Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Some characters are not worth the paper they’re drawn on

One of the problems with a medium that requires as many stories every month as comic books is that some uninteresting villains appear much more than they deserve, just to fill space.

This is not a new issue. The Cavalier first appeared in 1943, then went on to appear in three more stories in 13 months. While he’s a quirky adversary, he’s hardly Joker/Catwoman class; I can’t see anything about him that made him worth that many stories. The Riddler’s far more interesting a foe and he only had two Golden Age appearances. But apparently someone thought the swashbuckler of crime had Breakout Star written on him.

There are other villains who show up a lot simply because their creator thinks they’re awesome (Mark Gruenwald’s uninteresting Maelstrom, for instance). There are characters who are good but get way overused, such as Darkseid; as Keith Giffen says, DC editors pass the Lord of Apokalips around like a bong.

And then there’s villains who are nothing but a waste of space but keep showing up anyway, such as Mongul.

Created by Len Wein and Jim Starlin in DC Comics #27, Mongul was a blatant ET counterpart to the recently deposed Shah of Iran: a tyrant overthrown by a religious zealot who’s now imposing a much worse dictatorship (that last part is debatable but it was the American perception at the time). He intends to reclaim his kingdom by seizing control of Warworld, which leads to his apparent death in the next issue. Unfortunately, it didn’t stick.

As far as I’m concerned, Mongul sucks. Whatever it is that makes a great villain, he doesn’t have it. He has plenty of arrogant blather about how his power is invincible, you will kneel before Zod — er, Mongul — but no personality beyond that. His power set is nothing but being big and strong. There’s probably a dozen henchmen like him hanging around at the Hiring Hall of Evil any day of the week.

What Mongul has that those henchmen don’t is one brilliant story to his name, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “For The Man Who Has Everything.” It’s a drop-dead terrific story, full of drama, humor (“Think clean thoughts chum.”), action and tragedy. And Mongul happens to be the villain.

The story elevated Mongul to a star, someone writers choose to use again and again. But nobody has ever made him work as well as Moore and even in that story, I don’t think he’s special. If the villain had been Grax or Amalak or any of Superman’s other second-string foes, it would have worked just as well.Which is why every time Mongul or his equally uninteresting kids show up, I roll my eyes.

Your turn now. Which villains, if any, do you think are just jumped-up losers?



  1. tomfitz1

    frasherman: I could say that Lex Luthor is one of the most overused character in all of DC history. Every time he shows up, I’m like, ho-hum, it’s time for American Horror Story.

      1. John Byrne did Luthor dirty by turning him into a Kingpin clone. Luthor as obsessed mad scientist with batshit inventions is far more interesting than Luthor as “what Fonald Trump would be like if he were actually a billionaire and smart.”

        1. Elliott Maggin did a better job in Last Son of Krypton, showing Luthor runs dozens of businesses through shell companies and front men but without losing the tech genius aspect.
          The batshit inventions are a lot of the fun. Luthor’s basically “physical law is best practices, not mandatory.”

        2. jccalhoun

          I never thought of businessman Luthor as a Kingpin clone but that makes sense. I like him as a businessman more though. It makes it more interesting if Superman can’t prove he is a villain. Any time Luthor puts on that green and purple super suit I get bored.

          1. Byrne’s stated inspiration, IIRC, was Hackman’s Luthor in the movie.
            I always enjoyed the prison fatigues he wore in the 1960s. Like he was so obsessed with settling his score with Supes he didn’t even waste time changing clothes.

  2. TheStreckfus55

    The Ani-Men! If you are a big fan of Omnibus collections for Bronze Age runs these suckers show up waaaaaaaaaay too much. The Ani-Men fight the X-Men in #94-95, Daredevil at the start of Miller drawing him, and Iron Man at the start of the Michelinie’s run. All great runs with those losers as the first fight!

    Also for me Freedom Force. Once the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants went legit in X-Men they popped up ALL OVER THE PLACE and as such, become sort of boring pushovers.

  3. conrad1970

    It’s got to be Bane, yes the man who managed to break The Bat has been routinely beaten up on a regular basis by pretty much everyone in DC universe. That’s probably including Alfred as well.
    If I never see this loser in a comic book ever again it still won’t be long enough.

  4. Darthratzinger

    Bane was sheer brilliance compared to Hush!
    You know, I kinda liked Bendis´s idea of putting Norman Osborne in charge of the government program for superheroes (even though it made no sense whatsoever) but Normie showing up in every Marvel title for the next 1-2 years got so annoying.
    Other bad villains:
    Superboy Prime. He did show up so often after his re-introduction in Infinite Crisis in those short 5 years before Flashpoint.
    Dracula after the end of Tomb Of Dracula (not counting the follow-up mini by Wolfman/Colan). All of his characterizations in the Marvel superhero-titles were boring.

  5. Jeff Nettleton

    Mongul had another decent story: Dc Comics Presents #36, from Paul Levitz and Jim Starlin, where the Prince Gavyyn Starman teams up with Superman, to stop Mongul. Not quite in Moore’s league, but better than most uses of Mongul, whop always felt like a weak version of Thanos, who was a pale imitation of Darkseid.

    The Cavalier was a nice bit of fun for Batgirl to kick aroud, in a couple of Batman Family issues and James Robinson did a nice reimagining of the character, in Legends of the Dark Knight, with the “Blades” storyline. Swashbucklers always make a story better, as Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie pointed out, in their series….

    1. You’re right about the Batman Family stories with the Cavalier. Didn’t see the Legends of the Dark Knight one (but I’ll check the DC app for it). I remember that Mongul story now and it wasn’t bad — Levitz’ Starman was a fun series.

  6. mike loughlin

    For every character mentioned, I’ve been able to think of at least one good story. To me, characters are as good as their writers & artists make them.

    That said, the recent Bat-villain Punchline is Harley Quinn without the fun and I’ll be perfectly happy if she just goes away.

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