When you think of the best Avengers villains of all time do you think of Deathlok?
Deathlok (well, a Deathlok anyway, there are a lot of them these days) will be the main villain pursuing Conan the Barbarian and a new ragtag team of heroes and anti-heroes in the latest incarnation of Savage Avengers when that franchise returns in a new series in May.
Time and multiverse hopping (as the Deathloks are doing these days) is something of a signature move for some of the best Avengers comic book villains of all time, which includes the now-brand name Thanos thanks to his prominence in the MCU and the maybe soon-to-be-brand name Kang who will be making his own Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in 2023.
So upfront you’re gonna find Thanos and Kang in our picks for the 10 best Avengers villains of all time, along with some other very familiar names if your Marvel fandom is limited to the MCU.
But where Thanos’ lands on the list may surprise … and keep on the lookout for Deathlok someday.
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’s academy for henchmen.
Blessed with what he calls photographic reflexes, the Taskmaster can replicate physical action 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.
Add 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.
Taskmaster joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a surprising way, portrayed by Olga Kurylenko in 2021’s Black Widow (opens in new tab), and the comic book version got his own Taskmaster (opens in new tab) limited series in 2021.
Michael Korvac may have been the most powerful foe the Avengers ever faced, all the way back in the landmark ’70s story Avengers: The Korvac Saga (opens in new tab).
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 raised his head again as a villain in the current Iron Man (opens in new tab) ongoing comic book series.
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 (opens in new tab)‘ 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 – though she did eventually restore them.
Sure, most of her victims have returned in the last couple of 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.
She may have only been a villain for a day, but it was one of the worst days the Avengers ever saw.
There is chatter that the live-action Scarlet Witch played by Elizabeth Olsen will be following up the events of Disney Plus’s WandaVision with a heel turn in May’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but that remains to be seen.
Until then you can catch up with the new status quo of the comic book Scarlet Witch in our recap of her recent stories.
She died, btw.
But she’s better now.
Get to know Wanda better with our recommended best Scarlet Witch stories of all time.
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 in the story Secret Invasion (opens in new tab), Osborn found himself at the head of America’s security forces, disbanding SHIELD, and forming his own organization, HAMMER, 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.
Osborn has had some ups and downs since his HAMMER time (get it?) but he recently returned to the world of Spider-Man, resuming his original villainous guise as the Green Goblin.
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 – most famously in the story The Infinity Gauntlet (opens in new tab). In his warped mind, only such a gesture would be sufficient enough to gain the attention of Death herself 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.
Thanos has been a constant thorn in the side of the Marvel Universe ever since – and that extends into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where Thanos repeated his Infinity Gauntlet scheme to devastating effect in Avengers: Infinity War (opens in new tab) and Avengers: Endgame (opens in new tab).
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 story Avengers: The Kree/Skrull War (opens in new tab) (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 Avengers: Operation Galactic Storm (opens in new tab), 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 differences in the story Empyre (opens in new tab), forming a combined Kree/Skrull Alliance led by the Young Avenger Hulkling – an empire, that, so far, has been on the side of Marvel’s heroes.
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 led 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, led 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 (opens in new tab),’ 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.
Zemo made his MCU debut in Captain America: Civil War (opens in new tab) (played by Daniel Brühl), and he returned in 2021’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
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 (opens in new tab)and the three Thor movies, and most recently in Disney Plus’ Loki.
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 limited series Siege (opens in new tab). Though his villainy eventually also led to his own downfall, Loki was reborn in the pages of Journey Into Mystery (opens in new tab) and continues to pop up to this day.
If you want to get to know Loki better, here are our recommended best Loki stories in comics.
Though he has been known by many names (or, in modern Marvel terms, Variants) 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.
Kang’s finest hour came at the end of Kurt Busiek’s legendary Avengers run in the story Avengers: The Kang Dynasty (opens in new tab) when he actually succeeded in conquering the Earth.
Marvel Cinematic Universe fans first met Kang as his MCU variant He Who Remains, who made a surprise appearance as the big bad of Disney Plus’ recent Loki TV series.
Learn more about Kang and his MCU He Who Remains persona before he makes his next MCU appearance, and get a deep dive into his retold origin in the recent Kang the Conqueror (opens in new tab) comic book limited series.
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 Age of Ultron (opens in new tab) comic story (which lent its name to the second Avengers movie, in which Ultron was the villain), 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.