When you arrive at Number One, you’ll understand how this topic came to mind. See, I was thinking of how big super heroes have become in the last couple of years. When I was a child the non comic book reading public knew very few characters. On average they could name 5, maybe up to 10. There were your icons: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Spider-Man and Hulk were known by many but not all. Now I’d throw Wolverine out there. Captain America, Iron Man and even Thor after the last year. But what about the bad guys? I honestly don’t think the average person who knows who Spider-Man is could also identify the Green Goblin. Same with Loki, or Iron Monger. If you ask a non geeky friend to identify a picture of the bad guy in Captain America they might say “that red skull guy” which is different than knowing his name is Red Skull.
So who are the most identifiable and iconic comic book bad guys?
My requirement is that a picture can be shown of this character in their comic, cartoon or movie/TV self and the average person on the street will know who that villain is, and be able to name him or her. I fully expect debate on this one.
I’ll say this is a 50/50 chance of identification. Is it Lex or just a bald white man? Look at the pictures of those who have played Luthor on screen. Your average person just sees a bald actor. Or Gene Hackman. Even with Hackman being in the world known Christopher Reeve Superman movies, most of the public doesn’t have easy mental access to 30 year old films. They might recognize Gene or Kevin, but they will not know that it is the actor playing Lex Luthor. In fact, I think Lex in the green and purple battle suit might help him be more recognized.
4. The Riddler.
Speaking of green and purple. The Riddler uses such bright colors, plus a domino mask and many times a hat to make for a memorable costume. From Frank Gorshin to Jim Carrey the Riddler has been gifted with some absurd performances. Even the comic and the cartoon versions stay within the memorable costume that non nerds are familiar with. Instead of a one piece, its now a business suit but dammit its still green and purple. Maybe Lex Luthor needs a mask.
Sure, she could be considered a hero. However, if these non geeks we keep speaking of are shown pictures from previous movies, cartoons, TV or comics they will consider her a villain. She went against Batman on the classic TV show, in Batman Returns, and while the public might know their is sexual tension between the two they wouldn’t know that she has fought on both sides of the eternal battle. The great thing here is that not only is Catwoman recognizable, but people can name multiple actresses who have played the role. Lee Meriwether, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eartha Kitt, Anne Hathaway, Julie Newmar… even Halle Berry. At this point I would place her second in the Batman’s Rogues Gallery – even when she’s a hero.
2. Veronica Lodge
Surprised? Damn right Veronica is a bad guy. Her and Betty are the first “frienemies” in teen soap operas. She’s rich, she’s manipulative, and she toys with men. Most of all, she has some issue with Jughead. And who could hate Jughead?! She may not wear the black hat, but she does flaunt the raven hair. Veronica is without a doubt the bad girl of Archie comics. But why is she on this list of the most recognizable? While there have been attempts at live action Archie stories, none have taken off. Veronica is on this list thanks to the works of Dan DeCarlo and Stan Goldberg. These two artists have made the entire Archie gang into characters that everyone knows. Even that person who would be the last to read a comic book today, read an Archie book when he/she was a child. You saw those pictures above and knew right away it was Veronica. Not any other brunette or dark haired woman in any other comic book ever made. It was Veronica.
1. The Joker
Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger. Plus of course every other comic or cartoon interpretation there has been. Far too many to list. Each one of them is known to the common man and woman. The purple suit, the grease paint, the green hair and that smile. Batman isn’t necessary in the same picture. The Joker can stand without his arch nemesis and be just as well known.