Random Top Five: My Favorite “Necessary Evil: Super Villains of DC Comics” Two-Page Origin Stories

Talk about a fall from grace...

Lex Luthor opened a fun theme park ride? Truly a fiendish plot to destroy us all!

For a while now, I have been looking into the philosophical and cultural impact superheroes have had on the world.  This research has rekindled my interest in comics and led me to discover many amazing concepts, characters, creators, stories, and other great comics information.  One piece of comics-related business on my “cool radar” is the new documentary Necessary Evil: Super Villains of DC Comics set to be released on Blu-Ray later this month.  In it, DC Comics writers, editors, and other comics personalities will discuss some of the most iconic bad guys and gals in popular comics culture.  I recently finished the companion book that was released last month and was impressed by the roster of nasties collected therein as well as the stories explaining their origins and motivations.  I particularly liked the many two-page origin stories for some of the villains which concisely and creatively explained their long, complex histories in a small amount of space.  The following five villain origins blew me away the most.  If you manage to get your hands on a copy of the book, I highly recommend you give these parts a look first.

5. Gorilla Grodd

I became familiar with this “super-gorilla” from his time with the Legion of Doom on Challenge of the Superfriends.  I also came to know many other great comics villains through this show, especially episodes about some of their origins.  Through an expisode from “Legion of Doom”, I learned of Grodd’s origin and was  introduced to his birthplace, Gorilla City.  He was once an ordinary gorilla until a chance encounter with aliens who performed experiments on him gave him a highly advanced intelligence and the weird “force of mind” power to take over others’ brains and make them do his bidding.  Quite frankly, I thought he was an absurd character and easily the oddest member of the Legion.  Come on, he was a talking gorilla!  It was pretty hard for me to take that seriously as a young boy, but I later grew to love him because he was indeed so different, which made him somehow awesome in my view.   His two-page origin in the Necessary Evil book has a fantastic portrait of him and his jungle home in classic four-color goodness, but my favorite image in it is the opening panel of him just sitting and drinking tea in a purple armchair next to a roaring fireplace.  That drawing alone sums up a lot of how I feel about Grodd: he’s intelligent, slightly intimidating, and just plain weird all at the same time.  That may not be the most believeable premise I’ve ever heard of, but it certainly works well for a classic comic book villain.

4. The Riddler

Batman’s villains are among the most famous in comic books, and as you can imagine, they are heavily featured in Necessary EvilThe Joker and Clayface both star in long-form stories in the book while many of the other Bat-Baddies receive two-page origins.  A lot of these retellings seemed plain-Jane to me, but I did like how the Riddler origin turned out.  Edward Nashton cheated on a puzzle contest in elementary school and spent the rest of his life conning people with games and riddles.  He only went after Batman in an attempt to outwit the greatest detective in comics.  It was fun looking at how the Riddler’s look has changed over the years, from his green-and-purple question mark-filled long johns in the 1960s to his dapper green jacket, purple bowler hat, and question mark-topped cane in the 1990s and beyond.  I was also surprised to learn that the Riddler was recently a good guy, of sorts, in the comics, dispsensing clues to other criminals’ crimes to any interested parties for a small fee.  I was a little disappointed with this origin, though, because its writer forgot one thing: to include riddles!  I have one small question for that guy: If the Riddler asks a riddle and no one sees him ask it, did he ever ask it at all?  Something to think about…

3. The Scarecrow

Yes, another Batman villain has made my list, but this guy’s origin has once again been graced with some great art.  Dr. Jonathan Crane is a disgraced professor kicked out of his university for using his students as test subjects for his theories concerning fear.  In revenge, Crane takes on the disguise of the suitably scary Scarecrow and uses his nightmare-inducing fear gas to terrify his victims, including a certain bat-themed superhero.  The Scarecrow is one of those characters that just scares the living daylights out of me when I first look at him.  To me, he looks just like a gangly straw figure come to life and moving in a way that is not at all natural.  No wonder he’s been such a great villain since the ’40s!  He is truly the living personification of fear.

2. Lex Luthor

Naturally, Superman’s greatest archenemy gets the front spot of Necessary Evil.  His two-page origin tells the story of the rise of Metropolis and the legend of Superman from Lex’s perspective.  Luthor’s family was instrumental in funding many of the building and public works projects that helped make Metropolis the “City of Tomorrow,” but Lex only cared about himself.  He grew up to become a successful businessman and enterpeneur, and even the U.S. President at one point, but throughout, all that he could think about was his own bitter jealousy toward the more civic-minded and beloved Superman.  This mindset is reflected in the art for Lex’s origin story as Luthor is the center of the action yet everyone else looks to Superman, a subtle turn of events but profound in understanding Luthor’s motivations.  Incidentally, this origin is preceded in the book by an excellent story from the year 2000 in which Luthor goes over a local news puff piece concerning his run for the presidency.  It really opened my eyes to the cold feelings Luthor probably goes through all the time in the comics and almost made me feel sorry for the poor guy.  He is still jerk, of course, but it’s not like that worldview wasn’t formed without cause.

1. Bizarro

Me like Bizarro Superman’s origin story.  Whether he be evil “imperfect” clone of Superman or just from really freaking weird planet of Bizarros where everyone do opposite of normal Earth people (technically called Htrae, in case that make you lose sleep at night), me think Bizarro just plain fun character and probably great guy to hang out with, if only he could get past lousy mindset of doing everything the opposite way.  Naturally, Bizarro’s two-page origin in Necessary Evil actually run backward, with beginning appearing at bottom of page two (with villain of honor facing away from viewer) and end of story appearing at top of page one.  Sure, it confusing to follow, but if American fans of Japanese manga can learn how to read comics right to left, then surely we all can learn to read, talk, and think backwards like Bizarro do.  (By the way, me thought about writing this in more direct Bizarro-speak, but that hurt me brain too much.  Also, me tired of writing like scholarly Cookie Monster, so it okay if we stop now?)

What you think of villains in comics, TV, or elsewhere?  Anything you like/dislike about them?  Let me know in comments.  Also, try not to speak in Bizarro-speak too long, otherwise you get stuck doing it all day!

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