"Superman doesn't have any good villains!"
"A hero is only as good as their villains!"
"Why do all of Superman's villains suck?"
I get around. I hear stuff. And a lot of what I hear has some basis in truth. The sad fact is that certain mediums are just more... important than others. Superman's rogues gallery has gotten pretty big over the near-century he's existed, but only a fraction of his enemies have escaped the pages of comics.
Now, obviously, I am a big fan of comics, and I know a good few of these villains. What they're capable of, how they challenge Clark Kent, and why they are better, or at least equal, villains compared to... certain others.
But I digress, slightly. The point I'm trying to make is that, while Superman himself has had a great amount of films -- both live action and animated -- his rogues gallery has barely been dipped into. The Man of Steel has had more feature-length brawls with Batman than, say, Bizarro. Hell, he has had rumbles with characters who are not even his rogues gallery at all; for instance, Black Adam, or The Elite.
So, the purpose of this to put a bit of a spotlight on a few of Kal-El's foes that have not been in a feature-length film, live action or otherwise. The underdogs who, despite being awesome foes in the comics, have had little to no attention in any other medium.
WHO?: At this rate, Lobo will get a movie of his own before he shows up as a Superman nemesis. He was skyrocketed into popularity when the baleful 1990's rolled around, to the surprise of absolutely nobody -- while Lobo started out as a Superman villain, he was a parody of Marvel's 'gritty' heroes, specifically Wolverine and the Punisher. Lobo used chains and hooks and guns, rode a motorcycle, smoked cigars, wore black leather, and had a cool Hulk Hogan mustache... so in the gloomy mindset of the 90's youth, obviously, nothing could be cooler.
Problem with Lobo is that he got... sorta too popular as time went on. He completely shed his status as a Superman rogue and, outside of the odd Action Comics appearance and his single episode spotlight during Superman: TAS, has pretty much left his days of battling the Man of Steel behind him. He had his own solo series for pretty much the entirety of the 90's, and nowadays he's even a part of Stormwatch (which seems a bit weird to me but hey, I haven't been reading the title).
WHAT DOES HE BRING TO A MOVIE?: In a movie Lobo could fill a lot of roles, though this film would likely have no choice to be a bit more light-hearted and comedic than some others. Lobo's funny at his core, and to quash that would make it more worthwhile to simply use another character.
However, not only is he a great source of humor, he's a great source of action. He's one of Supey's most powerful physical threats, and since he is nearly completely immortal this would lead to endlessly amazing brawls. Volleys of fully-automatic alien ammunition bouncing off of Clark's chest, gigantic planetary attacks that would seem devastating, but eventually leave their recipient striding (or riding) back out through the dust. The kind of brawls that these two could have in a film would be absolutely amazing and, done right, would leave audiences salivating.
Another thing Lobo brings to the table is SPACE. Superman is an alien, a space-hero, so why is he always grounded on Earth in his films? Even animated movies where new landscapes could be drawn just as easily as normal ones, he stays in Metropolis. And sure, that's his home city, and his humanity is a large theme of his core character. But honestly, besides the occasional glance at Krypton, why can't he get into some trouble on another planet? Lobo brings new planets as a necessity. Even if Czarnia is not used (and it shouldn't be, unless they are doing a lot of character-meddling), Lobo is an intergalactic bounty hunter. He has a motorcycle that is specifically designed for interstellar travel. A movie starring him will not be able to get away with staying in Metropolis, and it will benefit from it in a big way.
As I said though, this is wishful thinking. While Lobo very well may end up getting a movie of some sort, the chances of him starring as the lead villain in a Superman movie are approximately 0.15%... increased to 17.3% if you count animated films.
CASTING: I've already heard a few rumors milling around concerning Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being considered for the part, but I have absolutely no clue what may end up coming from that. Technically, I still feel like Dwayne would be better suited to play Black Adam – but I can't really think of anyone for Lobo right now, so I'll leave it at that.
2. MR. MXYZPTLK
WHO?: This one, I'm... well, not too sure about. He's goofy and awkward in his way, but there's no denying that he is an iconic enemy, especially among the older readership. Big in the Silver Age, Mr. Mxpshkdjfhak is a borderline-omnipotent, reality-warping, Fifth Dimensional Imp.
Oddly, considering how wacky and absurd the character seems in his futuristic orange jumpsuit and purple bowler hat, he is remarkably straightforward when you think about it. He's a trickster who comes in and wreaks havoc, which obviously only Superman can stop by tricking Mxy into saying his own name backwards (which is drastically less challenging than one may think). This sends the goofy little gnome back to his own world and prevents him from returning until, y'know, the next time he returns.
WHAT DOES HE BRING TO A FILM?: While an appearance from Mr. Mxyzpaodjlajdhkkll in a film would surely excite a lot of more oldschool fans, it would likely leave a sour taste in the mouths of newer readers who are expecting something more cerebral or action-packed. The only action that Mxy could bring about would likely be environmental, similar to what went on in Superman Returns – Supes would have to use his great power to repair constructs and rescue people before eventually using his amazing wits to trick the Fifth Dimensional Imp. This set-up would make for what would inevitably end up a flop, even in an animated film.
However, it isn't totally unheard of to see... um, 'revamps' done with certain characters. Turning Mxy into a more malicious creature who is more interested in doing evil than causing mischief may turn him into a more plausible villain, but at this point the essence of the character will be lost, and he may as well be replaced with a more popular and likable rogue. Sadly, I have to count this off as another loss as far as films go – Mr. Mxyzptlk (hey I got it right that time) may still be a lovable and popular rogue within the pages of Superman's comics, but his chances of getting into anything other than a low-budget animated film are all but nonexistent. He's simply too... silly, to use for a long and serious story arc that doesn't at least include another, more maliciously-minded supervillain.
CASTING: Wallace Shawn. Obviously.
Any comic reader who has even a cursory interest in Superman knows about it... Red Son, Kingdom Come, For The Man Who Has Everything – it's a huge story, written by Alan Moore.
Now, since it was written by Alan Moore, it wasn't entirely action-packed. It was steeped in emotion and the human condition and stuff like that, it was a deep look into the darker psychology of the Man of Steel, a story about loss and despair and hope and grief.
But a lot of people forget who was behind this story, for it starred a character besides Superman: it starred Mongul as the chief villain. Mongul hasn't been a huge threat to Superman since Crisis but then again, neither have a lot of people – it doesn't mean Mongul couldn't be used to great effect in a motion picture.
Now, a problem may be that Mongul Jr., the spawn of the original Mongul, has been tied deeply into the Green Lantern mythos for a while now, and that it is probably more likely that he'll end up there than in a Superman movie. Still, despite Junior being a star member of the Sinestro Corps, Daddy was an enemy of Kal-El, and boy did he lay a pounding on that poor little kryptonian farmboy.
WHAT DOES HE BRING TO A MOVIE?: Mongul, in his hey-day, was basically a more personal, less KNEEEEEEL-y version of Darkseid; he was big, he was beefy, he was yellow and the power of his punches alone were enough to make the Man of Steel feel pain.
He was also, however, an intellectual threat, which makes him an even more viable villain for a motion picture or other feature-length story. Mongul was a thinker, a planner, a warlord, and even on top of his great intellect and great strength he had another tool: Black Mercy.
This creates a full trifecta of villainy. Between Mongul's plotting and scheming, his ability to bring Superman to his knees, and his use of the alien Black Mercy plants to add a deep, painful, personal element to the conflict, he is very nearly ideal. Sprawling, city-destroying action, battles of wits (which can also show some of Superman's rarely-glimpsed intellect) and intense, aching storytelling makes for an obvious choice in a movie.
CASTING: Aw man. I'm bad at casting big guys like this. I don't want to range into pro wrestlers because it seems like a chump's way out, and there are just only so many gigantic lugs I know who are also decent actors. So I'll let the casting directors figure this one out, it is their job, after all.
WHO?: Brainiac is about as oldschool as it gets. In fact, when your neighbor asks if you need the kid down the street to fix your hard drive, and you say “Who, Mikey, that brainiac? He has pimples!” the word you are using (brainiac, not pimples or Mikey) is actually derived from this character... not the other way around.
Now, Brainiac has had... well, quite a few different origin stories, so I don't really feel like getting into all of those right now. The bottom line, however, is that he is a technological, artificial, robotic monster who can outclass Supes intellectually as well as take a good fight to him physically. He brings a lot to the table as a comic character and has shown up frequently – even far into the future, descendants of the same robotic intelligence are still alive (sometimes literally) and kicking.
WHAT DOES HE BRING TO A MOVIE?: In a movie, Brainiac is another omni-villain, for several reasons. Given that he has multiple backstories and none of them are all that sturdy, a new canon can be created and nobody's really going to blink, since most people have already forgotten what his last origin story was. This will allow the filmmakers to take as many liberties as they feel is necessary with the character, which should lead to incredible success.
He's Tough: It wouldn't take any effort to make Brainiac an extreme physical threat. Whether he goes full-robot like in JLU, with tentacles and rockets and drones and whatnot, or whether he is merely an enormous, suited, artificial alien who can lay an old-school pounding to the man of steel, he will be scary and impressive.
He's Smart: Very smart, in fact, considering that he collects technology from pretty much everywhere and has a high-level synthetic intellect. If Clark's brains come into play in the film, they will be severely challenged by an enemy like Brainiac.
A Deeper Glance at Krypton: In most incarnations (and almost assuredly in a movie) Brainiac is based on kryptonian technology and culture. So, in a movie like the recent Man of Steel where they want to look more closely at Krypton than Metropolis, Brainiac is a perfect tool to expose more about the alien planet.
CASTING: Considering the fact that Brainiac is artificial, you could easily get away with a lot of CGI. The perfect excuse to get away with utilizing his quintessential voice actor... Corey Burton.
WHO?: Who? WHO?! How could you even ask me a question like that?!
Bizarro is freaking BIZARRO. He is like, the Superman villain behind Luthor and Darkseid, a dark mirror of Kal-El, his opposite in every single way. Flame breath, freeze vision, all of that good stuff. Backwards talk. Yadda yadda yadda. You all know Bizarro, and if you don't, I need you to force your head through your computer screen and out mine so that I can give you the slapping you so obviously need.
Bizarro is disregarded by many, due to a series of very... well, terrible appearances. Like Aquaman and the Wonder Twins, Bizarro was ridiculously bad in the Justice Friends, and continued to have very mixed appearances. While he has been fun at times, such as in the Harley Quinn solo series and the Emperor Joker event, he has more often than not been the Rodney Dangerfield of supervillains – he gets no respect.
Despite the fact that he threw Solomon Grundy into the sun.
WHAT DOES HE BRING TO A MOVIE?: Potentially, everything. There isn't much more gripping in a comic book film than a sympathetic villain, and Bizarro has the potential to literally be the most sympathetic villain in history. Most people don't get this, don't see the potential, but one man has.
During Superman: The Animated Series, Bizarro made a few appearances. During these appearances he was destructive, chaotic, dangerous, and terrifying in his own way, attempting to destroy all of Metropolis and coming closer than anyone else had yet. But that wasn't what made him riveting... what made him a great character was that he believed he was doing the right thing. He thinks he's the hero and Superman is the villain, he believes that every outright damaged thing he does is actually what he should be doing to make the world a better place. A decent filmmaker can take this aspect and use it in a film, make you feel agonizingly sorry for the Thing of Steel as he goes about crushing the world before him – possibly trying to create a new Krypton, as he did in TAS, or some other reason (maybe to capture Lois, or to kill the “villain” Superman).
In addition to the fact that he can be sympathetic, a well-done Bizarro can be strangely “alien”. Whether by use of his backwards-talk or simply the way he acts, or perhaps the way his powers work, he will seem like a hulking, unusual, destructive mirror of the film's hero. He can also be hilarious and will assuredly be a great source of the film's humor (while not being sad or terrifying) – and then there's the action.
Flame breath vs. Ice breath, Freeze vision vs. Heat vision, equal-power beatdowns, destruction of cities and countrysides. Superman, here, can truly fight a foe who is his equal in every way, a monster who can use his powers in every awesome way we never get to see from Supes himself. He can throw people/things into the sun, lift buildings and whack Supes with them, punch things into the Earth's core, and all of that fun stuff.
CASTING: Whew boy, I dunno. Do we want him to look just like Supes? The idea of having the same actor play both the villain and the hero is kind of insane. I suppose it may be better to just go with a heavily-made-up beefcake in a gloomy, purplish Superman suit and make it look like he could be Superman if his face were a little different. That works, I suppose. Though I still don't know who we'd cast him as with Henry Cavill off the table. As I said, I'm bad at casting big guys.
6. HONORABLE MENTION – THE JOKER
WHO?: “What?! Why the hell is Joker on this list? Joker is a Batman villain, not a Superman villain! He doesn't belong on this list! He'll never be in a Superman movie!”
No, he won't. Not unless Hell freezes over (or we get an awesome animated film – that's possible).
“Plus, he has already been in movies! He doesn't fit the point of this list!”
He's been in movies – lots of them – but he hasn't been in any Superman movies. Nice loophole huh?
Anyway, I wasn't sure who else to add to this list, and I needed someone with a purple banner, and, well... it hit me. Despite the fact that the Man of Steel and the Clown Prince of Crime rarely collide, when they do... things are devastating. Joker has proven multiple times (though usually in non-canon scenarios, sadly) that he can be more than a match for Superman.
Emperor Joker: Hey, this one actually is canon! Joker steals Mr. Mxyzptlk's powers (or, at least, 99% of them) and proceeds to unmake reality. It is up to Superman to stop him, and honestly, he really never does. If it wasn't for Joker's own psychosis and need to have Batman, he would have unmade reality, and there was nothing the Big Blue Boyscout could have done about it.
Injustice: Gods Among Us: This is the most plausible scenario, and it's one I love. Joker uses a deadly combo of green kryptonite, Scarecrow's fear gas (murdering Scarecrow to get it), and a lead-lined Submarine, relying on the rest of the Justice League to speed things along and staying twelve steps ahead the entire time. When all is said and done, Lois Lane (and her unborn child) are both dead, killed by Clark's own hand. Things go downhill from there. There is no reason that Joker couldn't actually pull of something like that in a canon comic (or animated movie). Speaking of animated movies....
Superman/Batman: World's Finest: Written by Paul Dini and taking place in the DCAU, this one is pretty straightforward. Joker screws over Lex, and shows that he is a plenty sturdy threat to Superman, again in ways that are totally reasonable in a normal comic.
Justice League: Wild Cards: Another DCAU entry, in this one Joker takes on the entire Justice League. It isn't quite as much fun, or quite as believable as some of the other examples listed here, but it is another showing that, when he sets his mind to it, Joker is an immensely deadly threat to Superman. Without something truly world-breaking such as the death of Lois Lane, Superman is also going to keep on being a boyscout... and Joker is going to stay alive, keep breaking out of his sandbox, and keep coming back to play.
Now, I love Joker as a Batman villain, honestly. I just think it's time he cracked his knuckles and set to work on something he can have a bit more success with.
WHAT CAN HE BRING TO A MOVIE?: He can't. He will never be in a real Superman movie. This last entry is 100% wishful thinking.
CASTING: I'd like to see Troy Baker give it a shot. We already know that he can do the voice, and deliver the performance... but the creepy thing is that he also rather looks the part, doesn't he?
So, honestly, who needs Luthor anyway?
Credit for my lovely banners goes to @nico4ever.