3 painfully goofy early versions of iconic supervillains
Like we’ve talked about before, it’s the supervillain that truly makes the superhero. Before Lex Luthor came around, Superman was less interested in crimefighting and more interested in lording his powers over everyday criminals. He wasn’t so much a superhero as “slightly less of a dick than the mafia”, which isn’t nearly as catchy as “truth, justice and the American way.”
Most of the villains we know and love came about during the Silver Age of Comics, an era infamous for being unbearably silly, mainly because the Comics Code had made telling engaging stories impossible and forced the writers to resort to ridiculous nonsense to be able to publish anything at all. When many of today’s favorite bad guys got started, their earliest incarnations didn’t exactly strike the readers as a big threat, even at a time when the bad guys’ plans mostly revolved around turning people into gorillas or turning people into gold or turning people into plants or… well, they were really into turning people into stuff back then because it didn’t technically count as killing.
Our first example is someone you would think wouldn’t be too hard to make a believable threat, even for vintage Marvel when every bad guy was just a cackling lunatic because Stan Lee only knew how to write one type of bad guy dialogue. In X-Men #12, they introduced Cain Marko, AKA The Juggernaut, Professor Xavier’s stepbrother (ever notice that step-family always turns out to be evil?) who had stumbled across a magic gem during the Korean War and gained godlike powers (which seems unfair, since everyone else who went only found soul-crushing despair and landmines). Trapped under the rubble when the temple collapsed, Marko was next seen when he trashed the X-Mansion like an 800-pound John Belushi (so basically, a slightly bigger John Belushi).
So what was the problem? Juggernaut shows up, he smashes things; it’s a concept brilliant in its simplicity. Well, the problem wasn’t so much what was, as what could have been. See, the classic sleek armor design we know and love (even if it does make him look like a pissed-off buttplug) wasn’t the original intention for the character. No, that honor goes to this fashion atrocity.
I mean… how do you even describe that? Like, a fusion between a gladiator, a hula dancer, and a male stripper? And what the hell was up with that single nipple spike? He looks like a suburban kid trying to piss off his parents rather than a supervillain on a rampage. Were the Marvel staff sniffing their art supplies when they came up with this? Thankfully, this design never got past the concept stage, and instead we got the needlessly oversized helmet we’re familiar with.
2. Mr. Freeze
Moving over to DC Comics for our next villain, let’s took at one of Batman’s iconic rogues. Gotham’s gallery of mental patients has remained relatively static over the years, with the only real change between the Silver Age and modern day is how much of a body count the Joker racks up while Batman tries to figure out which abandoned amusement park he’s hiding in this time (Gotham is mostly abandoned carnivals and museums of easily stealable jewels).
One of Batman’s most recognizable enemies is Victor Fries, AKA Mr. Freeze (when you name your kid something like that, you’re really setting them up for a life of crime). Freeze is a classic tragic character, a scientist who put his terminally ill wife in cryostasis while he searched for a cure, but due to fate and his dickhead employers, he ended up doused in chemicals that forced him to wear a suit keeping him at sub-zero temperature to survive. As such, he’s embarked on a life of crime to finance a way to cure his wife, which kind of makes Batman look like a dick for trying to stop him.
Unfortunately, he didn’t start out that way. Like Clock King before him, the Mr. Freeze we know and love is actually the creation of the acclaimed ’90s cartoon, which reinvented him as a sympathetic character. Before that, he was… well, the nicest way to say it would probably be “pathetic asshole.”
Mr. Freeze actually got his start as one of the many pointlessly thematic villains Batman fought during the Silver Age. Oh, and nevermind the tragic backstory, here he was just some jerk who accidentally spilled chemicals on himself like a fucking Three Stooges sketch (the later ones where Curly was getting all strokey).
And yeah, as you probably noticed, he wasn’t called Freeze yet; he was known as Mr. Zero (fittingly, considering what a dud the character was at that point). He lasted all of one issue, before Batman accidentally discovered that all he needed to cure his frozen condition was a steam bath, because apparently all you have to do to cure horrifying terminal conditions is to just sweat them out. Those homeopathic medicine weirdos are right: Big Pharma IS just a scam.
3. Green Goblin
Back to Marvel for our final entry, and also into arch-enemy territory. Spider-Man has a long history of stupid villains that really shouldn’t have been a threat to someone with superpowers, but he was like barely into puberty when he started out so characters like “The Chameleon” or “Big Man” probably seem more intimidating if your voice hasn’t stopped breaking yet.
That said, he eventually started fighting villains who were an actual physical threat and not just weirdos in masks, and one of these was the Green Goblin, one of his most iconic foes. The Goblin, or Norman Osborn in his real identity, would become a recurring foe for Spider-Man, as well as an increasingly worse pain in the ass, until he ended up causing the death of Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker’s girlfriend, in a landmark story in 1973, which is widely credited as marking the end of the Silver Age of Comics.
However, before the girlfriend-killing, the Goblin started out as a good deal less menacing. See, back when he was introduced, his real identity was kept secret, so his motivation for fucking with Spidey was a mystery (kind of pointless, since all his other enemies’ motivation consisted of “he stopped me from murdering the shit out of people”). So how did they decide to introduce this new menace that would surely become the terror of our hero’s existence? Why, by having him ride around on a fucking rocket-powered broom, of course!
Yeah, back in the day, the Green Goblin didn’t have his signature Goblin Glider; he rode around on a goddamn broom, presumably to play up the whole “Halloween” theme with his costume, but there really is no way to look scary while flying around on a metal tampon. On top of that, while he did have his pumpkin bombs, he also had a few other gadgets that looked like he got his gear by holding up a novelty store. Not to mention, his hand blasters just looked like he stuffed his gloves full of 4th of July sparklers.
So as much as we might dislike how everything in comics today has to be either pointlessly dark or smugly referential, remember that it could be worse: we could still be watching Spider-Man fight a guy who thought a good idea for an evil plan was “lure the hero onto a fake movie set,” which makes him look more like a creepy fanboy than a supervillain.
Want more comic book villains? Check out 3 iconic Marvel arch-villains who started out fighting someone else or maybe explore why Tony Stark is the true villain of Marvel’s movie universe. And why are Marvel movie villains so ho-hum anyway?