Best DC Villains With The Cringiest Comic Book Debuts

Split image of Thanagar and Supergirl and Superman flying in DC Comics

DC is beloved for its caped crusaders and daring do-gooders as it is for its villains. The best and most popular villains from Gotham to Central City have been around since the Golden Age, but a lot has changed since then. The writer’s and artist’s sensitivities and values have grown more inclusive and explorative, and there are many things to cringe at looking back, whether from poor taste or comical diversions from current lore.

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Some baddies, like Two-Face and Brainiac, showed up ready to go and never looked back. Others have been updated, retconned, and overhauled entirely since their original debut. There’s a big difference between a character who’s developed over time and one who debuted in a wholly different form. Many of the classic rogues and scoundrels existed before DC’s vast multiverse began to grow and change along with the readership. As such, some of their debuts are cringe-worthy for modern audiences.



10 Sinestro

Green Lantern #7, written by John Broome with pencils by Gil Kane and inks by Joe Giella

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With a name like Sinestro, readers expect a truly evil villain. More often than not, Sinestro measures up to that expectation. He’s killed planets and built his corps from the ground up, recruiting some of the baddest beings in the known universe. That tradition began with his debut.

Sinestro is introduced as the sole prisoner of Qward, a planet in the antimatter universe. He immediately befriends the Weaponers there and plots to bait and kill Hal Jordan. It would be a cringe-free debut if Hal didn’t get the upper hand by finding a hole in Sinestro’s bubble construct. Nothing is cringier than losing to one’s own shoddy craftsmanship.

9 Hugo Strange

Detective Comics #36, written by Bill Finger and illustrated by Bob Kane, with pencils by Jerry Robinson and inks by Sheldon Moldoff

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Hugo Strange smiling on a DC Comics cover

Batman has been the world’s greatest detective since he swung onto the scene, so there are only a select few foes he fears for their minds and foresight. Hugo Strange has wrought havoc on Batman’s life (and Bruce Wayne’s) from within Arkham for more than half a century, but his debut is cringe by comparison.

Strange’s premiere evil plan centered around forcing a kidnapped engineer to build the ultimate fog machine for use as cover during his gang’s jobs. Batman swiftly breaks the machine, beats up the gang, and arrests Strange. It’s borderline sad to see such a mastermind focused on petty crimes and so easily brought down, even if it was all according to plan.

8 Riddler

Detective Comics #140, written by Bill Finger with pencils by Dick Sprang and inks by Charles Paris

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Riddler talks about his inability to stop leaving riddles

Many of DC’s most popular and beloved villains turned to a criminal lifestyle because they had no other choice. Riddler is not such a case. Among the mutants and monsters in the skies and sewers of Gotham, Edward Nigma has found his niche, but his start set him up as little more than an eccentric goon.

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In his first appearance, readers get to see Nigma’s childhood. He cheats and works around things, building his little puzzles to stay entertained, despite his advanced intellect. Riddler didn’t turn to crime because he needed to. In his first appearance, rather than a man deeply troubled, readers see the cringey story of someone so obsessed with appearances that they’ve lost their way.

7 Grodd

The Flash #106, written by John Broome with pencils by Carmine Infantino and inks by Joe Giella

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Gorilla Grodd wears armor and defeats Flash in DC Comics

The psychic king of Gorilla City is as inhuman in morality and character as he is biologically. For decades Grodd has menaced Central City and the world at large, but his first international crime spree was a far cry from the maniacal monarch readers know and love today. It all started with a flying saucer over Central City.

Aliens were already commonplace in the DCU then, and the ship didn’t cause any problems on its own. When Flash arrived on the scene, Grodd emerged, launching an already fantastical story to new heights of goofiness. Readers who like silly pulp stories will love it, but fans of the current version may cringe at the brute’s goofy debut.

6 Eclipso

House of Secrets #61, written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Lee Elias

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A bloody Eclipso fighting in DC Comics

Eclipso was the Spectre before the Spectre. He’s a biblical angel in physical form, representing wrath and darkness man suppresses to achieve greatness. His debut sets up those themes well and, despite the missing pieces. It would be a great debut if it didn’t suffer from the same issues as other Golden Age books.

The most significant cringe factor comes when Gordon reflects on the indigenous people he encountered in the South Pacific. He easily convinces them that their beliefs are primitive and silly, then they volunteer to carry his equipment for him. To call them “characters” in the story is generous. For the virtuous half of a villain based on dichotomy, Gordon’s debut is cringe-worthy.

5 Lobo

Omega Men #3, written by Rob Slifer, with pencils by Keith Griffin and inks by Mike DeCarlo

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Lobo-Bisley-Closeup

Lobo’s aesthetic precedes him and is just as important to the fabric of the character as his reputation. Clad in enough metal and leather to make Kiss blush, fans might cringe to see his debut. He’s an electric character with his own brand of charisma, and that has earned Lobo his fair share of solo series wherein he’s almost an anti-hero.

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His first appearance in Omega Men #3 lays the foundation for everything that came after under a few layers of cringe and spandex. The cover alone is disturbing and uncomfortable, but his footie-pajama uniform is downright cringe. The Main Man’s image is important to him, and his space-age leotard stands as a smear on his otherwise intimidating record.

4 Cheetah

Wonder Woman #6, written by William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Wonder Woman: Cheetah Is Suffering Her Worst Nightmare

Wonder Woman’s NSFW origins pose questions about portrayals of women and sexuality throughout media, especially media targeted to children. Cheetah, one of her greatest villains, is also part of that conversation. Her origin and reason for being are pure cringe.

Priscilla Rich was a human woman in charge of a charity event with Wonder Woman participated. Obviously, the Olympian prowess of Princess Diana is impossible for humans to match, but that didn’t stop Priscilla from growing irrationally jealous. When her plans to sabotage the event failed, she saw no other option than to wrap herself in a rug and start lunging at people. That bad plan didn’t work, and it highlights the complexity of modern portrayals.

3 Giganta

Wonder Woman #9, written by William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Gorilla evolves into Wonder Woman villain Giganta

In the world of comics, not every idea is a hit. Sometimes a writer has an idea they think is cool, and their peers and followers disagree or change it. Giganta has been around for a very long time, and her name aptly describes her abilities. Her canonical origin, however, is much newer.

In her first appearance, Giganta isn’t actually a human. Despite appearing as a red-haired woman, she explains that she is a genetically modified gorilla with the ability to grow. Apart from her creator’s affinity for working with animals, the strange and cringey origin didn’t add anything to the character or story overall and was retconned after various crises.

2 Croc

Detective Comics #523, written by Gerry Conway, with pencils by Gene Colan and inks by Tony DeZuniga

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>DC Comics' Killer Croc snarls and threatens his hostage.

Killer Croc is one of Batman’s gnarliest villains and one of the most misunderstood monsters in DC Comics. His appearance is the direct result of a medical condition, and his lifestyle is a direct result of his appearance and how people treat him. Grodd’s first appearance started with an unidentified flying craft over Central City.

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Solomon Grundy is on the loose, and fires run rampant, but Croc’s gang has only recently risen to prominence. Rather than burst onto the page in a flurry of scales and teeth, Croc’s cringe-worthy response is to quietly run away from the conflict, leaving his gang to fight the Bat, and Grundy to take the blame.

1 Lex Luthor

Action Comics #30, written by Jerry Siegel with pencils by Joe Schuster and inks by Paul Cassidy

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Lex Luthor Wearing powered armor made to look like Superman's costume in DC Comics

Lex Luthor has always been a complex and troubling villain. Since his creation in 1940, his allegiances have shifted quite a bit. He’s always been Superman’s greatest enemy, but in a time when Superman supported “The American Way” by getting directly involved in the war effort, Lex was implicitly aligned with the Axis Powers.

The early days were rough, but Lex’s debut is particularly hard to revisit. Lex was already a bad person, but it’s Superman who’s likely to make readers cringe in this issue. His repeated threats to violently kill Luthor with his bare hands are a stark departure from the Man of Steel readers know and love today.

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