The Villains of the DC Universe Redesigned by Aaron Diaz
Over the past few weeks, Dresden Codak creator Aaron Diaz has been on a roll, drawing up some interesting and absolutely beautiful takes on what he’d do if he as put in charge of DC Comics. I’ve already taken a look at his plans for the Justice League, but now, he’s taken a shot at the villains with an all-new, redesigned Legion of Doom! Check out Diaz’s concept art, as well as our commentary on his new takes, after the cut!First up, Diaz gives us a decidedly Dr. Venture-esque Lex Luthor:
Origin: Lex Luthor is a self-made man. Born in the slums of Metropolis, he pulled himself out of poverty and was accepted with a full scholarship to MIT, though he soon dropped out to start his own business, LexCorp. Luthor’s company soon became the most influential in the country, the leader in both consumer and military technologies. His business practices were less than honest, however, and his further rise to power increasingly involved more dubious dealings. Upon the arrival of Superman, however, and his clear message of standing up to those who would abuse their power, Luthor became concerned. He didn’t understand where this person came from or how he was seemingly invincible, but he would find out.
To keep Superman and other heroes away from his most important dealings, Luthor devised two plans. First, he worked with the CIA to create Power Girl, a metahuman counter to Superman who would join the Justice League and watch over them. The second was a far more sinister and secret plan: to fund a team of supervillains to occupy the League’s time, a “Secret Society.” No one but Luthor and a single Society member knew he was ultimately behind their organization.
Notes: Luthor’s a pretty great foil to Superman already, so I didn’t want to change much. I prefer his depiction as a corporate mogul instead of a mad scientist, especially since it fits with my Superman’s proletarian leanings. This, however, doesn’t mean that Luthor isn’t a technical genius, it’s just that his goals are bigger than just inventing things. Visually I wanted someone who looked pretty friendly, nerdy fellow, like a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. He’s a famous guy and his personal image is strongly tied to the success of his company, so he’d try hard to suppress any notion that he’s anything but perfect. Then comes Superman, who’s this media darling, and it really gets to Luthor. Not only is this guy out to stop Luthor and his kind, but he’s doing it with a squeaky clean image.
Maybe it’s just because I grew up with the 1986 John Byrne reboot, but I’ve always liked the idea of Lex Luthor as a brilliant, thoroughly evil businessman more than the classic take of being an outlaw mad scientist/would-be conqueror, and Diaz does a great job of highlighting the reason why: If Superman is going to be a hero of the common man who helps them stand up against the people who manipulate and exploit them, then that’s what his arch-nemesis needs to be.
That said, of all the drastic changes Diaz has presented, this one isn’t too far off from what we already have — even the “squeaky clean image” aspect is pretty well in line with the Lex of Superman: The Animated Series, or the “Evil Willy Wonka” style master of Metropolis that Geoff Johns spun him as in Superman: Secret Origin. The only thing I’m not on board with in this version is, oddly enough, the glasses. They make a nice contrast to Clark Kent’s, but I can’t shake the feeling that Lex’s vanity wouldn’t allow him to appear even that “weak” in the eyes of the public.
Next up, Gorilla Grodd:
Origin: LexCorp geneticist Cornelius Grodd was tasked with reproducing Superman’s regenerative abilities and invulnerability. When he learned that his professional rival at S.T.A.R. labs, Ananth Patil, had made greater strides in this, Grodd sabotaged Patil’s work (unwittingly turning him into the Flash) and stole a sample of what he believed to be a serum for reproducing Superman’s invulnerability. After thorough testing and modification, Grodd concluded that the serum would work, and would also easily double his intelligence. He also concluded that only he should possess such power, and took the serum himself. It did increase his intellect, but instead of invulnerability, Grodd’s body was turned into an early hominid-like form. Disgraced, he turned to Luthor for aid, who offered him a new mission in exchange for the funding needed to undo his disfigurement: create a supervillain group to keep Superman occupied. Grodd knows he’s being used, but for the meantime plays along before making a direct action against Luthor.
Powers: Grodd possesses slightly higher than human strength, but his main ability is his cunning intellect and ability to hypnotize and control those with whom he makes eye contact.
Notes: Grodd’s a fun character and everyone loves an evil gorilla, but I wanted to have an appearance that wasn’t so on the nose about it. I decided for kind of a Planet of the Apes appearance, and went with a backstory that meshed with that. He’s also a guy who’s now as smart as or smarter than Luthor, with the same sort of ambition, and I wanted to preserve the classic semi-rivalry between these two villains.
I hate to say it, but I just can’t get behind this one. As much as I like the look and the origin for a different character, and as much as I understand where Diaz is coming from, it really takes all the fun out of the character. He’s a talking telepathic criminal gorilla on the run from a hidden gorilla utopia who wants to eat the Flash! That’s already awesome!
Again, I definitely get the idea behind the redesign: A villain who who’s incredibly strong and incredibly smart and has psychic powers and has advanced gorilla technology is way over the top, and doesn’t often work in the context of a group. But it’s that same over-the-top-ness that makes him such a fun character to read about, and while a Hypnotic Dr. Zaius is still pretty fun, it falls a bit short for me.
Moving on to Metallo:
Origin: LexCorp wasn’t the only company bidding for the government’s superhuman contract. Cadmus Labs also had a candidate for the “answer” to Superman, but while Lex Luthor’s project was simply to make their own superhuman, Cadmus took a darker route by creating a weapon explicitly designed to kill Superman. In place of a life sentence, mass murderer John Corben signed on to be one of Cadmus’s experiments. Project Metallo involved grafting him to a mechanical body, one that was powered by a mysterious meteor that they had been observed to weaken Superman. When Metallo was rejected by the government in favor of Power Girl, Cadmus made plans to dismantle him, but Corben managed to escape. Soon, however, he was intercepted by the Grodd, and offered an opportunity to join the Society so that he could fulfill the one action that would truly give him pleasure (thanks to Cadmus’s conditioning): fighting Superman.
Powers: Metallo possesses superhuman durability and strength, as well as a limited armament and the ability to fly short distances via rockets. His most distinctive attribute, however, is the power source in his chest: a fragment of Krypton, which fell to Earth along with Kal-El’s rocket years ago. The reason it causes harm to Superman is that when Colu sets out to destroy a species, it reforms their planets into a substance that unmakes them, specifically. As such, a fragment of the reconstituted Krypton (“Kryptonite,” if you will) unravels Kal-El’s very being. Metallo is also capable of firing a beam of Kryptonite radiation from his chest or eyes (when his faceplate is down).
Notes: Criminal experimentation seemed like a natural way to go with Metallo. I also like the notion that Lex Luthor actually didn’t come up with the most evil way to deal with Superman (at least at first). Visually I wanted Metallo to look a bit clunky and retro; there’s some Iron Giant and Big O in there, as well as a creepy glowing skull. He’s meant to look like he can take and give a pounding. The origin I’ve given him isn’t far removed from his original, just a little closer to something from the Robocop movies.
For Metallo, I have the exact opposite of the feelings I had about Grodd. Diaz’s redesign here is a hoot, and even before I read the description, I was already thinking about the scene in RoboCop 2 where the various attempts at making a second RoboCop go horrifyingly wrong. Then again, if I’m honest with you guys, there’s like a 30% chance that I’m thinking about a scene from RoboCop at any given moment of the day, so maybe it was just synchronicity.
Anyway, the look he gives to Metallo is great. He’s always been one of those characters that seemed like he had a hard time getting a “definitive” look, and from the ripped-up Terminator style of John Byrne’s run and the animated series to the plain ol’ metal skeleton, it all seemed like something that’s been done before. Diaz’s design really embraces that, and goes the route of a manga-style look to highlight what Metallo really is: A fighting robot designed to punch out aliens. I love those big ol’ clunky Big O arms.
Origin: Leslie Willis first gained notoriety on the reality TV show I’m a Superhero, Get Me Out of Here, where contestants were given a superhero name, powers, and forced to live together in Miami. When she discovered she would soon be voted off the show, Willis concocted a plan to increase her popularity by “going evil,” and proceeded to murder the other contestants and film crew. The plan worked, and “Livewire” continued to garner fame with a violent life of crime. She joined the Secret Six primarily because it would increase her exposure and chances of killing a popular hero. However, if that doesn’t turn out, Livewire has a backup plan where she will “turn good” at the last minute and help the Justice League.
Powers: Livewire’s gauntlets and helmet allow her to control electromagnetic fields. This mostly involves firing bolts of electricity and a rudimentary usage of magnetism to bend or throw metal.
Notes: Livewire’s original origin (as a shock jock) seemed a little too early 90s, but I do like the idea of an obnoxious egomaniac angle, so I went with the reality show backstory. In a world where Superman and other heroes are a new thing, you’d expect media outlets to capitalize on the hype. Livewire’s motivations aren’t too far removed from modern non-celebrities of that type, she’s only taken it to extremes. Visually, I wanted her outfit to be provocative before it’s practical. This is a character who is more concerned about being photographed than having combat-ready clothing.
If Diaz is concerned that Livewire’s shock jock origin is a little too tied to the ’90s, I’m not sure that rooting her in a reality show is really the way to go. After all, that doesn’t really seem like the sort of timeless cultural touchstone that’ll seem quite as relevant in another ten years. But since it’s all in fun and I doubt Diaz is planning on doing ten years of comics with his designs (though I would read the heck out of ’em), it’s probably a moot point.
As for the costume, it’s another one that I think is great. It’s a costume that serves the character, rather than being there just to excite the reader. The overt sexuality and flirtiness that he gives to Livewire — the plunging neckline, the garter-and-stockings style boots — works really well for the character’s motivations, especially because it’s a completely different look than what his other characters are wearing.
Case in point: Giganta:
Origin: The appearance of Superman and others sparked somewhat of a superhuman arms race worldwide, with nations concerned about their enemies gaining super soldiers of their own. A high price was offered, for example, for anyone who could navigate to the Amazonian island, Themiscyra, and recover its relics. Many treasure hunters lept at the opportunity, but only the mercenary Doris Zeul and her team were able to successfully navigate to Themiscyra. Although her companions were killed by the various traps left by the Amazons, Zeul survived and found a suit of armor said to contain the power of Ares. Deciding the claim the armor for her own, Zeul now works for the highest bidder, and that bidder is the Secret Society.
Powers: Fueled by rage, Giganta’s armor enhances her fighting skills and physical stature, as well as raise her strength and durability. Generally, the longer a fight goes on, the more indestructible she becomes.
Notes: Wonder Woman needed someone to sword fight, so I went with a little-used origin of Giganta that involved her being more of an Amazonian foil than a lady with growing powers. I also wanted to keep the origins of the characters diverse, and liked the idea of some powers-that-be trying to replicate Wonder Woman’s powers instead of Superman’s. Visually, I wanted Giganta to contrast with Wonder Woman while still having Greco-Roman vibes. I used a gladiator style to help distinguish her as someone who revels in combat and power, while Wonder Woman is more of a peacekeeper.
This is another case where Diaz takes full advantage of how a reboot allows you to structure character relationships. The best villains reflect something about the hero they fight, but I’ve never quite been sold on Wonder Woman having something that was reflected in a scientist cosplaying as Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
This, though, keeps the name and changes it around to something that really works. I love that she’s still a huge person — check out the group shot to see how far above the others Diaz has her towering — and having the team’s muscle there to cancel out Wonder Woman is something that the Justice League’s bad guys have never really done before.
Origin: Midori Ota was not the first on Earth to possess the Oan “green lantern.” Years earlier, another person, Dr. Evan Qward, first received it, but he quickly came to abuse its power, hoping to rule over the Earth with what he deemed a divine gift. The Oan lantern, however, was built with a failsafe against such abuse and disappeared from Qward’s possession, in search of a new host. Soon Qward was driven mad, having become addicted to the power, and spent the rest of his life trying to replicate the abilities of the lantern. Having recently discovered there is a new person using his former “gift,” Qward has taken up with the Secret Society under the name Sinestro in order to kill this new Green Lantern and reclaim what is rightfully his.
Powers: Sinestro has designed a suit and power supply meant to mimic the Green Lantern’s abilities, though it does not exactly achieve this. Instead, he can only deconstruct and manipulate nonliving matter with yellow rays from his gloves.
Notes: I think Sinestro is an important component of the Green Lantern mythos, as he represents the temptation that comes with such power and how easily it can be abused. Although his origin here is fairly different from the original, I think I’ve still kept the essential element of him being a “fallen” Green Lantern who thinks that power should be used to rule over people rather than serve them. While originally his antagonism was mostly an ideological one (since he still had his own power ring), here I’ve added a more direct motivation: he wants his lantern back. I like the notion of such power being addictive. After all, I imagine losing the ability to make whatever you imagine come to life would make anyone pretty angry. Visually, I didn’t want to stray too far from the original Sinestro. He’s a basically an evil Green Lantern, so that should stay the same.
The biggest change to Sinestro is that he’s no longer an alien — in fact, the entire roster of villains Diaz is working with seems pretty earthbound, which seems odd considering that their opposite numbers include Superman, the Martian Manhunter and a Green Lantern. I do like where he’s going with it, and while Diaz doesn’t mention it, I’m pretty intrigued by the idea that Sinestro’s pink-tinged skin could be a side effect of “lantern withdrawl.” The idea of the power having a negative consequence (and the potential for a psychological dependence) is a neat idea I don’t know if I’d like that darkness in a hero, but it works perfectly as motivation for a villain.
Next on the roster: Parasite:
Origin: Shortly before their fateful visit to Mars, Kryptonian explorers briefly visited Earth to determine if its inhabitants were ready for “modification.” After a brief experimentation, it was determined that humans were too savage in their present state, and the Kryptonians erased the evidence of their arrival before moving on to Mars. One experiment lived, however, and found that she could prolong her life by absorbing the “life force” of those around her. As time went on, the power did dwindle and she found she had to more and more frequently absorb others to maintain her life. This persisted for over a thousand years, when she encountered Grodd, who wished her to join the Secret Society in exchange for research into her “condition.” Madame Vandal’s story of alien abduction is not believed (and she never quite remembers it correctly), but she is nevertheless welcomed, as she is indisputably the most powerful member of the Secret Society.
Powers: Vandal has the ability to leech energy from others through physical contact. This rejuvenates her, as well as temporarily elevates her strength and vitality to whatever she’s touched. This effectively makes her as powerful as Superman while fighting him. To fully maintain her presumed immortality, Vandal has to completely drain a person until they die. Also, with some concentration, she can absorb non-biological energy as well (such as kinetic or electrical) and redirect it at her command.
Notes: I combined Parasite’s abilities with a more Vandal Savage origin story, as I think the two work well together. Visually I wanted someone who didn’t look very imposing, hiding their true power. Parasite here is almost like a vampire, slinking in the shadows and lasting as long as she has because most people don’t know her true nature.
Again, this is something I’m not sure we’ve seen with the established character, and again, I really like it. While the idea of a Parasite who feeds on Superman’s power and get big and strong makes sense and allows Superman to have a physical threat that he rareley gets to face, having that power stay in a smaller, more unassuming body is much creepier, and lends itself well to effective visuals.
I’m not sure about combining her origin with Vandal Savage, but again, it works for the dynamic Diaz is going for.
And for our final member, The Huntress:
Origin: Daughter of a prominent Gotham crime boss, Helena Bertinelli watched her family gunned down during a mafia war. Living in hiding with a foster family, she grew to despise organized crime in all its forms. When she came of age, Helena idolized Batman and wished to gain his favor by taking on the persona of Batgirl. However, Batman was concerned about her brutal methods of crime fighting, and told her he couldn’t waste time training such a person when there is a growing superhuman concern. Still wanting his approval, Helena created a new villain persona, the Huntress, and joined the ranks of the Secret Society with the intent of exposing their mysterious financier. She reasoned that superhumans loyal to the government or a corporate force were far more dangerous than the Justice League, and intends to dismantle their operation by whatever means she can.
Powers: Huntress is an expert in hand-to-hand combat and ranged weaponry. Her goggles allow her night vision and infrared tracking, and her body armor is designed specifically to absorb concussive blows, as well as redirect energy known to be used by many metahumans. Her preferred weapons are a crossbow and collapsible sword.
Notes: I wanted to have one character who rode the line a bit, and the Huntress is a good candidate. While obviously not a real villain, Huntress is to the Secret Society what Power Girl is to the Justice league, at least in that she has ulterior motives. Visually, I wanted someone who took after Batman, so most of what’s she’s wearing is a more practical version of her regular costume. I’m not a fan of people with secret identities and exposed hair, so I gave her a full mask and cut her hair short to fit. I liked the religious imagery of her original costume but felt hanging crosses were a little too on the nose, so I went with a priest’s collar and an overall look that sort of resembles a cardinal.
Giving both his Justice League and his villainous Secret Society a double agent makes for a really interesting dynamic, and I love the idea of the Huntress being the bad guys’ answer to Batman. As for the costume, it hearkens back to the one the Huntress was sporting in the late ’90s, and it works a heck of a lot better for the character than the skimpier costume she’s been sporting more recently. There’s a rationale behind everything she’s got here.
All in all, it’s another great set of redesigns from Diaz, and at this point, it’s enough to make me wish these weren’t just done as a fun exercise in costume design. The story he’s creating here is definitely something I’d like to read.
For more, including larger images, check out Diaz’s website! And feel free to guess what he’s going to take a shot at redesigning next now that he’s done the good guys and the bad guys of he Justice League. My money’s on the Bloodlines characters.