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  1. #1
    Astonishing Member mathew101281's Avatar
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    Default what makes a good Superman villain?

    Batman villains, for the most part, seem to be regular humans who respond to traumatic life events by putting on a weird costume. They play off of the idea that Batman, for all his money and training is just a dude in costume responding to a traumatic event in his life.

    Spiderman villains, tend to be losers or average blue-collar Joes, and Janes who get a taste of power, via technology, or a freak accident, and the power goes to their heads. This of course, is playing off of the whole "with great power comes great responsibility," thesis at the core of the Spiderman mythos.

    But what makes a good Superman foe? there really doesn't seem to be much of a thru line with Superman rogues.

  2. #2
    Extraordinary Member manwhohaseverything's Avatar
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    Power(any form) , authority(legitimate authority is only ones that superman bows to. I am not talking about government backing either. Authority needs to prove its legitimacy in its domain of operation. Even then, he is no man's slave and keeps distance ) ,violence(any form which is oppressive) and corruption(self explanatory) . Power can lead to restriction of actions of individuals in a oppressive way. In that case, power leads to violence. That's when superman is relevant. He takes power out of the equation and defends those that ought to be defended by those in authority, had they not been corrupt. He is the ultimate equaliser. Nobody boxes in or chains this vigilante strongman from space.Resitricting choices and putting people in bottles would lead to superman kicking your ass.
    Last edited by manwhohaseverything; 07-25-2020 at 01:02 AM.

  3. #3
    Extraordinary Member Vordan's Avatar
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    Part of the problem is most Superman writers have only the shallowest understanding of Superman’s character attributes. “Superman is... Good! And Nice! So his villains must be... Evil! And Mean!” seems to be the way most writers tackle his relationship with them (this also applies to how they characterize Metropolis by the way, Superman is light and bright so Metropolis is too! Ok why the hell is he wasting his time there if that’s the state of things? Lots of worse places out there, but I digress) It’s annoying because there’s so much stuff I would love to tackle that nobody else seems to see. But there are some unifying themes however. For example Superman’s foes for the most part map pretty cleanly to classic horror archetypes:

    Lex Luthor - Mad scientist
    Brainiac - Green alien in a flying saucer
    Parasite - Vampire
    Bizarro - Frankenstein’s Monster
    Metallo - Killer robot
    Toyman - Maladjusted serial killer
    Mxy - Demon from another dimension

    And so on and so on. Now what makes a good Superman villain is the same thing as what makes a good villain in general. Not every villain needs to pose a philosophical threat to the hero, Killer Croc for example doesn’t really share any deep philosophical reason for tangling with Batman. He’s just a crocodile man and looks cool and can pose a threat so writers keep him around. But for the big villains it helps to have some kind of deeper theme going. Villains act as counters to the hero’s main philosophical outlook. What then is Superman’s? I would say his outlook is boiled down simply to these two main beliefs (others might define his outlook differently so this is all imo):

    1. Humanity is at its core good, and if you set an example and provide help, they will ultimately do the right thing.
    2. A better tomorrow is achievable but it requires that all beings work to overcome their vices and band together in pursuit of a common goal that lifts up everyone

    So a good Superman villain in addition to being a physical challenge for Superman to beat should also challenge one or both of these two beliefs. The Earth based villains for example should challenge his faith in the inherent goodness of humanity. Part of why I like Bendis’ Red Cloud for example is that Clark reaches out to her, appealed to her better nature... and was rejected. Metallo, Parasite, Livewire, Manchester Black, etc, the humans should be the ones who, either because their inherent nature is twisted or because they’ve become so degraded thanks to their environment, are lacking that inherent goodness Clark has faith will win out. Their too selfish, prideful, hateful, greedy, etc to be the heroes he believes all humans can be.

    The aliens and cosmic threats however should I think generally pose a threat to Clark’s second belief, that a better tomorrow is achievable by working together and overcoming inner flaws. Mongul in Bendis’ Superman worked great for this because he advocates an utter selfish rule of the strong where the powerful crush the weak under their heel and serve only themselves. Darkseid seeks everyone “working together” not out of choice but by destroying their free will and reducing everyone into slaves for himself. Zod only cares about resurrecting or protecting Krypton.

    What makes Lex his arch villain is he challenges both beliefs. Lex’s inner human nature is rotten that no matter how close he seems to come to full redemption he will never make it. His flaws are simply too embedded in who he is as a character. Lex also only wants to uplift humanity for his own personal glory. He’s got zero interest in helping anyone out of pure altruism, he is only looking out for himself, and in Snyder’s JL he advocated that outlook to humanity as a whole in the philosophy of Doom. The advancement of humanity is merely a vehicle for Lex to advance his own personal desires. Add in all the other contrasts between Lex and Clark and it’s no surprise Lex is his arch.

    Bears repeating though: Not every villain needs to be super deep to be a fun way to contrast Supes. Lobo for example is great foil for Supes because of how he mocks all of the classic Superman story beats. Dead planet? Lobo has that too except he’s the reason they’re all dead. Fights criminals? Lobo is a bounty hunter except he goes after anyone he’s paid too. Rescues cats out of trees? Lobo loves dolphins.

    So all the villains should also contrast or play with some aspect of Superman’s character. To give some brief examples, Lex and Clark are both isolated/alienated figures that struggle to fit in with society and are the leaders of their respective groups (superheroes/supervillains). Zod is Superman without the morals. Bizarro is Superman’s alien nature twisted beyond his ability to hide. Metallo shares the “Man of Steel” status and the super patriot iconography given he’s a US Army soldier. Red Cloud uses the Daily Planet for the same reason Clark does except for evil. Brainiac “saves” cities by putting them under his total control and freezing them in stasis, representing the embodiment of Clark’s fear that he’s doing too much and stunting humanity’s growth. And so on and so on.

  4. #4
    Extraordinary Member Vordan's Avatar
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    TL; DR Absolute power does not corrupt. Absolute power reveals. When you can do anything you want, what you do reveals who you are.
    Thatís how Iíd sum up his unifying Rogues Gallery theme for those who donít want to read my wall of text

    Damn when are we going to get a big Supermythos shot with all the Superfamily members, supporting characters, and Rogues like Batman or the HiX-Men got?

    Seriously on the Supermanís Rogues List on Wikipedia theyíre still using one from the 90ís. God, get it together DC, give us a big widescreen shot of everyone, all the SuperFamily, supporting cast members, and Rogues. I know you donít actually care but if you give me some pretty art we can both pretend you do.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Vordan; 07-24-2020 at 11:27 PM.

  5. #5
    Extraordinary Member Restingvoice's Avatar
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    I like Brainiac because of his threat level
    I like Mr. Vyndktvx because of his threat level and the play on comic book medium
    I like disabled old man Ultrahumanite because it really put emphasis on the brain vs brawn in Golden Age
    I like Luthor because he's annoying, patient and proud
    In New 52 he keeps addressing captured Superman as "it" because he's an alien, defeated his... Karate? Judo?... Master by cheating to show that the student beat the master with smarts, and build his own prison, the only prison capable to contain him as a bet.

    I don't like Mxy because I just find him annoying and goofy so I guess I'm into more serious villains

  6. #6
    Ultimate Member Ascended's Avatar
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    The ultimate through line with Clark is "when you can accomplish *anything,* it's what you *don't* do that matters."

    His villains are a reflection of that; what do people do when they have (ultimate) power?

    Or as Vordan said; Absolute power reveals.

    On an individual level, the classic rogues represent various facets of Clark, either as a character or as a concept. Brainiac is the scary, evil alien Other set against Clark's friendly version of the alien Other. Lex is humanity at it's most intellectually capable but morally worst, set against Clark's "hands on" blue collar aesthetics and high value morality. Zod is the worst elements of Krypton, Clark's past come back to haunt him with the specter of everything his species did wrong. Bizarro is a reflection of Clark without the ethical barriers to dictate what he does. And so on and so forth.
    "We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe."

    ~ Black Panther.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vordan View Post
    Get it together DC, give us a big widescreen shot of everyone, all the SuperFamily, supporting cast members, and Rogues. I know you don’t actually care but if you give me some pretty art we can both pretend you do.
    https://i.pinimg.com/564x/98/40/ca/9...99f6ac4886.jpg
    Last edited by Kuwagaton; 07-26-2020 at 02:03 AM.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vordan View Post
    Toyman - Maladjusted serial killer
    Mxy - Demon from another dimension
    .
    The only Toyman that was a killer, was that 90s - 00s guy who adressed to "mother", Adam Grant's murderer, and later revealed to be a robot; Toyman, for the most part, is traditionally a guy that commits crimes, unless it's the occassional personal grudges, it's thefts, property damage, attempted takeover of Metropolis, grudge wanting to "win" against Superman at the worst, using sophisticated toys, or giant robots.

    Mxyzptlk is an imp, who finds Earth, particularly Metropolis, his haven of causing mischief, in the nature of his own mischievous fun. Only few stories go darker than that.
    Last edited by ngroove; 07-25-2020 at 02:29 PM.

  9. #9
    Extraordinary Member Vordan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ngroove View Post
    https://i.pinimg.com/564x/98/40/ca/9840ca545e2698423a477599f6ac4886.jpg
    Just proving my point. How old is that picture? We need a new modern day version of something like that for Superman.
    Quote Originally Posted by ngroove View Post
    The only Toyman that was a killer, was that 90s - 00s guy who adressed to "mother", Adam Grant's murderer, and later revealed to be a robot; Toyman, for the most part, is traditionally a guy that commits crimes, unless it's the occassional personal grudges, it's thefts, property damage, attempted takeover of Metropolis, grudge wanting to "win" against Superman at the worst, using sophisticated toys, or giant robots.

    Mxyzptlk is an imp, who finds Earth, particularly Metropolis, his haven of causing mischief, in the nature of his own mischievous fun. Only few stories go darker than that.
    I’m going off my preferred characterizations for the characters. Mxy is traditionally little more than nuisance it’s true, but I think his best stories tend to be darker.

    And an “imp” is literally just a word for a “small, mischievous, devil”. Mxy is a demon from another dimension like out of some old Twilight Zone episodes. Moore was simply the first to explore what that could actually mean in a darker context.

  10. #10
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    Actually, most of the Superman villains leave me cold. I think the best ones in the past were funny. There was something that tickled the funny bone. Mr. Mxyztplk being the best of these. Those classic stories in the 1940s were a barrel of laughs. And then you have all the silly tales of Bizarro Superman No. 1. Even villains like Luthor and Brainiac could lend themselves to comedic moments.

    What's thrown a cold wet towel on the proceedings is the need to make the villains threatening and serious--so they can't afford to be ridiculous. The best way to undermine Superman is to take the mickey. Laughter is the strongest force.
    🇨🇦
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    by a bear.

  11. #11
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    The best villains are naturally villains that he can't just beat-up. My favorite episodes of Supergirl were often the ones that didn't have an obvious bad guy like when she had to help people in an earthquake or when she had to navigate through a bomber's schemes.

  12. #12
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    Some of his villains dont have absolute power like he has though. Some of them have to obtain it to fight the man of steel.

  13. #13
    Moderator Frontier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vordan View Post
    Just proving my point. How old is that picture? We need a new modern day version of something like that for Superman.
    This is relatively recent:



  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by ngroove View Post
    The only Toyman that was a killer, was that 90s - 00s guy who adressed to "mother", Adam Grant's murderer, and later revealed to be a robot; Toyman, for the most part, is traditionally a guy that commits crimes, unless it's the occassional personal grudges, it's thefts, property damage, attempted takeover of Metropolis, grudge wanting to "win" against Superman at the worst, using sophisticated toys, or giant robots.

    Mxyzptlk is an imp, who finds Earth, particularly Metropolis, his haven of causing mischief, in the nature of his own mischievous fun. Only few stories go darker than that.
    I second this.

    My question for this thread: What makes a good Superman villainess?

    Superman has so few. Batman has better & more villainesses than most heroes...except Wonder Woman. Superman's been around the longest of all superheroes...where are his distaff foes?

  15. #15
    Extraordinary Member Vordan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frontier View Post
    This is relatively recent:


    Neither are too bad but still not quite on the same level as Fabok (although obviously he probably spent at least a month drawing that). Wish we could get an equivalent from Quietly, since he’s the premiere Superman artist imo.

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