The character that largely launched the American comic book as a phenomenon in the United States, Superman has one of the longest careers in comics so it’s understandable he would have one of the best rogues galleries. However, his top rogue proved so popular, he became a crutch and a character that just kept coming back again and again. Superman’s first major re-occurring foe was the Ultra-Humanite, a bald scientist that represented the opposite spectrum of the hero: where Superman was the most powerful hero alive, Ultra-Humanite was a frail man with a brilliant mind that made up for his form. This villain, in time, would go on to became one of the most significant threats to the Justice Society of America.
Largely, early in his career, Superman fought mad scientists. In addition to Ultra-Humanite, you had Toyman, Prankster, Puzzler, and Lex Luthor. Originally an ingenious crime lord, at some point Luthor’s character seemingly merged with Ultra-Humanite, becoming bald and a mad scientist where he would become Superman’s nemesis. One step in this direction was to tie his villainous origin with the hero, where Luthor was a youth in Smallville who befriended Superboy. In a token of his esteem, Luthor tried to cure the hero’s weakness to Kryptonite only to be caught in a lab accident when he found his solution. Superboy, in an attempt to save him, blew out the fire engulfing his lab. However, he blew chemical fumes in Luthor’s direction that robbed him of his hair and ruined the youth’s experiments. Filled with rage, Luthor declared himself forevermore the hero’s enemy. The villain would take several turns, such as wearing a suit of technological armor that made him the hero’s equal, take over his own planet which he named Lexor and became its champion, and an untouchable businessman in modern times. Proof of Luthor’s prominence is that virtually every appearance of Superman in stories outside comics, he faces Luthor (including almost every feature film of the hero). I would be remiss to not add more of an annoyance than a villain that appeared around this time as well in the 5th Dimension imp Mister Mxyzptlk, whose reality-warping powers made him godlike but were generally employed for pranks.
The Silver Age would bring new, more dangerous foes that could stand on equal footing with the hero like Bizarro, Brainiac, Grax, Metallo, Titano, Phantom Zone villains (like General Zod, Kru-El, and Jax-Ur), Kryptonite Man, and Parasite. The Bronze Age, however, would bring another major enemy for the hero. The era would bring characters like Atomic Skull, Blackrock, Colonel Future, Dabney Donovan, Intergang, Faora Hu-Ul, Funky Flashman, Lord Satanis, Maaldor the Darklord, Master Jailer, Mongul, Neutron, Solomon Grundy, and Syrene, but it would be the introduction of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World and the vile world of Apokolips. Darkseid, perhaps the most feared villain for DC Comics, and his minions Desaad, Steppenwolf, Kalibak, Mantis, Granny Goodness, Dr. Bedlam, Virman Vundabar, Glorious Godfrey, Kanto, the Female Furies, and the Parademons have been a major thorn in the side of the Man of Steel. Seeking the Anti-Life Equation to enslave the universe, Darkseid sets his sights on Earth and establishes organizations like Intergang, the Evil Factory, and Secret Society of Super-Villains that brings him into conflict with not only Superman but the Justice League of America (and Superman’s close friends in the future, the Legion of Super-Heroes).
Superman’s pool of enemies would be replenished in the modern age, adding the likes of Silver Banshee, Barrage, Baud, Bloodsport, Conduit, Gog, Cyborg Superman, Anomaly, Manchester Black, Dominus, Hellgrammite, Ignition, Kancer, Massacre, Tolos, Mr. Z, Riot, Rock, and Khyber, but most of note would be Doomsday. Literally the beast that killed Superman, Doomsday was born from the race that became the Kryptonians, instilled with the ability to become immune to whatever kills him and to regenerate to full health, he was murdered continuously to turn him into a mindless killing machine that sought Kryptonians across the universe in a thirst for vengeance. Today, whenever Doomsday appears, Earth’s heroes know full well they’re in for a fight.
5. FANTASTIC FOUR
What makes the Fantastic Four so unique is that being superheroes is very much more a hobby to the group, with their real passion as being explorers, going into space, investigating strange phenomenon, and squaring off against other scientists and explorers. Some of the perils the group faced in their exploration include the Skrull (giving rise to the Super Skrull and similar beings from his race to come later), the Kree (awakening their Sentry-459), the Negative Zone’s Annihilus and Blastaar, Attilan’s Inhumans, Rama-Tut (future relative of Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Doom that ruled Egypt in antiquity), Overmind, Terminus, and Subterranea (ruled by the Mole Man and his Outcasts). Some of the scientists faced include Diablo and his Dragon Man, Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android, Quasimodo, Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, Puppet Master, Psycho-Man, and Wizard and his Frightful Four.
The group would also be called to fight powerful threats to humanity, such as Molecule Man, Miracle Man, and Galactus. The Molecule Man would be a meek, simple man given the powers to alter reality itself. Miracle Man was a stage magician and master hypnotist that contacted the Silent Ones, learning how to manipulate matter. Galactus, the World Devourer, would try on several occasions to consume the Earth. Worse, he would employ heralds of incredible power that often proved more consistent threats than their master. These heralds included Silver Surfer, Terrax, Air-Walker, Firelord, Nova, Morg, Red Shift, Fallen One, and Stardust (and Galactus also built the despot Tyrant in his image). Not all the battles the team faced were dangerous, however, such as when they dealt with more of an annoyance in the Impossible Man. The group would also at times draw the ire of Atlantis, battling Namor the Sub-Mariner (an ongoing conflict as Namor vied for Sue Storm’s affection and become Reed Richards’ rival).
Undoubtedly, the greatest threat to the Fantastic Four, and one of the greatest villains of all time, is Dr. Doom. Attending Empire State University together, Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom were brilliant rivals. When Doom invented a machine to speak with the dead, Richards warned against miscalculations and yet Doom proceeded regardless. The machine exploded, scarring Doom and would be expelled from the school for it. Doom would return to his native Latveria, where he conquered the country and returned to destroy Richards, who he blamed for his experiment going awry. This began a long career of villainy bringing Doom into conflict with virtually every major hero and team of heroes on Earth and in contact with many cosmic entities.