Superhero show rankings: the villains


We come to perhaps the funnest installment of these rankings: the bad guys. While it’s certainly possible to survive on the strengths of a likable lead hero and a strong supporting cast even without a memorable villain (more than half of the MCU films prove exactly that), a great villainous performance certainly raises the bar. I think there’s going to be a stronger correlation in tomorrow’s rankings of the shows themselves to this villain list than there will be to yesterday’s lead hero list or Tuesday’s supporting characters.

Some SPOILERS will be mentioned for the involved shows: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.Agent CarterDaredevilConstantineArrowFlash, and Gotham.

The Frenemies

grant wardThis category is for characters who fluctuated between good guy and villain. To qualify, the character must have had sincere moments of both good and antagonism, not merely have been a bad guy pretending to be good as part of a master plan (a la Harrison Wells).

12. Edward Nigma (Gotham)

Something something terrible. I’m out of lines for bad things on Gotham.

11. Agent/Director Robert Gonzales (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Congrats AoS, you found a way to create a character that even Edward James Olmos couldn’t save.

10. Amanda Waller (Arrow)

Arrow has never quite been able to figure out how to make Waller’s shades-of-gray morality into compelling TV.

9. Maseo Yamashiro (Arrow)

Most of his moments this season, both in flashbacks and as a Ra’s henchman, were unfortunately dull. But his final showdown with Katana was mild redemption.

8. General Glenn Talbot (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

I didn’t care for Talbot when he was first introduced last year, but he had some good moments in the first half of S2.

7. Agent 33 (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Arguably the show’s most tragic figure in some ways, but she had some excellent fight scenes. The face-switching gimmick got old.

6. Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (Arrow)

Floyd had easily his most compelling appearance on the show in his final episode, filling in the character’s backstory and seeming a like a real person.

5. Raina (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Raina was one of the show’s most interesting characters for a long time, but the more gaps that got filled in about her, the less intriguing she became. As good as she was in the finale, it’s unfortunate how weak her appearance was in the second half of the season.

4. Malcolm Merlyn (Arrow)

John Barrowman rocks, and while I don’t think the show used his return to a series regular to its full potential, he still had his moments.

3. Nyssa al Ghul (Arrow)

Nyssa gave us some good fights as her father’s lead henchwoman, but she was even better as an ally to Team Arrow, particularly her late-season friendship with Laurel.

2. Grant Ward (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Grant had such a fine arc this season, stuck between a redemption quest, romantic entanglements, and a lot of genuine darkness.

1. Dr. Calvin Zabo/Mr. Hyde (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Actor Kyle MacLachlan was the MVP of AoS Season 2, stealing every scene he was in and making his role into something wonderful and fun. His physical appearance in the finale was another weird visual letdown by the show, but otherwise, he was the heart of the great S2 ending.

The One-shots

the tricksterHere we have the characters who were only the bad guy for a single story, more or less. I’ll include villains of two-parters (Creel, Boomerang) and villains who appeared in more than one episode but were only the primary villain in one (Gao, Weather Wizard).

12. Hartley Rathaway/Pied Piper (The Flash)

This was one of Flash’s few misses on an important character, but there’s still long-term potential for something better.

11. Werner Zytle/Vertigo (Arrow)

Arrow struggled again to do anything great with Count Vertigo, but I hope they keep trying, just because I love actor Peter Stormare.

10. Digger Harkness/Captain Boomerang (Arrow)

I know this looks like a low placement, but know that I am hugely in favor of cool boomerang fight sequences, which Digger provided during his crossover appearance.

9. Simon Stagg (The Flash)

I thought actor William Sadler was an inspired choice for Stagg, and gave him an appropriately sneering menace. I think it was a mistake to not keep him alive for more future appearances.

8. William Tockman/Clock King (The Flash)

I didn’t love Tockman in his appearance in an earlier season of Arrow, but Flash made him work rather well.

7. Felix Faust (Constantine)

Faust had a really strong dynamic in his ep, and was well-acted by Mark Margolis.

6. Carl Creel/Absorbing Man (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Creel’s appearance in the S2 opening two-part really helped raise the stakes for the great first half AoS S2.

5. Mark Mardon/Weather Wizard (The Flash)

Unlike his brother in pilot episode, the second Weather Wizard had really great screen presence that has me excited for his role in the future of this show.

4. Gao (Daredevil)

Gao was a background character in the Kingpin’s organization for several episodes, and never really got much in-depth character development. But his fight with DD was spectacular, and one of the top highlights of the entire season.

3. The Invunche (Constantine)

The Invunche had little screen time, but managed to invoke the absolute creepiness of Alan Moore’s “American Gothic” storyline from Swamp Thing.

2. Gorilla Grodd (The Flash)

I discussed my love of Grodd shortly before his show appearance. His role in that episode was very well done, and I especially enjoyed the tease that he was getting smarter — hopefully indicating that we’ll see a more scheming version of the character in the future.

1. James Jesse/The Trickster (The Flash)

There was never really any doubt about the top spot, though. Mark Hamill’s return to the character he played in the early 1990s Flash series was absolutely brilliant, coming across almost like a live-action version of his legendary Joker voice work. It also gave us the single greatest line on television this year.

The Recurring Villains and Big Bads

dottieAnd now, we come at last to the main event: ranking the multi-episode villains that helped defined superhero television this year.

Last: The Penguin, Fish Moody, Don Falcone, Don Maroni, etc. (Gotham)

Why even bother sorting out the degrees of badness here? You all tie for worst-place.

18. Brick (Arrow)

A mostly invulnerable supervillain who’s at least partially vulnerable to arrow, and he picks the world capital of arrows for his super villainy. There are a lot of bad villain plans around, but that might be the worst.

17. Mick Rory/Heat Wave (The Flash)

Never managed to equal Captain Cold’s screen presence.

16. General Wade Eiling (The Flash)

Largely felt like a generic military bad guy, but did have some good scenes with Wells.

15. Lisa Snart/Golden Glider (The Flash)

Her special effects were mediocre, but her flirty manipulative taunting of Cisco was quite enjoyable.

14. Leland Owlsley (Daredevil)

I was mildly disappointed at first to see the Owl, one of DD’s more prominent villains, portrayed as an elderly accountant. But the repeated emphasis on mentioning his unseen son makes me think that’s the Owl we’ll see fight DD in the future. Leland Sr.’s betrayal of Fisk was still very well-done.

13. Ra’s al Ghul (Arrow)

I think the single biggest factor that held Arrow back this year was not making the most out of Ra’s in the second half, despite a very strong introduction in the fall.

12. Vladimir Ranshakov (Daredevil)

The angrier and longer-lived of the Russian brothers, he outlived his generic early characterization to have some pretty strong moments while holed up with DD.

11. Jiaying (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

She gave us the biggest surprise of the season, but for all my love of Dichen Lachman, I just never felt like she had a strong enough villainous presence — which, to be fair, was kind of the point in-story, but it still held the character back for me; there was little intimidation factor in her final scene with Skye.

10. Sunil Bakshi (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Bakshi was a surprisingly adept utility player for AoS throughout the season, playing a strong support role in villainy across multiple Big Bads.

9. James Wesley (Daredevil)

Wesley, likewise, was a lackey for Fisk who made the most of the role, becoming a strong villain in his own right. His final scene, opposite Karen Page, was particularly good.

8. Gordon (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Gordon is a character whom we never got much psychological depth into, but he rises this high for being arguably the best visual character in this list. Both his eyeless appearance and the special effects on his teleporting were extremely well-done, particularly within the limits of a TV budget — which, if AoS spent heavily on those, might explain why Raina and Cal both suffered in the effects department.

7. Daniel Whitehall/Werner Reinhardt/the Kraken (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Whitehall was the first Big Bad of the AoS season, and other than Cal, I would say he was the best. Actor Reed Diamond had a really strong performance, despite his anticlimactic exit.

6. Papa Midnite (Constantine)

Constantine‘s lack of screen time for the Brujeria meant that the show suffered from its lack of a Big Bad on screen, but it was picked up some by whenever Papa Midnite appeared. He was cool, capable, fun, and intimidating.

5. Johann Fenhoff/Doctor Faustus (Agent Carter)

Fenhoff was a late arrival on Agent Carter, but his calm manipulation of events really added to the late-season tension.

4. Leonard Snart/Captain Cold (The Flash)

I wasn’t sold on actor Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold in his first appearances, but he grew on me every time he re-appeared. The last couple episodes in which he appeared really hit the Flash/Cold dynamic perfectly on the nail and showed what makes Snart such a lasting villain.

3. Dottie Underwood/Black Widow (Agent Carter)

Dottie, like Fenhoff, didn’t reveal her true nature for a while on the show, but made a superb villainous introduction, then remained captivating for the rest of the season. The use of the early version of the Black Widow program was a great choice, and I couldn’t take my eyes off actress Bridget Regan.

2. Wilson Fisk/the Kingpin (Daredevil)

I didn’t think it was possible for Fisk to be topped after binge-watching Daredevil, and I’m still second-guessing this placement as I write it. Kingpin became the MCU’s first great villain in quite a while, and actor Vincent D’Onofrio gave him impressive depth. My only complaints were that his physical prowess could have been developed better before the finale of S1, and frankly, Fisk’s belief that he was actually helping Hell’s Kitchen doesn’t really make any sense with his some illegal activities (I can get killing the old woman to take her apartment and turn it into something nicer, but how did the child slavery thing help the city?). Nevertheless, he remained an absolutely wonderful villain that gave the show a ton of weight.

1. Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne/the Reverse Flash (The Flash)

wells reverse flashThis was a tough call, but I found Rob Bricken’s argument in favor of Wells over Fisk to be quite convincing. Actor Tom Cavanaugh gave such a delightful performance, managing to be positively eerie when needed (his reveal to Cisco in the now-deleted timeline), maniacal when needed (his explanation to Barry of his hatred for him), and always drew me deeper with every new reveal. The bottom line for what earned him the top Big Bad spot? No villain was more fun to watch all year. It was just a superbly entertaining character and story.

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