10 Best criminally-insane comic book villains

(Image credit: DC)

Yes, the majority of comic book villains are at least a little bit crazy. You'd kind of have to be, if you choose to oppose the average ultra-powerful superhero. But these ones take "crazy" to a whole new level a scary, dangerous, often downright disturbing level and in the process, make for some classic stories.

With the Joker breaking out into solo movie stardom last year and DC exploring the character more than ever in their pages, we're taking a look at the Clown Prince of Crime and some like-minded antagonists from across the comic book industry.  

And yes, you can probably guess who topped our list.

10. Vicente

(Image credit: IDW Publishing)

He may or may not be the father of all vampires, but Vicente from IDW's 30 Days of Night is one bad, bad man.

There's all the usual stuff you'd expect out of a very old vampire: torture, murder, eating people, but when the plan went sour in Barrow, Alaska, that's when Vicente showed just what he was willing to do to protect his kind and his crazy.

Wholesale slaughter, plans to blow up the Alaskan pipeline, and lots and lots of blood are all involved, but Vicente was thankfully killed in the end. Of course, that just made way for his wifey, Lilith, to show the world what a crazy vampire could really do.

9. The Jackal

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Yes, the Jackal is the villain behind Spider-Man's infamous clone saga. But that's not why he's on this list. Professor Miles Warren represents, to an extreme degree, a quality needed to make a truly insane villain: Obsession.

He has cloned Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy and himself countless times, to various villainous ends, and was recently involved in the "Spider-Island" story that gave all of Manhattan a twisted version of Spider-Man's powers.

At this point, he's cloned himself so many times that it's not even clear which Jackal is the "real" Miles Warren or if the original is even still alive.

8. Doctor Light

(Image credit: DC)

Doctor Light was mainly seen as something of an afterthought for the first 40 or so years of his existence. Then came Identity Crisis.

In that series, his reputation was cemented as one of the most despicable villains in the history of superhero comics, as he was revealed to have raped Sue Dibny, the civilian wife of the Elongated Man. This then changed the way Doctor Light was portrayed in subsequent appearances, from being a fairly lighthearted foil to a brutal sexual criminal.

Eventually, he got what was coming to him in the form of judgment from the Spectre who turned him into a candle and melted him to death.

7. Purple Man

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Mind control is a fairly typical superpower in comic books, but Purple Man takes it to creepier levels than any character before.

First a Daredevil villain, Purple Man's recent appearances have mostly been connected with Jessica Jones, the former superhero who became a private detective in the pages of Marvel's mature readers series Alias.

In that book, Purple Man was revealed to have controlled her over an uncomfortably long period of time, eventually sending her her to kill Daredevil. A case of mistaken identity ended up leaving Jones in a coma, and retired from superhero-ing.

Even then, Purple Man couldn't leave well enough alone, and went after Jones once again except she was able to resist, helping her to move her life forward in a much more positive direction.

6. The Guardians of the Universe

(Image credit: DC Comics)

Desiring no more greed or violence or evil or chaos in the universe, these little blue men at the center of it all decided emotion was the problem. So, they created an army of androids to police the DC Universe. Of course, the Manhunters, devoid of emotion, wiped out an entire sector of sentients.

If that's not crazy, then how about their next move? Harness willpower, and use the central tenet of emotion to police the universe. That spawned super police using rage, avarice, fear, hope, compassion, and love, but that's not all simply because of fate, the Guardians let essentially the embodiment of death come into the world and raise the dead, kill a lot more, and generally torture everyone.

Without so much as a "my bad," now the Guardians are creating soulless husks in their "Third Army." They may not be the traditional villains, but these little blue men are sadistic to a fault.

5. Black Mask

(Image credit: DC)

Roman Sionis is dead, but his legacy lives on.

As sadistic as they come, Roman started early. Just after high school, because his parents didn't like his girlfriend, he burned them to death in their own home. After he was struck by lightning trying to raid his parents' crypt, his unique brand of crazy made him think it was a sign that he needed to become even crazier and a crime lord.

The worst moment, though, came when Black Mask tortured young Stephanie Brown, then Robin, apparently to death.

 Jeremiah Arkham (yes, of those Arkhams) lost his mind himself thanks to his constant dealings with the criminally insane, and actually wound up taking over the identity (and murderous intention) of the original.

4. Green Goblin

(Image credit: Marvel)

Norman Osborn is one of those frustrating crazy villains, because if he ever got his act together, he would likely be able to do a lot of good for the Marvel Universe.

He's come close: Before becoming Spider-Man's archnemesis, was once a wildly successful scientist and businessman, and during Marvel's "Dark Reign" he even managed to become the head of national security as the commander of S.H.I.E.L.D. replacement H.A.M.M.E.R.

But it never lasts too long for Norman, as the Green Goblin personality always manages to pop back up leading him right back to his old habits, like throwing Spider-Man's girlfriends off bridges.

Tellingly, the Green Goblin's insanity has corrupted generations, starting with his perpetually troubled son, Harry, and extending to Gabriel and Sarah Stacy, the twins he fathered with Gwen Stacy Peter Parker's aforementioned girlfriend that got thrown off the bridge. A tangled web, indeed.

3. Kevin

(Image credit: Dark Horse Comics)

He was mute "by choice", standing in the shadows, only his glasses reflection glinting to indicate his existence. If you were a sex worker in Sin City, you did not want to see Kevin come around. When Kevin took a victim, he chained them up, ate them piece by piece (usually keeping them alive long enough to suffer), and then came the dot of his psychotic "i", wherein he mounted their heads to the wall like a trophy buck.

This is one creepy character already just on the printed page, even down to when he was finally thwarted, but sat and smiled the whole time he was being cut to pieces. Then in 2005, he was brought to life by Elijah Wood in the Sin City film, making Frodo's longing glances forever a little more sinister.

2. The Governor

(Image credit: Image Comics)

It's hard to pick one thing about The Governor, the ruler of the town of Woodbury in The Walking Dead that's a stand-out "crazy and scary" villain moment. So let's just do this list one by one. If you're only watching the TV show and haven't been reading the book, be wary of spoilers coming here, as The Governor is a central character in the coming Season three.

He keeps his zombie daughter alive, feeding people from his own town to her (not to mention passers-by). He cuts off Rick Grimes' hand, and he chains up Michonne and along with his cohorts beats and rapes her, repeatedly.

And finally, when it seemed he was down and out, he managed to martial his forces, attack the prison, and kill not just Lori, but her and Rick's brand new baby girl.

The Governor didn't just do all this, but he did it all with ease, with righteousness, and with no regret, guilt, or impunity. The Governor is without a doubt scary, crazy, and one of the downright nastiest villains comic books have ever seen. If it wasn't for the matter of a certain guy with a certain smile...

1. The Joker

(Image credit: DC)

When it comes to crazy and scary villains, the Joker is the archetype not just for comic books, but fiction in general.

A walking agent of chaos, Joker doesn't "play by his own rules" he refuse to acknowledge anything that structured. While others kill to get ahead in life or due to a personal vendetta, the Joker does it simply to get a laugh. It's what's made him the perfect counterpoint to Batman, who enforces order and lives by a strict moral code.

In the comic books, his brutal and bizarre crimes including shooting and paralyzing Batgirl, murdering Commissioner Gordon's wife (in front of dozens of kidnapped infants), beating second Robin Jason Todd to death with a crowbar, and even becoming an ambassador from the fictional terrorist state of Qurac.

And then there's his legacy in film and TV, including indelible portrayals like Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance in 2008's The Dark Knight and Mark Hamill voicing the character in Batman: The Animated Series and multiple other projects.

So, no, it's not a surprise that the Joker was at the top of this list, but with a track record dating back more than 70 years, who could hope to compete?

I'm not just the Newsarama founder and editor-in-chief, I'm also a reader. And that reference is just a little bit older than the beginning of my Newsarama journey. I founded what would become the comic book news site in 1996, and except for a brief sojourn at Marvel Comics as its marketing and communications manager in 2003, I've been writing about new comic book titles, creative changes, and occasionally offering my perspective on important industry events and developments for the 25 years since. Despite many changes to Newsarama, my passion for the medium of comic books and the characters makes the last quarter-century (it's crazy to see that in writing) time spent doing what I love most.