There's been a lot of chatter on the web about Magneto lately. It makes sense, I guess. Marvel's mighty magnetic mutant is presently a leading player in his fourth feature film, so he's getting a lot of attention from the mainstream population that he hasn't had before. I and many others find this odd as we, an admittedly smaller segment of the populace, have known him well for years. Comic readers often find it surprising that non-comic readers haven't heard of some of the genre's best characters or know much about them if they have heard of them.
Magneto is one of those who stands out, not just because of his incredible powers, but because of his passionate dedication to his cause. His best friend in the world is Professor Charles Xavier, also his greatest rival. Tragically, both of them want the same thing: a safe world for humanity's children, the mutants, to live in. The two men stand at odds because Xavier believes that goal can be achieved through peacefull coexistence while Magneto believes that mutants can only be reasonably safe if mutants are in charge. So, while Xavier works on education and diplomacy and setting good examples, woe unto any mere homo sapien who gets in the way of Magneto's evolution revolution.
Another fellow who's been around about as long doing the dirty deeds that his kind love so is Darkseid. Walking malevolence, the cold conqueror is already the master of his own world, Apokolips, and continues to use his legions of loyal followers to reach out and dominate others. His ultimate goal is the acquisition of the elusive anti-life equation which will allow him to usurp free will and enslave every thinking mind in the cosmos. It should come as no surprise, with all his far-reaching power and ambition, that Darkseid is a god, leader of the forces of evil in Jack Kirby's New Gods series created decades ago. This may place him out of the realm of relatability for some readers, but he still retains a number of qualities that keep him in touch: rivalry with his distant father, shame for the lesser of his two sons, pridefulness and underestimating his enemies to name a few. Don't fret, there are plenty of powerful forces from New Genesis fighting for the light to keep you from becoming a mindless slave.
Thanos has been seen by some as a Marvel knock-off of DC's Darkseid, but whether that's true or not, he has certainly grown into a powerful, cunning, clever and, in his own way, honorable foil for several of Marvel's many heroes. Another alien with a lot of ambition, Thanos fell in love with the personification of Death. To get her attention, he knew flowers wouldn't cut it. Instead, Thanos promised her half of all the lives in the universe. Figuring out how to deliver on that was up to him. It has resulted in an epic quest of ups and downs for the calculating, Machiavellian mastermind, but he's learned a lot and has never failed to entertain.
Lex Luthor is probably one of the best known of villains, having maintained a long-running vendetta against Superman himself. For a guy with no powers of his own, Luthor has made use of his intellect, hatred and wealth to really make a cultural impact in comics, TV and most of the Superman films. He may not have a great track record as far as wins and losses, but he's certainly proved himself to be tenacious. No matter how many times he loses, Luthor always comes back again expecting to win. His hatred for the Man of Steel has been shown to be so great as to drive him to help Superman against other villains to make sure that the honor of killing him remains his alone.
Doctor Doom is brilliant and arrogant, also undaunted by foes of superior power. He is always confident that his genius will allow him to triumph over any odds. On top of that, he is already monarch of his own country, his stepping stone to taking the world. He has a former colleague for a hated rival and he has long-sought to reclaim his mother's soul from the demon Mephistopholes. These layers have combined to make Doom a student of science, magic and being a general pain in the butt to anyone he decided had some significant power that he could usurp for his own.
The Joker has always been a memorable villain. I've always considered him dangerous, challenging and criminally insane, yet find it easy to forget he's also a sociopathic murderer. I'd like to think he's difficult for people to relate to, because he's insane and that the audience isn't. Still, there's this: he enjoys his work to an extreme. Everything he does is because on some level or another he thinks it's funny. Wow.
R'as al Ghul is nothing less than a complicated man. Over 700 years old (the wonders of alchemy), he is a devoted family man (though despite stories presenting his children, I've never seen any of their mothers), a brilliant strategist, a respected leader and an unwavering ecologist. He has spent the last forty years of his career alternating between recruiting and trying to kill Batman. The deadly mastermind doesn't hate Batman. Actually, he respects him for his keen mind and many skills. He'd like to have Batman as his successor and it doesn't hurt that the old man's daughter is in love with the detective. In fact, those things have helped keep Batman's cape out of the fire more than once. Ultimately, though, Batman's basic problem with R'as is that the aged conservationist wants to save the Earth...from humanity. That puts him squarely on the Bat's "To do" list and just helps make him a more interesting character. He's not after money. He's already rich. He has power, too. He's probably got a lot of fans over at Greenpeace and PETA.
Focused and passionate, Khan Noonien Singh ended up caught in his obsession against James Kirk, seeking to avenge the death of his wife and his lost plans of conquest. One-time ruler of a quarter of Earth, he was accustomed to getting things he wanted through the force of his will and charisma. He, too, was a strong leader, just not one for listening to advice. He was certain that he was superior to everyone else and he wasn't willing to believe otherwise unless you were able to kill him and every last one of his devoted followers. Quoting "Moby Dick" through to his end certainly didn't hurt in driving that little character flaw home.
Oh, and let us not forget the one-of-a-kind Hank Scorpio, the supervillain with a heart. Head of the Globex Corporation, he showed us compassion, people skills, a sense of humor, integrity and an appreciation for his underlings. With Homer Simpson's help, he managed to seize control of the US eastern seaboard. He knew how to tell off the UN with style. He was a villain that a minion could feel wouldn't throw him into a hidden shark tank or burn him down with a laser for mixing up his lunch order. Other villains might call his way of operating weak, but he made it work.
So how about you? What gets your attention in a villain? I'd love to know.