Like a bird without feathers, or pancakes without syrup, comic book superheroes would be nothing without their villains!
Although little more than gangsters or mad scientists in the early years of superhero comics, villains gradually became as flashy and powerful as the costumed crimefighters themselves. Ultimately, the sheer number of supervillains caused most of them to be forgotten as soon as they appeared. However, a small percentage of them have risen above obscurity and made a big impression on me. I've selected ten of my favorite supervillains, some of which most would agree with...and a few you might quibble with. But, if that's the case, the internet is in no danger of running out of real estate, so you can post your own Top Ten Villain list if the spirit moves you. For now, here's mine:
Reverse Flash: Considering my well-documented enthusiasm for opposite numbers, it's no surprise that my list begins with The Reverse Flash. Making his first appearance in Flash #139 (1963), Eobard Thawne was a 25th century criminal who gained super-speed from an old Flash costume using that era's ultra-advanced technology. Sometimes known as "Professsor Zoom", Thawne fought Barry Allen time and time again, eventually murdering his wife Iris and, some years later, lost his own life while attempting to kill Barry's fiance Fiona Webb. Recently, a villain named "Zoom" donned the costume of the Reverse Flash...but now that Barry Allen has returned to the land of the living, I suspect that ol' Eobard Thawne won't be far behind.
Bizarro: Let's face it: despite being the original superhero, Superman's rogue's gallery has never quite measured up to his vaunted status. Sure, Lex Luthor is usually offered up as one of his best...and from the brains vs. brawn angle, he IS a compelling villain, but his last two decades as a somewhat inert corporate & political figure has dampened his standing (at least with me). That leaves only a handful of Superman villains that could make the A-list...and chief among them is Bizarro. Taking the concept of "evil opposite" to its most literal extreme, this "imperfect duplicate" wasn't only a physical distortion of the Man of Steel, but a twisted, illogical version of his intellect and morality as well. Alternately portrayed as a figure of sympathy, humor, or terror (depending on the era or creative team), Bizarro has always embodied the frightening reality of the power of Superman untethered from wisdom and self-control.
The Kingpin: Making his debut in Amazing Spider-Man #50 (1967), New York's imposing "Kingpin of Crime" quickly developed into one of comics' most fascinating and complex characters. Part of that appeal stemmed from how much the Kingpin resembled "real world" figures of organized crime, with few trappings of the more traditional costume-wearing, gimmick-toting villain crowd. Although hints of a more complex personal life came to light during his years as a Spider-Man villain, it wasn't until a young turk named Frank Miller made him a Daredevil foe that the Kingpin (a.k.a. "Wilson Fisk") gained the compelling backstory and machiavellian personna that make him the A-list master criminal he is today.
Thanos: With his massive, craggy-faced appearance and space-god heritage, it's clear that Jim Starlin's Thanos character was at least partially inspired by Jack Kirby's Darkseid, who'd made his DC Comics debut a few years earlier. However, that's where the similarities end. Whereas Darkseid was primarily confined to Kirby's quartet of "Fourth World" titles, Thanos threatened the entire Marvel Universe right out of the gate. Originally appearing as a "cosmic villain" in Iron-Man #55 (1973), Thanos quickly rolled out a plan that spanned several Marvel titles...which became (quite possibly) comics' first mega-epic, multi-title crossover (am I forgetting anything before it?). Seeking to win the love of Death (personified as a mysterious hooded woman), Thanos had long sought to obliterate the universe through a variety of schemes and objects of power (such as the Cosmic Cube and the Infinity Gauntlet). Add to this inexhaustible ambition an origin story with fallen angel/Oedipal overtones and a sprawling supporting cast, and you've got yourself a Top Ten villain.