Superheroes are no fun without super-villains to battle, and so we want to raise a glass to the best Avengers villains of all time.
Some have managed to hog the limelight recently with the Avengers movies, some are just waiting for their turn to be called up to the stage, all of them are making some bold fashion choices.
Whether you like your villains extra-terrestrial, science enhanced, or just plain crazy, here are the 10 best (or worst, because they're, you know, villains) the Avengers universe has to offer.
Though he's rarely caused as much trouble on his own as some of the other villains on this list, the man known only as the Taskmaster may be the greatest threat to the Avengers, and possibly the world, by virtue of one simple fact: all those Hydra agents, AIM troopers, Hellfire Club enforcers, and other cannon-fodder type baddies that the Avengers have to wade through month in and month out? All of them graduated from the Taskmaster academy for henchmen.
Blessed with what he calls photographic reflexes, the Taskmaster is able to replicate, at will, the movement, fighting style, and combat traits of any person whom he has substantially studied. He's parlayed this into a career not only as a top assassin, but as the go-to guy for assembling and training an army of goons, henchmen, and soldiers. Though he's occasionally strayed close to good guy territory, he's always returned to villainy. The fact of the matter is, Taskmaster follows the money, and heroism doesn't usually include a 401K.
Adding to his mercenary disposition is the fact that his photographic reflexes cause him to lose his more personal memories, and an arsenal that rivals the entirety of the Avengers, and you've got a formidable villain with no morals and very little to lose.
He'll be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a big way - and with a big mystery on his identity - with Marvel Studios' Black Widow.
Michael Korvac may have been the most powerful foe the Avengers ever faced. Though he began life as a lowly computer programmer, the alien conquerors known as the Badoon transformed him into a cyborg, inadvertently setting him on the path to ultimate power.
After attempting to analyze and understand the world-eating entity Galactus's vast knowledge of the universe, Korvac accidentally exposed himself to the Power Cosmic, a nigh-omnipotent force capable of reshaping reality. Originally intending to remake Earth as a utopia, Korvac's inevitable conflict with the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy set him on a path of devastation that left both Avengers and Guardians dead in its wake.
In an attempt to stop Korvac's rampage, a cosmic entity known as the Collector sent his daughter, Carina, to stop Korvac. Carina and Korvac fell in love, though, and hid on Earth, posing as normal Americans. After the Guardian Starhawk's inability to perceive Korvac gave them away, however, the violence began anew, ending only when Thor killed Carina, and caused Korvac to realize the death and destruction he had caused. In the end, he sacrificed himself to return the Avengers to life, and undo all of his mistakes.
Most recently, Korvac appeared in Avengers Academy, after his love, Carina, was accidentally resurrected by the students of the Academy, who believed her to be the then-dead Avenger the Wasp. The incident also returned Korvac to life, and he was only defeated when Carina used her power to advance the students to their adult forms, allowing them to defeat and contain Korvac once more.
8. Scarlet Witch
The Scarlet Witch may seem like a strange choice for this list, considering that most of her 50-year history has been spent as one of the Avengers' most stalwart members, but when you consider her culpability in the 'Avengers Disassembled' storyline, the fact is she has a higher body count of actual Avengers than any other villain.
Driven mad by years of psychological torment, first at the hands of the villainous Magneto, and later by the loss of her children, Wanda Maximoff went on a killing spree that claimed the lives of at least four Avengers, and culminated in the casting of a reality-altering spell that left all but around 200 mutants powerless -- seemingly permanently. Sure, most of her victims have returned in the last couple years, but even Korvac and Thanos, whose death counts spiraled into the hundreds, saw their destructive actions undone in a matter of pages. Wanda's brief spree had ramifications that are being felt to this day, even despite being a hero again in Uncanny Avengers.
She may have only been a villain for a day, but it was one of the worst days the Avengers ever saw.
7. Norman Osborn
Norman Osborn may have started his villainous career as Spider-Man's greatest nemesis, the Green Goblin, but the last few years have seen him grow into a menace on a scale far greater than he ever previously attained.
After repelling a Skrull invasion, Osborn found himself at the head of America's security forces, disbanding S.H.I.E.L.D., and forming his own organization, H.A.M.M.E.R., in the process. For a time, it seemed as though Osborn had the world's best interests at heart, but the specter of his nefarious alter ego never left him alone for long, and soon, it was apparent that there were far more sinister motives at hand.
Osborn assembled not only a cabal of the world's greatest villains but also formed and commanded a series of increasingly violent Dark Avengers teams meant to fool the world into trusting his vision. Osborn's prideful schemes came crashing down around him, literally, after his loss of control not only of his own demons but those in his command led to the fall of Asgard. Though he has spent much of the last few years imprisoned, his recent escape and subsequent treaty with agents of Hydra, A.I.M., and numerous other evil organizations resulted in the formation of not only a new branch of H.A.M.M.E.R. but a new team of Dark Avengers as well.
While he was, again, stopped, he recently returned to the identity that made him infamous, once again becoming the Green Goblin and prompting the return of Peter Parker to the world of Amazing Spider-Man.
Thanos, the hulking, scowling despot of Titan is possessed of a singular obsession; an obsession with Death itself. Aspiring to win the affection not just of the concept of Death, but of its cosmic avatar, Thanos has, numerous times, sought a method to destroy all life in the universe. In his warped mind, only such a gesture would be sufficient enough to gain the attentions of the lady Death and win her embrace.
On his own, Thanos' imposing physical and psychic prowess make him a cosmic-level threat, but when paired with the Infinity Gauntlet, an artifact that gives its wearer control over nearly all aspects of reality, Thanos is nigh-unstoppable. In fact, with the power of the Gauntlet at his command, Thanos went on a killing spree that claimed the lives of almost half the sentient beings in the universe, including the X-Men, Daredevil, and the Fantastic Four. When the Avengers opposed him, Thanos easily killed all of them, including a defiant Captain America. It was only when his hubris leads him to leave his physical form that his own granddaughter, Nebula, was able to seize the Infinity Gauntlet, and undo all of his destruction.
Following his mid-credits cameo in The Avengers movie, his comic book profile increased considerably, with several high-profile guest appearances before taking the universe to the brink with Infinity. Currently appearing in the "Time Runs Out" crossover in Avengers and New Avengers, it's easy to see the Mad Titan making his way to Secret Wars itself.
By themselves, the alien races are known as the Kree and the Skrulls have always been enough of a threat to Earth to warrant either of their places on this list. However, it is their ongoing war, a struggle that has claimed countless lives, worlds, and colonies of both races, that has precipitated the greatest conflicts between the Kree, the Skrulls, and the Avengers.
Beginning with the legendary Kree/Skrull War (in which various Avengers, and the Kree warrior Captain Mar-Vell, traveled across the universe to settle the conflict which threatened to engulf Earth) the war between the two alien races has been directly, or indirectly responsible for numerous incidents of world-threatening violence.
For the Kree, their greatest conflict with the Avengers came during 'Operation: Galactic Storm,' when the Kree went to war with another alien race, the Shi'ar. During the conflict, the Shi'ar created a massive device called a Nega-Bomb, designed to destroy the entire Kree civilization. After Captain America convinced the Shi'ar not to detonate the bomb, it was stolen by the Skrulls who detonated it anyway, devastating the Kree empire. It was later revealed that the entire war, including the construction and detonation of the Nega-Bomb, were all manipulations of the Kree Supreme Intelligence, a being composed of the psyches of many great Kree, to kick-start Kree evolution.
These eons-warring alien races recently set aside their difference for a combined Kree/Skrull Alliance led by the Young Avenger Hulkling.
4. Baron Zemo and the Masters of Evil
Though the enduringly dastardly collective hasn't always been led by a Zemo, the connection between the villainous dynasty and the Masters of Evil is inextricable. Founded by the elder Zemo, the former Nazi scientist Heinrich, as a force to oppose the newly founded Avengers, and, by extension, Zemo's old nemesis Captain America, the Masters quickly grew from a handful of second-string henchmen into one of the most feared and formidable groups to ever oppose the Mighty Avengers.
Aside from the Zemos, the Masters have been lead by such villains as Ultron, Dr. Octopus, Justine Hammer, and Egghead, and included almost every menace ever to oppose the Avengers, along with numerous rogues more associated with other Marvel heroes. At one time boasting a roster consisting of almost 20 villains including the entire Wrecking Crew, the Absorbing Man, Mr. Hyde, and too many others to name the Masters of Evil have almost always been a formidable force.
It was this veritable army of supervillains, lead by founder Heinrich Zemo's heir, Helmut, that saw the Masters of Evil's greatest moment of triumph over the Avengers. In the legendary story 'Under Siege,' the Masters lead an attack on Avengers Mansion that left the building in ruins, the Avengers scattered and broken, and their ever-faithful servant Jarvis on death's door. Though the Masters have not had much activity since Helmut Zemo tricked the world into thinking they were heroes (founding the Thunderbolts in the process), Zemo's recent return to villainy would imply that it may only be a matter of time before the Masters of Evil are once again in play.
No Avengers villain has a stranger dichotomy in his relationship to Earth's Mightiest Heroes than Loki, the Asgardian prince of lies who appears found new life and new facets to be explored after his cinematic appearances in The Avengers and the two Thor movies.
While he has menaced the team to the point of near constancy, he is also directly responsible for the team's founding. In a scheme designed to pit the Hulk against his brother Thor, he inadvertently alerted several other powerful superhumans to his scheme, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The original 'threat no single hero could withstand,' few villains in all of Marveldom can match Loki's power, and none his cunning, trickery, and manipulation, though many of them actually received their powers from Loki himself. Like most of the Avengers' greatest enemies, he shares a familial connection to the team, in the form of his brother Thor, the mightiest of the Mighty Avengers.
In recent times, Loki's unending schemes lead to the fall of Asgard at the hands of his seeming ally, Norman Osborn, as well as the death of Avenger and Olympian war god Ares in the miniseries Siege. Though his villainy eventually also led to his own downfall, Loki was reborn in the pages of Journey Into Mystery and continues to pop up to this day.
Though he has been known by many names (and in some incarnations, even been a hero) the man once called Nathaniel Richards is best known, and most feared, as Kang, the Conqueror. A time-traveling warlord from an alternate Earth, Kang is one of the Avengers' oldest foes, having menaced them in his various guises almost since the team's inception. At times appearing as the Scarlet Centurion, Rama-Tut, Victor Timely, Iron Lad, and Immortus, Kang's goal has almost always been the same; to find, defeat, and yes, conquer the greatest warriors and civilizations throughout time and space.
Though he could easily destroy the Avengers with the power of time-travel, Kang's warped code of honor drives him to defeat the Avengers head-on, thereby proving his mastery of strategy and combat, and truly claiming victory over Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
At times, Kang has also been an ally to the Avengers, though often a reluctant one. His younger self, in an attempt to resist his fate as a villain, took on the mantle of Iron Lad and founded the Young Avengers. In a sad twist of fate, in order to save the universe, and preserve his timeline, Iron Lad had to return to his former life, and assume the mantle of Kang, the Conqueror. Kang has also aided the Avengers against his future self, the chronological overlord Immortus, who has himself threatened the Avengers from time to time.
Kang's finest hour came at the end of Kurt Busiek's legendary Avengers run and the "Kang Dynasty" story when he actually succeeded in conquering the Earth. His defeat came at the hands of another villain, the mysterious Master of the World, who was in turn defeated by the Avengers, with aid from Kang's "son," a clone bearing the identity of the Scarlet Centurion. Kang's code of honor dictated that he would face the consequences of his defeat, but when he was rescued by the Scarlet Centurion, Kang turned on his "son," condemning his actions, and vowing to find a true heir. In recent times, Kang has appeared as a smaller scale threat, appearing primarily to lure Iron Lad back to his life as Kang. Recently, he's played a major role in the ongoing story of Uncanny Avengers, having guided the Apocalypse Twins to their destiny - and then trying to defeat them.
As we said, he's complicated.
His horrific visage strikes terror into the hearts of even the bravest of men. The utterance of his name alone is enough to send many heroes cowering in awe. He is Ultron, the savage, primal evil that lays at the heart of man's fear of technology. He is a force of unimaginable destruction, and there is absolutely no way to stop him.
The greatest tragedy of the android known as Ultron is that he is emblematic of the Avengers' greatest failures. Created by Hank Pym, a founding Avenger and brilliant scientist better known as Giant-Man (and Ant-Man and Yellowjacket), Ultron was meant to be a crowning achievement of robotic science, the world's first true artificial intelligence. Pym's experiment worked all too well; his creation immediately rebelled, erasing the memory of his very existence from his creator's mind, and setting out on a path to conquer all mankind.
By the time he resurfaced, he had already made upgrades to his form that were light years beyond what even Pym could conceive. Leading an incarnation of the Masters of Evil, he nearly defeated the Avengers on his first outing. In the years since, Ultron has gone on to bigger and more reprehensible acts, decimating entire nations, nearly conquering Kree space, and in the recent Age of Ultron comic story, ravaging time itself.
For his various and vast connections to their history as a recurring menace a creation of founding Avenger Hank Pym, and creator of the synthezoid Avenger the Vision, Ultron is perhaps the ultimate nemesis of the Avengers. He always comes back, worse and more violent than before, and will never be stopped. As long as there are Avengers or even organic life forms, there will be an Ultron, and the Marvel Universe will wait in fear of his return.
Ultron was recently defeated thanks to a virus that was retroactively placed into his code, but he's been defeated before. His next appearance is set for May in the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron and graphic novel Avengers: Rage of Ultron.