Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Remember back when the DC villains…sucked? They did though! I swear that’s half the reason Marvel started to overshadow DC in the second half of this century. I mean, the realism with the characters helped- that is, not the realism in the sense that the stories were super-believable. But people felt like they could relate to the Marvel characters. It’s ironic that the Marvel characters kind of heralded this new focus on “naturalism.” The DC heroes are more like…the kind of people who have trained their whole life to do what they do. Champions, athletes, professional adventurers…whatever. Not that many teenagers get superpowers and then start fighting crime in the DC Universe. Some, but not many. So yeah, the writing was schlocky…but the truth is, a lot of them are more realistic depictions of what a superhero would be like. Okay, I understand that’s an inherently senseless statement. What the hell is a “superhero” like, anyway? Who’s to say? But still, I stand by my point. Everybody and their mother has powers in the Marvel universe. And I mean that literally, in some cases. But people could relate to the characters, and identify with them. And that’s why it caught on. But the other thing Marvel has always going for them? The bad guys were bad. Like…really bad. The Fantastic Four could thwart a plan Doom came up with…but they didn’t have a chance in hell of every really beating him. Juggernaut was as strong as the Hulk. And hey, if it wasn’t Juggernaut you were fighting? It was Hulk himself, the other half of the time. And sure, Spidey ran laps around most of his villains- but when Norman Osborn was pumpkin-bombing $#&% left and right, Spider-man wasn’t such a funny comic. And that was the old-school villains. Don’t get me started on Venom, Carnage, Mr. Sinister, Apocalypse… There are some things in the Marvel Universe that were just…bigger than the good guys. When Thanos got the Infinity Gauntlet and slaughtered half of the population of the entire universe, for example. But DC? Most of the DC villains didn’t have powers. So, it would be kind of like-Flash can break the sound barrier, vibrate his molecules to phase through things, and travel through time. And what did Flash’s opponent have? A heat gun (read: flamethrower). A heat gun? I mean, if Superman is so damn invulnerable, and all his opponent had was…money…why even bother reading the comic? I mean, doesn’t the outcome of the conflict seem like a foregone conclusion here? Or how many Batman comics from the 1950’s went along the lines of the Penguin, saying things like “Curse you, Batman! You foiled my evil plan! Wacka, Wacka (or whatever).” Back in the day, even Joker- and we’re talking about the character that is widely considered the most terrifying villain in all comics everywhere- was kind of…stupid. Silly. A…joke, if you’ll permit me. He would do these things, seemingly just to try to get Batman to laugh. He never seemed that dangerous to me. Just…foolish. Of course, times have changed haven’t they? These days, DC villains are beginning to take center stage in the comic industry more and more. From Heath Ledger’s performance as a Hannibal Lector-esque Joker to Salvation Run (really wacked out, freaking vicious miniseries about the DC villains all stranded on this remote planet. You can imagine the subsequent betrayals that occur while they jockey for position in the power structure and try to get home), DC villains are not such a joke these days. So what happened? Well, Darkseid, for one thing. One day Jack Kirby dreamed up a villain for the DC Universe that was not such a joke. With strength that rivals Superman and Wonder Woman, the tactical aptitude of Batman, and a penchant for corrupting everything around him, good and bad, Darkseid was the one guy in the DC universe you really didn’t want to &(*$ with. But what I’ve really learned to appreciate is this- yeah, there are more and more villains out there in the DCU that have powers rivaling the heroes. But the writers haven’t just slammed superpowers onto all the old villains that were lying around. They’ve just gone to great lengths to show just how badass, brilliant, and a little bit crazy some of these guys are to be fighting the DC heroes. Lex is really my favorite villain- because even without powers, he will take any advantage he can over other his opponents. There’s really nothing sacred. And Rogue fans will probably notice that I took a cheap shot at Heat Wave. Well, trust me- I’ve become a pretty hardcore Rogue fan myself. Flash’s infamous rogue’s gallery has become a full-fledged team in and of themselves, probably the most closely knit and loyal ones in the entire DCU. Now, the thing is- each of these guys in and of themselves tend to rely on some gimmicky gun, or weather wand, or something. After years of reading comics, I finally see what makes this bag of tricks just the right thing to go up against Flash with (whatever incarnation). See, Flash’s powers let him move through the environment. The Rogue’s gear? It’s all designed to alter the environment, to make the environment more confusing, the move through the environment in some unexpected way (i.e. boomerangs...). Their “powers” or “tools” are unpredictable. So okay, they’ve got the right ammo to throw at the hero. But the real point is? What used to be a group of older-aged, burnt-out losers who couldn’t seem to win a fight for the life of them have become the scariest crew of career criminals and terrorists that Coast City, and maybe even a city like Gotham, has ever seen. Take Captain Cold. Okay- he’s the guy with the freeze gun. There’s always one villain like this. With freeze beams, or ice rays, or whatever. Mr. Freeze, Killer Frost, etc. And the analogy is always like- it isn’t just that they have cold powers, it’s that they are cold and unfeeling, and that makes them scary. Well, I never thought much of Cold. Final Crisis: Rogue’s Revenge changed that opinion. In what has to be one of the top five most unfeeling, inhuman things I’ve ever seen a character do in comics, Cold’s choices in this comic freak me the hell out. Without getting into too much detail, the gist is that a new group of rogue’s- mostly teenagers with actual superpowers- challenge the old Rogue’s for the “title.” The new group starts by contacting Cold and the other Rogues, telling him that they’ve kidnapped his father, and that if the old Rogue’s don’t surrender by such and such time they’re going to kill the man. Cold considers this. Then he delivers the following response: “&($^ you kid. I’m going to find you. I’m going to kill all of you. Then I’m going to kill my father myself.” This isn’t an idle threat either. The rogue’s proceed to track these punk kids down and frickin’ slaughter them. Which just goes to show- superpowers are nothing compared to guts, skill, and sheer evilness. In the final scene of the second comic, Cold confronts his father who was only ever a distant, abusive figure in his life. In an uncharacteristic moment, Cold punches the guy and aims his ray at him, but pauses. Realizing he can’t kill his own father, he walks away. On the way out the door? He turns to Heat Wave. “Burn it all”. And the man obeys, torching the entire building the “new” rogue’s were holding Cold’s father in. Cold’s father included, of course. Cold doesn’t even look back. I hate to get all cheesy and metaphoric, but…isn’t that some cold %*&$!?