Archive for the 'Supervillains' Category

May 25 2012

Supervillain Tactics You Might Not Have Heard Of

Published by under Supervillains

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

  • “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

Feb 02 2012

Using the Evil Overlord List to Write More Interesting Villains

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:

  • For example, it’s generally a mistake to try capturing a hero rather than just killing him (because the hero will always escape).   However, if the villain needs a human shield right now, an intelligent villain might plausibly decide that leaving the hero alive for now is his best plan.
  • It’s generally a bad idea to have vents that are big enough for a man to crawl through, because someone like Batman will exploit them.  In The Taxman Must Die, one very intelligent villain knows that large vents are dangerous, but builds a holding cell with large vents to pump in enough cold air to suppress a hero vulnerable to cold.
  • Building a walkway above a vat of highly dangerous chemicals can lead to all sorts of accidents.  In TTMD, one villain does, but just so that he can kill off an unruly employee with an “accident” if he has to.  In contrast, it’d just be idiotic if the villain built the walkway for no reason and got himself pushed into the vat.

 

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.

12 responses so far

Oct 18 2011

Villainous Brainstorming Forum

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.

31 responses so far

Aug 04 2010

Foreshadowing a Villain Without Giving It Away

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.

2 responses so far

Jul 17 2009

Writing Villains Vs. Writing Heroes

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.

Continue Reading »

26 responses so far

Apr 01 2009

A How-To Guide for Supervillains

evilHow is an amusing resource for supervillains-in-training.

5 responses so far

Mar 31 2009

A Villainous Forum

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).

  • Is my plot any good?  How could I improve it?
  • How can my villain challenge my hero?
  • How can I make my villain more stylish?
  • Should the villain’s origin story be related to the hero’s?
  • Is my villain too corny?

42 responses so far

Oct 27 2008

Our sponsors have a message for our American readers

You have 170 days to file your taxes.  Don’t be late!

Art taken from this artist at DA.

5 responses so far

Oct 22 2008

Three Qualities of Interesting Villains

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.

 

Competence

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
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.

 

Ambition
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).

179 responses so far

Oct 03 2008

Another movie with Lex Luthor? Haven’t we suffered enough already?

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.

No responses yet

Sep 25 2008

We’ve added Dr. von Puppykicker to our blogroll

Published by under Comedy,Supervillains

He had an amusing take on comic book synopses.

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Sep 05 2008

Destroying the Earth: A How-To Guide

This is a useful resource for anyone that might want to destroy the world.

No responses yet

Jun 05 2008

A different kind of mission statement

“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

One response so far

Apr 16 2008

Quote of the Day: Tuesday

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.”

No responses yet

Mar 14 2008

Villainous New Year’s Resolutions

What’s at the top of supervillain to-do lists for 2008? (Hint: not saving money or losing weight). Here’s a sample.

  1. [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.

  2. [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.

  3. [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.

  4. [The Colombian] Cooperate with Gangrene to develop hardier drug crops. Then I’ll kill him.

  5. [Jihad Joe] Anything. I’m still relevant, dammit!

No responses yet

Feb 20 2008

Thought of the Day: Intelligence

“Supervillains,” “supercriminals,” or whatever else you weaklings want to call us tend to exaggerate our own intelligence. That is a mistake for two reasons.

  1. No “supervillain” will be 100% successful. Losing to cretins from South Carolina and Ohio is bad enough, but it will only be more humiliating if you’ve claimed to be a supergenius.
  2. If your accomplice claims to be the smartest man in the world, he thinks that he is smarter than you.  Unless you kill him immediately to preempt his eventual betrayal, you have proven him right.  Conversely, if you were to claim that you were the smartest man in the world, it would entice others to kill you.  Who’s smart now?

–Paingod

No responses yet

Jan 03 2008

9 Easy-to-Fix Problems with Superhero Design

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

  1. The character’s appearance lacks a distinct theme.
  2. The character looks lifeless.
  3. He looks unrelatable.
  4. His appearance is inconsistent with his personality.
  5. His appearance is inconsistent with the story’s mood.
  6. His costume is too campy or demeaning.
  7. His appearance makes his secret identity implausible.
  8. The details of his appearance are inconsistent.
  9. He has too many accessories.

Continue Reading »

155 responses so far

Dec 21 2007

Quote of the Day: Dec. 21

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.

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Dec 03 2007

Poorly Slapped Together Art, Pt. 3

Experimental Mutagen

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.

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Nov 29 2007

Quote of the Day: Nov. 29

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!

No responses yet

Nov 28 2007

The truth about “superheroes”

The International Society of Supervillains has the dirt on “superheroes” that are really tools. Reed Richards, Namor and Superman take the cake.

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Nov 19 2007

Quote of the Day: Monday

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: Sure…

That evening…

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.

END

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Nov 18 2007

Quote of the Day

Jacob Mallow: I’ve finally perfected the concoction. It will–

Paingod: No.

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: …

Paingod: You’re new here, aren’t you?

No responses yet

Nov 15 2007

A moment that will live in comic book infamy

Pass me down the shark repellent, Robin!”

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Nov 09 2007

Only a Bumbling Person Can Stop a Supervillain

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.

Tucker Carlson, Superhero

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.

Hannity/Colmes

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.

Way to keep a secret identity, dumbass

Unsurprisingly, the talk radio guy doesn’t know how important it is to keep his appearance secret.

No responses yet