So…is that old saying “opposites attract” really true?
If we’re talking romance? Probably not.
If we’re talking about me and “Opposite Number” supervillains? Absolutely!
Rest assured, I love all the obvious A-List Bad Guys like The Joker, the Green Goblin, the Doctors Doom and Octopus, and all the rest. However, there’s just something about those Evil Duplicates, Dark Reflections, and Twisted Doppelgangers I can’t get enough of.
What could be the Deep Psychological Underpinnings for that fixation? Could Opposite Number villains mirror the struggle between good and evil that rages in every human heart? Are they a symbolic representation of how easy power can corrupt? Is it the sense of cosmic symmetry these equally powerful yet morally twisted characters represent?
Frankly, I have no idea.
Here’s what I do know. One of the first dozen comic books I’d ever read was Marvel’s Greatest Comics #57 (reprinting Fantastic Four #75), which dropped me right in the middle of nothing less than the Second Coming of Galactus. As you can imagine, I had absolutely no idea what was going on…but thanks to the charismatic scripting of Stan Lee and the eye-popping Kirby-Sinnott art, it didn’t seem to matter.
Then, about midway through the story, the off-world Galactus creates an eerie distraction to occupy Reed, Johnny and Ben (Sue was pregnant and on bed rest at the time). Rising from the ocean shore like zombies, a trio of dark duplicates ruthlessly attacked the boys using powers identical to theirs.
Of course, the evil counterparts were eventually defeated, but not before sparking a fascination with Opposite Number villains that continues to this day.
So, what exactly is an Opposite Number Supervillain? As I see it, we’ve got four broad categories...
1) Opposing Teams: Though technically not an “opposite number” in the classic sense, this category includes the villain groups that use a negative spin of the opposing super team’s name. This includes such teams as The Injustice Society, The Injustice Gang, The Frightful Four, Omega Flight and The Legion of Supervillains. These teams seldom include bonafide Opposite Number villains (which we’ll get to in a moment) and are generally “opposite” in name only. In other words, they’re the evil Yang to the good team’s Yin.
2) Similar Powers, Different Look: This category includes the nasties that mirror a particular superhero’s powers and skills, yet have a distinctly different appearance. Their backgrounds and motivations are many. Some are fallen heroes (Sinestro), a few former mentors (Merlyn), others desperate imitators (Abomination), and some created for the sole purpose of countering a specific superhero (Master Man or the Crimson Dynamo).
Still others originate from alternate realities, where divergent twists of fate create warped versions of the heroes we know so well. A good example would be DC’s Crime Syndicate of Earth-3, composed of corrupted versions of Superman (Ultraman), Wonder Woman (Superwoman), the Flash (Johnny Quick), Green Lantern (Power Ring) and Batman (Owl Man).
3) Similar Powers, Similar Look: These villains are Opposite Numbers in the truest sense, in that they not only possess similar (if not identical) powers, but resemble their corresponding superheroes as well.
Their ranks include those who were duplicated versions of the original superhero through the use of sorcery or science…
Others are corrupted predecessors, contemporaries,
descendents, or even future versions of the hero….
…while still others are imitators from alternate earths or distant futures.
Our fourth and final group is kind of a
special case, so indulge me in a little set-up:
Remember wondering who would win in a
fight between Superhero A and Superhero B?
Well, sometimes those prayers would be answered when a publisher would pit two fan favorites against each other (usually the result of some kind of misunderstanding). But what if the characters you wanted in your match were owned by two different publishers? Even as a kid, I was aware of a mysterious, insurmountable barrier that prevented cross-company heroes from meeting, battling or even mentioning the other....so it looked hopeless.
However, as one of the very first fans-turned-pro, writer Roy Thomas figured out a clever solution to this seemingly intractable problem by creating evil analogues of the competing company’s characters!
In Avengers #70 (1969), Thomas pitted the Avengers against The Squadron Sinister, an obvious criminal version of DC’s Justice League of America.
Hyperion (Superman), the Whizzer (Flash), Dr. Spectrum (Green Lantern) and Nighthawk (Batman) later expanded their membership to include doppelgangers of other 70’s era Justice League members, including Tom Thumb (the Atom), the Golden Archer (Green Arrow) and Lady Lark (Black Canary).
A few years later, Marvel's WWII supergroup The Invaders battled The Crusaders, a pastiche of DC's Freedom Fighters, a team composed of recently revived Quality Comics characters. Their line-up included The Spirit of '76 (Uncle Sam), Thunder Fist (The Human Bomb), Captain Wings (Black Condor), Dyna-Mite (Dollman), Ghost Girl (Phantom Lady), and Tommy Lightning (The Ray).
Only a month or two later, DC answered back with another vaguely familiar team named The Crusaders. This time it was composed of Invaders analogues, including the shield-slinging Americommando (Captain America), Rusty (Bucky), Fireball (Human Torch), Sparky (Toro), and Barracuda (Sub-Mariner). Word has it the creative teams at both publishers planned this unofficial "crossover", obviously back before "fun" and "whimsy" were on the Endangered Species list.
Weighing in with the largest population of cross-company counterparts yet, Marvel’s X-Men title featured the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, an army of super-aliens that mirrored DC’s sprawling Legion of Superheroes. Their most powerful member, Gladiator (top left corner), went on to appear in other titles, playing out “proxy Superman” battles with Marvel heroes like the Fantastic Four and Thor.
So there you have it…Opposite Number villains in all their darkly-reflective glory. Whether they’re antithetical teams, evil approximations, twisted duplicates, or cross-company analogs, this special class of supervillain reminds us that evil is not only a force to be reckoned with, but can also be disturbingly familiar.
Hey…that’s it! My Deep Psychological Underpinning!
OPPOSITE NUMBER UPDATE! Looks like one of the aforementioned Opposite Number villains has been a busy boy! It seems the renegade Green Lantern Sinestro has put together an opposite number version of the entire Green Lantern Corps! Deftly assembled over the past several months, the yellow-garbed ring slingers makes their official debut in Sinestro Corps Special #1, on sale today!
(Heh. Eat your heart out, Stan Lee.)