Some villains are born, some villains are made, but some happen completely and totally by accident. Movies and TV such as The Batman to Ms. Marvel show that there are more than a few ways for superpowered characters to walk the path of darkness, but that doesn’t mean it was entirely their choice. On the contrary, some of the biggest and baddest villains in comic book history were just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sometimes, this results in the creation of a gigantic monster incapable of human reasoning. Other times, the victim seeks vengeance on the parties responsible for their unfortunate transformation. No matter how they come to be, some villains simply couldn’t stop the forces that made them who they are.
An honorable mention, but one that fits the criteria since he appeared in the ’60s series Batman ’66, is King Tut. Although he’s not the only villain with a split personality, the way Professor McElroy transforms into the phony pharaoh is exactly what readers and fans could expect from the campier days of the Caped Crusader.
After being struck by a rock thrown in a violent student protest, the Egyptology professor immediately believed he was the reincarnation of Tutankhamun and Gotham his city of Thebes. Now, anytime the professor suffers any form of head trauma, he turns into the comical King Tut and the Dynamic Duo has to swing in and save the day.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, or so the saying goes. A great example of this concept is Dr. Curt Connors who, after being exposed to body-changing chemicals and reptilian DNA, transforms into the terrifying Lizard. Despite attempting to use this procedure to treat amputees like himself, it ended up transforming his body and mind into that of a scaly monster.
What makes the Lizard such an interesting character is that he begins his career as someone Peter Parker/Spider-Man knows on a personal level. Watching someone’s favorite teacher turn into an uncontrollable beast is hard to watch, but he is eventually cured, and he even goes on to assist the superhero on occasion.
One of the most sympathetic villains in Batman’s history is Harvey Dent. Gotham’s White Knight turned into a crime lord after a vengeful mobster permanently scarred his face with acid in the middle of a court case. The resulting injury not only damaged his physical appearance but his psyche as well.
Some incarnations of the character even throw in a case of disassociative-identity-disorder to further twist the knife in Dent’s heart. He’s a man with a dual identity who has lost everything he holds dear, and there’s nothing more dangerous than a man with nothing left to lose.
Although she wasn’t responsible for the accident that bestowed her with her botanical prowess and toxin immunity, Poison Ivy didn’t exactly choose to acquire her powers all on her own. If anything, her first nemesis could be considered entirely responsible for turning Pamela Isley into the poisonous femme fatale that has seduced both Batman and Robin on many occasions.
Isley was once a promising botanist who was involved with an excavation involving ancient Egyptian herbs. After refusing to help her colleague steal an extremely valuable artifact, she was poisoned with a deadly herbal toxin by Marc LeGrande, but survived the exposure and walked away with her famous powers. One revenge plot later and the rest is history.
Flint Marko is a great example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as his prison escape was upturned by his exposure to radiation from an experimental reactor. The resulting fusion of radiation, Marko, and the sand on the beach created the shape-shifting Sandman.
Since his debut, Sandman has run the gauntlet from sympathetic villain to a criminal mad with his newfound powers. He’s been everything from a loving father who wants to see his daughter to a deadly yet underrated member of the Sinister Six, and he’s been keeping Spider-Man on his toes ever since.
Harvey Dent is indeed a tragic figure, but the case of Mr. Freeze is downright Shakespearean. Since his revamp and redesign by Paul Dini, Mr. Freeze has gone from a goofy and gimmicky villain in a hazmat suit and a bubble helmet to one of the most heart-wrenching figures in all of DC.
Due to an accident in a lab where he was trying to develop a cure to save his dying wife, Victor Fries’s body was changed so that he couldn’t exist outside of a below-freezing environment, resulting in the need for his iconic suit and helmet. Mr. Freeze doesn’t commit crime for personal gain, but to continue his research in order to develop a cure for his beloved wife, Nora.
There are few villains in Batman’s Rogues gallery more terrifying or tragic than the monstrous Man-Bat. Similar to the fate that befell Dr. Connors of Marvel Comics, Dr. Kirk Langstrom experimented with animal DNA to develop a cure for a disability, although it was deafness instead of amputation. However, the results were far more horrifying.
While the Lizard at least has some semblance of Dr. Connors lurking in his subconscious, Man-Bat is almost entirely a monster devoid of human understanding. He’s even gotten the drop on Batman on more than one occasion and has even given the comics some plots that go into the body-horror territory.
Like so many comic book scientists before him, Dr. Otto Octavius sought to further delve into the secrets of nuclear physics and the atomic sciences to better the world. However, as with many Marvel characters, a radiation leak led to his shift from a brilliant researcher and scientist to a criminally insane supervillain.
Paired with his iconic mechanical tendrils embedded in his spine, the radiation allowed Octavius to control the tentacles with his thoughts alone, sometimes even without being attached to his body. Although the damage has been reversed in some sectors of the Spider-Verse, Doctor Octopus has maintained his status as one of Spider-Man’s most notorious villains.
On the subject of the best Spider-Man villains, the Green Goblin is to Spider-Man as Lex Luthor is to Superman or the Joker is to Batman. Norman Osborn wasn’t exactly the most shining example of morality in the Multiverse, to begin with, but when a super serum accidentally unlocks an evil alter-ego, he becomes the most dangerous and unstable villain in Spidey’s rogues’ gallery.
Oscorp is always looking for the biggest scientific breakthroughs, for better or for worse, but when Osborn made the mistake of experimenting on himself, he turned himself into the vicious Green Goblin. Some versions feature a creepy costume representing his alter ego, but others even go as far as to have Osborn turning into a giant green monster. Either way, he’s still quite a threat in any realm of the Spider-Verse.
Granted, this is entirely depending on which Joker origin story fans choose to believe, but the most common method involves a gangster by the name of Jack Napier falling into a vat of chemicals after a heist gone wrong. Hazardous chemicals and toxic wastes are quite commonplace elements in the various hero and villain origin stories, but it was just the beginning for the Clown Prince of Crime.
After being physically deformed by the chemicals, the Joker’s mental state became unraveled upon seeing the damage done after his first encounter with Batman. One fall was all it took to not only create a neverending battle of order and chaos but one of the most dangerous and unhinged characters in comic book history.
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