Our second annual Meta Madhouse competition is reaching its dramatic conclusion, and this year it’s been all about the bad guys. We dubbed this year’s competition the “Tournament of Terror” because the 64 entrants, and their four coaches, were some of the meanest and toughest that the DC Universe had to offer -- assuring some truly dirty fighting would be in store. The final four fighters have already proven just how formidable they are as opponents… but to qualify for this tournament in the first place, each competitor was required to prove just how evil they were. Before you cast your vote (again) for your favorites, let’s take a look at the resumes in ruthlessness for our fearsome four: Reverse-Flash, Black Adam, Brainiac, and Gorilla Grodd.
Reverse-Flash was something of an anomaly amongst the heavily Gotham-based roster of The Joker Maniacs. But perhaps what Eobard Thawne has in common with The Joker’s brand of evil is just how personal it is. Reverse Flash’s motivation is not about domination, or destruction. It’s that insidious, petty evil of absolutely screwing over one guy in particular. While the infamous Identity Crisis shook the Super Hero community to its core with the murder of a Super Hero’s wife, Reverse-Flash holds the distinction of having done it first, decades before -- by vibrating his hand through the skull of Iris West-Allen, the wife of his nemesis. Years later, when Thawne threatened to the same to his then-fiance Fiona Webb, the normally stalwart Barry Allen had no choice but to kill his enemy in The Flash #324 before he could get the chance -- an act which would haunt him until the day he sacrificed his life to save the universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths. In his final act of Pre-Crisis continuity, Eobard Thawne succeeded in making The Flash hate himself just as much as Thawne did. Reverse-Flash may not be a world conquerer, but to get a sweetheart like Barry Allen to cross the line into cold-blooded murder takes one mean son of the 25th century.
The millennia spanning life of Black Adam is a twofold cautionary tale: one about the corrupting influence of power, and how a broken heart may drive us to unforgivable acts. Thousands of years ago, the noble Teth-Adam was chosen as the champion of the wizard Shazam to protect mankind from the psychological demons which invoke our darkest inclinations. As Black Adam, Shazam gifted him with the unimaginable power which has allowed him to advance so far in this year’s tournament. But somewhere along the way, protecting mankind became synonymous for Black Adam to leading it -- and so, he killed the pharaoh and took his place. For his insolence, pride, and presumption, Shazam banished Black Adam for thousands of years, effectively allowing mankind’s sins to run rampant for most of recorded human history unchecked. One could argue that the greatest crime Black Adam ever committed was ruining the guardianship against the sins of man for everyone, and in his absence allowing them to thrive in the hearts of us all -- but that’s a bit epistemological. In reality, the worst thing Black Adam’s probably ever done was when he killed 2 million Bialyans after the death of his wife Isis, in search of the abomination which murdered her. This is all to say that while Black Adam may be one of the more sympathetic genocidal tyrants in the DC Universe, it’s difficult to conceive of a redemption arc satisfying enough to walk that back.
When Brainiac first appeared in 1958, he wasn’t even really THAT bad, as far as Super-Villains go. He was more of a thief than a killer, albeit on a grander scale -- one who stole entire cities at a time, as opposed to a diamond or the contents of a bank. But as Brainiac’s legend grew, so too did his insidiousness. Eventually, the act of taking cities from populated worlds to store their data also came with an implicit effect of destabilizing the planet- and, in some cases, the entire solar system- leading to its inevitable demise. This after-effect is the driving threat behind Season 1 of the Krypton television series, which places the blame for Krypton’s destruction on Brainiac’s bionic shoulders. The question is, is evil defined by action or intent? Brainiac has the mind of a machine -- to him, there is no malice behind what he does. But the billions of lives lost to his collective compulsions demonstrate that what we do defines who we are.
Like Black Adam, Gorilla Grodd’s original sin was in his campaign to usurp the seat of power among his people and rule them as he saw fit. Unlike Black Adam, Grodd was less successful. Indeed, unlike the other three competitors in this bracket, most of Grodd’s schemes tend to result in failure. Take, for instance, his Secret Society of Super-Villains in Justice League Unlimited. After an ambitious effort to unite the greatest forces of evil in the universe, Grodd’s meticulous master plan is eventually revealed to be… transforming every human on Earth into apes. With the plan’s failure, Luthor staged a coup against Grodd and took control of the Society for his own arguably equally self-interested ends. In the Rebirth era, Grodd masterminded a long campaign behind the scenes to take control of the Speed Force, but was once again met with failure. With all that said, a lack of ability to follow through on your evil plans makes one no less evil than those Super-Villains who find more success -- only less competent. Will Meta Madhouse be the thing to turn around Grodd’s villainous losing streak? Probably not, but anything can happen in the Tournament of Terror.