Alright children of the glade, let’s start this off right. Ben 10 is, in essence, a superhero show, and one of the ways we like to measure our heroes is by their villains. Great heroes often have great villains. Batman has Joker, Superman has Lex Luthor, Spider-Man has Venom, I could go on all day. But who are some of Ben 10’s rogues? You have Hex and Charmcaster, who are really more of Gwen’s enemies and Ben’s just kind of there. There’s Dr. Animo, who’s pretty pathetic and has kind of degraded to a standard joke villain, appearing at least once per season. In the original series, Kevin 11 was pretty serious. But all of these guys were small potatoes compared to the big daddy of Ben’s rogues gallery: Vilgax.
Vilgax is seen in the very first episode of Ben 10, and he means business. Chasing a ship in his massive battleship, Vilgax gets heavily injured over Earth and spends most of season 1 in a healing tank, missing most of his limbs and on life support. Even then, he had this ominous presence throughout the whole season. You have this imposing figure from beyond the stars, with a terrifying, deep, monstrous voice. He’s hurt now, sure, but he’s going to get better, and you know when he does, shit is going down. Vilgax is inevitable, and even when he’s hurt and unable to do anything, you can still tell that he’s not to be trifled with. When the season 1 finale comes, and Ben knows that Vilgax is coming, Grandpa Max loses his shit. This has been the cheery, badass, somewhat comedic authority figure, the down-to-earth anchor for his grandkids, and he’s scared. He doesn’t take the time to explain what’s going on, only repeatedly stating that they need to get to Mount Rushmore. The whole season has had hints that Grandpa Max has been hiding something, and it’s the arrival of Vilgax that finally forces him to reveal the secret: He’s a Plumber, an intergalactic law enforcer who protects Earth from alien threats. The fight with Vilgax takes the entire Tennyson family to take him down, as Vilgax seemingly dies when his ship crashes. In season 2, we learn that the last time Vilgax had been defeated was by Grandpa Max back in his heyday, in which he beat Vilgax with a FUCKING NUKE.
And if Vilgax survived a nuclear explosion, who’s to say something as simple as a massive battleship exploding killed him? This is what Vilgax represented: Inevitability. All through season 1, we knew he was coming, and now that we knew what he was capable of surviving mankind’s greatest weapon when he was younger and weaker, who’s to say he died back then? Vilgax is a presence that constantly looms. Every time he came back, he needed to be defeated in a bigger way, because nobody could actually beat him in combat. He came back in a team-up with Kevin 11, only to be banished from an alternate dimension. In the future, the fully-powered Ben 10,000 couldn’t beat a reanimated Vilgax, and they had to freeze him in a block of ice, and you know that’s not going to hold. In the non-canon finale to Ben 10, “Goodbye and Goody Riddance”, they had to put him in an underground tunnel system, fill the tunnel with methane gas, and light the fucker up just to take him out. The only time Ben actually beat Vilgax was in “Secret of the Omnitrix”. This is it. The big confrontation. Ben and his friends are surrounded on an alien world, Vilgax’s most powerful robots ready to take him out, and there’s no way for Ben to fight him. Azmuth, the creator of the Omnitrix, unlocks one of Ben’s most powerful aliens, Waybig, a giant, who can finally beat Vilgax and throws him into space like a softball.
And that was that. Ben rose to being a great hero deemed worthy of the most powerful weapon in the universe, because he finally had the power to beat the most powerful evil in the universe. And that was enough for the original series. Vilgax was gone. He couldn’t stand up to Ben now, because Ben was finally stronger than him. All’s well that ends well. Great hero, great villain, great ending to a great show.
And then, Alien Force happened. For the first couple seasons, the villains were a group of alien warlords called the Highbreed, who believed they were the greatest creatures in the universe and were hell-bent on extinguishing every other race. Ben’s defeating them culminated in him saving the universe. Over these two seasons, Vilgax didn’t appear, only having been mentioned a couple times by Ben to demonstrate how powerful he was. Then, season 3 comes. It opens with “Vengeance of Vilgax”. That’s right, Vilgax is back. He’s still alive, and he’s coming for Ben. And he doesn’t look very impressive.
Vilgax’s appearance in the original series was pretty unique. He was a powerful monster, robotic implants sticking out of his arms, with a pretty menacing outfit. Even his life support paraphernalia actually served to make him look more threatening. This new Vilgax is generic warlord guy, with some pretty bland-looking armor, a sword, and a boring power gauntlet. He makes a decent show of strength by killing Ultimos, the show’s resident Superman-stand in, and declaring himself “Conqueror of 10 Worlds”, but even that declaration is ruined when Steve Blum’s creepy, intimidating voice has been replaced with James Remar’s much more generic bad guy voice.
The main problem with Vilgax in Alien Force and Ultimate Alien is that while Ben got a lot more powerful, Vilgax only got a little more powerful. He’s basically the same as before, except now he has a sword, some energy shield, and Darkseid’s Omega Beams, which never seem to actually kill anything. He’s stolen the powers of the greatest champions of 10 different worlds, but he just can’t hold a candle to Ben. Ben defeats him single combat by turning into Diamond Head and just crushing him. In addition, Vilgax is playing by Intergalactic Rules now, following the official laws of planetary conquest. The Vilgax of the original series wouldn’t follow other people’s rules, he’d make his own. And every time he comes back, Ben just kicks his ass.
This wouldn’t even be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that Ben treats Vilgax like he’s still a serious threat. Ben shows a no-killing code to pretty much everybody, and like most superheroes, goes out of his way to save lives before stopping the bad guy, even when it causes more problems in the long-term. But he always wants to kill Vilgax, half-ready to put him in the ground, and never does. Vilgax even needs Ben’s help at one point to save his own planet from Ghostfreak, who Vilgax can’t defeat. He’s essentially gone from being the inevitable force of evil to a slightly-more dangerous version of Team Rocket, and that’s just pathetic. At one point, we even see Vilgax’s true form, a giant squid, and he winds up trapped in a tank, worshipped by cultists, totally ineffective. Ben even knows where he is, and doesn’t bother to do anything about it!
Not pictured: A dangerous villain.
Ultimate Alien ends with Vilgax essentially getting the power of Cthulhu, appearing as a real threat again for the first time since the original series. He confronts Ben, stating that none of Ben’s aliens can defeat him now (which has been proven, as Ben couldn’t beat Cthulhu BEFORE Vilgax stole his powers), and the odds look grim. Ben just laughs it out, and pulls out the sword specially designed to kill Cthulhu, taking away Vilgax’s power.
And it’s sad, really. It’s sad to see a great villain degrade like this, to the point where he’s just not a threat anymore. Quite a few of Ben’s old enemies came back, more powerful than before, including Dr. Animo, who took over the null void for a while, Charmcaster, who also became the ruler of a dimension made of magic (actually succeeding in temporarily killing all of the heroes), and even Zombozo, thought to be dead, came back targeting Ben’s non-combatant family, albeit taking a few lessons from the Joker. But Vilgax, Ben’s most dangerous enemy, arch-foe to the entire Tennyson family for generations? Curbstomped every time. So sad.