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Historical Villain Upgrade / Comic Books

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Historical Villain Upgrades in comic books.

Examples with real-life historical figures


  • Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff does this to many figures from recent history. For instance, while George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Ariel Sharon, and the nation of Israel as a whole are polarizing topics and likely always will be, it is highly improbable that they ever personally machine-gunned civilians For the Evulz, committed Prison Rape, seek to Take Over the World, or bathed in human blood. Many political cartoonists portray their ideological opponents as ignorant buffoons, but Latuff is one of a select few to portray them as Bond-style supervillains.

Specific Examples:

  • In 100 Bullets, John F. Kennedy murdered Marilyn Monroe, and was in turn killed by Monroe's ex-husband, baseball player Joe DiMaggio.
  • The Chilean comic book 1899 paints the Peruvian Miguel Grau as a mad scientist and cyborg. The same Miguel Grau who got the nickname El Caballero de los Mares (The Gentleman/Knight of the Seas) from the Chileans because during the War of the Pacific he would routinely rescue the Chilean survivors from the warships he'd just sunk and set them free instead of making prisoners of war. Conversely there is a hero upgrade in Chilean characters. Furthermore, Chile was the invading army and Peru had involved itself in the war only to defend Bolivia, which then left the war early when Peru could no longer avoid the continuing conflict.
  • Atomic Robo also depicts a heroic Tesla (creator of Robo) as the opponent of a supervillainous Edison who, among other things, uses the ghost of Rasputin in an attempt to murder Tesla and nearly blows up Manhattan in an attempt to contain the "Odic Force".
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  • Chester Brown's biography of Louis Riel turns Sir John A MacDonald into a Machiavellian schemer who provoked Riel in order to raise publicity for his railroad project.
  • Chick Tracts:
    • Charles Darwin gets portrayed as a Nazi ideologist. Anyone who "believes in evolution" will turn into a strawman Nazi.
    • Another historical figure Chick really hates is Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order and its first Superior General, who is usually portrayed as essentially Heinrich Himmler, but somehow even worse and with an even higher body count. It's common to find him portrayed as The Dragon to Satan himself and the Greater-Scope Villain indirectly responsible for almost every noteworthy historical atrocity.
    • Chick takes Alexander Hislop's depiction of Semiramis (see The Two Babylons in the literature folder below) even further, portraying her as an agent of Hell who willingly and knowingly played a key role in the damnation of billions.
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  • The Five Fists of Science portrayed Thomas Edison as a Lovecraftian sorcerer attempting to summon a demon, opposed by Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla.
  • Hellboy plays with this trope. Rasputin's historical life plays out exactly as it did in real life up until the point of his death. It is only after he dies that his spirit is contacted by the Ogdru Jahad and he becomes their demonic servant.
  • The Ottoman Empire as a whole receives a heavy dose of this in Image comic book Impaler when they summon a demonic army in a desperate attempt to conquer Europe forcing Vlad III Dracula to take immortality and fight them back.
  • Older Iron Man comics featured many Dirty Communists as villains, and they were led by "Comrade K," an extremely thinly disguised version of Nikita Khrushchev as a comic-bookish Diabolical Mastermind. With some shades of Dastardly Whiplash.
    Comrade K: Once again the hated American defender has foiled my plans! But next time it shall be different! Next time, I shall BURY Iron Man!
  • Iznogoud: Iznogoud could be considered one of the historical and legendary figure Ja'far ibn Yahya al-Barmaki, vizier to the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (notice the similarity with the Caliph's name). Far from being a scheming Evil Chancellor, the real Ja'far al-Barmaki was a patron of the sciences who introduced new ideas from India and China into Baghdad and persuaded the caliph to open the Middle East's first paper mill in the late 8th/early 9th centuries, and was actually a heroic protagonist in several of the Arabian Nights tales. He eventually fell out of favour with the caliph and was beheaded in 803, a turn of events that would be unthinkable in the world of Iznogoud in which the Caliph trusts his vizier absolutely despite all evidence that he should not.note 
  • Swedish superhero parody comic Kapten Stofil does this fairly regularly. For example, one issue features Jules Verne as an evil superscientist inventing a Mecha Queen Victoria to exploit colonial India, until it is defeated by Indra and Ganesh.
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: "The Sharpie of the Culebra Cut" has "General Estaban" as the villain, based of the real-life Esteban Huertas. In his author's notes on the story, Rosa admits that the real Huertas wasn't actually a bad guy, and that naming the fictional character "General Estaban" was meant to differentiate him from the real Huertas. In his research on the construction of the Panama Canal, Rosa found that there wasn't actually anyone all that evil involved, but, needing an antagonist, he thus swiped Huertas's first name and put it on what is effectively an Original Character.
  • The Manhattan Projects invokes this with tongue firmly in cheek, jokingly depicting various famous political and scientific figures as absurd supervillains trying to take over the world. Amongst other things, Harry Truman is an Illuminati sorcerer, Enrico Fermi is an evil shapeshifting alien, and Lyndon Johnson is a sociopathic cowboy who helps murder John F. Kennedy. There are numerous historical nods to show that Jonathan Hickman knows his history and is just playing the whole thing for Black Comedy.
  • The Marvel Comics version of Louisiana Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveaunote  was initially a victim of circumstance but as time went on she developed into a villain desperate for immortality and later still for employing assassins.
  • In Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602 ("Marvel superheroes in 1602 AD"), several historical characters suffer from this, most notably King James VI of Scotland and I of England, whose Burn the Witch! tendencies become his main character trait in a world filled with superpowered individuals.
  • Ms. Marvel (2014): The first rogue to join Ms. Marvel's gallery is the Inventor, a monstrous human-cockatiel hybrid who was created when an attempt to clone Thomas Edison went awry. All of the worst qualities of the historical Edison are taken Up to Eleven by his avian counterpart: he is selfish, manipulative, downright vicious to the animals in his experiments, and his For Science! approach to everything leads him to conclude the only way to save the planet is to turn every young person in the world into Living Batteries, for surely, no future generation could ever produce genius of his caliber.
  • The Red Menace has Roy Cohn not only as a supervillain, the eponymous Red Menace, but also orchestrator of a plot to nuke Los Angeles and blame the Soviets.
  • The entire British Empire, already an entity with a less than spotless historical reputation, gets this treatment in the Ian Edginton comic Scarlet Traces. Ten years after the Martian attack on Great Britain in the 1890s portrayed in H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, the British have reverse-engineered Martian technology so that their empire is three times as powerful as it was in Real Life-and consequently as transparently evil as ever. The story includes vignettes like working-glass Scots, rendered unemployed by the overnight hyper-mechanization of industry, marching for food and work and being cut to pieces by British army heat rays. It's later revealed that the British government found out how to reverse-engineer Martian technology by keeping a single Martian in captivity and feeding it by draining the blood of numerous young women lured to their doom via a fake employment agency.
  • In Jonathan Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D., the immortal Isaac Newton seems to represent Bad Science, in contrast with the time-traveling Leonardo da Vinci, who represents Good Science. Newton, in addition to torturing Nostradamus to get details about The End of the World as We Know It, which he then seems disinclined to prevent, also murdered Galileo to take his place as leader of SHIELD. The SHIELD Infinity one-shot reveals he even has his own Supervillain Calling Card — in the Marvel Universe Newton's rivals Hooke, Flamsteed, Pascal and Liebniz were all found dead with an apple beside them. The last issue of the first miniseries suggests Da Vinci's desire for change is just as fanatical as Newton's desire for control, and the real Good Science is the balancing force of Michelangelo and Nikola Tesla.
  • In Dynamite Entertaiment's 2014 reboot of Turok Genghis Khan is given an army of Dinosaurs and a Pteranodon riding daughter! Also he invades North America.
  • In The Umbrella Academy's first story, they fight against a weaponized Eiffel tower controlled by... Zombie Robot Gustave Eiffel.
  • Watchmen is a classic example of Villain Upgrading Richard Nixon, in the manner described above. In this case it's used as part of the Deconstruction of superheroes, with Nixon dispatching the powerful Reality Warper Dr. Manhattan into The Vietnam War. Manhattan singlehandedly wins the war for the U.S., and as a result Nixon's popularity climbs so high he's able to repeal the 22nd Amendment and get elected three more times with very little opposition.

In-Universe examples

  • Lucky Luke:
    • Calamity Jane suffers this in the book Ghost Hunt, where a legend spreads about her being a cruel witch and demoness who died cursing a town, and is now haunting its ruins as a cannibalistic ghost. It's eventually revealed to be a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax created by a group of bandits who want to keep unwanted people away from a deserted town where they discovered a new gold mine. She is not amused.
    • This also happens to her in the very early story The Gang of Joss Jamon where Joss Jamon calls in a jury made of the worst people from the Wild West, including Early Installment Weirdness and unrecognizable versions of Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Calamity Jane, clearly made in a time that author Morris had no clue (or documentation) to see how these people looked on photographs. The inclusion of Calamity Jane as evil is particularly odd.


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