Marvel’s comic book villains are often viewed as generic, surface-level characters who exist simply to bring their enemies some grief. At times, they have paper-thin motivations that are passed off as threatening, only for the hero to quickly dismantle them. While the majority of superhero comics see the story from hero’s side, there are also moments were the villains get a chance to shine. In the case of Marvel, few villains have the impact, longevity and recognizability of Doctor Doom, Red Skull, Thanos, and Magneto. These villains have matched up with their hero counterparts for decades, and are loved by many, but there are also stories that flesh out what these characters mean, what their motivations are, and what makes them truly iconic. I present a collection of Marvel stories that give these villains the spotlight. Marvel’s 5 biggest villains, Doctor Doom, Magneto, Thanos, and Red Skull, get their chance to shine. These stories develop their individual characters beyond their standard villain motivations and give them a three-dimentional character dynamic. Below are some of the best examples of Marvel stories with the spotlight on its villains.
Books of Doom (2005)
Doctor Doom is one of the most iconic characters in Marvel. A villain that not only has the power to face the Fantastic Four, he has also gone toe to toe with the entire Marvel universe. Books of Doom provides a detailed life story of the legendary Fantastic Four villain, Victor Von Doom. In only a few issues, we get to see him grow from a young Latverian boy to one of the greatest Marvel villains. The story also details how he met Reed Richards, all the tragedies he faced and the motivations that led him to the villain we all recognize. After reading Books of Doom, you won’t look at any of the appearances of the villain the same way again. Books of Doom is a well-developed, fleshed out look at the future ruler of Latveria. This story is the perfect way to understand what Doctor Doom can do, why he does it, all in one miniseries.
Thanos Rising (2013)
The name Thanos rings a bell for both casual, and longtime fans alike. A character with a lot of history being one of the most fearsome villains in the Marvel universe, Thanos has always been one of the greatest threats to our heroes. Though Thanos is known as many things, he has had trouble being a compelling character. It is here that Thanos Rising breaks the mold and takes Thanos to new heights. Thanos Rising is exactly what the name suggests. It follows a young Thanos facing different obstacles in life; and ultimately, we get to see what drives him towards carrying out such heinous acts he does in the future. This story does not shy away from the brutality that Thanos is known for, while also keeping the audience captivated to what this character is growing into. The reader is forced to understand Thanos’ perspective, motivation and drive. With Avengers Infinity War coming up, Thanos Rising is a must read story to get a true understanding of the Mad Titan.
Magneto Testament (2008)
Magneto is one of the most iconic villains in Marvel and one of the most recognizable mutants. X-Men comics have commonly been host to some of the most darkest and socially relevant stories. Magneto Testament encompasses all of that. The title is the heaviest and most detached book from the Marvel universe. Magneto Testament is essentially a holocaust story. In it, icons like Captain America aren’t mentioned, and any trace of the the Marvel universe is omitted entirely in favor of one of the deepest looks into a character we’ve ever had. Other than his name and a few hints at his abilities, this book strays away from the common story-telling of Marvel comic books. To say that Magneto Testament goes deep into the mind and dark origin of Max Eisenhardt would be an understatement. The story is carefully written, and the art is haunting. Magneto Testament leaves an impact, it makes you reexamine a character the audience already knows in a clever, unique and brutal way. The title is an emotional, grounded and gritty story that will make you look at Magneto in a brand new light.
Red Skull: Incarnate (2011)
Of all the books mentioned, Red Skull: Incarnate might be the most complex. Red Skull is a well known Marvel villain. Unlike the previous entries on this list, where the title would give you a chance to sympathize or relate to these iconic villains, Red Skull: Incarnate flips that on its head. Red Skull follows one central theme for the villain; his selfishness. While Johann did grow up as an orphan, the writers’ establish his villainy early by tapping into what makes him an awful person. In the book, it is reinforced constantly that the Red Skull has always been evil. He manipulates, kills, hurts, and does whatever it takes to get what he wants before even becoming the iconic villain we all recognize.
The book follows a young Johann Schmidt as he does anything necessary to get into power. Schmidt uses the communists to pull himself off the street, and manages to manipulate the Nazis to elevate himself into becoming the Red Skull. The book is complete with some excellent artwork, and the excellent writing throughout. While the writers don’t present Red Skull as someone who is relatable, it does make you appreciate just how much of a perfect villain he is to Captain America. Red Skull: Incarnate is a complex look at a truly evil character, handled with extreme care, and becomes a perfect look at Red Skull’s early life.
Marvel has some of the most dynamic, interesting and brutal villains in fiction. They make for perfect antagonists for their superhero counterparts and have complex motivations. A large part of that are stories like these. Books of Doom, Thanos Rising, Magneto Testament, and Red Skull: Incarnate combine to form an unofficial Marvel Villains Collection. They detail each of the iconic villains, their upbringings, their motivations, their tragic pasts and even their unapologetic brutality. Each of these stories provides the reader with a deep dive into what these characters are truly about.