Indeed. Truly it was the Golden Age of villainy clichés.
I would agree that it's the closest thing to pure evil, but it's not quite the same. Pure evil has no motivation outside of the evil. People always have motivations, even if they're not conscious of it. Psychological motivations, like taking joy in other's suffering, do count and if done correctly those are the most compelling kind.
People can't be pure evil. Just like someone can't be pure greed or pure kindness for that matter. Humans can act evil, greedy, or kind, but they can't be those things because those are abstracts.
The Devil, evil spirits, or even the dark side can be "Pure Evil" because they are abstract concepts. But people who serve the Devil or the Dark Side cannot BE evil. They just commit evil because of the influence of these outside forces.
Well I'm "pure evil" in a abstract way, clearly no one can be "pure evil", just like no one can be pure good but one can be as evil as humanly possible.
If you are a sadistic psychopath without almost no positive qualities, you are as evil as human can get. That's the difference between a character I would consider evil vs. a character is merely amoral to point they commit evil acts to get their way, but don't take particular joy in committing the acts themselves.
I would say there three levels of villainy:
Characters who have noble ideals, but use evil acts to achieve them (Dr. Doom, Magento, etc).
Characters who are amoral to the point they use evil acts as a means to end and don't care who gets hurt along the way, but everything they do is for a reason (Lex Luthor, Kingpin, many of the thug villains).
Finally characters who are sadistic psychopaths who commit very evil acts, often for reasons that are extremely petty or just out and out illogical (Joker, Red Skull, Bullseye, etc)
I actually liked Dr Light being a rapist. I like the idea that there are horrid little bastards that have powers. I mean, according to the Dept of Justice, about 120,000 rapes occurred last year, so having supervillains populating the statistical grouping only makes common sense.
I have to agree that most of the time supervillains are either written as over the top queens (Sinestro, Doom, Joker) or complete and total incompetents.
One of my favorite villains in recent history was Black Mask. He was written as a highly intelligent, Machiavellian narcissist. As much as I hated Stephanie Brown dying, I feel that was the only part of it that was actually done well.
See the problem I had with Dr. Light being a rapist, is that it seemed out of the blue. Compare that to Purple Man who was always a sleazy villain (he kidnapped Karen Page in his first appearance and took her to a hotel room, he once force one his mind slaves to marry him, etc) so imaging him as rapist isn't far off. Dr. Light was always portrayed as either a bumbling joke villain or a mad scientist, him going from that to a rapist, doesn't jive, it lacks build up.
Plus you have to deal with these characters in context. Dr.Light fights the JLA, who fight off the wall villains, conquerors and space aliens, so them fighting a rapist is a bit jarring. Purple man fights urban heroes like Daredevil and Luke Cage, who fight gangsters and serial killers, so him being a rapist works in that context. He dressed up like a light bulb and rapes people? It would be like Barracuda showing up in an FF arc, that would just be weird.
Past characterization should determine how evil a villain should be. I heard people had problems with Puppet Master being the head of sex slave ring in a recent issue of Ms. Marvel, because he was never that evil in the past, in his own way he aslways tried to look out for his step daughter for example. Now if a psychopathic creep like the Controller was the head of a
sex slave ring, i doubt anyone would have batted an eye.