Superhero comics are defined through characters, both heroes and villains, who possess extraordinary abilities and powers and the battles that ensue. Marvel and DC Comics have come to dominate the industry, and the template for what makes a good hero and villain can be found in the many series published by them. Villains, in particular, have been given a wide array of abilities designed to give the heroes fresh and interesting challenges.
Supervillains are responsible for many fan-favorite characters and abilities, some of which stretch the imagination of creators and push the suspension of disbelief of readers. These define what a good superhero comic can be, and readers never tire of seeing how some of these abilities manifest. Some powers are certainly more common than others, and the real skill is in showcasing how different characters use these dynamic abilities — especially in pursuit of evil.
From Mystique and Clayface to Chameleon and Skrulls, shape-shifting has been a recurring ability of villains since the Silver Age and one of the few powers much more common among villains than heroes. This has allowed villains to spy on their worst enemies, steal secrets, and divide relationships.
Many villainous powers are a reflection of negative traits, so it makes complete sense that the highest form of deception would be a common power among bad guys. Shape-shifting can make for some brilliant detective stories, as well as a genuine way for villains to infiltrate superhero teams and divide from within.
9 Reality Manipulation
Most common among some of the cosmic and mystical villains, the power to warp reality has come in handy for many comic book stories. From Mephisto stealing Peter Parker’s marriage to Thanos wielding the Infinity Gauntlet, it makes for one of the most significant abilities in comics.
Even the likes of Doctor Manhattan, when he was a villain, made good use of the power to alter reality, triggering some major DC events. Considering how many comics pay homage to classical mythology and religion, it’s understandable why some Devil-inspired villains would carry such powers.
Mastery over electricity has been the origin of some of the greatest characters in comics, from the Spider-Man foe Electro to the DC hero Black Lightning. Some of the best writers in comics have pushed the imagination of what can be achieved with these abilities, from manipulating technology to draining energy grids.
Characters like Livewire, Electro, Supercharger, the Eel, and Aftershock pose a brilliant threat to their respective heroes and are deadly to tech-based heroes. These villains can even be a threat to Superman — after all, all beings have an electrical charge, meaning control over electricity can kill just about anyone.
7 Energy Absorption
Considering how many heroes wield a great deal of strength and power, one of the best challenges to them is villains who can absorb their energy. Famously, this is the dynamic between Superman and Parasite, who can drain people of their life energy just by touching them.
The power to absorb energy has also featured in villains like the Lord Beyond the Void, Major Force, Absorbing Man, and hellish beings who can steal souls. Some villains have a dependency on the powers of other beings, which makes them effectively energy vampires — not to mention the likes of Galactus, who feed on entire worlds.
6 Super Speed
Just as some of the greatest heroes are speedsters, it makes sense there’d be a similar number of fast villains who can pose a threat to the likes of Flash and Quicksilver. The most famous of the evil speedsters is Reverse-Flash, a villain from the future who traveled back in time to ruin the Flash’s life.
Super speed can allow villains to move through time — for those who are fast enough — and has presented some unique challenges to heroes when they need to fix the timeline. Even villains like Zod and Black Adam, who rarely actually use their speed, have access to this power.
With so many villains often needing to be killed off for some of their stories, writers need a way to resurrect their biggest, baddest foes without just breaking continuity. This comes in the form of immortality, an easy way to keep the worst foes returning while also allowing for them to be “killed” in major stories.
Some of the best immortal villains include Darkseid, Galactus, Vandal Savage, Ra’s al Ghul, and Apocalypse, all of whom have unique ways of staying alive. The ability is great in keeping brilliant villains coming back and necessitates that, for as long as the bad guys are around, the heroes are needed too.
It’s still unclear in comics exactly how much of a role superpowers play in forming intelligence. However, considering how outrageously smart the likes of Lex Luthor, Ozymandias, Doctor Doom, and the High Evolutionary are, it’s more than reasonable to consider it a power.
Expanding to beings who are enhanced by technology or other abilities, like Metron in his Mobius Chair, MODOK, or Doctor Manhattan, super-intelligence becomes even more common. This would include beings who guard or store infinite knowledge, like DC’s Destiny.
The ability to fly is commonplace in comics, both among heroes and villains, and allows for some of the greatest battles to take place in midair or even in space. Characters like Sinestro, Black Adam, Zod, Ultron, and even Magneto — who uses electromagnetic fields to fly — are good examples of masters of flight.
Flight can give villains an advantage over some heroes, allowing them to swoop in unexpectedly. For some, flight is a genuine ability, while others use a more indirect approach to achieving it. Regardless, it’s one of the most recognizable powers, as well as one of the most coveted by readers.
2 Super Strength
Considering the number of superheroes who have super strength, it’s necessary that many of their foes match that power to make for some good brawls. In fact, when all is said and done, most supervillains can be sorted into two simple camps: brains and brawn. Although, the best bad guys combine both.
Superstrength makes for some of the most formidable villains, some of whom can overpower their respective heroes, forcing them to use their intellect to get the edge. A good musclebound foe, like Doomsday, Zod, Rhino, or Abomination, is a good opportunity for a hero to cut loose and demonstrate their own full strength.
The supernatural and magic have been a core component of comics since before even Superman’s debut, with characters like Koth, Doctor Occult, and Mandrake the Magician all wielding magic. The use of dark magic is particularly common among villains, some of whom wield it while others are simply fueled by it.
Some of the most obvious magic users include Doctor Doom, Black Adam, Wotan, Loki, and Mordru, most of whom are the enemies of magical heroes. Others, such as Solomon Grundy, aren’t sorcerers in the classical sense, but they do depend on dark magic to pose the threats that they do.
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