supervillain n.

a person who uses superpowers or superscience for malevolent purposes

OED has evidence from 1912 in the general sense ‘an extremely villainous person’. The characters in the 1917 and 1933 quotations use technologically implausible techniques, suggesting that these quotations do represent the current sense; Dr. Fu Manchu in the 1920 quotation has the superhuman intelligence and ‘mad scientist’ traits characteristic of the modern supervillain.

TV Tropes


  • 1917 Poli’s—‘A Daughter of the Sun’ in Washington Herald (Washington, D.C.) 28 Oct. 2/5 (review) page image

    The play itself was written by Lorin J. Howard and Ralph Kettering and is the traditional melodrama of the tropics with modern touches in the way of a Japanese plot against the United States, the tapping of the wireless, etc. One Dr. Oagi Sankura, a Japanese scientist, is the supervillain who does the plotting, while a bird of paradise flavor is introduced by a native priest.

  • 1920 St. Louis Post-Dispatch 14 Mar. (Editorial section) 1/1

    Sax Rohmer…was the creator of the famous Chinese super-villain, Dr. Fu-Manchu.

  • 1933 ‘M. Grant’ Golden Grotto in Shadow 1 May xxi. 83/2 page image

    Professor Sheldon was determined to succeed. As his wave-plowing craft came within fifteen feet of scraping the side of the Aquamarine, the fiend gave a sharp command. His gloating cry came as a note of terror to those aboard the yacht. Uwittingly [sic], the captain and his victorious crew had played into the hands of the supervillain. The passengers, too, had made the same error.

  • 1945 J. R. Adams Joe Carson’s Weapon in Planet Stories Spring 110/2 page image James R. Adams bibliography

    [T]o an Earthly member of that rabid army known as scientification [sic] fans, the words would have brought a tinge of awe. For this was the room where far-flung systems were denied existence, by one shake of a firm, unyielding head; where the most expressive cuss-words of super villains were brutally censored with a fiendish swipe of a little, blue pencil—the editorial office of Galactic Adventures.

  • 1954 L. S. de Camp Elder Profession in Science Fiction Quarterly Nov. 56/2 page image L. Sprague de Camp bibliography

    The magician claims vast powers, but he also peoples the world with hostile demons, ghosts, and witches, who can be blamed for failure. Similarly the creator of Superman made his hero so mighty that human villains were the merest pushovers, and the cartoonist was forced to invent super-villains of transcendent power to enliven his strip.

  • 1965 Avengers (#21) Oct. 24/2

    The one you’ve been waiting for! The first tale ever told of the F.F. after Reed and Sue are married! With a brand-new super-villain, all-new problems, and the return of—aw, why say more? It’s the greatest yet!

  • 1979 A. J. Offutt & D. A. Truesdale Interview with Andrew J. Offutt in Science Fiction Review Aug. 20/2 page image Andrew J. Offutt bibliography

    [C]onsider comics. Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, for instance, and Thor, are fantasy heroes, with magickal paraphernalia. They are constantly involved in SF plots. The comicbooks are in the superhero and supervillain era—along with heroic fantasy.

  • 1994 D. Duane Venom Factor i. 28 page image Diane Duane bibliography

    It was often difficult to take decent pictures when you weren’t behind the camera, but in front of it as Spider-Man. It was tough to pay much attention to ƒ-stops and exposure times when you were duking it out with some bad guy. It was the devil to keep the camera pointed at the action when you were swinging by your webline from one rooftop or another. Also, criminals, both the elite supervillain types and your ordinary garden-variety crooks, were generally not very amenable to staying in the camera frame while you were having it out with them.

  • 2004 C. Shumaker Krypton Nights in New York Review of Science Fiction June 16/1 (review) page image Curtis Scott Shumaker bibliography

    [D]oes Superman’s x-ray vision violate the Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search? Does his habit of scooping up bank robbers and taking them directly to prison cheat due process? Is taking down a super-villain with a blast of his heat vision an unconstitutional use of excessive force?

  • 2022 R. North How to Take Over the World: Practical Schemes and Scientific Solutions for the Aspiring Supervillain xix Ryan North

    Clearly, ‘super’ means more than just better here: it means going beyond. He’s not just a stronger version of us: Superman can do things regular people can’t. Therefore, a supervillain should be as far beyond our understanding of villainy as we are above a villainous ant, which means a supervillain should be able to do things regular villains can’t.

Research requirements

antedating 1917

Earliest cite

in the Washington (DC) Herald

Research History
Suggested, and most cites submitted, by Bee Ostrowsky.

Last modified 2022-09-07 03:55:45
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.