How many "insane" comic supervillains actually qualify for an insanity defense?

Inspired by a recent thread, which brought up something I’ve been pondering…

It’s a fairly common staple in comic books—well, DC Comics, specifically—to send various supervillains to a mental hospital (such as the infamous Arkham Asylum) instead of prison, or possibly execution, with the explanation that they’re too insane to stand trial.

But…how many supervillains actually qualify for the insanity defense, at least by United States legal standards? I mean, most of the villains I’ve seen seem to know that their villainous actions are criminal—they just do them because they enjoy it, and/or make a profit off of it, and think they can get away with it.

Hell, even the Joker seems no crazier—maybe even less so—than quite a few serial killers and sex offenders that I’ve seen who got prison time, instead of a padded cell.

So, there’s my question—'anyone with more in-depth comic book or legal knowledge care to add their 2¢?

Most super-villains in the Marvel Universe seem to be processed through the criminal justice system rather than the psychiatric. Mainly because dealing with someone who can shoot bolts of electricity or bench-press a Winnebago is easier in the CJ.

At one time they sequestered super-powered criminals in a special section of Riker’s Island Penitentiary, but had to stop doing that because the families of normal inmates filed suit against NY State. So eventually they built the Vault, housed somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.

That said, I do recall an issue of Fantastic Four where Dr. Octopus was sprung from a mental hospital for a consult.

Most DC Supervillains outside of Batman’s rogues gallery go to prison, instead of a hospital. Blackgate, Belle Reve, Ryker’s Island, the Slab, etc.

Batman’s enemies, however, seem to end up in Arkham whether they’re insane or not.

By my understanding of the insanity defense, certain takes on Harley Quinn would make it - under some writers she perceives her violent acts as cartoonish comic mayhem, rather than the serious violence it is, so doesn’t really understand the consequences.

Several of Batman’s villains need help, but I’m not sure they qualify, in the legal sense - Two-Face, or the original Ventriloquist (depending how you interpret Scarface), for example - they understand the consequences of their actions, but due to their mental issues are helpless to actually act on that knowledge.

At least one writer’s take Riddler is quite definitely mentally ill, but his illness almost certainly doesn’t count - he’s compelled to leave clues to his crimes, even though he doesn’t want to…but he still knows right from wrong, and could do the right thing if he wanted to.

Others - Joker, Catwoman, Killer Croc, Penguin, Clayface, Poison Ivy - should definitely be in Blackgate, not Arkham, because they’re quite sane, just criminal.

I think that two-face of all people knows right from wrong, but has made a conscious choice to do wrong *because *it is wrong.

yeah, heads he’s insane, scratchy heads he’s just evil.

Well, no. He’s incapable of not following chance.

There’s a blog that discusses this issue at great length. This post is probably the most on point.

Most of the Marvel supervillains, if they can be captured/restrained, are kept in special, secure prisons. There’s the aforementioned Vault, which is now defunct; The Cube, which is intended to hold gamma-irradiated prisoners; Prison Alpha (located in the extradimensional Negative Zone, now under the control of the villain Blastaar); The Raft on Ryker’s Island, which I think is also currently defunct; The Big House, where prisoners are shrunk down with Pym Particles; and Ravencroft, which is an Arkham-style asylum.

SHIELD Helicarriers also have brigs/areas to house captured supercriminals.


The Joker kills people because he enjoys killing people. Seems perfectly sane to me.