May 25 2012

Supervillain Tactics You Might Not Have Heard Of

Published by at 10:50 am under Supervillains

  • “Swatting”–spoofing the target’s phone and placing a call to 911 which is intended to harass or kill the target. (Skype and internet proxies can make it difficult for the police to trace the actual call).  The perpetrator pretends to be the target and claims to 911 that he has just killed somebody and probably tries to sound as disoriented/crazy as possible. The police will send out a SWAT team to make an arrest, and the SWAT team is more likely to fatally react to the slightest false move if they think they are dealing with a lunatic. In a superhero story, swatting might also involve false claims of superpowers–if the police believe they are dealing with a psychic killer, their trigger fingers will probably be especially itchy.  (Alternately, the police would probably be more likely to shoot first if they think the target has superspeed, illusions, or any other power which would rapidly thwart a squad of police officers).
  • Many journalists would probably hesitate to cover a case against somebody who “swatted” the last guy to try.
  • If a perpetrator has been arrested for a particular crime, he/she could have an associate commit a similar crime (or pay another criminal to do so). If the cases are uncannily similar (e.g. sharing operational details far beyond what a copycat criminal would have access to, like bombs made in exactly the same way), this might raise questions for law enforcement about whether the person they’ve arrested for the original crime is actually guilty.
  • Workplace intimidation. A perpetrator, particularly someone who has committed violent felonies before, may be able to scare a boss into firing the target by threatening to attack the target’s workplace. (This is the inciting event of The Taxman Must Die).  Failing that, making false accusations to the target’s boss and/or coworkers or planting evidence against the target might work.
  • Harassment, particularly against family.  An experienced superhero would probably be harder to faze than, say, Aunt May or Mary Jane.  (Also, superheroes are generally used to rough treatment, but might not feel comfortable subjecting their family and/or friends to it).
  • Revealing and/or threatening to reveal embarrassing or damaging information or, failing that, making up damaging information.  Embarrassing information might come from medical records, psychiatric files, divorce records, legal/criminal records, emails, sensitive case details for a superhero (particularly on cases that went sour), anything related to the superhero’s secret collaborators (e.g. criminal informants or Sgt. Gordon), etc.
  • Frivolous lawsuits, especially against anybody implying that the perpetrator is allegedly committing this crime.  In particular, during the discovery process of a lawsuit, the villain’s lawyers would push for information about superheroes which could be damaging (e.g. information that would compromise the secret identity and/or  assist harassment or sabotage, such as a list of WayneTech facilities).
  • Identity thieves with exceptional hearing could modulate their voices to impersonate others on the phone. One blind hacker severely abused AT&T customer records (such as credit card information)  by impersonating supervisors.

17 responses so far

17 Responses to “Supervillain Tactics You Might Not Have Heard Of”

  1. aharrison 25 May 2012 at 11:22 am

    You’ve been following a certain case of harassment against Internet bloggers.

    This case also includes outing these individual’s public information. This could also be done by a villain who knows how much a hero could prize his or her secret identity as well as the identities of his or her relatives, family, friends and associates.

    They’ve also gotten one or more of these people fired by leveling threats of violence against their employers’ places of work. A villain could easily do that. I see so-and-so works there, and I have a score to settle with them …

    The SWAT thing is particularly scary though, and a good super villain could easily set it up to be deadly whereas in reality it’s just a potentially deadly prank.

  2. B. McKenzieon 25 May 2012 at 11:55 am

    “This case also includes outing these individual’s public information.” Yeah, thanks. I was focusing on tactics superhero authors probably weren’t familiar with.

    “You’ve been following a certain case of harassment against Internet bloggers.” No comment.

  3. Cuddleson 25 May 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Thanks, B. Mac! This list is absolutely evil! Did you get these notes from the Church of Scientology?

  4. Richard S.on 25 May 2012 at 12:11 pm

    If cuddles is correct, you could also mention how the Church of Scientology is somehow able to access all legal information on their targets, including past criminal offenses, and get these released to the public. This would then make it harder for a hero to be trusted, if the people he is trying to save do not trust him.

    Anyways, great list there B. Mac!

  5. B. McKenzieon 25 May 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Criminal convictions (besides juvenile offenses) are in the public record. This information might still be used to harass someone, though–perhaps the employer doesn’t know about the criminal history.



    If the perpetrator were politically connected or technically very sophisticated, he might be able to get access to confidential information on the target (e.g. operational details from an agency like SHIELD or FLAG, complaints of police brutality against a SHIELD agent, financial information from the IRS, medical records/reports from a hospital, etc).

  6. crescon 25 May 2012 at 4:45 pm

    “Workplace intimidation. A perpetrator, particularly someone who has committed violent felonies before, may be able to scare a boss into firing the target by threatening to attack the target’s workplace. (This is the inciting event of The Taxman Must Die). If that doesn’t work, making false accusations to the target’s boss and/or coworkers or planting evidence against the target might. ”

    You could also do the reverse. A felon could be intimidated by a boss into becoming an accessory in order to avoid prison again.

  7. B. McKenzieon 25 May 2012 at 5:02 pm

    “You could also do the reverse. A felon could be intimidated by a boss into becoming an accessory in order to avoid prison again.” Definitely nefarious! I like it (although the boss would probably have to plant false evidence or at least be willing to falsely testify to send the guy back to prison). Or, alternately, perhaps the boss actually has legitimate evidence that the felon is violating parole in some way (e.g. using drugs on his lunch-break) and uses that to blackmail him into doing a criminal task.

  8. aharrison 25 May 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Imagine if one of the lawsuits goes through and they manage to get your hero under oath. Your hero’s identity is likely a known thing at this point, but perhaps your hero has an ally whose identity is still not known. Now, imagine the prosecution’s lawyer asking your hero to reveal the ally’s identity under oath. Your hero is suddenly potentially faced with the choice of committing perjury or revealing his or her ally’s secret identity to the public.

  9. B. McKenzieon 25 May 2012 at 5:42 pm

    “Imagine if one of the lawsuits goes through and they manage to get your hero under oath. Your hero’s identity is likely a known thing at this point, but perhaps your hero has an ally whose identity is still not known. Now, imagine the prosecution’s lawyer asking your hero to reveal the ally’s identity under oath.” That would definitely be plausible.

    Another possibility would be if a court case comes down to the superhero’s testimony against the villain. The hero’s identity may not be known, but the villain’s lawyer will CERTAINLY ask for the hero to unmask (because the ability to face one’s accusers is a tenet of U.S. law*), and a judge might not allow the hero to testify anonymously.

    The hero has a few options:
    1) Figure out some other way to prove the villain is guilty without testifying.
    2) Give up his secret identity.
    3) Deal with the villain through, umm, extrajudicial means. (For example, the Avengers delivered Loki to Asgard to stand trial there and the Punisher assassinates criminals).
    4) Throw the case away, because his identity might be worth more than incarcerating a criminal for a month or two before he breaks out.

    *In rare cases, U.S. courts allow witnesses to testify anonymously (e.g. if the judge agrees they have substantial grounds to fear retaliation from the defendant or his associates). However, if you wanted the judge to be a hardass, he might decline this for a vigilante superhero because the superhero created the danger to himself by taking matters into his own hands. Even the judge allows Batman to testify while masked, the defense attorney might still be able to create hassles by forcing the superhero to prove his identity in some other way (e.g. “how do we know you’re not just some guy in a Batman costume?”), though.

  10. crescon 26 May 2012 at 7:33 am

    Not sure how you would catagorize this but in the “Sherlock” episode “The Reichenbach Fall” Moriarty allows himself to be caught but threatens the jurors and is aquitted.

    Moriarty then hires marksmen to follow Holmes everywhere and kill anyone he touches, even by accident. This allows Moriarty to walk around in the open freely because Holmes is afraid of who might die.

    Holmes is depicted as being uncaring and cold to his clients and socially inept. Moriarty’s greatest accomplishment here is that he forces Holmes to admit he cares about other people.

  11. Cuddleson 26 May 2012 at 11:11 pm

    You might also want to mention the delicate nature of a someone’s psychological/psychiatric files. For example, in the Batman: The Animated Series Two-Face two-parter (how appropriate), the crime boss Rupert Thorne threatens to expose (pre-transformation) Harvey Dent as a victim of Dissociative Identity Disorder (also known as “multiple personalities”) and thus, ruin his reelection campaign as D.A.

    Even though it is not a crime for people to struggle with certain psychological issues/symptoms and it is certainly not ethical to circumvent doctor-patient privilege and expose something so private to the general public, it would be natural for the public (depending on the issue and how educated said public really is) to judge that person based on evidence they have no right to possess.

    Such issues could be a relatively widely-accepted mental illness like major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, Down Syndrome, or even something like ADD. It could also be something that creates doubts as to a person’s mental stability, like paranoid schizophrenia or (in the case of that Invisible Children guy) a psychotic breakdown.

    Sexual abnormalities, either real or perceived by the psychiatrist, would probably be particularly damaging, depending on what exactly it is.

    The list goes on.

  12. B. McKenzieon 27 May 2012 at 1:57 am

    I wouldn’t vote for a Gotham DA with a history of mental issues. Pretty much everybody in Gotham with psychological issues becomes a supervillain (or Batman). That said, you’d pretty much have to be crazy to run for DA in Gotham.

  13. crescon 28 May 2012 at 11:16 am

    Who’s a worse candidate? Someone who admits they are a human being with mental issues like Harvey Dent. Or a known crook like Oswald Cobblepot.

  14. B. McKenzieon 28 May 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I’d look hard for a third candidate without a history of serious mental issues… which precludes all of Batman’s villains, even the psychologists.

  15. Cuddleson 29 May 2012 at 3:14 am

    What if it was something relatively minor like coulrophilia? The pundits would have a field day with it (and the person would probably cease to be electable at all [especially in Gotham, of all places]), but would it really effect a person’s ability to do their job?

  16. B. McKenzieon 29 May 2012 at 5:00 am

    A fondness for clowns? I don’t see it moving as many votes as infidelity* or allegations of sexual assault or anything involving a Tigger costume AND allegations of sexual assault. It might matter more in a rural, relatively conservative district, but urban voters are used to worse.

    PS: In Gotham, at least, I would think a fondness for clowns really would affect somebody’s suitability for a DA position. 🙂

    *Which itself isn’t as huge a deal with voters as it used to be. In 1829, Governor Houston was burned in effigy across Tennessee for questioning the honor of his wife. He resigned shortly thereafter.

  17. Mynaon 22 Jul 2012 at 6:06 am

    Wow, some of these are very disturbing… it seems like a lot of these hinge directly on abusing the police and legal systems of a city. I kinda like that idea–it shows that the villain is capable not just of brute force and violence, or of intimidating citizenry, but that they can manipulate the very people who are supposed to help as well. Definitely amps up the story.

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