So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #032: The Best of the Worst!

If you need a gentle refresher as to my rules of these here listicles? Well then, partner… check out part one. Assuming you did and have come back? Welcome to my evil lair!

When it comes to the cream of the evil crop, I fretted feverishly over my particular placements. But after much deliberation, hung upside-down in an elaborate death trap? I feel like I’ve come to a sound conclusion. No further preamble needed; let’s get down to the best of the worst.

5. Danny DeVito/Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer/Catwoman — Batman Returns

Batman’s rogue gallery is hands down the best collection of wackos, nutbars, psychopaths, and ne’er-do-wells in comics. But how does one top Jack Nicholson’s turn as the clown prince of crime in 1989’s masterpiece, Batman? Well, you double the villainy!

To be clear: Batman Returns isn’t anywhere near as good as the original. It’s crammed from gills to gonads with odd set-pieces, unnecessary angst, and a third act more bloated than Danny DeVito’s Oswald Cobblepot by several orders of magnitude. But those gripes apart, I can say nary a bad word for either DeVito’s Penguin or Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman.

With the aforementioned aviary-under-dweller, we are given a true freak turn on the classic Bat-villain. And rather than give us an elitist with a foul face, Tim Burton gifts us with a mutated face-biter— with a short temper and a predilection for biblical crimes by way of weaponized wildlife. It’s so far of left field from the original source material that I should dock points, but I’d be lying if I said that should matter given the sum of the parts. Oswald is tragic, black-hearted, and unforgettable.

Selina Kyle travels from sad-eyed secretary to a one-woman advertisement for BDSM across Returns. And with her rise from mouse to cat, she encapsulates the spirit of the character from the pages of Batman comics, with an original spin that hasn’t been bettered by any incarnation since. Catwoman vexes Bruce Wayne, and climbs across the scenery of the movie with the superhuman grace that could only be bestowed by super-powered mystical cat-resuscitation.

4. Michael B. Jordan / Killmonger — Black Panther

There’s so much to like in Black Panther. From the amazing visuals — like the sprawling vistas of Wakanda or the purple-tinted visits to the spirit world — straight through to the actual story of the movie… there’s no doubt in my mind why it was nominated for so many awards this past year.

But what should not be overlooked here is the performance and character of Killmonger, as presented by Michael B. Jordan. He is the fulcrum by which the movie rises above the rest of the comic movies to date. In Jordan’s portrayal, we are given a sympathetic villain whose methods and desires are rooted in an injustice we can almost side with. He’s a hardliner strategist looking for vindication and retribution for the sins of the past. That he not only bests T’Challa in wade-pool combat, but then immediately sets out to change Wakanda without monologuing his way into the throne is a boon of storytelling that Jordan presents coolly across the film. Simply put? He’s amazing, and makes each scene he’s in better.

3. Nick Stahl/Roark Jr. (Yellow Bastard) — Sin City

I recognized as I traveled up this list a need for a pure villain. Someone whose chaotic malice comes from the worst corners of humanity. And no one stepped up to the plate better to me then Nick Stahl as that Yellow Bastard. Underneath layers of perfectly comic-proportioned prosthetics, Stahl is still able to seethe, and make us cringe. With his false-bravado played against Frank Miller’s adapted noir dialogue… I dare say no villain on this list better represents a direct line from the paper he was printed on.

2. Michael Fassbender / Magneto — X-men First Class

Ian McKellen’s take on the mutant master of magnetism was a rare(ish) case of the actor being seen above the role as presented on screen. The gravitas played against Patrick Stewart’s Professor X made both leads in the the Singer-born X-men films feel more or less like brilliant stunt-casting. Two scene-stealers doing Summer Stock for shits and giggles.

I say this to contrast with Michael Fassbender’s take on the same villain in the First Class precursor to the aforementioned film. The portrayal in First Class feels worn-in, in the best way. Whereas McKellen’s Erik Lehnsherr floats above the crowds and looks down on the world through weary eyes… Fassbender presented a Magneto with the same elitism underneath a total disdain for human life. Look no further than his understated uttering of “…perfection” at the visage of an azure Mystique. Simply put, Fassbender made me feel Magneto’s pain, and understand his violent mission. While neither Magnetos would be given good sequels to further explore being the de facto nemesis to the X-men properly… I believe Michael Fassbender brought the powerful profligate of polarity to screen as close to perfect as one might want.

1. Heath Ledger / The Joker — The Dark Knight

Is there really an argument to be made here? What more can I add the litany of words drowning on the internet regarding Heath Ledger’s immersion as the most recognized villain in all of comic bookery? From his weird ambiguous voice, to the specific presentation of his well-staged chaotic lessons to the Gothamites in his way, the Joker of The Dark Knight is the standard by which any actor should study under when trying to own the films they terrorize. His Joker was a threat that couldn’t be punched harder to defeat. His actions spoke louder than his words, and rather than chew the scenery, Ledger sunk into it. He was a product of this realistic world. Somehow, he made the audience laugh at the improbability of a man fighting crime as a bat… through a Glasgow smile and greasepaint. That it was The Dark Knight‘s Joker that made me forget I was watching a comic book movie and just a great crime drama tips the scales above any other actor’s turn to the dark side. Except for…

Supreme Mark Hamill / The Joker — Batman, the Animated Series

And since it’s my rules kiddos, we’re going to just jump the shark to offer the singular performance that eclipses Ledger’s Joker; that of Mark Hamill’s portrayal of the crown prince of crime. Close your eyes, and imagine the Joker speaking. It’s Mark Hamill. And if it’s not? You’re doing a disservice to your subconscious.

From the sing-songy laugh that can ooze down, and spike up chaotically with a flip of a vocal chord, to the graveling grousing from being foiled again… Mark Hamill owns the Joker. Everyone else truly is just renting it. And no other actor or actress holds a candle to the inferno that Hamill represents as the comic book villain.