Heath Ledger starred as The Joker in The Dark Knight.
Heath Ledger starred as The Joker in The Dark Knight. AP
All Hallows Eve is fast upon us, bringing with it fun-sized eating binges, sullen teens who can't be bothered to slap together a costume trying to cadge some free Kit Kats, and those fake spider webs that, if we're honest, really just make your front porch look like somebody unraveled a sweat sock all over it.
Oh, and also: Chills and thrills and ghosts and goblins and blah blah blah.
It's a monster-chilller-horror-theater time of year, so let's take a second to ask ourselves: Which dastardly super-villain is the scariest of them all?
Now of course, not every super-villain sets out to terrify. Your Lex Luthors, your Darkseids, your Thanoses, your Magnetos — they're just out to become absolute rulers over all they survey. If they happen to give you the willies in the process, well, that's gravy. (The thick, rich, delicious gravy ... OF POWER!)
Neither do petty plunderers and street-level crime-bosses — your Kingpins and Penguins, say — necessarily send chills up the spine.
But there are super-villains out there — some well-known, some less so — whose whole raison-friggin'-d'etre is spookiness and the cultivation thereof.
Well, I mean, sure. Even if you manage to put the whole "insane mass murderer" thing aside, you've still got the fact that he's ... a clown. And in any ranking of top fears, coulrophobia perpetually dukes it out with fear of heights and public speaking. Visually inspired by the creep-tastic 1928 film The Man Who Laughs, The Joker can't help but unsettle and discomfit, despite the fact that for much of the character's existence, the scariest thing about him was his purple riverboat-gambler's suit. Over the last few decades he's returned to his old sociopathic self, which was brought to vivid life in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight by Heath Ledger, whose performance stabbed itself into our brains like a No. 2 pencil.
The Green Goblin
The guy's Halloween-themed, after all, down to the pumpkin-bombs and the bat-shaped rocket-glider. The only thing that could make him even more like a third-grade Halloween art project is a witch's hat. Like his successor, the Hobgoblin, Gobby shares The Joker's predilection for murder and maniacal laughter. When he killed Peter Parker's girlfriend Gwen Stacy in 1973's Amazing Spider-Man #121, however, he carved out his own place in the annals of infamy.
If fear is the metric we're using, Dr. Jonathan Crane gotta be a contender. Fear's his organizing principle: using his knowledge of the human brain to instill paralyzing fear into Batman and anyone else who would stand in its way. We've got to dock him a few points, however, for relying on exogenous means — his proprietary blend of "fear toxins" — to do so. Plus, there's the outfit. It's meant to be scary, but unless you've got a crippling fear of hobos and/or Ray Bolger, it's not a look that terrifies. Gotta say it: The Scarecrow? Kind of a stuffed shirt GOOD NIGHT GRAND RAPIDS YOU BEEN GREAT.
Now we're getting somewhere. It's right there in the name: The dude rules the Nightmare World in the Dream Dimension. He comes at you while you sleep and terrifies you. Imagine Freddie Krueger with fabulous shoulderpads. Nightmare was the first foe Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, ever encountered, back in 1963's Strange Tales #110. He's been back a lot since.
No, yeah, I see what you're getting at, there. The whole Jekyll/Hyde thing — Dr. Curt Connors turns into an evil giant lizard, a creature of hunger and hate. Sort of a "the beast that lurks within us all" kind of thing. I gotta say, though, it seems a little abstract for our current purposes. Plus there's the fact that all the while The Lizard is trying to eat Spider-Man's face off, he never bothers to take off his lab coat. Would that inspire fear? White-coat hypertension, maybe. But fear?
So: Which character comes closest to striking terror in your heart?
The Joker, duh. He's an insane murdering clown; why are we even still TALKING about this?
The Green Goblin. His bombs look like li'l tiny jack o'lanterns! Come on!
The Scarecrow. SCARE IS RIGHT THERE IN HIS FRIGGING NAME. Plus I am allergic to hay, so.
Nightmare. Guy can make me have the pear dream again. Brrrr. (And Jules was there!) (He gave me the pear!)
The Lizard. Aaaah! Reptiles should not wear lab coats! The only thing that'd make him more terrifying is if he also wore safety goggles!
None of the above. How could you forget [name of villain]? I will express my outrage at this oversight in the comments, and there mount my spirited case for [him/her/it!]