The Joker and Lex Luthor have existed for over 80 years and have been portrayed by Oscar-winning actors such as Gene Hackman and Joaquin Phoenix. They have crossed over into every type of media and in works aimed at every audience. Any comic book universe would be thrilled to have one baddie of their caliber, and DC Comics claims them both.
Even more impressive is the fact they are just two of the amazing villains that plague DC’s heroes. While most writers and artists will jump at the chance to write those two legendary characters, more writers should give these lesser-seen DC villains the chance to cause trouble in the DCU.
1. The Royal Flush Gang
Not every bad guy needs to be a mastermind or a universe-level threat. Somebody needs to do the day-to-day work of super-villainy. That’s where the Royal Flush Gang comes in, a quintet of minor bad guys who give the Justice League a headache without presenting a real threat. The Royal Flush Gang gets by on its commitment to the bit, complete with a King, Queen, and Jack, as well as an Ace and a Ten. The group has made appearances outside of comics, including a standout episode of the animated Justice League cartoon, but too often gets overlooked for major arcs.
Then again, universe-level threats do have some appeal. Such is the case with Mordru, a wizard so powerful that his enemies had to entomb him deep in the earth for centuries to stop him, and even then he escaped. Created by Jim Shooter and Curt Swan for 1968’s Adventure Comics #369, Mordru often stays in the 30th century, where he battles the Legion of Superheroes. However, he is an eternal being who can threaten Superman and other modern heroes, as he did in one Justice Society arc. That story, now two decades old, shows how versatile Mordru can be.
3. Dr. Sivana
1940 marked the debut of not one, but two bald evil geniuses who bedeviled nigh-invulnerable caped musclemen. A few months before Lex Luthor first appeared in Action Comics #23, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana entered the world in Whiz Comics #2. Where Luthor has since pivoted to a bad businessman persona, Sivana remains a smirking evil scientist, as befitting the simplistic world of his arch-enemy Captain Marvel, now known as Shazam or the Captain.
That old-timey approach to villainy makes him an unpopular pick for modern writers, to the point that the movie version played by Mark Strong used magic more than machines, but more superhero stories would benefit from a simple sniveling bad guy.
4. Fearsome Five
The Teen Titans may not have the name recognition of the Justice League, but they have a long history as DC Comics’s number two hero group. As such, they work best when pit against other bad guy groups, none as interesting as the Fearsome Five. Most often made up of mind-controller Psimon, the hulking Mammoth, his mesmerizing older sister Shimmer, the twerpy gadget man Gizmo, and the magical Jinx. The quintet of DC villains has a unique make-up that matches the volatile personalities of their heroic counterparts but does not get used as much as they should, not even making it up to the live-action Titans TV show.
5. The Ventriloquist and Scarface
Batman’s best bad guys don’t challenge his strength as much as they do his intellect. The Ventriloquist and Scarface add a third wrinkle by testing his compassion. An unassuming middle-aged man, the Ventriloquist does not have the cruel streak found in the most famous members of Batman’s rogues gallery. However, he seems to be at the mercy of his dummy Scarface, a two-foot-tall wooden bully who blasts his enemies with a Tommy gun. Scarface sometimes inspires sneers from others, but there’s a sadness to the Ventriloquist that calls for kindness, even if Scarface must be stopped.
Despero appeared in a late-season episode of The Flash, which would seem to disqualify him from this list. However, the limitations of a television budget prevented the creative team from showing the alien baddie in his full glory, most often portraying him as a regular human. In the comics, Despero has been one of the Justice League’s most formidable foes, an alien conqueror with super-strength, a vast arsenal, and mighty telepathy. While Despero has been part of some great stories, he’s dropped from the limelight, making his Flash appearance even more disappointing.
7. Count Vertigo
For all the good in the CW series Arrow, the show did downplay Green Arrow’s traditional arch-enemy, more often setting the Emerald Archer against Merlyn or Deathstroke, both overused DC villains in comics as of late. Before that live-action switcheroo, Green Arrow most often battled Count Vertigo. It’s easy to see why Vertigo got the hook in live-action, as a European aristocrat who makes people dizzy might be too corny for general audiences. But that very sense of silliness makes Count Vertigo such a delightful character.
8. Gentleman Ghost
In life, the highwayman, Gentleman Jim Craddock terrified travelers in 18th century England. After his death, Craddock continues to cause trouble as the Gentleman Ghost. Writers may struggle to explain why a specter would need gold and jewelry in the afterlife, but that’s not the true appeal of the Gentleman Ghost. Fans love him for his ostentatious manner and pompous way of speaking. Despite his lack of visible face, one senses a constant twinkle in the eye of the Gentleman Ghost.
One of the most powerful DC villains, Eclipso gains strength with the moon's phases. Furthermore, he can use his cursed crystal to bring out the evil side of his victims, corrupting even the purest of DC heroes. That heft made Eclipso a fitting choice for a 1990s major comics event, but most writers prefer to reboot him every couple of years instead of using the baddie to his full potential. Case in point, Eclipso only made it to live-action in the charming, but little-seen, TV series Stargirl.
10. Funky Flashman
Stan Lee may have a reputation as a gregarious pitchman and cameo enthusiast, but those who have worked with him have a different opinion. Most notably, the groundbreaking artist Jack Kirby — who worked with Lee for decades and created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and other major Marvel characters — held a deep-seated grudge against the writer. So when Kirby got to create new DC villains, he poked fun at Lee with Funky Flashman. A grandiloquent huckster who sells out his friends for fame and fortune, Funky Flashman doesn’t threaten the world like others on this list, but no one can miss the personal animus Kirby works into the character.
11. Tattooed Man
The Tattooed Man has one of the best powers for a visual medium like comics. A sailor who decorated his body with magical ink, the Tattooed Man can bring any of his illustrations to life, which he used to rob banks and battle the Green Lantern. After the retirement of the first Tattooed Man, his successor has tried to use his powers for good but he too often finds himself following in the criminal footsteps of his predecessor. At least he makes a memorable display, whether using his tattoos for good or evil.
12. Klarion the Witch Boy
Most thirteen-year-old boys become menaces at one time or another. But if any of those kids gets access to magic then they could become a thorn in the side of the greatest heroes. To his credit, the teen warlock Klarion the Witch Boy seems more interested in pranks and than conquering the planet. However, if some unlucky soul catches him on the wrong day, Klarion has the power to do some true damage.
13. Doctor Polaris
When it comes to DC villains, Doctor Polaris doesn’t have the same popularity as his Marvel counterparts, Magneto or Polaris. But what Doctor Polaris lacks in name recognition, he makes up with uniqueness. Doctor Neal Emerson knows more about magnetism than anyone else on the planet. But during one of his experiments, Emerson separated his personality into opposing poles, with all of his ego and anger manifesting as Doctor Polaris. With his id set loose, Dr. Polaris uses his magnetic prowess to trouble Green Lantern and the Flash.
Wonder Woman is one of the most recognizable superheroes of all time. But few who do not read comics can name her arch-enemy. While Wondy often tangles with Cheetah and Ares, the bad guys in her big screen appearances, no one has troubled the Amazing Amazon like the sorceress Circe. With powers pulled from Greek mythology, Circe uses her trickster powers to disrupt Wonder Woman’s mission of peace. However, few writers outside of comics have made use of Circe, leaving Wonder Woman’s greatest enemy out of movies and television.
15. Dr. Light
The laser-based villain Dr. Light used to be a regular nemesis of the Justice League and the Teen Titans but has almost disappeared from comics altogether. Two phenomena changed Dr. Light’s fortunes. First, a new character called Dr. Light made her debut, a heroic scientist who soon joined the Justice League.
Second, Dr. Light was at the center of a misguided story called Identity Crisis, which saw him assault the wife of the Elongated Man. That story made many writers uncomfortable using a goofy character in superhero tales, as his heinous act clashed with his mustache-twirling attitude. However, enough time has passed that Dr. Light can be brought back into the A-list of DC villains
Assassins are a dime a dozen in superhero comics, but few can match the New Gods baddie Kanto for pure style. A creation of Jack Kirby, Kanto takes a swashbuckler’s swagger to his work in the service of the evil Darkseid, with a cocky attitude to match his jaunty get-up. However, no one should let Kanto’s overdone sense style fool them. He remains one of the deadliest denizens of the planet Apokolips, even more dangerous than better-known DC villains such as Steppenwolf and Granny Goodness.
What’s better than a giant gorilla? A giant gorilla with kryptonite lasers! Created during the period when comic book readers loved to see superheroes fight monkeys and gorillas with powers, Titano could be a simple King Kong knockoff. But in a stroke of genius, writer Otto Binder and artist Curt Swan gave Titano the ability to fire kryptonite lasers from his eyes. That addition makes Titano a challenge for even Superman, and one of the most interesting villains of all time.
18. Evil Star
In the 1940s, the name Evil Star referred to a Hollywood producer who put a yellow star mask on his head and extorted fellow film execs. Somehow, it took all of the Justice Society of America to stop him. That guy appeared in just three comics and deserves to be forgotten. Then, Evil Star referred to a space conquerer who created constructs with his Star Bands and ruled an army of tiny clones of himself called Starlings.
That Evil Star presents a real challenge to Green Lantern, once even stealing Hal Jordan’s powers to replenish his Star Bands. Despite the real improvement, Evil Star has received only a bit more attention than his lackluster predecessor.
19. The Shade
Like Evil Star, the Shade has roots in the Golden Age, first appearing in 1942’s Flash Comics #33, first battling the Flash and later the entire Justice Society. Unlike Evil Star, the Shade developed a power set to demand such a response. With control over all shadows, including the ability to form demonic constructs, the Shade poses a threat to even the greatest heroes of the DC Universe. In the 1990s, Shade turned a new leaf by mentoring and advising young hero Jack Knight, who took on his father’s mantle as Starman. But since the end of that excellent Starman series, writers have ignored the Shade, priming him for a delicious return to evil.
More than any other character on this list, readers may take exception to the inclusion of Kobra. Created by Jack Kirby, Martin Pasko, and Steve Sherman, Kobra is the reptile-themed leader of the Kobra Cult, a religious and terrorist organization devoted to bringing about the end of the world. Despite his global ambitions, Kobra remained a C-list villain, all the way up through his death at the hands of Black Adam. In recent years, however, a new Kobra has risen up to not only terrorize the DC Universe but also become a favorite among writers. The Kobra Cult played major roles in the Leviathan and Dark Crisis crossovers but seems to already slip back to obscurity.
Thanks to the popularity of television programs about the Teen Titans and the Doom Patrol, most members of the Brotherhood of Evil enjoy newfound popularity. Not so for Phobia, a member of the less whacky, more basic, and villainous, version of the Brotherhood. While other members of that team belong in obscurity, such as the problematic Houngan and the boring Warp, Phobia’s ability to manifest her victim’s deepest fears sets her apart from her lesser comrades. Her powers lend themselves to inventive scenes of nightmares coming to life.
22. Grimbor the Chainsman
The Legion of Superheroes has a membership numbering in the double-digits, including multiple characters with the powers of Superman. Despite those overwhelming odds, Grimbor the Chainsman takes them on with his weapon of choice, a chain. Grimbor loves chaining things up, a passion that doesn’t seem too troubling and yet sets him against the good guys. And so, writers of the Silver Age found fantastic ways of making Grimbor a compelling villain, such as arming him with gigantic chains that could surround a planet. That type of bonkers storytelling makes Grimbor a valuable piece in any creator’s toolbox.
23. Silver Banshee
As any geek loves to point out, Superman is vulnerable to everything except magic. Whether magic weakens Superman, or simply has the same effect on him as it would a normal person, differs from writer to writer. Regardless, magic-based enemies always make for interesting stories, giving the Silver Banshee a leg up on other baddies. Thanks to a family curse, Irishwoman Siobhan McDougall becomes the haunting Silver Banshee and can deafen even the Man of Steel with her blasts. The contrast between the Silver Banshee’s haunted ways and Superman’s moral fortitude makes for instant dynamics.
Sometimes, people just want to watch superheroes punch giant globs of goo. And that’s when writers turn to Chemo, a twenty-story monster made up of green slime. Chemo comes from the failed experiment of a mad scientist, but he has no motivations of his own, no dark backstories or glowering monologues. He just exists to rampage through cities, giving artists something cool to draw without demanding laborious dialogue scenes.
The Green Lantern villain called Shark is indeed a shark, but not any shark. He’s an evolved Shark who retains the voraciousness of an undersea predator, combined with telekinetic and psychic abilities that allow him to feed on the minds, and sometimes souls, of others. That impressive combination made Shark a regular in Green Lantern comics of the 80s, but the character has made just a handful of appearances since.