IT HAS BEGUN!
The release of X-Men: Apocalypse just reminds us that if all the release calendars remain accurate, there may always be a superhero movie in theaters. That means all these movie franchises are breaking out the biggest guns and the baddest dudes in every superhero universe for the most brutal comic book threats: for the Avengers, it’s Thanos; for the Justice League, Darkseid; and for the X-Men, Apocalypse.
But who are these villains? What drives them? What are their weaknesses?
Fortunately for you, we’ve got a complete rundown on each character. Who’s stronger? Who’s cooler? Who’s got the most embarrassing loss?
REAL WORLD ORIGINS
Darkseid: Created by Jack “King” Kirby in 1970’s Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134, Darkseid is the anchor of Kirby’s epic and deeply influential Fourth World, the personified Evil in Kirby’s ultimate tale of good versus evil. Kirby modeled Darkseid on Adolf Hitler (but not his face – that’s Jack Palance if he was a rockbiter) and Apokalips, the world where he has total control over the population, is supposed to represent the point where the Fuhrer wouldn’t have had to yell anymore – everyone accepts the hellish nightmare he governs as a fact of life.
Apocalypse: When Bob Layton and Jackson Guice launched X-Factor in 1986, the pair seeded the background of their first arc with a shadowy figure in the background, pulling the strings on what they thought would be a larger conspiracy. That mysterious figure was supposed to be The Owl, a Daredevil villain known for eating rats in Superior Foes of Spider-Man and doing Kingpin’s taxes on the Daredevil Netflix series.
X-Men group editor Bob Harras wasn’t a fan and thought that the reunited original five X-Men needed a bigger threat. So Layton left the book, and Louise Simonson came on, changing the mysterious puppet-master from a mathcore bird man to the thin-lipped Darwinist we have today.
Thanos: Jim Starlin: “I JUST GOT A SHITLOAD OF ACID AND KIRBY COMICS YOU WANNA COME OVER?!?”
Steve Engleheart: “I’ll grab a 20 bag and be there in an hour.”
WINNER: Darkseid, because Kirby is the King for a reason. But “let’s see what happens when I do a bunch of acid and read Jimmy Olsen comics” is a pretty compelling origin too.
Darkseid: Uxas was the son of evil god Yuga Kahn, the ruler of Apokalips, a planet where monstrous acts are perpetrated on a willing populace, and the surface is pockmarked by pits belching hellfire. When Yuga Kahn disappeared into the Source Wall–the edge of the universe and a metaphor for a comic panel’s borders, beyond which nothing exists but the creation force of the DC multiverse (cough-cough-Jack-Kirby-and-a-pencil-cough)–Uxas plotted to claim the crown from his older brother Drax (no, not that one).
He got his chance when, as Drax was about to ascend to godhood, Uxas knocked his brother out of the way and boosted Drax’s power. He accepted the throne of Apokalips and claimed his new name: Darkseid.
Upon his ascension, Darkseid began poaching the biggest assholes from Apokalips’ sister planet, New Genesis. That’s where he met his best friend and chief torturer, Desaad, and where he and his uncle, hunting the most dangerous game, killed the wife of Highfather, kicking off a centuries-long war. He’s also had two wives – Sulli and Tigra (no, not that one), who each bore him a child: Kalibak and Orion.*Editor’s note: that was the far more interesting pre-New 52 version. Post-reboot, Darkseid is a guy who hated the Gods, so he talked them all into killing each other before claiming their power and turning their world into Apokalips. Then he slept with an Amazon and had a third child, Grail, who didn’t care much for her Dad and later killed him. But, as a counterpoint to this origin being pretty bland and rote, the idea that there is only one set of New Gods that exists outside of regular time and space, and the same people can simultaneously invade Earth-1 and Earth-2 is kind of awesome.
Apocalypse: En Sabah Nur was born in Egypt 5000 years ago and is considered to be the first human born with the mutant X-gene (though that is somewhat disputed). He was raised by Baal and the Sandstormers for a time, a group of Egyptian desert scavengers who invented Darwinism. Kang the Conqueror (yes, that one) had also time traveled to Ancient Egypt so he could turn into the pharaoh or something. He then sends an army to kill Apocalypse, knowing that he will develop into a threat in the future, figuring “I am Kang, why the hell not?” Nur and the dying Baal escape into a cave filled with Celestial technology. Nur uses that tech to dramatically increase his powers, and he then infiltrates Kang/Rama Tut’s city where he and the entirely off-panel-for-his-origin-story Fantastic Four chase Kang off into the future. A furious Nur renames himself Apocalypse, transforms Kang’s general Ozymandias into a blind stone sculpture who will serve Apocalypse for eternity, and ducks into a Celestial home-schooling bed for periodic naps to recharge his power.He continues to resurface throughout human history, seeding conflict between countries, saving ancient Egypt from a Brood invasion, fighting Draculas, and creating glam-as-shit immortal Victorian scientists who eventually become obsessed with his downfall.
Thanos: Born to two Eternal (a race of preternaturally beautiful superhumans created by the Celestials) parents on Saturn’s moon Titan, Thanos carried the Deviant gene that marked him as a mutated Eternal, and instead of being beautiful and powerful, he was purple and had a Skrull chin, and was powerful. As such, his mother tried to kill him at birth. Somehow, this isn’t what messed him up, though. He is vastly smarter than his classmates and feels a sense of emptiness in his life until one young lady in his class starts encouraging him to strip away his morals as he examines the universe. So he starts killing and dissecting things – lizards at first, then other Titanians. He eventually leaves Titan, trying to suppress his murderous urges by joining a pirate crew and leaving broken hearted women saddled with fatherless children across the galaxy.
That wasn’t enough for the Mad Tyrant Antonio Cromartie, though: he remained haunted by his now grown classmate, encouraging him to give into his baser urges. She reveals herself to be Death (the physical embodiment of the metaphysical concept) and refuses to love him unless he becomes her avatar in the universe. So he kills his pirate captain, raises an army, and razes Titan, killing all the Eternals on the planet (missing the handful that are not there, like his brother Starfox, and sparing his father, Mentor). He heads off to gather up whatever items of immense power he can get his hands on – the Infinity Gauntlet, a Cosmic Cube, whatever – to kill enormous amounts of people throughout the galaxy, and to have his advances constantly rebuffed by the woman he lusts after.
WINNER: Thanos has enslaved billions of beings and murdered more than half the universe, all to get a girl to stop “friendzoning” him. He’s one piece of novelty headgear away from being the dark god of men’s rights activists. Seriously, if they rewrote Gone Girl to star an Amazon from Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, it still wouldn’t be a bigger MRA fantasy/cautionary tale than Thanos. He’s legitimately terrifying.
Darkseid: Everyone in this has some measure of super strength and invulnerability, but Darkseid can probably take the other two in a straight up fistfight. He’s the guy who can take a full-power punch from Superman, which is usually enough to shatter a planet into tiny pieces. He’s a super genius with exhaustive knowledge of the cosmos he’s gleaned from his quest for the Anti-Life Equation and a vast array of experience as a tactician, commanding the armies of Apokalips in near-constant war with New Genesis.
In addition, he shoots the Omega Beams from his eyes – lasers that do just about anything to their victim, from push them really far to incinerate them to bend around corners and shred the victim apart, atom by atom. The Omega Beams can also teleport victims; return them to Darkseid; send them through “THE DEATH THAT IS LIFE!” where they repeat the same hell over and over again; erase them from history; or send them cascading back through time while a giant Miyagani bat tries to eat their story until they never existed and simultaneously existed to feed Darkseid. The Return of Bruce Wayne was super weird.
Apocalypse: Depends on what kind of visuals a story called for. I’m only half kidding – at this point, it’s hard to tell what powers came from his mutation and what powers came from Celestial tech. It looks like his mutation made him a long-lived megamorph, seemingly immortal and able to change his size and shape on command.
He also had the ability to shoot energy blasts from his hands. Then he got a healing factor and a fancy suit with lots of pipes and shit, and the ability to read minds, be a super genius, and siphon off other mutants’ powers. And then there was that one time he got the powers of Cyclops, Havok, Jean Grey, the Living Monolith, Cable, Magneto, Professor X, Bishop, Iceman, Mikhail Rasputin, Sunfyou… you know what? Maybe we skip “The Twelve” for now.
Thanos: Eternals, Thanos’ baseline race, are roughly as powerful as the other gods in the Marvel Universe. Thanos is considered super-powered by them. So when your average-person-baseline is Thor, someone he’d consider a big deal is no joke. He’s got enhanced strength, invulnerability, the ability to blast cosmic rays out of his hands, limited telekenesis and telepathy. He’s a super-genius and a master tactician, having led armies that exterminated whole systems.
He’s got a pretty sweet knockoff of Metron’s Mobius Chair that lets him teleport and go places without ever standing up and it shouts “LIKE A BOSS”* whenever he zips into a room. And that’s not even counting all the various cosmic macguffins he usually gets his hands on.
*Note: it doesn’t shout that, but everyone thinks it.
WINNER: Apocalypse just grew the power to win this category, but then Darkseid hit him with the Omega Sanction, and now he’s stuck as an alternate personality of Moon Knight. ALL HAIL DARKSEID!
Darkseid: loneliness + alienation + fear + despair + self-worth ÷ mockery ÷ condemnation ÷ misunderstanding × guilt × shame × failure × judgment n=y where y=hope and n=folly, love=lies, life=death, self=dark side is ANTI-LIFE. By saying this Anti-Life Equation to anyone, Darkseid can strip them of their free will and turn them into slaves, giving him the ability to create a viral army.
Apocalypse: Everything cool Apocalypse has he got from the Celestials. He stole Ship, a space vehicle infused with a Celestial-created AI, from another immortal a thousand years ago. Ship gave him the technology he needed to teleport, travel through space, heal himself, and imbue others with powers (like Exodus and Mr. Sinister).
He’s also in possession of a number of Celestial “Seeds” – items that aid the natural process of evolution on each planet by apparently creating a themed team of underlings. The Death Seed causes the bearer to turn into the most powerful and most twisted member of the Horsemen of Apocalypse, someone who sees his or her duty as eliminating all substandard life on a planet so the Celestials will be happy with the evolutionary progress the planet is making.
There’s also a Life Seed, which can create new life from almost nothing, like the Genesis torpedo. It can also counteract a Death Seed. And there are rumors of seeds that create the other three horsemen (Pestilence, War, and Famine) that he would presumably control as well.
Thanos: Traditionally, Thanos has been found in possession of one of two absurdly powerful artifacts: a Cosmic Cube or the Infinity Gauntlet.Cosmic cubes are little tiny boxes of Beyonder-juice that let the bearer warp reality to be/contain/reflect whatever she wants it to. So Red Skull, for example, has used it to try and turn the universe into a Nazi hellscape and then to cower in Alexander Lukin’s tummy for a bit; Star-Lord tried to use it to subdue a power-mad and momentarily evil Adam Warlock; and Thanos, being obsessed with Mistress Death, used it to k…sorry, scratch that. He used it to make himself omniscient and talk some shit, then got his ass handed to him by Captain Marvel. Seems like a wasted opportunity.The Infinity Gauntlet is Thanos’ real jam. The Gauntlet itself has no power. It’s just a glove that allows you to mount and use in concert the six Infinity Gems (or Infinity Stones, as they’re called in the movies): the Power Gem, the Time Gem, the Mind Gem, the Space Gem, the Reality Gem, and the Soul Gem. Each gem is perfectly self-explanatory: the Power Gem gives the user access to immense power, physical strength or energy projection; the Reality Gem lets the user bend or break the physical laws of the universe with impunity; the Time Gem lets the user travel through time. And when used together, the six gems give the user the ability to do anything he wants. Thanos used it to kill half the universe, lock up his dad and all of the forces of cosmic nature (Galactus, Eternity, Order and Chaos), and personally become the living embodiment of the universe.
WINNER: Thanos turned himself into everything, which is simultaneously the most badass thing ever and the biggest pile of hippie bullshit ever put in a comic. But at least it’s not math. Thanos wins.
Darkseid: At some point, it was prophesied that Darkseid would eventually fall in battle at the hand of a son. So it makes perfect sense that he would hand over an infant child to Highfather and New Genesis, his mortal enemies, in order to cement a peace treaty. That son was raised to be Orion, and he traveled around the galaxy to help impede Darkseid’s plans. Darkseid’s also reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally not a fan of Superman (like Zack Snyder!). Almost immediately after coming into contact with Earth, Darkseid begins supplying Metropolis’ organized crime with sci-fi weapons and regularly coming to Earth to start some shit with Kal. The two have regularly fought, to the point where Darkseid has become an integral part of freaking Doomsday’s backstory, reengineering the unstoppable monster who turns out is pretty stoppable several times.
And in his unending quest to secure the Anti-Life Equation, he’s repeatedly faced Anti-Life’s only natural predator: all the Lanterns. They have managed to fight him off, but he gives them a run for their money every time.
Apocalypse: Everybody kinda hates En Sabah Nur. Even if you ignore Kang, who was in the past and figured “I know what this guy is going to end up doing, might as well take a shot while I’m here,” there is still a line around the block to hate on him. Everyone who has ever been a horseman and walked away from it now wants to eliminate him: that includes Wolverine, Gambit, Angel, the Hulk, Polaris, and Sunfire. And Cyclops, I guess, if you want to be a little lax in your definition of Horseman. But his biggest nemesis (besides a scientifically accurate understanding of Darwinism) is probably Cable.
Nathan Christopher Summers is the child of Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor, a clone of Jean Grey created by Nathaniel Essex, the aforementioned glam king Mr. Sinister. Sinister mated these two mutants together because he saw in their genetic makeups that they would produce an immensely powerful child, one he planned to use as a weapon to destroy his old boss and creator, Apocalypse.
Nur, seeing it coming, infected baby Nate with a techno-organic virus that turned half of his body into robot goo. So to save him, Cyclops sent Nate into the future with his daughter from an alternate reality, Rachel, to be raised thousands of years from now by him and Jean when their minds get pulled forward while they’re on their honeymoon.
Nathan eventually takes the name Cable, then traipses off through the timestream to stop Apocalypse from ascending to power. They run into each other periodically through the ages, before meeting up for good in the present day, having several battles royale that also include a clone/not clone of Cable whose costume is shiny and chrome, and covered in knives, Stryfe.
Thanos: On his first trip to Earth, Thanos’ ship blew up a passing car as it was landing. From the family in that car, Thanos’ grandfather (Kronos) took the dead father and turned him into Drax the Destroyer. Drax’s overriding biological imperative is to kill Thanos, to the point where he actually comes very close to blowing a plan to save the universe that requires Thanos’ participation (in Annihilation). Thanos was also historically opposed by Mar-vell, the original Captain Marvel. The two regularly fought throughout the ‘70s with Thanos routinely defeated by Captain Marvel on some technicalities, or something. Shit like “You may be omniscient, but who’s guarding your body!” as Mar-vell cracks open the Cosmic Cube. Thanos got the last laugh, though, when… a completely treatable disease killed his arch-nemesis and they all went to hang out at his girlfriend’s house in Marvel’s first ever graphic novel.
WINNER: You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies. There is no more powerful foe in all of comics than a Summers family retcon. Apocalypse.
Darkseid: Darkseid is surrounded by the colorful characters you’d expect from a Kirby story. Steppenwolf is his uncle, an immortal hunter who commands the Dog Cavalry, which is exactly what it says. Desaad is Darkseid’s consiglieri, his confidant and co-conspirator, and chief torturer. Virman Vundabar looks like Benny Mussolini but he’s actually good at war (and also at building elaborate traps). Doctor Bedlam is made of energy and fakes a bunch of escape artist routines by transferring his consciousness into new clones. Glorious Godfrey has, on Earth, alternately been an evil talk radio host or an evil televangelist (all redundant, I know). Kanto is an assassin who dresses like a ridiculous Shakespeare fanboy – it’s so over the top that Mercutio would tell him to dial it back a little.
And then there’s my personal favorite, Granny Goodness. Granny Goodness runs Darkseid’s training camps, and she’s the worst psychopath working for him – she tortured Scott Free until he escaped, becoming Mister Miracle. She has her Female Furies, her elite guard of warriors (Stompa, Lashina, Mad Harriet and Bernadeth, and before she escaped, Big Barda). But she’s also home to the single finest bit of casting in the history of comic to tv adaptations that’s not Nolan North as everyone: in the DCAU, Granny Goodness is voiced by Ed Asner, and it is perfect.
Apocalypse: You know that guy who insists on theme costumes every Halloween? Well here you go: Apocalypse insists on surrounding himself with underlings based on the four horsemen of the biblical apocalypse: Famine, War, Pestilence, and Death. His M.O. is that he takes other heroes and twists their powers to fit the theme, and he’s had quite a crew of capes show up as Horsemen in the past – they’re like a mutant Probot: Gazer, Deathbird, Wolverine, Angel, Sunfire, Polaris, Caliban, Ahab, Gambit, and Psylocke have all served in one role or another. And for a minion group, they’re surprisingly effective: they beat Dracula’s armies in the 1800s, and a group of them came very close to killing an ancestor of Wolverine’s in medieval London before a drunk and very angry Thor axed the shit out of them with Jarnbjorn. Nevermind their alternate universe versions: in the Age of Apocalypse, the Horsemen were Holocaust, Abyss, Sinister, and Mikhail Rasputin (Colossus’ brother), and in the movie, it looks like they’ll be Psylocke, Storm, Magneto, and Angel.
Thanos: Besides the girl he’s pining after, Thanos has very little. Recently, he gathered together a group of lieutenants, the Cull Obsidian, to do his dirty work for them. They are mostly some very bad people: Black Dwarf is a bruiser, but he’s also grossly incompetent and Thanos had him killed. Corvus Glaive is a tactical genius and immortal as long as his sword is unbroken. His wife, Proxima Midnight, is an exceptional hand-to-hand fighter. Supergiant is a telepathic parasite, who destroys what she mind controls. And Ebony Maw has the power to talk anyone into anything, like Killgrave from Jessica Jones except he looks like an emaciated bug.
Winner: Darkseid, just for retroactively changing the entire Mary Tyler Moore Show into something BRUTAL.
Darkseid: We’ve already talked about Orion, and he’s the only one of Darkseid’s kids that’s not a screw up. Grayven’s power is only matched by the mediocrity of his ambition. He’s got limited access to the Omega Effect, which, to remind you, can teleport people. But he’s obsessed with getting his hands on Zeta Beams, the energy source Adam Strange uses to… teleport. He’s New Gods’ Azazel.
Meanwhile, Kalibak is his firstborn, and he’s just… ugh. I almost feel bad making fun of him, considering he’s shaped like Arnim Zola, only he’s not a computer and he does have a head. But he keeps screwing everything up. He’s as strong as Darkseid or Orion or Superman, but he can’t help himself – either he runs off to start fights he shouldn’t, or he inadvertently kills Desaad or a thousand Parademons, or his Dad orders him to jail “for research” and he goes.
He’s a putz, and Darkseid keeps killing and resurrecting him, trying to teach him a lesson.
Finally, there’s Grail. She’s the product of Darkseid and an Amazon woman, and she teams up with the Anti-Monitor to kill her Dad. He’s not doing great on kids.
Apocalypse: At some point, Famine (Autumn Rolfson, the first Famine we meet in X-Factor) had an affair with En Sabah Nur, and they conceived a child. His name was Genocide (actually it was William, but he’s an X-Villain, so it’s gotta be something Black Metal), and he was a being comprised almost exclusively of nuclear energy. He lived inside a containment suit that gave him an arm that was a clear plastic honeycomb club that let him shoot nuclear fire at people, and… wait, CHAMBER AND BLINK? IS THAT FOR REAL?
Thanos: Nebula, a space pirate lady played by Karen Gillan in a ton of blue paint in Guardians of the Galaxy, CLAIMS she’s the Mad Titan’s granddaughter, but there’s never been any confirmation of that. Thane, Thanos’ blood offspring, was the product of an affair with an Inhuman woman, and the macguffin I MEAN subject of an intense search by Thanos during Infinity.
Gamora is his adopted daughter – she was picked up by Thanos after being the only survivor of the Badoon exterminating her race and trained by him to be the greatest assassin in the universe. So, she’s not terrible.But Rot… I triple dog dare you to read Rot’s wiki entry and not hate Thanos afterwards. Not because Rot is anything special, but because his kid’s backstory is so idiotic that I want to put my fist through my monitor right now.
WINNER: HOLY SHIT BLINK’S DAD IS AKKABA. SHE’S REALLY APOCALYPSE’S KID.
Darkseid: Through gross space-time and subtle mental manipulation, Darkseid in the 31st Century swapped Earth and Daxam (home planet to Mon-El and the Daxamites, a race of beings almost identical to Kryptonians, only their weakness is lead), and then pissed every Daxamite on planet off, until they joined him to try and conquer the galaxy. If you can read that and not hear Doof’s guitar riff from Fury Road, I don’t know how to get you excited about anything.
Also, there was that one time where he became the black hole at the center of the multiverse, destroying the orrery of worlds by erasing them from existence. Final Crisis was weird, yo.
Apocalypse: Personally responsible for a generation of comic fans when, in a then-unprecedented comic event, all of the X-Men comics were cancelled and replaced by counterpart comics from an alternate dimension ruled by En Sabah Nur, the “Age of Apocalypse.”
In this alternate timeline, Charles Xavier had been killed and mutants exposed to the world when he was still… early middle aged? He was bald and Magneto was all salt no pepper, so let’s say like, 35. Anyway, Apocalypse used the death of Charles to ascend to power in the Americas, placing his Four Horsemen in charge of brutally repressing and murdering homo sapiens, and eventually causing a war with the humans living in Europe, which eventually destroyed the world.
And if you were a 13-year-old reading this as it happened, your mind was blown.
Thanos: In terms of volume, Thanos’ greatest moment is probably when he murdered half the known universe to impress Death in Infinity Gauntlet. But, befitting his origin as a restless, dissatisfied, condescending philosophy snob, he would probably consider his crowning achievement to be the time he was unleashed in an alternate dimension where the metaphysical (and regularphysical, to be fair) concept of death had been eliminated by a deal between Lovecraftian Elder Gods and a dying Captain Marvel, because as the avatar of Death, Thanos was the only one who could bring balance to that world.
Now that I’ve said it out loud, The Thanos Imperative sounds really fucking metal.
WINNER: For all the credit Apocalypse gets for AoA, to borrow a trite real world phrase for a moment, he didn’t build that. Legion did.
Meanwhile, Thanos did get unleashed on a dimension where no one could die, but in the end, he didn’t manage to actually kill anyone.
Darkseid on separate occasions created his own army of Supermen and used the internet to bring about the end of the multiverse. The only way he could top that would be if he used his superhuman pettiness to be a massive prick to someone like Mr. Miracl…oh, I guess he did. Darkseid wins.
Darkseid: It’s pretty cool how Darkseid is the black hole at the center of the collapse of the multiverse in Final Crisis, but the fact remains that he was ultimately defeated by Superman singing “My Neck, My Back” at him*.*Yes, I know this was a play on the Silver Age thing where different worlds in the DC multiverse exist at different frequencies. No, that doesn’t make it any less silly.
Apocalypse: Dude’s a slave to his theme. I get that he’s not always going to easily find mutants with the power to make someone’s flesh consume itself, or to spread disease, but “YOU WILL BE MY HORSEMAN FAMINE, AND YOU WILL MAKE LITTLE FLASHY LIGHTS THAT MAKE THE PEOPLE WHO SEE THEM REALLY SUPER HUNGRY” is a silly power even in a world where Beak and Angel have a brood of Cronenbergs.
Thanos: Thanos’s greatest villain is probably his own bullshit self-regard. Every time this cat gained omniscience, he was defeated because he assumed his foes would leave his body alone. Even when he got killed by Drax in Annihilation, part of him was assuming that his invaluableness to the plan would keep Drax from offing him.
Jesus Christ, he really IS an MRA.
WINNER: “HERE IS YOUR DRUM, AND WITH IT YOU WILL CAUSE GREAT HUNGER IN THE PEOPLE WHO HEAR IT. ALSO YOU ARE A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER.”
“Well wouldn’t it make more sense for me to be War then? I could use my drums to drive people into a fury and have them fight with each other?”
“APOCALYPSE FAILS TO SEE THE SENSE IN THAT PROPOSAL, FAMINE.” -1 to Apocalypse.
VIDEO GAME APPEARANCES
Darkseid: For a guy who is more or less the end boss to the entire DC Comics Universe, it’s astonishing that he’s never been a playable character in a game. He was a stage interaction in Injustice, and he was great – you hit your opponent just right in the Hall of Justice, and he went through a boom tube to be kicked and zapped by the dark god. But that’s about it.
Except for one other appearance in the newish Lego Batman 3, he’s been absent… what’s that? He was a playable character in Mortal Kombat vs. DC? Well yeah, but wasn’t that game terrible? Yeah, so he’s only been set dressing.
Apocalypse: All ‘90s X-Men comics revolved around him in some way or another, and it’s fitting that he then spent the last half of the decade as the last guy in a bunch of X-games: you fight him last in X-Men vs. Street Fighter; second to last in Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter; and he was the mastermind in X-Men Legends 2, the top-down precursor to Ultimate Alliance.
He was also, I found out researching this article (because I never actually beat the damn hard game before), a boss in X-Men 2: The Clone Wars, the absurdly difficult Genesis game that was still amazing and let you play as Magneto or Psylocke, or Gambit, or Wolverine.
Thanos: The only :plugs fingers in ears: LALALALALALA playable character in the bunch, Thanos was a boss character in Capcom’s Marvel Super Heroes, who you could unlock and use in the game if you were so inclined. And then, because the premise of the game was “let’s use every single sprite we have on file,” he came back for Marvel vs. Capcom 2, the greatest fighting game of all time.
WINNER: Thanos! But not just because he’s the only worthwhile playable character. He’s also a cross between a trap and a rushdown character, and I’m going to stop myself now before I spend another six thousand words talking fighting game theory that I’m incapable of practicing.
Darkseid: He’s strongly implied in Batman v Superman, but as far as we know, he only exists as a logo-torching fever dream and does not appear himself. Michael Ironside was so good in Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League/JLU that I can’t hear anyone else as the character (even Andre Braugher, who is currently TV’s best character, was terrible as Darkseid in comparison); and I also can’t hear Ironside doing any other voice. I just want to hear him whisper-yell about Kal-El, even when he’s Captain Cold’s dad on Flash.
Apocalypse: He made a few appearances in the ‘90s cartoon, and all of them were as impenetrable as any of the comics at the time, which was delightful. He was also the big villain of the last two seasons of X-Men: Evolution, and partially responsible for that show getting really good.
And he was teased as the big villain for season 2 of Wolverine and the X-Men before that show got canned. He’s going to be played by the internet’s boyfriend Oscar Isaac in this summer’s X-Men: Apocalypse.
Thanos: Josh Brolin’s jaw is so square they had to use CG to round it off for him to get into character in Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron, and they will presumably use similar technology to keep it that way in Avengers: Infinity War.
WINNER: Apocalypse. He’s the one who shouted “I AM THE ROCKS OF THE ETERNAL SHORE. CRASH AGAINST ME AND BE BROKEN” in the ‘90s cartoon. Protip: this works great if you yell it during sex.
Darkseid: There have been a lot of great comics with him in it – “The Great Darkness Saga” is a Legion of Super-Heroes classic, and when he shows up in Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning’s Legion, it’s similarly fantastic. And Final Crisis, for all the silver age goofiness at the end, is still magnificent.
But the single best Darkseid story starts with the last few episodes of Superman: The Animated Series, where he brainwashes Superman to lead his army invading Earth (and Superman nearly kills Supergirl before snapping out of it – “Legacy” parts 1 and 2); pops up for an hour of show in Justice League (where he “teamed up” with Brainiac to discover the Anti-Life Equation – “Twilight”); and concludes with the second to last episode of Justice League Unlimited (where Superman punches him through an entire city’s worth of buildings after being resurrected merged with Brainiac – “Alive!” and “Destroyer”).
Apocalypse: He was the focus of just about every X-crossover in the ‘90s. Age of Apocalypse was formative for an entire generation of comic readers, and did so well establishing and describing him as a threat that it effectively ruined him for a generation.
Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force doesn’t have En Sabah Nur in it personally (except for like five pages), but he was essential to it – the whole run through “The Dark Angel Saga” is about Apocalypse’s universe. And early X-Factor when he was first introduced is great just because it has Walt Simonson art.
Thanos: The various Infinitys are what made him a huge threat, but if you want a glimpse of what made him the Mad Tyrant, Thanos Rising from Jason Aaron and Simone Bianchi is terrific.
To see how he operates in the greater context of the Marvel Cosmic universe, Annihilation and The Thanos Imperative are excellent (as is everything in between. Seriously, go read that). And to see what he’s been up to lately, you can’t really beat Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers megastory.
WINNER: It’s a tie. All of these stories are wonderful.
Darkseid: Uxas is currently a smoldering corpse, whacked by the Anti-Monitor in Justice League’s “Darkseid War” storyline, by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok.
Thanos: Most recently seen getting a deep tissue massage from Dr. Doom on Battleworld in Secret Wars.
WINNER: Apocalypse by a country mile.
The running tally sits at 4 points for Darkseid, and 3 each for Thanos and Apocalypse. Here’s where you get to decide: the fan vote will be worth two points, and we at Den of Geek will finally settle this argument for all time. Who is better? Darkseid, Apocalypse, or Thanos? What say you, Denizens of Geek? Who do you like best?Which Big Blue Jerk is the Jerkiest?ApocalypseDarkseidThanos