This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 30, 2016.
We all love the likes of Superman and Spider-Man, great heroes who inspire us to be our best selves. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a bit of dark glee in our hearts or comics. This upcoming Wednesday will see the release of Bullseye #1 and Darth Maul #1 from Marvel Comics, two new series about irredeemable, cruel villains whose modus operandi can best be described as “wanton slaughter”. Despite the purity as villains, it’s difficult to deny there’s just as much excitement for a Bullseye book as there is for a Daredevil one.
We’re not talking about anti-heroes either. These aren’t stories of conflicted individuals or good men gone bad; they’re about characters who are bad to the bone. Because sometimes it feels good to be bad and comics about villains allow us to take a look from another perspective. Whether they deliver shock, horror, or a secret bit of joy, these comics can offer us something we’d never actually want in our real lives. If you find yourself anticipating the debut of Bullseye and Darth Maul in just a couple of days, then these are 5 comics featuring some real bad guys that you absolutely must read. They’re really good… and really bad.
Action Comics: “The Black Ring”
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Pete Woods
Colors by Brad Anderson
Published by DC Comics
Issues: Action Comics #890-900, Secret Six #39, and Action Comics Annual #13
Leading up to the 900th issue of Action Comics, the series switched its focus from Superman to his greatest antagonist Lex Luthor. Following the events of “Blackest Night” in which Luthor was given an orange power ring, he wants to rediscover that power and seeks the source of the Black Lantern. That journey takes him across the DC Universe confronting a who’s who of villains including Vandal Savage, Mister Mind, and the Secret Six.
This is a truly great Superman story as well as a Lex Luthor one because it exposes what makes Luthor the opposite of DC Comics’ greatest hero. He is a con man who sells himself to the reader as caring about the common man before being exposed as an avaricious and hateful monster. Walking away from this comic readers will know exactly what makes Luthor such a great villain and why he can never truly be a hero to anyone.
Criminal: “The Last of the Innocent”
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
Colors by Val Staples and Dave Stewart
Published by Image Comics
Many of the Criminal stories crafted by Brubaker and Phillips feature anti-heroes. They are stories of men and women doing bad things and making very poor decisions, but you can usually sympathize with their plights. That’s not the case in “The Last of the Innocent”. Riffing on the iconic cast of Archie, it puts its leading redhead in the position of murdering his wife in order to get a big payout and shack up with the Betty to this deceased Veronica.
They execute the planning, paranoia, and thrills of pulling off a big crime perfectly. Each new decision is more horrifying than the last, but watching someone really get away with it offers a unique thrill. While the Archie comparisons are fun, this comic really succeeds on its own by wiping away the simply joys of nostalgia and exposing the darkness that lies behind most stories.
Created by Darwyn Cooke
Based on the works of Richard Stark
Published by IDW Publishing
Darwyn Cooke was a master of comics able to construct compelling stories in every genre he looked at. While many love the optimism of DC: The New Frontier, he was just as capable of telling a brutal crime story, like in his adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels. Cooke adapted four of the stories in total, “The Hunter”, “The Outfit”, “The Score”, and “Slayground”, and each of them is well worth a read.
Parker is a resolute criminal. He has a strict code, but it has nothing to do with ethics. If you cross him, you’re as good as dead. This thief doesn’t even shed tears for the women who love him and die as a result of his work. He’s James Bond without any master to serve turned loose to serve only his own self-interest. Parker might be a bastard, but it’s a thrill to watch him work.
Created by Jason Shiga
Published by First Second Books
You’ll never have more fun watching so many people die than in the pages of Demon. Jason Shiga’s most recent work combines simple storytelling, incredible creativity, and one dynamite concept to build a bloody, funny, and exciting comic. Our recommendation is to go read it now and discover all of it for yourself. But if you absolutely must know the setup before checking it out, then read the next paragraph. You have been warned.
Jimmy is a man who wants to die, but can’t kill himself. Every time he tries he assumes the body of the closest living person. Discovering this ability and having to escape the government agency that seeks to imprison him leads to some of the wildest sequences ever put into comics. Be careful though, absolutely none of this comic is appropriate for children, even though all of it will put a giant grin on your face.
The Superior Foes of Spider-Man
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Steve Lieber
Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg
Published by Marvel Comics
Issues: The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1-9, 12-17
None of the villains in The Superior Foes of Spider-Man are quite as evil as the others on this list, but you’ll have a hard time finding a more wretched hive of C-list villainy. These five members of the Sinister Six (don’t ask) are as selfish, mean, and cowardly as any you’re likely to find. That’s the key of this comic and how it manages to be so funny and endearing.
There’s nothing likable about any of the crew, but their foolishness and ambition manages to make their terrible actions charming in the oddest of ways. It’s an underdog story about folks who don’t deserve to be called dogs. Set against bigger bads like Tombstone and Madame Masque though, they certainly don’t seem like a bad option. At least they’re entertaining in addition to being terrible people.