14 Villains Whose Paths to Ne’er-Do-Wellness Were Shaped in Whole or Part by Their Relationships with Their Mothers
1. Doctor Octopus
Orphans and abandoned children abound in superhero literature, just as there are many examples of overbearing or abusive father figures messing up their kids. But you don’t have to be the heroine in a Disney movie to notice how rare it is to find mothers in the backstories of comicdom’s favorite villains — and that’s a shame from a storytelling perspective, considering the damage many real-life mothers inflict on their children (but not me — love you, Mom!). When comic-
book mothers do mess up their kids, though, they do one heck of a job. Witness Otto Octavius, later known as “Doc Ock” to Daily Bugle subscribers. A portly, studious child, Otto suffered constant verbal abuse at the hands of his blue-collar father, who urged his timid son to fight schoolyard bullies; Otto’s mother, on the other hand, deplored violence and coddled her “little genius” in every way possible. But his father’s death in a workplace accident didn’t set Otto free; on the contrary, his overbearing mother forced him to break off an engagement, declaring no woman would ever be good enough for her son. He acquiesced and was none too pleased to later find his mother getting ready to meet with a gentleman caller, a heated argument that ended when Mrs. Octavius died of a heart attack. With both women gone from his life forever, Octavius threw himself full-time into both his nuclear research and being a Grade-A jerkhole to everyone around him, until a small explosion altered his outlook on life. The rest, as they say, is history.
2. The Penguin
Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot has a lot in common with Otto Octavius. Both men were afflicted with unfortunate names, both could be described as having certain body-image issues and both were overly dutiful to their mothers. But where Octavius’s rage and misanthropy can be traced back to his mother’s selfishness, Cobblepot’s mother’s worst crimes were going into debt and not recognizing how dorky an umbrella looks in summer. Some background: although he first appeared in Batman stories in the 1940s, the Penguin’s origin was a mystery until 1981, when Michael Fleisher penned a 10-page story for an issue of Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest titled, appropriately enough, “The Origin of the Penguin!” In a nutshell, Cobblepot’s father died of pneumonia after getting caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella, and so Cobblepot’s grief-stricken mother ordered her son to always carry one. That and his physical appearance made him the target of local bullies, but it was all water off a duck’s back as Cobblepot found happiness tending to the birds in his mother’s exotic pet shop. Everything came crashing down, though, when she died after a long illness that left her thousands of dollars in debt… and, as if her death weren’t enough to break Cobblepot’s spirits, her shop’s inventory was seized to pay her creditors. Now embittered against society, Cobblepot donned a tux and top hat, reclaimed the name once used to mock him and set out to conquer the world of crime as… the Penguin! (Hey, it beats “he was abandoned by his parents and raised by sewer penguins.”)
Some mothers, like Mrs. Octavius, are overbearing, while others, like Mrs. Cobblepot, are merely guilty of inflicting their own grief and neuroses on their children. And then you’ve got the mothers who are just goddamn evil. That’s definitely the case with Genevieve Lawton, who fixed it so that her son, Floyd, had zero chance of becoming a well-adjusted member of society. Deadshot debuted in an issue of Batman in 1950, and he was pretty much forgotten until writer Steve Englehart brought him back in the ’70s as a hitman who never missed his mark. But his star didn’t really rise until his ongoing gig in Suicide Squad, a 1980s series that teamed him up with other super-villains for covert government-sanctioned missions. A spinoff Deadshot mini-series saw his past revealed, courtesy of writers John Ostrander and Kim Yale: born to a wealthy family, Floyd and his older brother, Eddie, were manipulated by their mother into hating their father to the point that Eddie agreed to murder him. Floyd, the ostensible bad seed, tried to save his golden-boy brother from a life in prison, but ended up accidentally killing him in the scuffle. Escaping to Gotham to start life anew as a costumed assassin, he returned home years later after Genevieve had her own grandson kidnapped to blackmail Lawton into finishing the job of killing his wheelchair-bound father. He responded by blazing a bloody path through the kidnappers and, after failing to save his son’s life, paralyzed his mother with a single shot to the back. Mother’s Day has been a touchy subject with him ever since.
4. Doctor Doom
It has to be said that not every super-villain with mother issues became a super-villain because his mother messed him up. Indeed, some villains strike out at the world because their mothers were never there to give them the love and guidance they needed. Such was the case with Victor von Doom, whose mother died shortly after he was born. Cynthia, a dabbler in the black arts, died trying to control powers greater than her own; Doom’s father, leader of a tribe of Gypsies within Latervia, kept her life as a sorceress secret to spare Victor from a similar fate. But not long after his father’s untimely death, young Doom discovered a chest full of his mother’s magical artifacts and learned to combine their power with science to exact revenge on those who persecuted his people. His other driving force in life was to free his mother from her hellish prison; as readers learned in Triumph and Torment, a 1989 graphic novel co-starring Drs. Doom and Strange, Cynthia’s soul was held prisoner by Mephisto (Marvel’s Satan Lite) for all those years, and Doom enlisted the aid of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme to help free her. No spoilers on whether he succeeded, but it says something about the impact a mother can have on a child’s life when he’s willing to literally march into Hell for her.
Speaking of hells. Trying to picture Darkseid as someone’s bouncing baby boy is akin to imagining his junior self joining his kindergarten classmates in a rousing game of “Ring Around the Rosie.” But even the Supreme and Unquestioned Ruler of Dread Apokolips once had a momma, one Queen Heggra to be precise. Granted, being born into a family that ruled a planet named “Apokolips” kind of nixed Darkseid’s chances of ever coming out swinging for the “good” team, but we can thank Heggra for helping Ol’ Stone-Face take the final leap into irredeemable evil. While Darkseid was scheming and plotting to ascend to the throne, he met and fell in love with a kindly woman named Suli, who almost convinced him to put his cosmos-conquering plans on hold and try to, you know, mellow out a bit. Well, Heggra would have none of that “corrupting” influence on her son; she arranged for Suli to be poisoned and then married him off to another woman of her choosing. Darkseid responded by killing his mother and banishing his wife and infant child to the farthest reaches of Apokolips (which doesn’t seem like much of a punishment, since every place on the planet has the same “abandon all hope” vibe to it). Now devoid of any thoughts of love or compassion, Darkseid is free to enslave, murder and despoil the universe to his heart’s content. So thanks, Heggra. Thanks a lot.
Not as big a name as Darkseid or Doc Doom, to be sure, but definitely someone who belongs on this list. This Spider-Man foe (who first appeared in
2008’s Web of Spider-Man) was once Tyler Smitherson, a young boy whose mother was convinced to a disturbing degree that he was a special boy. So special, in fact, she dragged him everywhere to prove his specialness, even hounding Professor Xavier to accept Tyler into his school for mutants. Xavier politely confirmed Tyler was in every respect an ordinary human, but his mother was adamant he was destined for great things. Her focused behaviour instilled in Tyler a very black-and-white view of the world, and when she was killed in the crossfire between two warring super-villains, something inside him snapped. Specifically, he paid an underground power broker to give him artificial super-powers (making him the “special” person his mother always wanted him to be), donned a black-and-white costume and started killing anyone who spoke out against the costumed super-heroes. Funny how Spider-Man would have a problem with that approach to public relations.
7. Maxwell Lord
If DC had just left well enough alone, Maxwell Lord would have remained the scheming-yet-lovable businessman who re-formed the Justice League in the mid-1980s. But no, someone needed an evil tycoon type, and so Lord graduated from a Donald Trump-ish source of comic relief to yet another uber-baddie out to protect the world’s “normal” people by destroying all metahumans. And as revealed in a 2011 issue of Justice League: Generation Lost, we can thank his mother for leading him down the highway to homicide. In a nutshell: Lord’s father killed himself when Lord was 16, and his mother, convinced her husband’s death was the result of powerful people conspiring against him, instilled in her son a hatred of all powerful figures. As Lord grew more involved in Earth’s growing population of super-beings, his mother was always there in the background, pressing him to be a voice on behalf of Earth’s non-powered population and shifting his distrust about authority figures in general towards the superhuman community. Those feelings took a huge leap forward when his mother died in the destruction of Coast City near the end of the “Death of Superman” storyline, and he became convinced that superhumans were a clear and present danger to the safety of the world. Then he did a whole bunch of other stuff after that, but I really couldn’t be bothered to follow it all. Suffice to say: he’s been a busy little sociopath. We would have spared a whole lot of bad writing in the 2000s if Mrs. Lord got herself some damn therapy and let her kid find his own path in life.
8-9. Bug & Byte
Like the early days of your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, early ’80s issues of The Fury of Firestorm followed your basic superhero soap opera script: secret identity crises, generous amounts of self-doubt, random accidents resulting in phenomenal powers, villains created by going through the hero’s Christmas card list. On those last two points, siblings Bug and Byte certainly fit the profile: while visiting their mother’s computer lab in the family garage, they touched bare wires and felt thousands of volts of electricity course through their bodies. Though they were unhurt, their father blamed his wife for the accident and threw her out of the house, forbidding her from from seeing or contacting the children for the next 10 years of their life. As fate would have it, Belle Haney would go on to found her own computer company and her kids would go to the same school as Ronnie “one-half of Firestorm” Raymond, and as fate would have it, her children discovered their accident gave them super-powers; specifically, the power to transform into pure electricity or become part of any computer system that can be reached by phone line. Naturally, the siblings decided the best use of their powers was to get revenge on the mother whom they believed had abandoned them so many years ago, and naturally Firestorm knew who Bonner was and showed up in time to stop her murderous offspring. Holy coincidences!
Not a super-villain, perhaps, but most people would be hard pressed to tell the difference. The breakout star of Alan Moore’s Watchmen series is a Randian
psychopath who believes in utter absolutes, making him far more likely to bust
heads in a “ends justify the means” kind of way than your average morally conflicted hero. A chilling flashback to one of his earlier cases explains when he developed his inflexible attitude towards criminals, but it’s his relationship with his mother that sent him down the road of violent vigilantism. Born Walter Kovacs to a prostitute and unknown father, he suffered constant abuse at the hands of his mother, who was prone to screaming she should aborted him (charming!) when he interrupted her time with clients. After a violent altercation with two older boys, young Kovacs was taken out of his mother’s care and placed in a group home, where his mental health appeared to improve… but years later, when told his mother died violently, his only response was, “Good.” Fittingly, the major turning points in his life, including his decision to become a masked vigilante, involved women in one way or another; it’s left to the writer’s imagination to decide if Rorscach chose his path out of guilt for the women he couldn’t save, because he was rebelling against his mother’s constant assertions he was nothing, or if he was just that badly messed up by her not-so-tender mercies.
11. Graydon Creed
First appearing in Uncanny X-Men #299, Graydon Creed is yet another of those X-Men nemeses (nemesi?) who attack the team because they have a hate-on for mutants in general. To be fair, Creed’s hatred may be a little easier to understand once you look at where he came from; as revealed in the 1993 Sabretooth mini-series, Creed was the offspring of two mutants (the ones named Mystique and Sabretooth, to be specific), and his mother gave him up for adoption because he interfered with her life as a free-wheeling mutant mercenary. When he learned he was the son of mutants who didn’t want him, he channeled his abandonment issues into a hatred of all mutants, forming the Friends of Humanity terrorist group and running for president of the United States on an anti-mutant platform. He was later given the ultimate spanking by his mother, or rather by a future vision of his mother (don’t ask), who disintegrated him for his part in his group’s brutal attack on her lesbian lover’s grandson. Then Creed was re-animated using a techno-organic virus and… (flips more pages) … wow, I did not miss much skipping most of the X-Men titles in the ’90s.
While a lot of villains can play the “mommy was a bad mother” card to explain their behavior, how many of them can claim to be in the super-villain business as their mother’s partner in crime? Not a whole lot. And then there’s Lana Baumgartner, one-half of the Bombshells duo that debuted in 2009’s Ultimate Comics Spider-Man series. Despite the ban on mutant powers in the Ultimate universe (no surprise, given what happened in…. oh, right, spoilers, moving on), the mother-and-daughter duo agree to use their mutant explosive powers to commit daring daylight robberies together. After their heists were foiled by Spider-Man, Spider-Woman and the Human Torch, Lana was separated from her mother and placed in her grandmother’s care, the hope being that she would be less inclined to rob people if she were separated from her mother (their powers were such that they could only activate them while in each other’s presence, another solid reason for keeping them apart). When last seen (at least by me), Lana was going to Peter Parker’s school and starting the slow road to taming her potty mouth and learning to trust other people, so there’s hope for her yet.
Oh, Mordred. Back before a certain blond-haired queen and boy-king from the fertile mind of George R.R. Martin delighted us with their scheming and villainy, Mordred was the original medieval mama’s boy. As seen in the Justice League episodes “A Knight of Shadows” and “Kids’ Stuff,” the evil Arthurian sorceress known as Morgaine Le Fey has used her magic since the Dark Ages to stave off the ravages of time and give her son the kingdom she once promised him. But keep a kid just shy of puberty for a dozen centuries and he’s bound to develop a few resentment issues, as Le Fey learns when she finally achieves the means to give him all the power he needs to reshape the world and he instantly turns on her. Boy, some kids — you sacrifice everything for them, and they still banish you to a limbo dimension the first chance they get.
Not strictly a comic-book villain, but still: my list, my rules. From the Wikipedia entry on 2010’s Despicable Me: “Steve Carell [stars] as Gru, the main protagonist and the world’s former #1 super-villain. He intends to shrink and
steal the moon to gain status and approval from his mother.” Said mother is played by Julie Andrews, whom one imagines is having a ball playing these kinds of voiceover roles in her autumn years. As revealed in flashbacks throughout the movie, Gru is not truly an evil super-villain, just someone with the bad luck of growing up with a mother who thought it was appropriate to say things like “NASA isn’t sending the monkeys anymore” when told by her technologically gifted child that he wants to go to the moon. So is it any wonder why the grown-up Gru turns to villany and tries to steal the moon?