Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 9.15

Today’s question is brought to you by Mr. Elyse.   I lack enough nerd cred to properly introduce this question, so I’ll just ask.

Who is the greatest villain of all time: Lex Luther Luthor*, The Joker, Darth Vader or the Devil?

(*are you happy now, NERDS? ;) )

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

Related Articles

105 Comments

  1. I’ll gladly start this soon-to-be-epic thread off:

    Sylvia Browne. She’s got the looks of The Joker, the voice of Darth Vader, the body of Lex Luthor, and I’m fairly confident that she is actually The Devil.

    /discussion

  2. What, no Dick Cheny?

    Lex Luther’s got to get some points for being an ordinary human going up against a super being from space. I don’t really want to comment on Luther or The Joker too much since I never followed the commics, and IMO the movies don’t count. Vadar kicked ass… until they brought out the prequells. And then he went good at the end. Can’t be much of a super villain if you can’t even kill off your own son – although torturing your own daughter should get you some points. As for the Devil, again, I haven’t really followed the commicsBible that close, but I’d say, going up against an omnipotent being and no losing in 6000 years is pretty spectacular. And using temtation over brute force – that’s style right there. Satan gets my vote.

  3. Hmmm, let’s consider basic characteristics…

    Lex Luther: No complexity, lofty goals.
    The Joker: Criminally insane.
    Darth Vader: Pawn of the emperor.
    The Devil: Imaginary.

    I’m going to go with the devil on this one.

    People pin every bad thing on the world on the devil so they take no responsibility for anything, which is much more dangerous to a society than one (or three) greedy/crazy/easily-manipulated bad guy(s). The other people on the list use fear which is the essence of what “the devil” represents. But I’m relatively ambivalent about that choice.

  4. That’s IT??? That’s the BEST you can come up with???

    Come on–what about Doctor Who’s The Master (Roger Delgado version)? Babylon 5’s Bester? Farscape’s Scorpio? Star Trek’s Khan? Stargate SG-1’s Ba’al*? I could go on all day listing villains that are greater than the ones in your list…

    (*actually, that was a show with a LOT of Ba’als!)

  5. @Kimbo Jones: All of the others aren’t imaginary?

    I say the Joker. We have some understanding of why the others are evil. We don’t have that for the Joker. We don’t even know his origin story. He is like a force of nature. He does evil because he does evil. It’s like 2 is 2 because it’s 2.

  6. The devil gets a bad rap. He’s the hero…the bringer of knowledge, exploration, curiosity, etc etc. He’s the west’s Prometheus or Icarus.

    Rest of the list leaves a bit to be desired, but of those I’d go with the Joker. Yea he’s insane, but that frees him of any inhibitions re: the lengths he’ll go to be a villainous monster.

  7. @shanek: That’s probably because there are just a lot of Ba’als.

    As to the villain list, The Joker is awesome as a villain, but only in certain incarnations (the Heath Ledger Joker for example). Vader, yeah he’s a total tool, but I wouldn’t want to mess with him. Luthor, never really considered him as much of a villain, King Pin was a better villain ultimately. Also where are the Marvel Universe villains, you listed all of two comic book villains and both are DC. The Devil suffers from the same problem as the Joker, it’s dependent on version. As far as great villains, I’m gonna go with Bomb Queen or the Mayor in “The Walking Dead” as far as comic book villains go. Then there is Evil Ash from Army of Darkness, not terribly bad ass but entertaining. And as a reference to the favorite bad movie thread, Skeletor.

  8. The devil has great potential as a villain, but only if you fill in the details and flesh him out. As is, he’s fairly incoherent (much like the book in which he appears). I thought he’d make a great anti-hero: a champion of freeing the individual from the oppressions of an overbearing creator – who just happens to feel the ends justify the means.

    I always loved Darth Vader – before those hideous prequels were created. If I pretend those never happened, Darth is good stuff.

  9. Does “The Master” from Manos count? Granted, the only reason he’s a bad villain is that the film he’s in is bad beyond belief…but still.

    Otherwise, out of that list I’d go with the Devil because he’s the only one with a real agenda. The Joker, especially in recent versions, is an agent of chaos…it’s unpredictable, yes, but being caught in one of his schemes is more or less chance.

    Lex Luthor is a traditional corrupt, megalomaniacal tycoon/genius…out for only his own gain. Most people don’t have TOO much to fear from him unless you happen to prevent his self-aggrandization.

    Vader was a better villain before Lucas showed us his motivations. Once the whole thing was unveiled he became less of a villain and more of a semi-tragic perpetual adolescent. He was a tool of something larger but, again, only really a problem for elite troublemakers or people whose aims conflicted with those of the emperor.

    The devil, meanwhile, is the only one whose motivation to do evil is not solely personal or organizational gain. Sure, he had his whole “rebellion against god” thing, but his goal is to make EVERYONE suffer eternally. He’s not out for his own gain, he’s not attacking at random, he’s not propping up anyone else’s plans. He’s simply out to RUIN your life and, eventually AFTERLIFE. That makes him the worst villain on this list.

  10. I think the best way to judge them is 1)how evil they are and 2)why they’re evil.

    The Devil is probably the most evil (in terms of ‘deeds’ attributed to him) however I think I must agree with Gabrielbrawley. The Joker is evil just for the sake of being evil. He thrives on chaos and exists only to disturb.

    However, that being said, my assessment is based primarily on their characteristics as imaginary beings. The Devil, while being still entirely fictional, is used to instill very real and gripping fear into millions of actual (not fictitious) people.

    So while he may not actually be responsible (how can he be, he’s not real) he is used in the most grotesque fashion to intellectually terrorize flesh-and-blood humans. That, my friends, is evil. Pure and simple.

  11. @shanek:

    He actually did add “or other” but I thought it was stupid to list four choices then add “other”.

    I have very little to contribute to this conversation except to say that I’m pretty sure my MIL tops any villain you can come up with.

  12. Depends on how you define “greatest villain.” Devil might do in terms of amount of real damage/evil inflicted. But greatest in that you might actually want to be him despite the fact that he’s evil, well that’s DV for sure.
    Not mentioned but needs to be on the list: Sauron and You Know Who. I’d add Saruman as well ’cause it hurts ever so much more when a trusted leader defects to the dark side.

  13. The Devil is only a bad guy if you ask the religious people. Devil worshipers seem to think he’s pretty ok.

    Of the others, I’d go with Joker.

    BUT the best villain ever was, is and always shall be Kahn. As in Wrath of. Absolutely the coolest villain ever.

  14. The Devil … “The devil’s greatest trick it to make you believe that he doesn’t exist” – C.S. Lewis/Verbal Kint (The Usual Suspects, which is a great film, by the way) … And look at what a great job he’s doing right here!

    And by the way, Darth Vader wasn’t REALLY evil.

  15. HAL9000.

    The greatest villain of all time. There was no joy in what HAL was doing. Only it’s idea of logic.

    “Open the pod bay doors HAL.”
    “I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave.”

    No hate. No anger. No joy. Only a statement.

  16. LOL at the devil and the Oud. :D

    Some Canadian Skeptic, I counter your Sauron with Saruman. Saruman turned away from good to do evil, and didn’t even have the excuse of the Ring screwing with his head for a few centuries. Just the IDEA of the Ring was enough for him to trade in his white cowboy hat for a black one.

    (Although the pre-Episode I-III Darth Vader gets my vote for worst villain, just because it’s of how he cuts off people’s air supply when they disagree with him. Can you imagine if politicians had that power? Of course, if they did, the debates would be much shorter …)

  17. Steve:

    “For me, the best villain is someone with intelligence, style and total contempt for humanity.”

    As I said: Roger Delgado’s Master! Come on—that guy could out-style Hannibal any day of the week and twice on Beltane!

  18. Ok, Some really good candidates listed here but I think I have the ultimate real world villain;

    Dick Cheney

    Go ahead, disagree with me on that one.

    As far as fictional bad-guys, I found the Borg Queen to be pretty chilling. She wanted to assimilate all humanity to be her mindless cyborgs and made the attempt with a smile on her terminator-like face…Bitch! :)

  19. @Improbable Bee: I stand by my Sauron comment, and here’s why:

    Sauron, as the first of the Maiar, was the direct progeny (or sorts) of Melkor/Morgoth, who was the most powerful of the Valar, and was basically made of pure evil. Sauron was by far the most powerful of the Maiar, and learned all his evil ways from Morgoth.

    Saruman was also of the Maiar, (although of much less power than Sauron) and as head of the Istari, he was indeed good, and went way-bad. As you say, it was enough of the lure of the ring to make him go bad….but Sauron made that ring….that’s one badass piece of jewelry that make a Maiar sent from the Undying Lands to pretect Middle Earth from the lingering threat of Sauron. Saurman is weak-willed, causing him to cash in his good-guy chips at the first possibility of power and dominion over others, but it was the evil of Sauron that swayed him in the first place. Actually, it was the evil embued within an evil wedding-band that swayed him.

    Saruman is a thug compared to Sauron. He’s the Diet Coke of evil. Just one calorie, not evil enough.

    My Geek-Fu is strong.

    Also, I like Diet Coke.

  20. On second thought, I might also name Rebecca to the list of ultimate evil real-world villains because she has lured me into the world of you godless heathens and I enter drooling at her black-hearted awesomeness.

    Rebecca, I am your slave…

    hehehe…that was fun :)

  21. Cthulhu, anyone?
    H.G.Well’s alien invaders from The War of the Worlds?
    Species 8472 from Star Trek-Voyager?
    The Alien(s) of Sigourney Weaver fame?

    Of the ones mentioned as choices, I think I would go with Heath Ledger’s Joker (moment of silence for Heath Ledger’s tragically short career, please). His Joker is absolutely chilling for his evil genius. He does evil because he is evil. No other reason or motivation is necessary.

    Until Episodes 1 -3, I would have said Vader. Someone needs to tell George Lucas that sometimes too much backstory can be fatal.

  22. How about Glory? I mean… a god that is so awesomely bad and twisty to boot.

    Although the clown from IT scared me as a kid.

    Crimson King? Not so much.

    Really though, I always found humans that act out evil simply because they can to be the scariest of all villains.

    But…. Off that list… I would go with Satan/the Devil because of longevity, fear inducing behavior, and universal appeal. He has to get points for being represented in so many cultures. Although…. He is sounding an awful lot like God… maybe they are the same entity…

  23. OK, so I suggested this after I heard about the insanity that ensued regarding Wolverine and Batman.

    Thanks everyone, you did not disappoint.

    Besides, I never gave her the greatest villain of all time (although you think she would know since it is one half of the reason we started dating).

  24. I don’t know how you read the bible but too me the Devil is the good guy.

    Good bad guys

    The Joker
    Darth Vader
    Kaisersoze
    Hannibal Lecter
    Q
    The Borg
    Professor Moriarty
    Leso Varen (Magician fame, fantasy novel)

  25. It has to be Freeza. Here is a guy powerful enough to, even in his weakest form, completely destroy large planets, something he did often and with impunity. He ruled a large galactic empire of planets that were conquered using armies formed from planets that he previously destroyed or subjugated. He is completely ruthless and kills with the slightest provocation, or with none at all.

    His character is mentally and emotionally complex, as are his motivations. His desire for immortality, his hidden fear of the people he already destroyed, his desire to dominate and expand his empire.

    Plus, he’s just super badass.

  26. Alright…funny story about me and the Devil. I actually learned a different story than most of my Christian friends…and I find it hilarious.

    Ha. So my grandparents are Mormon, and as a small child, whenever I visited them, I had to go to Mormon Sunday school. I learned that Lucifer used to be Lucifel before he fell. He was a son of God as well….like all of the other angels in heaven. All of them were the children of God. So when God chose Jesus to go to Earth… Lucifel got extremely jealous and rebelled against Jesus, God, and Heaven. He separated himself from Heaven and made Hell….while taking about half of Heaven with him. This is when his name changed to Lucifer and all of his followers became fallen angels/demons.

    ….I told that story at a party once (ha) and I got quite of few people amazed because they had never heard that story before. I honestly thought that was the story of the discovery of Hell in the Bible. Is that even close to what it is in the Bible?

    ….and I told myself that I was never going to let Mormonism influence my life. HA. Even in my beautiful atheist world…I get my stories wrong. =p

  27. Easy, the Joker…or at least the Frank Miller Joker.

    Here is my logic: Batman cannot for some reason ever put The Joker down for good, and Batman is more powerful than Wolverine. Wolverine is uncrushable with Darth Vader’s force, plus a whiny Luke managed to hack off Vader’s arm and he didn’t have six blades in his hands. The Devil doesn’t exist in the Star Wars realm so Vader would win instantly against a non-existant enemy. And the Devil would destroyed by Superman once he realized that the Devil incinerated Lex Luther.

    So…….when you break it all down, the Joker reigns supreme on those other beeyotches ;)
    Fantastic question dELYSEious. ~

  28. @nighean_ruaidhe: Yeah, the problem is that the bible really doesn’t contain a story regarding the fall of Satan, mentions the name Lucifer once, and the story that is often detailed as being that of the fall is actually a reference to the planet Venus (the Morning Star which rises every evening and falls every night). Mostly the story of the fall of Lucifer/Satan is a word of mouth sort of thing that originated during the Babylonian exile when the ancient Jews were moving more and more towards a strictly Monotheistic religion with an all loving God and away from the Polytheistic/Henotheistic religion of their ancestors. Basically they followed the example of their Babylonian overlords’ religion (Zoroastrianism) and started accepting the idea of an anti-God that was all evil as a complement to the all loving primary God. Of course, attempting to be monotheistic resulted in the Jews not accepting Satan as a god in his own right, but he is essentially the power-equal to God, even if no religious person is willing to accept it.

  29. Within the limited list provided, I’d have to go with the Joker (Heath Ledger version that is). Luthor, Satan, Vader, they all have plans, designs, codes, and are therefor to some degree predictable, their machinations avoidable by the protagonist. The Joker is pure anarchic sociopathy. He’s just out to stir the pot, why? because it’s fun, that’s why, and that’s it. Hard to plan for that.

  30. The latest incarnation of the Joker, hands down. The Dude is Freaky. Indifferent to all life, including his own, crafts vast, intelligent, plans with no point but mental anguish, served up with unsettling, smart nihilism and knifeplay by a guy that looks like hell.

    Lex Luthor is perennially ineffectual, Vader is redeemed, and the Devil only ever manage to kill the six members of Job’s family and talk Jesus out of his pseudo-suicide.

    As for some of the others, they don’t actually inspire fear or awe-usually because their portrayals lacked enough verisimilitude to actually inspire fear and awe. Committing to paper a Really Bad Guy with Real Super-Duper Nasty Powers does not a villain make. Cthulu and Sauron both get rattled around as the scariest boys in town-but never really deliver. Being the head of a mythic order of badasses doesn’t count for much unless we can conjure in our mind a place where those badasses mean bad news for us. At a certain point the talk wears thin. Truth be told, not many sci-fi villains seem to pan out-the opportunity to simple conjure high-powered unobtanium boomsticks and trails of cosmic destruction from whole cloth seems to get lots of writers off the hook of actually scaring us. Species 8472 was written to beat the Borg, did in fine deus ex machina form, and left. Oh, and they had Mean Telepathic Thoughts. Ooooo. I love Khan, but he’s too goofy by half. Same with the Daleks and Scorpio. The Borg would have been in sight of the list if Voyager hadn’t watered them down into oblivion so Captain Katie could escape in the nick of time. I like Q, but he’s not villainous-mischievous, yes, problematic, certainly, but he’s never really put anyone into harm’s way without patching it up or having cause.

    Of the suggestions, Anton Chiggr (sp?) from No Country for Old Men, Hannibal, and the Alien all earned their keep-implacable, inscrutable, unpredictable, and all ready to do you kinds of harm that are real enough to inspire genuine fear.

  31. Lex Luthor, isn’t even a villian. Like all right thinking people, he hates superman’s smug superiority and wants to see him taken down a notch. He’s an antihero.

    Longevity and scope… the Devil. He’s been extant for several thousand years and is indirectly responsible for all evil, including the Joker. But is he more disturbing than the Joker?

    In terms of Body Count, you have to give Vader his props. Almost 2 billion dead on Alderaan alone. On the other hand, the actual order was given by someone else, so Vader was really more of a bystander. He did kill a bunch of kids, though, and that’s creepy.

    But not as creepy as the Joker.

    Heath’s Ledger’s Joker brought creepy to new, twisted dimensions of creeptivity, bringing a sort of… rationale the villian thing. The Joker is your worst nightmare, the meaningless destruction of everything and everyone you love.

  32. @Ooxman:
    You should include John Edward along with the Sylvia Witch. That slime bag’s show actually airs out of the facility at which I work (and you thought I was gonna dangle that participle).

    The Master Control Operators (MCOs), to their credit, hate that show.

  33. @Kimbo Jones:
    True. As all my friends know, I like my spelling mistakes like I like my fig leaves: strategically placed.

    @sethmanapio: Well, Lex was one of the leaders of the “Secret Society of Super Villains”. Seems super-villany to me. Also, if you don’t get to be called a super-villain by trying to control the earth and kill Superman multiple times, then what the heck does it take?

    On a totally unrelated topic, I’m going to shave my head and kill Tom Welling.

  34. @wytworm: The ‘equal in power’ thing is more of an observation than a fact based on what Christians believe. They treat Satan, unintentionally, as though he is somehow powerful enough to take on their all-powerful god. I mean, just ask a Christian why their God hasn’t done away with Satan. They generally waffle over the explanation trying to claim that he is somehow necessary or some such. The fall, as I did explain is derived from a story in the old testament (Psalms I think) detailing the rise and fall of the Morning Star (Venus) every day. It’s been expanded on a bit and altered, and if they want to claim the fall happened because Satan wasn’t as powerful as God then fine, but the reason Satan is even considered a villain has more to do with the God/Anti-God dichotomy of Zoroastranism than anything found in the Bible.

  35. I concede that it is a temptation to think that way, but:
    1: Wasn’t it an army of angles as well as Satan rebelling? Hardly necessary if he even approached the power of God. We can look to Tolkein for an explanation: Eru vs Melkor – Melkor sang in dissonance with Eru’s song but that dissonance was allowed to remain as a counterpoint to and an illumination for Eru’s pure themes.

    I think Satan’s power was critical thought and perhaps a lack of humility. The first ‘Skeptic’?

  36. @wytworm: true, but God had his own army of angels (led by the Archangel Michael) at his side as well. Seems rather odd that he would need that if he was the most powerful being in the universe. It is possible for a fall to happen between two beings of equal power, I mean hell, it happens all the time on Dragon Ball Z :D

  37. Also, if you don’t get to be called a super-villain by trying to control the earth and kill Superman multiple times, then what the heck does it take?

    ——————

    Well, first off, trying to kill Superman isn’t a bad thing as such. That self-righteous bastard has it coming to him. And trying to control the earth? Doesn’t everybody want to rule the world? Luthor gets a bad rap.

  38. Well, the universe is supposedly God’s show, isn’t it? Isn’t God supposed to be the ultimate authority in the universe? It seems ridiculous to me that an omnipotent being would need an army to do anything. Why not just will Satan and his army into oblivion?

    Of course, that begs the question that if he is omniscient, why didn’t he simply foresee and forestall the whole thing?

  39. @QuestionAuthority: This of course ultimately assumes that God wants to do away with Satan, for as wytworm pointed out earlier

    We can look to Tolkein for an explanation: Eru vs Melkor – Melkor sang in dissonance with Eru’s song but that dissonance was allowed to remain as a counterpoint to and an illumination for Eru’s pure themes.

    I didn’t bother to respond to this statement as I see it as reasonable within a mythic setting, it only makes God look like an ass if he happens to be real.

  40. I thought the whole point of Armageddon as described in the Bible was to get rid of/incarcerate Satan. If so, it seems much more efficient to this mere human for God to just say “I’m God, make it so*,” rather than summon up an unnecessary army of angels to do battle. What is this, “The Bible as written by Cecil B. DeMille, starring Charleton Heston as God?” ;-)

    My point above was that:
    a) an omnipotent, omniscient god does not stand up logically, and
    b) the Satan story doesn’t, either.

    * Patrick Stewart cast as God? Nawwww. I can’t picture that.

  41. Does any of this Satan fights god when he was an angle show up in the bible. I don’t think the jews had a concept of hell or of the devil prior to christians borrowing it from the heathans. If it is in the bible somewhere I would like to read that bit.

  42. @Gabrielbrawley: No. The Jewish concept of Satan (at least prior to the Babylonian exile) was that of what could be considered a Prosecuting Attorney. After the Exile the Hellenistic Jews (not necessarily all of the Jews though) started pushing for the idea of a sort of anti-God/fallen angel, pulling largely from Zoroastranism (the religion of the Babylonians).

  43. I think you would start even further back and have to ask, why bother with creation at all? If God was ‘Omniscient’, it couldn’t be to learn anything right?

    So given that within the framework of the story, God created the universe and its inhabitants for reasons we do not know, can we atempt to answer:

    Why create/allow Satan to exist?
    Why give mankind the ability to choose to do wrong or evil?

    Is there a benefit to asking questions that are fundamentally unanswerable?

    To understand that is to ‘get’ the whole thing = wisdom of a sort.

  44. Luthor seeks personal power and despises the alien (Superman) in our midst. He is ruthless but willing to put aside his vendetta for the greater good where it serves his purposes.

    Vader was a scared little boy corrupted by overwhelming power who lashed out at those who denied him. The prequel series completely spoiled his villainy.

    The Joker is thoroughly insane or using the idea of insanity to escape the law. His actions are unpredictable and vicious. More importantly he has no limits in what he won’t do.

    Satan, the devil, isn’t a villain at all. The biblical account is that he is either the advocate tasked with opposing God’s plan in order to test it or a challenger to the absolute rule of God cast down for his presumption. At least that’s how I read it although I admit that I might be getting mixed up with Dante. My bad. Dante’s much more entertaining literature though so I’m hardly at fault for enjoying it more.

    In conclusion, the Joker is the greatest villain of all time.

  45. I think there’s a late essay where Tolkien decides that Sauron was actually more psychopathically evil than Morgoth.

    However my vote goes to Donaldson’s Lord Foul. When did Morgoth ever come up with anything as creatively corrupt and corrupting as the Sunbane?

  46. Crowley from Good Omens. Found ways to cause evil on massive scales just by pissing people off and letting them do the rest. Oh, and he adjusted road markers so people driving a particular road (I forget which one, I really need to read that book again) are chanting a satanic incantation every time they drive it.

  47. @Amanda:

    I’m with Amanda. It’s got to be YHWH. What a sadistic, brutal character.

    Satan appears to be a heroic character, although sometimes a bit of a trickster. He’s like Prometheus. He vainly challenges the arbitrary, and apparently absolute, authority of the king of the gods.

    I am a Hedge

Leave a Reply

You May Also Enjoy

Close
Close