By Teague Bohlen
For being one of the foremost super-teams in comics, the Justice League has never really had much in the way of classic villains. Individually, some have arch-enemies that gang up on them, and form various Secret Societies or Injustice Leagues or whatever, but in the end, most of the JLA’s best villains are nameless threats from vague and alien sources—not so much personalities. What individual characters the Justice League does have in its rogues gallery aren’t much to speak of—and some are just downright not scary at all. Like the following ten, for example.
10) Jest-Master, Justice League of America #81
The sole survivor of a planet whose population fell victim to madness-inducing plague, Jest-Master decided it was his duty to “test” other civilizations to see if they could survive the same thing. (This decision—along with the one to call himself “Jest-Master”—obviously draws into question how well he actually escaped the effects of said plague.) For a pretty minor villain with an equally minor villainous stature, Jest-Master has actually had a substantial effect on the DC Universe; he was the one who “cured” Jean Loring of her insanity, which set the stage for her to relapse (and spectacularly) in Identity Crisis. Still, the mad-villain thing is so passé, and with all his giggling and guffawing, it’s tough to take this guy seriously. And the green jumpsuit and purple hoodie cape aren’t helping, either.
9) The Key, Justice League of America #41
I know, Grant Morrison supposedly brought this guy back to the ranks of cool, but yeah, he didn’t really. He just created a whole new guy and called him the Key. This is the real Key: ridiculous theme-villain all the way. (Somehow, themes are more forgivable when you’re a Bat-villain—penguins, riddles, cats, jokers, hats, clocks, calendars, the number two, whatever you got, bring it on.) What really sets this guy apart is the fact that he gets up every morning in his bad guy lair—called the Key Hole and hidden in an abandoned locksmith company, natch—gets up out of his padlock-shaped bed, picks up his key-gun, and puts on whatever in the hell that hat’s supposed to be. Now there’s a villain that’s not going to keep you up at night, at least if you have a chain on the door.
8) Queen of Fables, JLA 47
In what was a somewhat cynical attempt to cash in on the mythology-loving, Gaiman-worshipping, Vertigo-devoted Sandman audience, the Queen of Fables was brought into the JLA rogues gallery in 2000. She’s your run-of-the-mill evil sorceress, with the ability to turn New York City into a fairy-tale parody of itself (which, frankly, the city is doing just fine accomplishing on its own, thanks). Perhaps her only saving grace is that should she ever be tapped to appear in a Justice League movie, she could easily be played by Tim Curry.
7) Qwsp, Aquaman #1
Qwsp is starting with a few strikes against him from the start. He’s yet another in a long line of other-worldly beings (Mr. Mxyzptlk, Bat-Mite, the Great Gazoo), he was a former ally of Aquaman (none of whom ever seem to fare well, even aside from the automatic reduction in notoriety that comes from being an ally of Aquaman), and he looks far too much like the very-wrong love child of the Wonder Twins. Then he goes crazy, creates a war between genie princes Yz and Lks from the 5th dimension (they come here because they covet our vowels), and gets banished for “a million infinities” (which sounds like something a six-year-old would say, but whatever). Add to that the fact that his name sounds like a breakfast cereal, and yeah, five strikes, and you’re out in the scary villain game.
6) Plant Master, Atom #1
Granted, any guy with plant-based powers is working uphill from the get-go. So you have to give Jason Woodrue credit for trying, at least. I mean, “talk to plants” is only slightly more useful than “feel empathy with paint” or “move small objects using only one hand." But really, the guy just keeps messing up, since he later changed his name to Floronic Man—and really, if you’re going to choose your own name, you definitely want to avoid anything that rhymes with “moronic” or anything like it. Just ask the Bat-villain Ducking Shumfit.
5) Monocle, Flash #64
Jonathan Cheval was a humble optometrist until he was cheated out of his business—at which point he invented powered versions of his namesake eyewear and went out to wreak vengeance on anyone who’d wronged him. (Or dared to ask why he was dressed like a magician/vampire.) He fought the League while a member of the Secret Society of Super-Villains, but really, can someone be all that frightened of a villain who can pretty much be completely defeated by saying “gimme that” and grabbing his glasses?
4) Amos Fortune, Justice League of America #6
Come on. Look at this guy. He’s a tubby, aging scientist—Doc Ock without the arms. He’s an inventor, so maybe he should put that evil genius to work on equally evil fat-burning plans: maybe an atomic-powered Thighmaster, or a cunning eating plan to rival the efficacy of Jenny Craig, or Olestra. Amos Fortune may in fact be the only villain who could actually be stopped in his nefarious tracks by tossing him a Hostess product.
3) Brain Storm, Justice League of America #32
Professor Axel Storm’s helmet draws in “stellar energy” that not only allows him to project “star-bolts” as weapons that control people and things, but also augments to untold heights the natural genius that built the helmet in the first place. Sadly, one of the major limitations of the hyper-intelligence bestowed by the helmet? Still not being smart enough to build a less silly-looking helmet.
2) Psycho-Pirate I & II, All-Star Comics #23 & Showcase #56
The stupidest thing about the first Psycho-Pirate was that he was a little old newspaper typesetter with delusions of grandeur. The stupidest thing about the second Psycho-Pirate was that there was a second Psycho-Pirate.
1) Starro the Conqueror, Brave and the Bold #28
Sometimes, a team’s first villain becomes a classic (Magneto). Sometimes, not so much (Mole Man). The Justice League's first villain, Starro? Definitely second category. Put aside for the moment that “Starro” sounds like one of Rainbow Brite’s friends, and that just putting “the Conqueror” after a silly name like that only highlights the goofiness. (Snarf the Conqueror? Orko the Conqueror? Shmoo the Conqueror?) The real thing that makes Starro just ridiculous is that he’s a giant starfish. Starfish—or “sea stars,” for the rabidly aquatically-correct—are quite possibly the least frightening creatures on the planet. They just sit there. They do nothing that could approach any harm to humans, aside from perhaps making us momentarily sad that in collecting them from the sea, we actually killed them slowly through desiccation. Sure, this starfish has body-snatcher mental powers and all that, with the face-hugging alien schtick, yadda, yadda, yadda…but in the end, can you be all that scared of something that can end up decorating the Justice League trophy room like it was a something they picked up from the world's largest Pottery Barn?