With its origins in National Allied Publications, which was founded in 1934, DC Comics has had a long and varied publishing history over 80 years and has been one of the top two comic publishers for decades (Which company has held the top spot at any given moment has been argued by fans for just as long). Its success has not only come from the superheroes in its stable, such as Superman and Batman, but also its super-villains, such as Lex Luthor and the Joker. Author Daniel Wallace claims the bad guys are “one of the driving forces behind the 20th and 21st century success of comics as an industry and an art form,” a sentiment that makes him a great tour guide in DC Comics Super-Villains: The Complete Visual History, which he claims features “the best of the best.” After reading the book, he'll get no disagreement from me.
Many of the villains are organized into chapters without mentioning the names of their nemesis. Instead, they are titled with alliterative phrases, such as the “Adversaries of the Amazing Amazon” and “Foes of the Fastest Man Alive.” Others appear under headings such as “Evil Overlords” (e.g. Darkseid), “Lives of Crime” (e.g. Black Manta), and “Mad Science” (e.g. Doctor Sivana). The final chapter, “Strength in Numbers,” presents teams of villains, like Crime Syndicate and Legion of Doom.
The book is filled with fantastic artwork that has graced DC pages over the years, showing the characters, whose appearances and artists are credited, in various iterations. I wish the dates had been included as well, but they are easy to research. Wallace's text doesn't just provide a character's historical rundown, like a boring encyclopedia entry. Rather, he includes quotes from many comic creators, revealing their insight and approach to the villains.
DC Comics Super-Villains: The Complete Visual History offers a great crash course for those new to the publisher's output while also being engaging for longtime readers. As a bonus, a poster of Phil Jimenez' outstanding jacket illustration accompanies the book.