Frontlist | Every comic book movie that turned nerds into SupervillainsFrontlist | Every comic book movie that turned nerds into Supervillains
on Dec 31, 2020
Wonder Woman 1984 is the latest superhero movie to turn a cliché nerd into a supervillain as part of its storyline. This is a tradition older than superhero movies, as many comic books saw awkward outsiders acquire superpowers and immediately set about getting revenge on those who bullied them. The trope is so prevalent that some superhero films have applied it to make villains more sympathetic to the audience, even if the villain wasn't a nerd in the original comics.
The superpowered academic has been a stock concept of comic books since the late 1950s, near the start of what is commonly called the Silver Age of Comics. At the same time that American schools were pushing mathematics and science education as part of the effort to encourage the Space Race, some comic publishers were rebranding themselves as educational reading. These publishers flipped the argument of the censors who claimed that comic books depicting criminal activity inspired children to commit crimes, suggesting that comic books about superheroes who used science to save people might encourage kids to become scientists. Regardless of the merits of the argument, this led to a wave of new superheroes like the Fantastic Four, who acquired their superpowers as a result of scientific endeavors. It also resulted in the creation of hundreds of supervillains, often born of lab accidents, who used their powers for less noble purposes.
While there are a number of scholarly supervillains who might be dubbed nerds, this feature is focused on those who fit the classic Hollywood image of a glasses-wearing goofball with poor social skills. It is also focused on those characters whose origins lie in the world of comic books, so original villains who fit the trope (like Syndrome from The Incredibles) are not included. It will also pass over those villains like Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man 2 who, while written as angry nerds with a grudge in the comics, were adapted into more socially adept characters in the movies.
Catwoman In Batman ReturnsCatwoman is typically the portrait of class and sophistication, despite coming from the wrong side of the tracks, but screenwriter Daniel Waters created a drastically different backstory for Selina Kyle in Batman Returns. Instead of being the illegitimate daughter of a Gotham crime boss or a child of the streets who struggled to survive, this Selina Kyle was a frumpy office worker with a nagging mother, an extensive collection of stuffed animals and a lot of cats. When her boss attempted to kill her after she accidentally uncovered evidence of his crimes, something was unleashed within Selina that turned the gawky secretary into the feline-themed femme fatale Catwoman.
The Riddler In Batman ForeverMany nerds have a compulsive need to prove their intelligence even at the risk of alienating others and the many incarnations of Edward Nygma (aka The Riddler) spread across DC Comics' multiverse are a prime example of this unfortunate trait. The Riddler played by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever was kinder than most, starting out as an overly enthusiastic computer engineer with a love of puzzles and a major case of hero-worship for his employer, Bruce Wayne. In his efforts to perfect a virtual-reality device that beamed TV signals directly into the brain, Nygma inadvertently found a way to enhance his already considerable intelligence by plugging people into his Box and scanning their minds. Unfortunately, Edward's obsession with topping Bruce Wayne and increasing instability as he absorbed the intelligence of more and more people proved to be his downfall.
Poison Ivy In Batman And RobinFew would describe the sensual and seductive Poison Ivy as nerdy, but the roots of the plant-powered villainess run deeper than most realize. A certified genius before she was a certifiable villain, Dr. Pamela Isley possessed multiple degrees in botany and horticulture and was an expert on toxicology before the experiments of her mentor, Dr. Jason Woodrue, left her with the power to control her own pheromones and a toxic touch. This background was trimmed a bit in developing Uma Thurman's character in Batman and Robin, but her take on Dr. Pamela Isley was portrayed as being disheveled and socially awkward before the film's version of Dr. Woodrue tried to kill her and caused the lab accident that made Pamela utterly irresistible and decidedly deadly.
Aldrich Killian In Iron Man 3Iron Man 3 opened with Tony Stark waxing philosophical about how we create our own demon, as he reflected on his battle with Aldrich Killian. When Tony first met Killian, he had bad hair, bad skin, bad teeth, and bad timing, trying to get between Tony and the attractive female scientist he was trying to talk into his bedroom while at a conference in Switzerland. Tony dismissed Killian because of his poor presentation skills, spurring the nerdy scientist to spend the next decade turning Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM) into the engine of Tony Stark's destruction. Even after using AIM's Extremis technology to give himself a genetic makeover and overcoming his awkwardness, Killian still couldn't let go of Tony Stark snubbing him over a decade earlier.
Electro In Amazing Spider-Man 2Max Dillon was the sort of person who went largely ignored, unless someone needed a target to pick on. In another time and place, he might have become friends with the equally nerdy Peter Parker. Unfortunately, Max only knew Peter through his guise as Spider-Man and became an obsessive fan of the wall-crawler, thinking Spidey was his friend after he saved Max from being hit by a car. That obsession turned deadly after an accident at his job involving a faulty cable and a tank full of eels transformed Max into a living electrical generator. Dubbing himself Electro, Max was pushed over the edge into villainy after Spider-Man (who saved more than a few people from being hit by cars) failed to remember the name of his friend.
Harley Quinn In Suicide SquadSuicide Squad didn't reveal many details about the life of Dr. Harleen Quinzel before she was romanced by The Joker and transformed into Harley Quinn. It seems likely, however, that Harleen wasn't the most socially active sort, given how she fell prey to The Joker's manipulation. Couple that with her clear intelligence and educational background, which included a PhD in psychiatry and medical school, and a case could be made that Harley Quinn was a nerd gone bad. Harley's awkward phase and inability to build strong relationships were made more apparent in the comics and the Harley Quinn animated series.
Cheetah In Wonder Woman 1984As Wonder Woman 1984 opened, Dr. Barbara Minerva was a new hire at the Smithsonian Museum, who had degrees in geology, zoology, gemology, and lithology, not to mention a notable interest in cryptozoology. Despite this colorful academic background and a warm personality, Barbara wasn't very memorable, and even the supervisor who hired her failed to remember who she was one week later. Despite this, she might have become fast friends with Diana Prince had it not been for a twist of fate and an idle wish while handling the mystic Dreamstone. Barbara's desire to be more like Wonder Woman's cool and confident secret identity sent her down a dark path that would end in her transformation into the Cheetah. Source: Screen Rant
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