10 Marvel Villains Who Are Secretly Brilliant

A split image of Sebastian Shaw, Sabretooth, and Loki from Marvel Comics.

Marvel’s villains are the gold standard when it comes to comic antagonists, having redefined what it means to be a supervillain. They’ve had climactic battles with the greatest heroes on Earth, coming up with plans to perplex them, using their powers when all else fails. Many of them are known for their threats and brutality, but Marvel’s creators have made sure to make them more than just powerful opponents.

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Many Marvel villains are secretly brilliant. While longtime fans may have known this about them, fans who haven’t been reading as long haven’t always seen it. This makes the villains more multi-faceted and interesting.



10 Skrull Queen Veranke

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Secret Invasion introduced readers to Skrull Queen Veranke, who led her people after their homeworld fell to Galactus. The Skrull Empire was no more, and Veranke took charge, eventually volunteering to help spearhead the Skrull invasion of Earth. Given the powers of Spider-Woman, she posed as the hero until the time was right, betraying the Avengers.

Marvel has many powerful shapeshifters, and Veranke definitely fits there, but she’s also brilliant. She helped come up with the Skrulls’ invasion plans, placing her agents with care throughout the hero community and SHIELD. She was also able to keep them on mission — no easy feat with a race as contentious as the Skrulls. She was a brilliant leader and cunning strategist.

9 Red Skull

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Red Skull grimacing in Cap Lives from Marvel Comics.

Red Skull is known for being a brutal Nazi warlord, well-versed in combat and strategy. He’s a terrible person, but it’s hard to deny just how great a leader he is. He waged a shadow war against SHIELD for decades, using weapons and equipment developed by Hydra. However, there is more to Skull than just being a leader, strategist, and soldier.

Skull has an understanding of science and myth that has helped him much in his plans over the years. He’s been known to come up with new technology to use against his enemies and has discovered occult secrets that no one has known for thousands of years. His brilliance is much more than meets the eye.

8 Destiny

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Destiny with Mister Sinister in the background in Marvel Comics.

Destiny worked with her wife, Mystique, for decades. Destiny’s precognitive abilities made her the brains of the operation, but anyone who thinks she just knows the future is rudely mistaken. Destiny has lived for a very long time and, much like Mystique, has found herself in a variety of roles. Interpreting her visions was about more than just telling people what they are; she needed to know a lot to gain context.

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Destiny has spent the many years of her life learning. She has an understanding of several sciences, having worked with Nazi scientists because of a vision. Destiny is much smarter than anyone than Mystique gives her credit for, with a wide base of knowledge.

7 Kingpin

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>The Kingpin rules all crime in New York, including supervillain crime.

Daredevil and Kingpin’s battles are the stuff of legends. Kingpin is the greatest criminal in New York City, having risen through the ranks of the underworld. He’s known for his violence and brutality, but that doesn’t mean he also isn’t very smart. He’s the one who gives the orders, but he’s also been the one on the ground.

Being a successful criminal at Kingpin’s level takes a lot of smarts. He knows every bit of his businesses, both legitimate and criminal. Kingpin doesn’t need anyone working for him to make a fortune, as he’s lost everything more than once and had to start from scratch. He’s more than just a devious crimelord; he’s an astute businessman who is smarter than most business school graduates.

6 Abomination

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Abomination ready to fight The Hulk in Marvel Comics.

Marvel’s Abomination is a gamma-powered titan. Gamma-powered heroes and villains are quite dangerous, but sometimes gamma powers inhibit intelligence. Other than the Leader, most gamma-powered folks are known to lose themselves to rages that increase their power but lessen their intelligence. That’s not a problem Abomination has.

Before being gamma-irradiated, Emil Blonsky was a spy. He was smart enough to know what he was looking for at the gamma bomb site and was well-versed in spycraft. He doesn’t gain more strength as he gets angry, so his intelligence has been a great asset in his battles against the Hulk.

5 The Vulture

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Vulture flying with Spiderman looking on in Marvel Comics.

Spider-Man has had many underrated battles, several with the Vulture. Adrian Toomes became the Vulture to get revenge against his old business partner, who stole everything from him. Toomes wasn’t exactly the best in business, but he was actually a very intelligent person. He created the flight harness that made him the Vulture, but that was merely the last in a long line of inventions.

The Vulture’s company marketed his inventions and made Toomes and his family a pretty penny. He was always more into the creation of things than the business side, which is why he was so easily taken advantage of. He hasn’t invented anything in a while, but he’s always been quite intelligent.

4 Nebula

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Nebula from Marvel Comics staring at the viewer.

Thanos has powerful children, but some rely on cunning more than brute strength. Nebula doesn’t have the amazing power of her siblings, but she’s never needed it. The longtime space pirate is a supremely skilled fighter, and she’s used those skills to her advantage. Nebula has traveled the cosmos commanding starships and armies, defeating enemies of all kinds.

Nebula understands how to navigate the depths of space and repair ships. She’s a master tactician and a canny fighter. Without her intelligence and skill, she would have been dead years ago. Nebula has made herself a player in the galaxy because she’s smarter than she looks.

3 Sebastian Shaw

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Sebastian Shaw looks at a starry sky in Marvel Comics.

Sebastian Shaw is the longtime Black King of the Hellfire Club, defeating all comers to remain at the head of the Club. That shows his cunning and skill in battle, but there’s more to Shaw than that. Shaw wasn’t merely some spoiled rich kid who inherited everything. He worked hard and was a technical genius, creating technology that made him a fortune.

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Shaw Industries became a titan in the industrial world thanks to Shaw’s intelligence, both as an inventor and a businessman. Shaw has always been more than he appears and is just as at home on a factory floor as he is in a boardroom. He’s dangerous in more ways than one.

2 Loki

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Loki casually playing with Mjolnir in Marvel Comics.

Many Marvel villains are defined by greed, something that has typified Loki. Taken into Asgard after the defeat of his Frost Giant father, he eventually looked at the wonders around him with a covetous gaze. He wanted to be king of the Golden Realm, but he didn’t have the martial power of Thor or the other defenders of the city. So he hit the books.

Loki’s magical knowledge is well-known, but that’s not the extent of his intelligence. He’s a keen strategist and understands how to run a kingdom. His time on Earth has also led him to understand the technology of Midgard. He’s much smarter than he seems and always has been.

1 Sabretooth

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Marvel Comics' Sabretooth leaping to attack.

The X-Men have brutal foes, but Sabretooth has always been a cut above. Victor Creed is a killer, his mutant powers making him a powerful fighter. His healing factor allows him to survive nearly anything, and he’s even been able to beat Wolverine in a fight, despite Wolverine having an adamantium skeleton. Sabretooth has years of combat experience, but that’s not all there is to him.

Sabretooth is much smarter than he lets on. Everyone expects him to be a brutal berserker, which he is, but he can be very cunning when he needs to be. He spent decades as a spy, and he can bring that type of cloak-and-dagger intelligence to things when he needs to.

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