They are sometimes used as foils to superheroes and other heroes. Whereas superheroes often wield fantastic powers, the supervillain possesses commensurate powers and abilities, and he could present a daunting challenge to the hero. Even without actual physical, mystical, superhuman or superalien powers, the supervillain often possesses a genius intellect that allows him to draft complex schemes or create fantastic devices. Other common traits include a megalomaniac streak, and possession of considerable resources to help further his aims. Many supervillains share some typical characteristics of real world dictators, mobsters, and terrorists and often have aspirations of world domination or universal leadership.
Superheroes and supervillains often mirror each other in their powers, abilities, or origins. In some cases, the only difference between the two is that the hero uses his extraordinary powers to help others, while the villain uses his powers for selfish, destructive or ruthless purposes.
By some definitions, the first supervillain was John Devil, a proto-Fantômas, created by Paul Féval, père in his eponymous 1860 novel, or Féval's nearly-immortal, machiavellian Colonel Bozzo-Corona, leader of Les Habits Noirs introduced in 1863. Professor Moriarty, the Archenemy of Arthur Conan Doyle's detective Sherlock Holmes, was introduced in 1893. Dr. Fu Manchu, the antagonist of several popular novels of Sax Rohmer, is credited with popularizing many of the typical characteristics of the modern supervillain, including his sadistic personality, his desire for world domination, and his use of sinister lairs and themed crimes and henchmen. Rohmer's work had a strong influence on Ian Fleming, whose James Bond novels and their film adaptations further popularized the image in popular culture and introduced numerous memorable villains like Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Auric Goldfinger.
The first supervillain who wore a bizarre costume was the Lightning, from the 1938 film The Fighting Devil Dogs. The first supervillain to regularly battle a superhero was the Ultra-Humanite, who first appeared in Action Comics #13 (1939). In contrast to the super-strong Superman, he was a crippled and bald genius, and could be seen as one of the first examples of the evil genius archetype, due to his deformed body and baldness. His appearance can be viewed as a prototype for that used for Lex Luthor, Superman's greatest enemy on Earth. However, another potential supervillain is the Batman foe Doctor Death, an evil scientist who used poisons. He appeared in Detective Comics #29 (July 1939) and #30 (August 1939); however, these were his only Golden Age appearances.
Well known supervillains
Lex Luthor and other comic book supervillains like The Joker, Magneto, Norman Osborn, Venom, and Galactus are well known in popular culture and have been adapted to film and television. Some notable examples of female comic book supervillains are Catwoman, Mystique, The Dark Phoenix, Viper, Harley Quinn, Granny Goodness, and Cheetah.
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- "Joker tops supervillain poll". Metro.co.uk. 2012-04-25. http://www.metro.co.uk/metrolife/films/article.html?in_article_id=181479&in_page_id=27. Retrieved 2012-05-09.
- "Top Ten Comic Book Super Villains". Comicbooks.about.com. 2012-04-10. http://comicbooks.about.com/od/characters/tp/toptenvillains.htm. Retrieved 2012-05-09.
- "Lethal Ladies ; The 10 Best Female Supervillains". Newsarama.com. http://www.newsarama.com/15629-lethal-ladies-the-10-best-female-supervillains.html. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
- The dictionary definition of supervillain at Wiktionary
- Media related to Supervillains at Wikimedia Commons