Nov 06 2016
Each submission will be a supervillain sitting at a huge table explaining why they should be voted as the Supreme Archvillain, then they go into a story, etc. Reprint excerpts and new writers welcome.
Nov 06 2016
Each submission will be a supervillain sitting at a huge table explaining why they should be voted as the Supreme Archvillain, then they go into a story, etc. Reprint excerpts and new writers welcome.
May 09 2016
I was looking at a few relocation scenarios. Some observations:
*My driving is so bad I once got in a low-speed chase with a possibly sober deputy by accident. If you’re comfortable driving 6+ hrs without incident, I’d recommend that instead. Just give yourself 2-3 days to spread out the driving.
Feb 29 2016
We read a book to experience the journey a hero takes and to relate to the person they once were. However, a hero’s journey runs stagnant without a villain capable of proving their worth. Without a cunning villain, you have a hero basking in his awesomeness. Without a memorable villain, you have a hero walking a path we’ve grown bored with. Without a compelling villain, you have a story falling flat on its face and just going through the motions. The superhero can only be as mighty as the super villains they face.
Brian has already discussed the motivations for both heroes and villains. It is true the majority of motivating factors can be boiled down into a mere handful, so how is it possible to make a villain stand out amongst the plethora of evil organizations and bad guys with advanced degrees? While the overarching reasons to turn to villainy can be simple as love or the temptation of power, it is the flaws of these well-known troupes that create a character strong enough to rival our heroes.
For the sake of discussing supervillain archetypes, I’ll use three whose construction is elevated beyond many. The first is Magneto, to this day, my favorite villain of all time. His backstory is as complex as his emotional state. Born to Jewish parents and witnessing the Holocaust, Erik Lensherr’s primary motivating factor as a villain is to rule the world to bring order to a chaotic system and to a lesser extent, punish those who have done him wrong. Magneto has arguably one of the most impressive powers in Marvel (he did nearly destroy the planet, steal nuclear warheads, and create an outer space base of operations) but he holds a fundamental flaw as a villain: he knows what he is doing is bad.
How can the knowledge you are a bad guy create a villain to survive the ages? He witnessed one of the greatest horrors as a youth and later, as Genosha is nearly eradicated, he witnesses it again. We have a man who is reflecting on his life’s work, realizing that his mighty strokes of villainy has done nothing to change the course of mankind. Worse yet, he realizes that he has become the thing he loathes and he moves from villain to dubious hero. We hope as an audience he will find absolution, not only for the horror’s he’s witnessed but the ones he’s perpetuated. The weight he bears as he rescues Kitty Pryde from certain death is but one of the many grand gestures he partakes in to regain a piece of himself loss to his misguided efforts. We witness Magneto, master of magnetism, feel sorrow for the wrongdoing he’s committed. A flaw as a villain that give us perpetual hope he’ll become a badass hero.
However, not all memorable villains need the hope of redemption to be seared into our minds. I think one of the greatest portrayals of a villain in the live action world is Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk in Netflix’s original series Daredevil. The mystery of who is running the crime in Hell’s Kitchen was well known to the viewer, and we eager anticipated the despicable businessman turned crime mastermind entering and dominating us with his unrivaled tenacity. Our first image of Wilson Fisk is not acting as the Kingpin, it’s of a man trying to understand the meaning behind a piece of art. What we see is Fisk lost in an emotional state, pondering sensations he’s uncertain of how to process. Fisk has a backstory a mile long in which we feel he is the victim, but in this single moment, we experience his humanity as he relates the work of art to a wall from the days of being abused.
Now, it’s not enough we see our villain as human. Fisk is the perfect example of how villains are created, not born. It’s rare for our super villains to be perfectly evil, instead, more often we find them driven to their profession. Fisk’s abuse at the hands of his father creates a common story and accessible by many viewers. As he is beaten, we root for him to go from the underdog to the man in power. What we don’t realize at the time, he becomes a man of power, to a man we detested in the first place. While he is now this powerful man, we see glimpses into his humanity. The need to feel sorrow fuels him as he stares into the painting. We only see him become more vulnerable when he courts the gallery owner, Vanessa. We sympathize with this man, forgetting his power or influence as he awkwardly tries to ask a woman he finds beautiful on a date. We’re geeks, we’ve been there and we feel a victory when she accepts.During the final battle, I found myself wanting him to win, not because I wanted to see Daredevil lose, but because I wanted the flawed man, who had endured so much, to walk away with yet another victory.
Netflix has proven it can create a villain we love to hate, they only solidified this in Jessica Jones when we met Kevin Thompson, aka Kilgrave (known as Purple Man in the comics) played by David Tennant. With the ability to control anybody with his voice, he previously forced Jones into a “relationship” against her will. Exerting his abilities on Jones, we understand her past with him equates to rape. So how can a man who is so extremely vile be considered memorable? Kilgrave wants the one thing he can’t have, a woman, Jones, to love him of her own free will. Again, we see a flaw, a flaw we have been victim to many times, wanting the object of our affection but not having our feelings returned. We see a sinister form of ourselves and we’re faced with the question, “If I had his powers, what would I do?” With such a great power, his machinations are extremely shortsighted and he has little desire for world conquest or even to be more than what he currently is. The only thing he wants: the thing he can’t have; a do-gooder with a serious attitude problem.
Kilgrave spends the series, forcing her into situations in which she must confront herself. She fears that his abilities will trap her again. Even when we discover *spoiler alert* that he can not trap her with his abilities, he creates situations resulting in her volunteering to become his girlfriend. For a moment, we witness Kilgrave being capable of good. Because underneath the destruction he causes to obtain Jones, he feels he is doing what he must to court the girl and win her over. His incredible intellect is flawed by his inability to comprehend the world beyond himself due to his sociopathic behaviors. We understand that he’s trying to win her over and has no idea how to do it because he can’t understand anything beyond himself. Jones has to face this reality and in a moment when she believes she will be captured by him forever, she confronts her demons and imperfections and walks away victorious. We’re left understanding why it ended the way it did, but we feel pity for the poor Kilgrave and his need to be loved.
In these three villains, we have a range of one who wants to rule the world for the betterment of his people, to a man who wants to overcome his past, and another desires love. Each of them are the product of their insecurities and we find their insecurities, partly because of the scale, and partly because of the super-status, blown so largely out of proportion we’re left wondering as the viewer, “Would that be me?” A villain can not be a hurdle for the hero to overcome and surpass to prove their own heroism. There is a formula to create a memorable villain, but it does require a certain amount of willingness to delve into the mind of the villain and explore them as a character.
Amazing powers and an awesome uniform do not make a villain memorable. It’s the flaws in their humanity that breathe life into the characters. Be sure to treat them as a character and not just a punching bag for your hero. Let them develop, because as they develop, the strain between them and your protagonist will increase and you’ll be left with a dynamic that has us turning the page to see who will emerge victorious. Give them chances to be human and let the reader inside their world more than just the confrontations. Let us see them on date night or how they take their tea. The more we connect, the more we remember.
About the Author
Jeremy Flagg has written several books including the young adult Suburban Zombie High Series as well as a non-fiction book memoir, I.Am.Maine: Stories of Small Town Maine. He lives and writes in Metrowest Massachusetts. For more information you can find him at http://www.remyflagg.com
Children of Nostradamus (Nighthawks, Book 1) is currently available for order on Amazon.
May 25 2012
Feb 02 2012
1. If a competent villain must make one of the huge villain mistakes on the Evil Overlord List, the villain should have a good reason to do so. Here are some examples:
2. If the villain does make a mistake, hopefully the hero forced him into a difficult decision. For example, if the hero has stolen and hidden some critical piece of equipment, it’d make sense if a villain really wanted to take him alive rather than kill him on sight. In that case, killing the hero would cost the villain something (he’d have to find the equipment himself rather than just torture the information out of the hero).
3. If the supervillain’s signature flaw(s) causes the villain to make a mistake, hopefully the hero exploited the flaw. For example, if an incredibly proud villain captures the hero’s superweapon or power-suit, it wouldn’t be very satisfying if he relaxed his guard on his own just because he thought he had won. One example that would be more interesting is if the heroes planted misinformation that made the villain think that the fighting was all but over. (E.g. if the Justice League’s headquarters has been bugged, maybe the Justice League members could hold a fake meeting where they break up the group because supposedly it’s too dangerous to keep fighting. A proud supervillain may think the real fighting is all but over and get caught off-guard when the heroes actually attack). I would generally recommend giving your heroes as large of a role as possible in the downfall of the villains.
4. A brilliant villain might make a “mistake” that is actually a trap. For example, you know those scenes where the heroes successfully guess the villain’s password and steal all of the incriminating evidence? A brilliant villain might set up his computer so that it pretends to log in successfully after a certain number of incorrect passwords, but only gives the heroes access to reams of incorrect information. This incorrect information might frame other important characters, which could cause the heroes to do something that angers characters that wouldn’t otherwise have been a problem. (For example, instead of giving the heroes any sort of valuable information in Watchmen, maybe Ozymandias’ computer could have given false information implicating President Nixon and/or the Soviets in Ozymandias’ scheme? It would have distracted the heroes from what was actually going on and might have drawn them into conflict with a powerful third party). Another cool, intelligent thing a villain can do with passwords is have his computer immediately notify security if it registers an incorrect log-in attempt. (Depending on the situation, it might make sense to immediately attack the intruders, but if the intruders are police officers, then it might be better to feed them misleading information than try to kill them).
Are there any particularly clever subversions you’ve used in your superhero stories? Please let me know in the comments below.
Oct 18 2011
If you have any questions about developing your antagonists, ask here. For example, if you wanted advice about how to have a smart villain take down your hero, you could give some description of your hero and your villain and then evil geniuses like me can help you plot.
Aug 04 2010
What if the villain isn’t supposed to obviously be the villain the first time he shows up?
1. Give the villain an innocuous explanation for the villainous/unseemly behavior we see, especially early on. If I offered you $50 for something valuable, it might not be that I’m trying to rip you off: Maybe I don’t know what it’s actually worth or am too desperate to offer you the going rate. Or let’s say that criminals are threatening to brutally murder a captured character. A hero that calls for an immediate attack might be genuinely convinced that’s the best way to rescue the hostage. Or maybe he’s actually hoping the hostage will get killed in the crossfire. (Maybe the hostage knows too much or otherwise poses some sort of problem–that might explain why he was captured in the first place).
2. The circumstances surrounding the objectionable behaviors are ambiguous and/or encourage us to sympathize or relate with him. For example, let’s say that the readers know (or have some reason to suspect) that your Ozymandias just killed the Comedian. You could present it as a public service and/or retribution for something unseemly the victim was involved in (such as murdering a pregnant woman). We don’t need to know right away that the villain actually killed the victim to cover his tracks or for any other nefarious reason. If you’re trying to keep it a secret that the character is a villain (and not just an unsavory side-character) but the readers can predict it anyway, you probably haven’t given him enough extenuating circumstances.
3. The eventual villain’s nonheroic traits might actually make him seem more valuable as a protagonist. For example, if you have a group of heroes that actually includes the eventual villain, the heroes might respect the eventual villain as a Batman (a mostly sensible but occasionally brutal problem-solver). Maybe his rough style makes him more competent. Maybe the protagonists are generally gullible and naïve, but he is suspicious and cunning.
4. The heroes are also morally gray. If all of the other heroes are 100% protagonistic, the one that isn’t will stand out in a bad way. If your goal is to keep the villain’s identity something of a secret, that’s probably counterproductive.
5. You have a more obvious antagonist as a red herring. If readers think they know who the main villain is, they won’t think as hard about undercover villains. For example, in the Watchmen, the Soviet Union probably served as a red herring because it had a plausible reason to kill the Comedian (something of a CIA operative) and it played a prominent role as part of the nuclear standoff.
Jul 17 2009
1. Villains can be overpowered. In fact, they should be more powerful than the hero. The more a hero is challenged, the more impressive it is when he eventually succeeds.
2. Likability and relatability are much less important for villains than heroes. The quality of a villain usually depends on his style, competence and scariness. If your audience isn’t enthusiastically urging on the hero to beat the villain, they probably aren’t thrilled about the story.
3. The villain’s powers should usually be easier to explain and more generic than the hero’s are. Working in a really complex power for a character that will probably only fight a few times is usually a waste of time. Additionally, most villains have fewer powers than the heroes do. For example, Luke Skywalker has a variety of force powers, but the only power we see the Emperor use is lightning. Batman has a variety of gadgets, but the Joker has just a pencil.
Apr 01 2009
evilHow is an amusing resource for supervillains-in-training.
Mar 31 2009
If you have any questions about villains or villainy, please ask them here. Here are some sample questions to get you thinking. (If you’d like to use these, go ahead).
Oct 27 2008
You have 170 days to file your taxes. Don’t be late!
Art taken from this artist at DA.
Oct 22 2008
One of the signs that your villain doesn’t suck is that he’s interesting enough to handle a scene on his own. No, we don’t need to hear about his pathetically traumatic family history or the byzantine machinations of his evil organization. Readers just need some sign that your villain has the competence, style and/or ambition that mark a good villain.
Your villain should not be out of the hero’s league. In fact, for most of the story, the villain should probably be winning against the hero. One common misconception is that the hero will seem less impressive or likable if the villain beats him a few times. No! A hero that defeats a crazy-competent villain will resonate more. For example, the only reason anyone remembers Luke Skywalker is because he defeated Darth Vader.
Fortunately, you can make your villain competent fairly easily. When your hero attempts some course of action, take 15 minutes to list anything that could go wrong. Then list anything that your villain could do to make the hero fail even more spectacularly. Your villain only has to exploit one glaring weakness in the hero’s plan to look competent. Does the hero’s plan require logistical support from his Batcave? Whoops. Even if your villain can’t take down the Batcave, he could try something like an EMP or sunspots to interfere with communications signals. Is the hero unable to teleport around town? Throwing him off with a decoy could buy the villain enough time to carry out his real plan.
Style is harder to pin down than competence, but there are still a few discernable signs of style. A stylish villain tends to dominate his scenes, even if he doesn’t have many lines. For example, there were a few scenes in the first season of Heroes that Sylar dominated even though he wasn’t actually present.
One scene that particularly sticks out is when Parkman and his FBI partner were fumbling around one of Sylar’s icy murder-scenes. First, there’s the horror factor. Sylar is obviously an extremely depraved killer. But more importantly, the gruesomeness of the murder is contrasted with the incompetence of the cops. They have no idea what’s going on. Sylar was more of a presence because he was obviously playing out of their league.
I recommend giving your villain an overarching and genuinely sinister plan. If your villain’s plan is only to get revenge against a few people, the stakes of your hero failing will be very low. For example, the first Spiderman movie dropped the ball on this one. What would the stakes of Spiderman not fighting the Green Goblin have been? Pretty much nothing, unless you were on the board of directors of OsCorp.
This doesn’t mean that the villain’s plan has to endanger the world or universe. That gets cheesy very fast. But this goes to competence: a villain that’s only playing for small stakes (like trying to kill a few OsCorp businessmen) probably won’t seem very competent or frightening. In contrast, Dr. Octopus’ plan was more ambitious and interesting even though it wasn’t particularly evil. He wanted to perfect a crazy-ass scientific theory to redeem himself for killing his wife the first time. Octopus’ plan had significantly higher stakes for Spiderman because he endangered many more innocent victims. (Sorry, ruthless businessmen, but readers just don’t care about you).
Oct 03 2008
The Independent reports that Kevin Spacey will be reprising his role as Lex Luthor in the next Superman movie (Hat-tip to io9). God, I hope not. He has none of the competence, charm or combat skills a supervillain needs to shine in a movie. Lex Luthor can’t have an interesting fight. (And no, Superman limping around because of Kryptonite is not interesting). So casting Luthor as the villain would pretty much guarantee that the movie has at best mediocre action scenes*. I like Superman saving planes as much as anyone, but no one reads a comic or watches a movie to see the superhero stop a natural disaster.
Virtually nothing in Superman Returns worked. At the very least, the next Superman movie needs a new cast, new writers and a new villain. A different mood might help too. I don’t think that a “darker” Superman will be much better, but it’s hard to imagine that it could get any worse.
*In the cartoons and the comics, Lex Luthor actually gets superpowers, so his fight scenes are interesting, but that’s probably too campy for a movie.
B. MAC ADDS: I walked out after around an hour of Superman Returns. I can’t remember the last time I walked out on a movie. Hell, I made it through Superhero Movie.
Sep 25 2008
He had an amusing take on comic book synopses.
Sep 05 2008
This is a useful resource for anyone that might want to destroy the world.
Jun 05 2008
“When you kill one person, it’s a tragedy. When you kill a thousand people, it’s a statistic. When you kill a million people, you’re in.” — The Supervillain Hall of Fame
Apr 16 2008
Agent Orange, paraphrasing Groucho Marx: “Outside of an alligator, a rocket launcher is certainly your best friend. Inside of an alligator, I’d recommend a gun.”
Mar 14 2008
What’s at the top of supervillain to-do lists for 2008? (Hint: not saving money or losing weight). Here’s a sample.
[Paingod] Attain absolute power in at least one country. My first act will be to ask Evil Overlord to be my chief of police. If he says no, I’ll kill him. If he says yes, I’ll poison him so that he can live by earning regular doses of the antidote.
[Chronic] Develop a time machine and get advanced technologies from a future version of myself. But I know that he will see an opportunity to exploit his foreknowledge and technology by replacing me. So I’ll kill him first.
[Gangrene] Surf City’s been a bust. The cop-to-plant ratio is far too high. This year, I have a better idea. I call it Plan Colombia.
[The Colombian] Cooperate with Gangrene to develop hardier drug crops. Then I’ll kill him.
[Jihad Joe] Anything. I’m still relevant, dammit!
Feb 20 2008
“Supervillains,” “supercriminals,” or whatever else you weaklings want to call us tend to exaggerate our own intelligence. That is a mistake for two reasons.
Jan 03 2008
This article will help you design your superhero’s appearance for a comic book or novel cover-art. No matter what your style is, you can avoid these 9 mistakes that cause a superhero’s appearance to sink the story.
Common Flaws of Superhero Appearances
Dec 21 2007
Evil-Corp Publishing Presents: So You Want to be a Supervillain!
1. If you ever capture your opponents, kill them immediately. If possible, execute them yourself—leave nothing to chance. “But how will my most hated enemies see my glorious schemes come to fruition?” They won’t—they’ll be dead. That’s the point. Have their descendants serve as slaves and/or witnesses to your undying greatness.
2. As attractive as doomsday devices are, they don’t provide a very credible threat. Would you really destroy the world you live on? Even the UN will laugh at you rather than recognize the magnificence of your doomsday device. For a nominal fee, however, you can buy EvilCorp’s InstaWorld Kit*. Then the only question is this: would you rather have a billion dollars or the chance to get rid of the UN?
3. Villainous devices will work only once. You will only be able to shrink/zap/body-swap with a cabbage/etc. to a hero once. Any subsequent attempt to use the device will end in disaster. If the hero survives the first use, switch to conventional weaponry and ready your escape pods.
4. If any minion suggests any plan that involves monkeys—simian minions, devolution rays, etc.—shoot him immediately. If possible, feed him to real minions, like sharks or animated trash compactors. On the list of most mind-boggingly inept supervillain schemes, “monkey business” ranks right around invading the US with Amazons and killer bees.
*Life not included.
Dec 03 2007
My execution has improved somewhat. This time I actually remembered the mana cost and the art looks a bit cleaner than my first two attempts. Art c/o the White House.
Nov 29 2007
Quotes from USMC Drill Instructor Oliver Ryan.
Dammit, maggot, if I wanted your opinion I’d give it to you!
Movies are big on “be yourself.” That’s a bunch of crap! When you’re ready to be more than just yourself, you too might make the Marines.
Goddamn… you’re drinking like someone in a Stanley Kubrick film.
I am not a “drill sergeant”, maggot!
I’m Drill Instructor Ryan. Today might be the longest day of your life… but it’ll probably be the shortest.
You can’t spell party without P-T! [author’s note: PT = physical training]
Exclamation marks make life more interesting!
Nov 28 2007
The International Society of Supervillains has the dirt on “superheroes” that are really tools. Reed Richards, Namor and Superman take the cake.
Nov 19 2007
r. Berkeley: Something’s wrong with the sunscreen vat. I was wondering if you could explain a few things to me.
Jacob Mallow: Could I discuss this in the lab with you after-hours?
Berkeley: I’ve been doing some tests on the toxicity of the sunscreen…
Jacob: Those weren’t in your operational area.
Berkeley: The sunscreen would burn clean through flesh!
Jacob: I don’t think you understand how seriously we take our security procedures here, Dr. Berkeley. I see no alternative to summary termination.
Berkeley: You’re firing me?
Jacob pulls out a tranquilizer gun and shoots Berkeley twice, then pushing Berkeley into the vat.
Jacob: Something like that.
Nov 18 2007
Jacob Mallow: I’ve finally perfected the concoction. It will–
Jacob Mallow: What?
Paingod: I don’t want to know what it does, how it does it, or your vast and no doubt eminently disruptable deployment strategy. Telling me can only guarantee that your plan does not come to fruition.
Jacob: What? How would that matter?
Paingod: You’re new here, aren’t you?
Nov 15 2007
Nov 09 2007
A supervillain is easily identifiable because power is sexy. That’s why we always get the best women (no one really wants to date a mild-mannered reporter or an inept freelance-photographer). But superheroes are also easy to identify if you know what to look for: the bumbling factor. The more bumbling someone is, the more superpowers he’s waiting to unleash. For example, the last time my henchmen attempted to break into a presidential convention, they got absolutely shellacked by Tucker Carlson. If you have ever wondered whether someone that looks that bumbling could only get on TV because he was really a superhero, you’re not alone.
There’s really no way to know how many of my plots have been spoiled by Carlson and Alan Colmes, but I’d feel pretty confident saying that they’re the main barrier between me and global domination.
I’d give you two guesses whether it’s Hannity or Colmes that’s the bane of supercriminals everywhere. Remember, people that look bumbling are dangerous. And anyone that looks as bumbling as Colmes can strangle your best assassins with his mind. Interestingly, Sean Hannity is also a superhero, but any supervillain that fears a conservative diversity hero should reconsider his line of work.
Unsurprisingly, the talk radio guy doesn’t know how important it is to keep his appearance secret.