10 Villains You've Never Heard Of (Who Are Smarter Than Lex Luthor)

Everybody obsesses about the Joker and the Green Goblin because they're ultra-famous — but sometimes the smartest villain is the one who flies beneath the radar. And some of the cleverest villains just didn't get the benefit of a big franchise. Here are 10 lesser-known villains who could outthink the famous baddies any day.

10. The Batwoman

Batwoman is now the name of Kate Kane, a superhero. She's not who I'm talking about. I'm talking about the Batwoman from about ten years ago, when DC released an animated movie called Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman. "Villain" is a strong word for this character, as she mostly goes after criminals. She does, however, do things like trying to shoot those criminals and blow them up, and so she became a Batman antagonist. If you want to find out why she's smarter than Luthor, you're going to have to get spoilers for the movie. So proceed to the next section with caution...

Why She's Smarter Than Lex Luthor:

"She" is three people, all with their own set of skills. They provide alibis for each other, share technology and abilities, and generally set out to confuse the police and Batman and get away with their scheme. Even when evidence turns up that links the three women, it's nothing that can convict any of them. A really good switcheroo villain is hard to come by, and Luthor's no good at teamwork.

10 Villains You've Never Heard Of (Who Are Smarter Than Lex Luthor)

9. Barracuda

Barracuda is a relatively well-known villain, and even had his own mini-series — but he's in his own corner of the comics universe and isn't likely to break into the mainstream. He's a character in the Punisher Max universe, written by Garth Ennis. At first he seems like a thug, brought in to be the heavy by smarter characters. Over time he becomes the character who comes closest to taking the Punisher down.

Why He's Smarter Than Lex Luthor:

Compared to Luthor, Barracuda has a much better ability to eyeball people and do a psychological rundown on them. He'd never be the type who would make a speech to Superman, trying to persuade him to "join me." Willing to play the amiable strongman for a corrupt businessman, he turns himself into a kind of kingmaker, scheming behind the scenes to overthrow his boss and put someone he can control on the throne. When we learn his backstory, we find him pulling the strings in whatever outfit he's running with, all while supposedly just being the heavy. While he lacks Luthor's ambition, he shares Luthor's fatal weakness — a private vanity that is outraged whenever it looks like a character is "better" than he is.

10 Villains You've Never Heard Of (Who Are Smarter Than Lex Luthor)

8. The Reach

One of the best runs in comics is the John Rogers and Rafael Albuquerque run on Blue Beetle. They created a story that is pretty much the platonic ideal of superhero comics. It includes not one, but two extraordinary villains — the second of which we will get to later. The Reach are a seemingly friendly alien power that makes contact with Earth, behaves impeccably, and is slowly revealed over the stretch of the run to be one of the most horrifying and sinister forces in the universe.

Why They're Smarter Than Lex Luthor:

The Reach are a bit like Lex Luthor's nightmare vision of Superman. They're an invading alien force with a friendly face. Over the series, we learn that their tactics include a planetary brainwashing that allows them to exploit a species without the species ever even realizing it. They're way subtler than Luthor, and with greater scope. Luthor just wants to run Earth, making him comparatively provincial.

10 Villains You've Never Heard Of (Who Are Smarter Than Lex Luthor)

7. Captain Cold

Captain Cold is leader of the Flash's enemies, called the Rogues. As the Flash TV show is soon to come to the CW, he may not stay unknown for long, but for now he doesn't have anywhere near the celebrity status that the Joker or Lex Luthor has. Cold is an inventor, scientist, and group manager.

Why He's Smarter Than Lex Luthor:

You may have noticed that Lex Luthor is also an inventor, scientist, and group manager. Captain Cold is an improvement on him. He doesn't have any failed inventions, like Bizarro, under his belt. (In fact, Captain Cold's inventions are acknowledged as better by DC's other inventor, scientist and cold guy, Victor Freeze, as superior to anything Freeze can make.) He is less likely to be overthrown by his compatriots, as he's better at keeping them in line. It's quite fun seeing Flash villains go up against other heroes, and inevitably give them a pounding. Despite unarguably having the worst dress sense in the universe, they are a brilliant bunch. There are even times, in continuity, when they remind people that they regularly go up against a hero so powerful that he can hop through time and dimensions. Of course they're ultracompetent.

10 Villains You've Never Heard Of (Who Are Smarter Than Lex Luthor)

6. Granny Goodness

Granny Goodness is one of the denizens of Apokolips, a world of pure evil with a leader, Darkseid, who draws strength from despair. According to her origin story, she was drawn from a class called "the lowlies." In many continuities, she's either reigning Apokolips, battling for the reign, or the strong right hand of Darkseid, so she certainly climbed the ranks.

Why She's Smarter Than Lex Luthor:

While Darkseid is usually the head of Apokolips, Granny Goodness is the one that makes the world work. Her job is more gruesome than most, taking children and turning them into the killers in Darkseid's army. She got the job because when she herself went through the training, she managed to manipulate it so her "graduation" involved killing her trainer and being awarded with his job. Goodness is a manipulator and brainwasher extraordinaire. Luthor spent years failing to "turn" Superman. Goodness often manages to turn him evil over a long weekend.

10 Villains You've Never Heard Of (Who Are Smarter Than Lex Luthor)

5. Judge Cal

When a character is based on Caligula, with a bit of Savonarola in the mix, it's time to strap in for a bumpy ride. Judge Cal appears in the Judge Dredd comics, and spends much of his time doing to Dredd and Dredd's sense of justice what a lawnmower does to groundhogs. A corrupt judge, he corrupts other judges and takes over Dredd's entire megacity.

Why He's Smarter Than Lex Luthor:

Eliminate your rival first, then take power, Luthor. Don't try it the other way around. To be fair, Cal manages to send Dredd away in part because he's consolidated power and turned other judges to evil before Dredd even notices, but that's just another way he's smarter than Luthor. He's so competent as a villain that even Dredd's final, third-act rallying push utterly fails. Cal captures Dredd, and is about to win, when some random little citizen spoilsport manages to kill him. It's not often you come out of an epic struggle between good and evil thinking that, although good had some decent hustle, evil really deserved the win. (It's pretty much just this story and Faust.) You deserved to win, Cal. It's a shame.

10 Villains You've Never Heard Of (Who Are Smarter Than Lex Luthor)

4. Devil Dinosaur

I should specify that Devil Dinosaur has a long history in comics, and the version of Devil Dinosaur I'm talking about appeared only in the short-lived Nextwave comics series. It's about a group of foul-mouthed anti-terrorist crime-fighters who go out in search of some shadowy evil bent on destroying the world. Guess who they find?

Why He's Smarter Than Lex Luthor:

Look, not all of these need a long explanation. He decided that he didn't like "monkeys" so he now lives on a sky fortress, drinking champagne and wearing a smoking jacket.

10 Villains You've Never Heard Of (Who Are Smarter Than Lex Luthor)

3. Mason Savoy

Mason Savoy is one of the villains in Chew comics, a wonderful comic series about a world in which, thanks to a bird flu plague that nearly wiped out the human race, chicken is illegal and the FDA is the most powerful and draconian agency on the planet. Both Mason and the hero of the series, Tony Chu, are cibopaths. They receive psychic messages telling them nearly everything about whatever they eat. That panel above is Mason ripping off Tony's ear so that he can periodically taste it, and check Tony's attempts to catch him.

Why He's Smarter Than Lex Luthor:

Imagine if Lex Luthor was still the arch-villain of the Superman universe, but both Supergirl and Batman were secretly working with him and Supes had no idea. Although Tony Chu doesn't know it, Savoy has his hooks into all of the most important people in Tony's life. Without directly betraying Tony, they're helping Mason carry out his plans. Meanwhile Tony thinks Savoy is in prison and out of the picture forever.

10 Villains You've Never Heard Of (Who Are Smarter Than Lex Luthor)

2. Frau Totenkinder

Fables is a series that follows exiled fairy tale characters as they live together in the modern world. At first we are told that Frau Totenkinder is the witch that went up against Hansel and Gretel (and was very nearly killed for her trouble). Eventually we learn that she is nearly every fairy-tale witch. That should give the rest of the Fables a clue that she's not a good person.

Why She's Smarter Than Lex Luthor:

She makes the right alliances. One of the rulers of this fairytale world helped Totenkinder heal from her Hansel-and-Gretel-induced burning, and she decides to "make their enemies [her] enemies." She's seen as a reformed citizen, a valuable resource, and a friend by most of the fairytale community. Of course, she still spies on everyone, collects a shadowy network of people who owe her "favors", and practices a little ritual baby slaughter. But she's good! Honest! They all think so! Consider how well Luthor would have done for himself if he'd pretended to be good, become Superman's friend, and just secretly did whatever he could on the sly, "reforming" every time Supes caught him.

10 Villains You've Never Heard Of (Who Are Smarter Than Lex Luthor)

1. La Dama

La Dama, known in her everyday life as Amparo Cardenas, was an early villain in the absolutely freaking amazing (seriously buy these books) John Rogers and Rafael Albuquerque run of Blue Beetle comics. She's the semi-legal power in the main character Jaime Reyes' neck of the woods, and it's never fully established how much she's a businesswoman and how much she's a "businesswoman." She's certainly got a lot of shady characters on speed dial, some incredibly powerful artifacts in her home, and when we meet her she's keeping a bunch of superpowered folks on a secret compound.

Why She's Smarter Than Lex Luthor:

In the first story arc, Jaime Reyes, the Blue Beetle, foils her plans. It costs her time, money, and exposure. She responds by exacting a terrible vengeance of... absolutely nothing. She's not trying for a superpowered nemesis, and she's not interested in kidnapping the superhero's best gal or pal. She wants to do business. Within the confines of a superhero comic book universe, this is a character that behaves in a way that makes her a realistic and formidable supervillain. If doing something illegal, killing people or kidnapping them or creating elaborate compounds full of teen super-powered soldiers, gets her more money or power, she will do it. If there's a legal way to do the same thing, she'll do that. She doesn't lack for imagination or ambition, she just lacks the monomaniacal need to show up superheroes. Her operational fluidity, allowing her to position herself slightly with or against the various other characters in the story, puts her head and shoulders above a guy who will wear a ring that gives him cancer just so he might one day get to punch Superman in the face.