatural adversary, effectively an undead corpse in a dark fantasy inversion of a Mega-City One Judge’s uniform. Indeed, Judge Death is a dark fantasy insertion into what is predominantly science fiction, although the Judge Dredd comic is something of a fantasy kitchen sink, throwing in everything from science fiction through fantasy to horror. For me, however, Judge Death seems somewhat less jarring than other fantasy elements in the comic, perhaps because he seems to straddle fantasy and science fiction as an extradimensional being (or an “alien superfiend” as he is sometime styled), not unlike the Cthulhu Mythos – indeed, in some ways Judge Death is akin to Cthulhu in a uniform. And because he’s just too damn cool. Anyway, his supernatural or extradimensional nature means that he is much more hardy than Dredd’s human antagonists – as he himself says, “you cannot kill what does not live”. His ‘body’ can be destroyed with enough firepower, but he then ‘ghosts’ out to jump to another suitable corpse-like body or possess suitable minds while in transit between bodies. (He also typically kills his victims by ‘ghosting’ or phasing his hand into their body to grip their heart).


And while he may have been exceeded in villainous scale (by the Sov-Judges for example), he is second to none in villainous scope – quite simply, he is an omnicidal maniac, with his goal as the destruction of all life, due to the insane troll logic that all crime is committed by the living so that life itself is a crime. Hence his catchphrase – “The crime is life. The sentence is death”. Although that would seem to be directed more at all human life, he carried out that sentence on his world of origin and it does seem to be devoid of all life. Of course, setting aside the insanity of the logic, that premise would still seem to be flawed, as his ‘unlife’ seems equally capable of committing crimes. (He also does make exceptions, usually for temporary expediency towards his ultimate goal, but has identified at one notable exception to his otherwise universal death sentence, the elderly Mrs Gunderson). Consistent with the insane troll logic of his catchphrase, Judge Death tends to be played for black comedy, but always has a touch of horror about him and quite often is played for genuine horror effect. Part of his appeal (and effect) as Dredd’s most iconic adversary was that he is the ultimate dark inversion of Dredd (and the Law).


This story arc also introduced Justice Department’s ‘psychic’ judges against such supernatural threats, although they use the characteristically science fiction nomenclature of ‘psi’ (or psi powers) for the Psi-Division or Psi-Judges. Psi Division was introduced in the person of the aforementioned Psi-Judge Anderson, Psi Division’s leading telepath, originally modelled on blonde 1980’s singer Debbie Harry (and enduring as Judge Dredd’s or 2000 AD’s recurring pin-up girl). She was also introduced as something of a foil to Dredd, albeit not in the same villainous way as Judge Death – as opposed to Dredd’s laconic and taciturn expression, she has a cheery disposition which lends itself to cracking jokes, often at Dredd’s expense. Then again, this is part of her nature as a Psi-Judge, as they all tend towards eccentric personalities by Justice Department standards (and tolerated as part of their useful abilities). In Anderson’s case, her ability and reliability has earned her the enduring trust of Dredd – and she remains one of the few people who regularly calls him by his first name Joe.






Top 10 Villains of Comics




I’ve revamped my Top 10 Villains of Comics – eliminating tied entries (although I retain runners-up in parentheses), reshuffling entries and adding in two new entries from Marvel Comics inspired by their television adaptations. As usual, the full version can be accessed through the link or page menu, but here’s the TL;DR version (with runners-up for entries in parentheses):

(10) Kingpin (Kilgrave)

(9) Reverse-Flash (Zoom)

(8) Doctor Doom (Galactus)

(7) Red Skull

(6) Darkseid (Thanos)

(5) Magneto

(4) Judge Death

(3) Venom (Green Goblin & Doctor Octopus)

(2) Lex Luthor (Doomsday)

(1) Joker (Bane)

Top 10 Fantasy – Special Mention (Part 2)








Frankenstein is one of the most iconic figures in horror, fantasy and SF. And yes, literary purists, I know that Frankenstein was Dr. Victor Frankenstein (perhaps the most famous doctor in literature), not his nameless monster – but the latter has also been named Frankenstein by popular culture and they’re a matched pair in any event.


Of course, their iconic stature owes more to their cinematic adaptations rather than the original novel by Mary Shelley, in which they are mutual tragic figures. Brian Aldiss claimed Mary Shelley as the mother of science fiction, but the original novel still seems more Gothic fantasy to me, particularly without all the, you know, science that we see in the cinematic adaptations. Mary Shelley was understandably scant on the process of the monster’s creation and does not describe it in her narrative, other than vague references to chemistry – as opposed to the electricity and “it’s alive!” and the rest of the monster’s creation that is the most iconic part of the cinematic adaptations. Indeed, the strength of Shelley’s work lies in its ideas and themes (including the Promethean theme of its subtitle, The Modern Prometheus), which have lent themselves to popular culture – the work itself may seem somewhat dated (and melodramatic) to a modern audience.




Victor Frankenstein is frequently invoked as a symbol of scientific hubris, a recurring theme in SF and popular culture in general – although his true villainy was more arguably abandoning his creature, because it was so, ah, ugly.


Perhaps it would have worked out better like this?

Perhaps it would have worked out better like this?


After he is so superficially abandoned, the monster rises to his own villainy with a murderous rampage. Okay, so murderous rampage is something of an overstatement, since he kills one person, Victor’s brother, William (and an innocent servant girl is hanged for the crime). He approaches Victor in truce, seeking Victor create a female companion for him. Victor initially does so, then destroys her as he fears a race of monsters. (Really, Victor? Come on – show a little imagination, man. You could always create her without ovaries. Or make the monster a male companion). The monster renews his rampage with a vengeance, or more vengeance anyway – killing Victor’s close friend and then Victor’s bride Elizabeth. In her bed on their wedding night – admittedly a nice villainous touch. Victor’s father dies of grief, as was the fashion at that time. Victor then pursues the monster to the Arctic for his own vengeance, but fails miserably and freezes instead. The monster then mourns his creator, perhaps because he realizes he will now have nothing to do, and vows to destroy himself.


In the novel, the character of Frankenstein’s monster is somewhat different from his iconic film appearance, not least because he is sensitive and emotional – like an emo Hulk without the smashing. He is also highly articulate and literate, indeed having read Paradise Lost – clearly no good could come of that. Even so, he is as iconic as his creator – an enduring influence in theme, when not directly adapted in name or image. In his personal study of horror, Danse Macabre, Stephen King considered Frankenstein’s monster (along with Dracula and the Werewolf) to be an archetype of numerous horror figures in fiction, in a role he referred to as “The Thing Without a Name” – although he acknowledged that “its classical unity is broken only by the author’s uncertainty as to where the fatal flaw lies—is it in Victor’s hubris (usurping a power that belongs only to God) or in his failure to take responsibility for his creation after endowing it with the life-spark?”








Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the alternative halves of the iconic character from Robert Louis Stevenson’s short novel “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, with the latter as the monstrous or villainous half (although that is arguable as Jekyll unleashed Hyde in the first place).


Hyde’s villainy is characteristic of his original Victorian melodrama, as he does not actually do much. At the outset of the novel, he tramples and injures a young girl, but pays compensation when accosted! In fairness, he does enjoy nightly forays of unidentified depravity, and ultimately does beat a man to death with a cane. The appeal of the novel lies in its now well known twist that the respectable Dr. Henry Jekyll IS the evil Mr. Edward Hyde – or more precisely, transforms, into Mr. Hyde. Initially, that is with a serum of his own creation – and somewhat surprisingly, Hyde is more diminutive than Jekyll. Over time, however, Hyde becomes stronger and more powerful than Jekyll, such that Jekyll begins to involuntarily transform into Hyde without the serum, firstly while sleeping and then in waking hours – and Jekyll has to use the serum to transform himself back. Ultimately, Jekyll commits suicide as his serum is about to be exhausted – and accordingly his ability to reverse the transformation.


Jekyll and Hyde have achieved iconic stature, which has been a source of adaptation or influence ever since (with perhaps my personal favorite being Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde), perhaps reinforced by Jack the Ripper shortly after its publication. It is in turn an enduring modern adaptation of werewolf legend. Hyde is symbolic of the Dark Side of each of us, the inner struggle between good and evil within each of us.









Count Dracula is THE vampire – in the words of TV Tropes, as Sherlock Holmes is to detectives, James Bond is to secret agents and Superman is to superheroes, so Dracula is to vampires. The eponymous villain of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel is the archetypal vampire, such that his name is synonymous with vampire – again in the words of TV Tropes, the vampire known even by people not familiar with the book or even the genre, particularly through countless (heh) adaptations in popular culture.


draculadownload (1)


Indeed, Bram Stoker’s novel codified the definitive vampire tropes in fiction, although Dracula still manages walking around in sunlight without bursting into flame (albeit depowered) and certainly without sparkling. The novel itself can be somewhat surprising to those more familiar with cinematic adaptations, since it is told in an epistolary format through letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, ships’ logs and so on. However, most of the plot elements have been adapted into popular culture – Jonathan Harker as Dracula’s guest in Transylvania, (unknowingly helping the latter ‘invade’ England), Harker’s ill-fated predecessor Renfield (now eating his way up the food chain from insects in an asylum in an attempt to emulate Dracula), the Brides of Dracula (soon to extend to the unfortunate Lucy Westenra and Harker’s fiancee Mina Murray), Lucy Westenra’s band of suitors, Abraham Van Helsing.  The novel “has been assigned to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel, and invasion literature”. Arguably also, Dracula is amongst the first supervillains in popular culture, and potentially a Dark Lord to rival Sauron in the genre of fantasy. Indeed, it wouldn’t be too hard to recast Dracula as The Lord of the Rings, substituting Transylvania for Mordor and the Brides for the Black Riders (only much sexier). Kim Newman did something of the sort with his Anno Dracula series, where Dracula bests Van Helsing and vampirizes Queen Victoria to rule the British Empire. Or at least, Dracula might have done if he’d had any sort of plan in Stoker’s book beyond picking up British chicks – but then that’s just how he swings, baby.




Essentially, if a work of fiction in any medium involves vampires, chances are it will at least involve a reference to Dracula at some point, if not an adaptation (or subversion) of him, directly or indirectly. He has apparently appeared in more films than any other character, fictional or otherwise, except for Sherlock Holmes, including films where they have appeared together and which would be utterly awesome. (Apparently, Godzilla, James Bond and Mickey Mouse rank next). Dracula is also an iconic villain in fantasy or horror who was adapted from a figure almost as iconic and villainous from some perspectives (but heroic from others, notably his native Romania or Transylvania) – Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler, named after his favorite hobby. Or Vlad Dracula – Son of the Dragon, which sounds just as badass as the fictional character (but perhaps not so much for his estimated 40,000 – 100,000 victims).








Tarzan is perhaps the most iconic hero of fantasy and science fiction – the archetypal jungle hero (or perhaps modern barbarian hero), in the series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, from the first novel Tarzan of the Apes in 1912 to Tarzan and the Foreign Legion in 1947 (not including posthumous publications), as well as all the adaptations in popular culture.


Born John Clayton and heir to English aristocracy as Lord Greystoke (or more precisely Viscount Greystoke), he was marooned with his aristocrat parents and ‘adopted’ after their deaths by a maternal female ape within a ‘tribe’ of great apes – indeed, Tarzan is his name in the ape language.


Philip Jose Farmer has helpfully condensed Tarzan’s fictional ‘biography’ from the series by Edgar Rice Burroughs into his book Tarzan Alive, an entertaining read and worthy substitute for reading the series. Farmer was an enduring fan of the character and wrote of Tarzan (or his world) in a number of books – most infamously in A Feast Unknown, featuring a thinly veiled erotic pastiche of Tarzan and Doc Savage (where they fight each other with their erections – I bet THAT got your attention), or most famously, in his so-called Wold Newton Universe, where he linked together a number of fictional superheroes to the effect of a meteorite.


And I say superheroes as Tarzan is a fantasy hero with virtually superhuman powers – after all, we’re talking someone who has wrestled virtually every animal.


Indeed, Tarzan's workout seems to be to wrestle a different animal each day - sometimes he skips shark day

Indeed, Tarzan’s workout seems to be to wrestle a different animal each day – sometimes he skips shark day


In short, he easily out-Batmans Batman and is the Superman of the jungle.


He is also of superhuman intelligence – a feature not readily discerned from the unfortunate monosyllabic and broken English of his screen adaptations. In the books – indeed, the first book – he could read English before he could speak it, having taught himself to read from the children’s picture books left in his parents log cabin and deducing the symbols as a language, in complete isolation from humans. He also spoke French before he spoke English, learning it from the first European he encountered. He readily learns to speak English – as well as thirty or so languages after that. So much for “Me Tarzan, you Jane”.




Despite a certain lack of plausibility, he remains an enduring hero – a “daydream figure” who obviously appeals to our continuing fascination for an animal or nature hero (and perhaps less fortunately to a ‘white god’ figure)








Robert E. Howard’s Conan, often styled as Conan the Barbarian or Conan the Cimmerian (after his proto-Celtic homeland Cimmeria), is one of fantasy’s greatest and most iconic heroes, roaming the Hyborian Age punching out eldritch abominations and wizards. You know, the Hyborian Age – prehistoric Earth, “after the oceans drank Atlantis” and before recorded history. (Howard’s way of evoking historic cultures without any of that pesky research – he was writing quick magazine stories after all).”Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian; black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feat”.


Conan is the definitive barbarian hero, playing a large part in creating the fantasy sub-genre of sword and sorcery (being the protagonist sword against the antagonist sorcery). Alternatively, he is the Hyborian Bond, with the requisite episodic Bond girl or two each tale – mostly classic damsels in distress of course, to be slung over his shoulder or hanging off his leg in fantasy art poses. In fairness, most characters, male or female, are damsels in distress compared to Conan himself. In his youth, he was thief, outlaw, mercenary and pirate – in middle age, he becomes warlord and king of Aquilonia, the greatest Hyborian kingdom.


Metropolis - Final


Conan is described as “sullen” and “smoldering”, with volcanic” blue eyes and a black “square-cut mane”. His size is never made clear, although it is clearly, uh, big. And strong. Strong enough to pull himself off a crucifix, which would make for an interesting gospel according to Conan. The literary character sensibly wears armor or clothing typical to his location – his comics or fantasy art counterparts usually wears the more visible option of loincloths and similar outfits suitable to body oil. He may be all muscle but he’s not dumb muscle – his rippling appearance belies a shrew intellect:  skilled as a warrior and in other trades, talented as a military and political leader, versed and literate in a number of languages.


In short, Conan is the sort of hero for which they coined the phrase mighty thews and it is fortunate that he is limited to his own heroic fantasy, because he’d make short work of any other – as George R. R. Martin observed of The Lord of the Rings, coming to it as he did from Conan

“Robert E. Howard’s stories usually opened with a giant serpent slithering by or an axe cleaving someone’s head in two. Tolkien opened his with a birthday party…Conan would hack a bloody path right through the Shire, end to end, I remembered thinking.”


On the other hand, Conan would have made quick work of the Quest, while making off with an elf girl or two...

On the other hand, Conan would have made quick work of the Quest, while making off with an elf girl or two…










Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray is of somewhat similar symbolism to Jekyll and Hyde, with his Hyde in a portrait rather than a serum – Dorian remains young while his magical portrait ages and shows all the signs of his corruption and depravity. And we all know what that ‘corruption and depravity’ was, don’t we, Oscar?  Which makes it all seem somewhat coy and not so depraved today – so that the modern reader might want to imagine something more evil than gallivanting around gay old London. In fairness, Dorian does murder his friend and the painter of the portrait, before blackmailing another friend into destroying the body. (He is also responsible for other deaths, but more through callousness and melodrama). Ultimately, he stabs the portrait, fatally transposing the wound to himself while swapping their appearances (so that the portrait is now young and innocent while he is aged and corrupt).




monkey's paw




This supernatural short story, penned by W.W. Jacobs (who mostly wrote sailing stories and other non-fantasy fiction) in 1902, has since achieved iconic status – not least for the near infinite variations and adaptations of its story.


The titular paw (removed from the dead titular monkey) is something of a cursed magical item, akin to the worst genies – it does indeed grant three wishes, but in the worst possible way, such that you wish you hadn’t wished in the first place (CENTURY OLD SPOILER ALERT…)


The protagonist couple, Mr. and Mrs. White, obtain it from Sergeant-Major Morris, who obtained it while with the British Army in India (although he does attempt to destroy it first by throwing it in the fire, but Mr. White recovers it). In a spirit of trivial levity and skepticism, Mr. White wishes for 200 pounds for the final payment on his house (although he doesn’t really need it). He does indeed get it – when his son dies in a work accident and the employer, although denying responsibility, pays the Whites a goodwill payment of…200 pounds. About a week or so after the funeral and maddened by grief, Mrs. White urges Mr. White for their son to return to life. Against his better judgement, he does so – and what follows is effective mounting suspense, building to the knocking at the door. His wife rushes to the door and fumbles with the locks, while he desperately retrieves the paw to make his third and final wish – which is revealed as Mrs. White opens the door to find nothing there. (I guess the monkey’s paw couldn’t find a way to subvert taking back a former wish, as opposed to every child who has cried no take backsies!)


It has been directly parodied, not least by The Simpsons in one of their Halloween episodes, perhaps the highest accolade to which a literary short story can aspire (although how could wishing for world peace go so awry?)


Its story has been endlessly adapted in other works. One of the most notable is in Stephen King’s monkey’s paw of a novel, Pet Sematary, which even follows the original story’s rule of three as the protagonist just keeps burying things in that damned revenant Indian burying ground – his cat, his infant son and finally his wife. It also follows the effective suspense and final lack of reveal, which best leaves things to the audience’s imagination (“Darling!”) – the cinematic adaptation not so much, as the film fumbled the final reveal by actually showing it. However, another notable television adaptation of the original story also followed the final lack of reveal – the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Forever” (in which Dawn and Spike wish for Buffy’s mother, died of cancer, to return – although it is Buffy herself who rushes to the door).






Top 10 Animated Films: (4) The Incredibles





“You sly dog! You got me monologuing!”


Take note, Fox – this is how you do a Fantastic Four film!


Yes, my fourth place entry, Pixar’s 2004 film The Incredibles, is not actually a Fantastic Four film, but it deftly handles a similar superhero family or team ensemble (indeed, with almost the same powers – if one substitutes a non-flammable speedster for the Human Torch). In the words of TV Tropes, “it’s an affectionately parodic Decon-Recon Switch of the Superhero genre, happily hanging lampshades on many conventions”.


Superheroes have been forced into government-sponsored retirement, due to public liability lawsuits. Damn lawyers! (Of course, financial issues for superheroes are not often addressed in comic book fantasy – or indeed, in many fictional narrative in popular culture. One exception is writer Grant Morrison, with his characteristic deconstruction or subversion of superhero tropes – as a female bystander wails while her car is totaled in a superhero battle in Morrison’s Animal Man, “I don’t have superhero insurance!’)


Anyway, super-strong Mr Incredible and rubber woman Elastigirl are now just Bob and Helen Parr, trying to live a quiet suburban life with their superpowered children, Dash (who has super-speed), (shrinking) Violet (who can project force fields as well as become invisible – essentially the same power set as Sue Storm in the Fantastic Four) and baby Jack-Jack (who doesn’t seem to have manifested any superpowers). Trying being the operative word – particularly as Bob finds his employment and suburban life chafing. And so he jumps at the chance offered by a mysterious woman Mirage to use his superpowers – only to find himself in more trouble than he can handle on his own at the hands of a new supervillain with ties to his past.


Just remember – no capes!


Top 10 Animated Films: (5) Megamind





“Oh you’re a villain alright, just not a super one!”

“Yeah, what’s the difference?”



And how! Now THAT’S how you do a supervillain protagonist in a superhero comics movie. Take note, DC Cinematic Universe. I didn’t think that Suicide Squad was as bad as its more negative reviews – although I also didn’t think that it was particularly good – but it certainly didn’t live up to its supervillain potential as demonstrated by my fifth place entry, Dreamworks’ 2010 film, Megamind.


What’s the difference? Presentation!



Megamind is an inversion, subversion and deconstruction of superhero mythos, particularly Superman. In the words of TV Tropes:

“What happens when you take the Superman mythos and give the point of view (and ultimate victory) to Lex Luthor/Brainiac instead?”


Megamind (magnificently voiced by Will Ferrell) – as indicated, an alien supervillain combination of Superman villains Lex Luthor and Brainiac, but more resembling a blue Brainiac in appearance – consistently fails in his plots against Metro Man, the film’s Superman counterpart (based in Metro City), usually by kidnapping Lois Lane counterpart, the equally alliterative Roxanne Ritchi. (For what it’s worth, Megamind is helped by his hordes of robots as well as Minion, his – ah – minion, a sapient talking alien fish in a somewhat inexplicable robot gorilla costume).


However, in their last confrontation, Megamind actually manages to destroy his nemesis, much to his own surprise, although he doesn’t waste much time celebrating his victory by taking over Metro City.



After initially gloating over his victory, Megamind soon realizes that winning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And so he dreams up the creation of a new superhero adversary, only for it to go horribly wrong when his new nemesis doesn’t play by the same rules as Metro Man…


“So what’s the plan?”

“Well, it mostly involves not dying!”

“I like that plan!”


Hmm – sounds like most of my plans…

Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Comics (Redux): Special Mention – Baroness





And now you know (and knowing is half the battle) – Baroness is the femme fatale villain in Cobra, the antagonists organization to G.I. Joe. Of course, with their serpentine title (as well as the various names within their organization), they’re hardly going to be good guys.


GI Joe is more distinctive for being a line of toys (or action figures as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero) but the franchise has extended into comics (initially as a series by Marvel Comics), animated TV series and live-action movies. Baroness, the femme fatale villain for antagonist organisation Cobra, actually originated in the Marvel Comics series – which is appropriate for a special mention in my top ten girls of comics – although she has also featured in other media (and as an action figure).


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Baroness serves as Cobra’s intelligence officer and lieutenant to its Cobra Commander, as well as being in a romantic (and presumably kinky) relationship with its resident tinhead, Destro. She began as Anastasia, the spoiled offspring of European aristocrats, who drifted from student radicalism into international terrorism (as you) – acquiring an impressive CV terrorist curriculum vitae as an expert in cryptography, psychological warfare, bio-chemical weapons and firearms (as well as being a helicopter and fixed wing pilot).




Of course she wears the obligatory form-fitting black leather catsuit of female comics characters – in the style of Catwoman, Black Cat or perhaps her closest counterpart, Black Widow. Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Although she does mix it up a little with glasses – “with long black hair, black-rimmed glasses, and a black leather outfit, Baroness is a dark, sensual femme fatale whose beauty is matched only by her ruthlessness”.




She even has a trope named for her in TV Tropes as the Baroness, although she is not so much the origin of the trope as she is a striking example of it (and inspiration for the name) – “a female baddie with a chilly disposition and more than a touch of the dominatrix about her”, with the latter often tending to sadism. Needless to say, Baroness is the sexpot style of the trope.




Hail Cobra indeed.


She is readily depicted by cosplayers, as it is a matter of recycling the usual black leather catsuit (albeit with red cobra flourishes).




And she was depicted by Sienna Miller in the live-action movies



Top 10 Comic Book Movies: (3) The Dark Knight





Why so serious?


It wouldn’t be a comic book movie top ten list without Batman.


As I compared Batman to Superman in my top ten heroes of comics, while Superman is the greater superhero (and the one I’d actually like most to inhabit the real world), Batman is the better character with better (and more diverse) stories, and above all, he’s a character with which he can more readily identify. Batman is more interesting – and more cinematic.


Matching the diversity and different moods of the Batman mythos, Batman has come in different flavors in his screen adaptations. (And no, get your mind out of the Bat-nippled Joel Schumacher gutter). There was the incredibly camp film originating from the equally camp TV series of the sixties. In contrast, the Tim Burton films took a dark Gothic direction to match the name of Batman’s city, although they retained a certain Gothic camp quality, particularly in the second (and somewhat incoherent) film – before Joel Schumacher took the franchise into the aforementioned gutter, (infamously “killing the franchise”)




Looming above them all – and reviving the franchise – is Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, with its centerpiece film, The Dark Knight. Indeed, the film is considered by critics to be one of the best movies of the decade as well as one of the best superhero movies ever – taking Batman into a gritty, realistic direction (almost plausible – or as plausible as a billionaire in a batsuit can get).


You all know the film. You all know the quotes – and the memes (the memes the Internet deserves, but not the ones it needs right now). And capering as a force of pure chaotic evil at the heart of it all was Heath Ledger’s Joker. O yes – some men just want to watch the world burn…





Top 10 Villains of Comics: (1) Joker & Lex Luthor (Bane & Doomsday)





Superman and Batman are the two greatest heroes in comics, so it stands to reason that the two leading villains from their rogues galleries are the greatest and most iconic villains in comics. So once again I have a tied entry for them – Joker and Lex Luthor. Although. also once again, after I’ve had my fun with them and revise my top ten list to place them in first and second place respectively, who will be the greater villain? Well, let’s introduce the players…


But let’s face it – like Batman or Superman, they don’t need any introduction.




Lex Luthor is essentially evil bald Batman, although he tends to the cerebral (with the reputed top intellect of any human in the DC Comics Universe) rather than the physical – perhaps the better comparison would be evil bald Iron Man, complete with power suit.




In short, he’s a billionaire genius, whose superpower is an inordinate amount of money – although his genius is questioned by TV Tropes’ Cut Lex Luthor a Check (where supervillains would seem to do better legitimately marketing their ideas). He fluctuates in characterization between brilliant but corrupt corporate executive, mad scientist and diabolical mastermind – and has even been elected President of the United States (which seems less far-fetched in the context of the presidential campaign of 2016).


This is actually starting to look pretty good

This is actually starting to look pretty good


More importantly, he is the arch-enemy and nemesis of Superman, for reasons generally revolving around his perception of the latter as an alien menace, often ranking him as THE supervillain in popular culture.




Close runner-up is Doomsday, the Kryptonian hell-beast who actually killed Superman (he got better), both in the original comics and in the cinematic Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.





However, first place in supervillainy must go to the Joker, who arguably rivals his nemesis Batman in iconic status. The Joker may lack the intellect or power of Luthor, but he is more destructive – the living personification of chaotic evil. Indeed, anyone would feel safer in the same room with Lex Luthor (unless you were Superman of course) than with the Joker. Or city for that matter.


Batman has the foremost rogues gallery in comics, in part due to their theatrical nature – a commedia dell’arte of comics, with the Joker as its psychopathic Harlequin, the Clown Prince of Crime. The Joker embodies the Batman’s shadow (and he’s pretty shadowy to start) – the chaos and insanity to Batman’s law and order.


Some versions more chaotic than others

Some versions more chaotic than others


Even in their origins, Batman has a clearly defined (and defining) origin story, whereas the Joker has emerged from chaos with his multiple choice origin story. As the Joker himself quipped (in THE Joker story, The Killing Joke) – “Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another…if I’m going to have a past, I want it to be multiple choice”.


Like Luthor, the Joker has no actual superpowers – except perhaps for his insanity itself (which is sometimes written as a superpower), and for his Joker Immunity (to Batman killing the crap out of him). He does seem to have skills in chemical engineering and criminal organization – although how exactly he maintained any mental discipline for the former or manages to mobilize resources and work with others for the latter is unclear.




You know who he is, but if you don’t – here, take his card. “When supervillains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories”




Close-runner up is Bane. After all, what has the Joker actually done to Batman? Sure, he killed Robin and he broke Batgirl’s back – but Bane broke BATMAN’S back, both in the comics and in the cinematic The Dark Knight Rises. Even if he spoke with that funny voice in the latter.


Um, sorry - could you repeat that?

Um, sorry – could you repeat that?

Top 10 Villains of Comics: (2) Venom (Green Goblin & Doctor Octopus)





Unlike other superheroes have a definitive adversary or nemesis, Spiderman has a number of adversaries or nemeses vying for the top spot. In particular, three stand out.




The Green Goblin tends to be identified as Spiderman’s primary adversary or nemesis – with Willem Dafoe playing the role in the first movie in Sam Raimi’s cinematic trilogy. There have been a number of Green Goblins, in the characteristically confusing and convoluted history of comics, but Norman Osborne is the definitive Green Goblin. However, I’ve always found the Green Goblin somewhat silly or ridiculous – well, more so than most comics characters – except when played by Willem Dafoe, who can make any role terrifying (even Jesus in The Last Temptation). There’s his whole Halloween costume and theme – his appearance as a literal green goblin, his purple Christmas elf costume, his bat-glider and his pumpkin bombs.





On the other hand, “of all the costumed villains who’ve plagued Spiderman over the years, the most flat-out unhinged and terrifying of all of them is the Green Goblin”. And he killed Gwen Stacy. NOOOOOOOOOOO!




Doctor Octopus is close-runner up for the top spot of Spiderman villains. As a suitably eight-limbed animal-themed adversary for Spiderman, Doctor Octopus and his robot tentacles lack the ridiculousness of the Green Goblin – except for his persistent bowl haircut.




Yeah – I can’t let him have the top spot with that. On the other hand, he almost married Aunt May. NOOOOOOOO!


amazing spider-man 131 aunt may wedding dr octopus


However, my personal favorite Spiderman villain is Venom – which is why I didn’t mind the third Raimi film as much as many other people, even if it mishandled the character (and the less said about Spiderman dancing the better).




Venom’s status as Spiderman villain is even more impressive for an origin as Spiderman’s replacement black-and-white suit. That suit was subsequently revealed to be a black and gooey alien symbiote, which bonded Spiderman as a human host and enhanced his powers. As such, Venom is essentially the evil version of Spiderman or Spiderman on crack and steroids, yet is also obsessed with Spiderman – both the symbiote itself and new host Eddie Brock. The symbiote has gone on to have a number of hosts, male and female, for other versions of Venom – and has had even more dangerous offspring in the form of Carnage, bonded to a serial killer. Venom is particularly effective as an adversary to Spiderman, because the symbiote retains and passes on to its subsequent hosts all of Spiderman’s powers from its symbiosis with that hero (including an organic form of webbing) and cannot be detected by his spider sense. Spiderman usually has to rely on its weaknesses to fire or sonic waves.




Top 10 Villains in Comics: (3) Darkseid (Thanos)





Darkseid is.


His catchphrase sums up the nature of his character – that there is nothing comparable to him as cosmic supervillain.


Darkseid is essentially space Hitler, the totalitarian ruler of the war planet Apokolips. And by totalitarian, I mean totalitarian – his goal is to eliminate all free will from the universe and reshape it into his own image. To this end, he pursues the mysterious Anti-Life Equation, which will allow him to conquer the universe (or destroy it – it’s not entirely clear as it changes from writer to writer). Hence his special interest in Earth, as the planet’s inhabitants have the key to the Anti-Life Equation. Because of course they do. In turn, this has set him up as the antagonist of many superheroes of DC Comics, most notably Superman. Indeed, his superhuman power rivals that of Superman – and then there’s his access to the resources and technology of Apokolips.




And Darkseid is coming in the DC Cinematic Universe – he’s foreshadowed in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, most notably in Batman’s (k)nightmare sequence / vision / time-travel dream projection from the future (with its devastated world, its flying Parademons and its Superman turned to minion of evil).




Thanos is the Marvel Comics’ parallel to Darkseid and was influenced by the latter. Indeed, it seems that three similar supervillains are emerging at about the same time in different cinematic universes – Darkseid in the DC Cinematic Universe (against the Justice League), Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (against the Avengers and others) and Apocalypse in Fox’s X-men Cinematic Universe (although the last of these is more a matter of visual resemblance and proved less durable in the cinematic franchise).


Thanos is originally from Saturn’s moon Titan – hence his moniker as the Mad Titan. Thanos has emerged as one of Marvel’s most iconic and dangerous supervillains, a threat to the entire universe itself. That is because he is enamored of Mistress Death, the female personification of death.


Can you blame him? Sorry - wrong female personification of death

Can you blame him? Sorry – wrong female personification of death


To impress her, he usually embarks on some sort of omnicide or destroying all life in the universe, usually by one of the insanely omnipotent artifacts lying around the Marvel Universe like the Cosmic Cube or the Infinity Gems.




Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe presently know him as the big weird purple dude mouthing off in the post-credits scenes or just sitting around on his space chair waiting for his flunkies to do things for him – although the final post-credits scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron finally has him getting off his ass to do things for himself.