Writing the Not-So-Perfect Super Villain

Every comic book superhero deserves a good villain. A snarling, foaming-at-the-mouth, completely unhinged villain.

Batman has the Joker. Superman has Lex Luthor. The X-Men have Magneto. And so on. You get my drift. Some of you may know my Work-in-Progress is about a superhero named Daniel (I really haven’t come up with a cool hero name yet) in the midst of a midlife crisis/mental breakdown. He’s invincible, much to the chagrin of his arch-nemesis, Doctor Vengeance. More on the Doctor in a bit.

When I think of great villains of comic book history, my personal favorite is Doctor Doom. Look at him. The iron mask. The green cloak. The army of Doctor Doom clones at his disposal. Dude’s even the rule of his own kingdom. He’s the perfect villain, self-made, lacking in super powers but possessing a nuclear-powered titanium armor suit and a crazed blood lust. Unfortunately, he’s up against the Fantastic Four, who, frankly, suck. I base this because I hate Reed Richards. Ben Grimm is awesome, but, let’s face it, the Thing going up against Doctor Doom? SLAUGHTER. Doom beats him like a gong and tears the Thing’s asshole out of its stony roots just for shits and giggles.

Doctor Doom killed a whole legion of Marvel Comics’ finest – the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Spider-Man, the Silver Surfer, the X-Men, the Avengers, etc. – at one point or another, just for the sheer hell of it. Why? Because he’s Doctor Doom, dammit.

But it’s that massive chip on his shoulder that sets Doctor Doom apart from every other villain. The world has failed to recognize his genius, and that twerp Reed Richards is the reason why he’s disfigured, so he’s going to make the Fantastic Four AND THE ENTIRE WORLD PAY! Especially Reed Richards. Come on. This is Reed Richards we’re talking here. Mister Fantastic. I’d kill that pompous prick just on principle.

Because, really, what better reason is there to become a super villain, just so you can kill one man and one man only? How awesome is Doom? He once met a version of himself from the future – among Doctor Doom’s many skills is his ability to travel through time – and asked his future self, “What’s it like having killed Reed Richards and ruling the world?” His future self responds that he hasn’t been able to defeat the Fantastic Four yet, so ruling the world hasn’t quite happened yet. So what does Doctor Doom do?

He kills his future self for being such a slacker. Doctor Doom doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

And speaking of fools, that brings me to Doctor Vengeance, my hero’s antagonist. Doctor Vengeance is frighteningly intelligent, the smartest man alive, and a mad scientist who’s got some serious daddy-hating issues. How serious? When he first becomes Doctor Vengeance, his first act of villainy is to kill his father!

Like Doom, Vengeance has a massive chip on his shoulder. And he hates Daniel, because…he harbors a grudge over a harmless prank Daniel pulled on him in their high school days. Yes, Daniel and Doctor Vengeance were high school classmates.

Yet Daniel never ceases to defeat him, and handily at that. Why? Because for all his diabolical powers and his irrational, blinding hatred for Daniel, Doctor Vengeance is really nothing more than a petulant boy who’s often undone by his hubris and his penchant for hissy fits. No matter what Vengeance throws at Daniel, including an army of robots that aren’t the best manufactured robots, he simply can’t defeat Daniel. All Daniel really wants to do is what should have happened to him as a boy; be put on a lap and be spanked rotten.

(Maybe not…that might sound kinkier than anything…)

Vengeance doesn’t inspire fear. Ridicule, yes. Contempt, even; Daniel bemoans the fact that, as the world’s greatest superhero, he doesn’t have a crazy-as-a-fox, hell-bent-for-destruction mega villain.

So, really, the more I think about my WIP’s antagonist, the more I think of Doctor Vengeance as a cross between Doctor Doom and this guy:

I completely understand Sheldon J. Plankton’s plight. I too want to RULE THE WORLD.  I too lament the fact that my best-laid plans fall apart so quickly and badly.

For me, Doctor Vengeance isn’t as much a mega villain as he is a thorn in Daniel’s side.

So here’s my question: do you think Doctor Vengeance would make a great villain? Should I make him more ruthless a villain, a la Magneto or Doctor Doom, or should I leave him as he is right now? I’m thinking of leaving him as he is right now, all full of irrational hatred and hubris, but that could change. I like him being more of a geeky misfit that wants to subjugate the masses all because he got bullied in high school.

Anyway, so what’s your take: leave him as he is, a not-so-supervillain, or make him more evil?

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19 thoughts on “Writing the Not-So-Perfect Super Villain

  1. I like the delicious irony of a not-so-evil, slightly incompetent supervillain. It could be the source of some subtle, dark humor. Reminds me of the “evil trio” (whom I loved) in the last seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer… although they were flat out comedy at times.

  2. Creating a great villain is hard, but essential for many reasons. For one, if you have a awesome villain, someone you really love to hate, you root for the hero all the more. But, I’ve always liked the thought that ‘villains aren’t born, they’re made.’ A high school rivalry is a great start, put that together with the ‘unstoppable force meets immovable object’ of Vengeance’s smarts and Danial’s Invulnerability and it already sounds like a great story.

    • Good observations, Kurtis, thanks. I want to create this notion that their rivalry is based upon something completely stupid, like jealousy or envy, and see it just blow completely out of proportion.

  3. I’m a huge superhero/comic book fan. I like you’re idea of cross between the two. I love the name Doctor Vengeance….it’s just enough ridiculous, cheeziness and classic super-villainy to fit into the finest of any comic books. I agree with the last post, and he should be a not-so-evil villain. There’s always room for someone more evil and whatnot…but for this particular character, I like the not-so-evil idea. It’s more traditional, too, in a way.

    • He’s evil, but more of a threat to himself than anyone else. I’m thinking he can be both the antagonist and the comic relief.

      I may need to pick your brain on some comic book minutiae; it always helps to have another set of nerdy eyes to catch stuff I may have missed.

  4. I love this topic, Gus. I’m designing a couple of villains myself…a “main” villain – the head honcho who calls the shots and is very difficult to conquer, and his minions…evil in their own right, but more flawed and easier to defeat, building the hero’s confidence and experience in order to take on the Big Kahuna.

    Villains have to be flawed in some way…otherwise they are invincible. There has to be a weak point of entry (now we’re getting back into that kinky spanking area), just as there has to be a weakness to the heroes (usually love or mercy). Did you ever see Unbreakable? I think that’s the one with Bruce in it as a hero. I loved the movie, and it made some wonderful points. Bruce’s character’s weakness was water…the villain’s was fragility. I thought it made for some pretty good tension and drama.

    Dr. Vengeance…good name. I like the “doctor” part spelled as Dr., though. Daniel…I’m not too hip on that one. Does your WIP have religious undertones? The name Daniel – such a Christian name – has those connotations, which is great if it parallels the story of Daniel in the Bible (even remotely).

    I enjoy following your blog…good stuff.

    • My villain has a pair of henchmen, twin brothers who are criminally stupid.

      Daniel’s his real name, but I’m struggling – well, not really – to come up with a name for his superhero alter ego. Good catch on the Christian connotations; Daniel is plagued throughout the book by these series of apocalyptic visions. I remembered the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, for some reason. So while my book is not religious by any means, I will be drawing that parallel.

      Glad my education at a Catholic university taught me something other than partying…

      • Yeah…my mind went straight there when I read, “Daniel.” But see, with the visions, that makes perfect sense to have Daniel as the alter ego’s name then.

        • I’d settled on the name Daniel some time ago, without even realizing the Biblical connotations. I picked up a dog-eared copy of essays on the Book of Daniel, which will make for fun (not really) reading while I’m working on this.

  5. JK Rowling was on the Daily Show last week. She said it was easier for her to write villains because if heroes were invincible there wouldn’t be enough conflict in her stories. So, she had to figure out Harry’s kryptonite. People are interested in the psychology of the villain because we want to understand how the villain was turned so to speak. To play Devil ‘s Advocate, I’d say, don’t play it safe. Put your characters in situations that will test them, and by doing so, show the readers what they’re made of.

    • Yeah, my protagonist will definitely be put through a serious test by Dr. Vengeance. I’m working it out so that the reader will see how their relationship defines who they are individually, if that makes sense.

  6. I think there is some power in breaking the convention of diabolical super villains. I’d say leave him as he is and just keep throwing him in Daniel’s face. Daniel may defeat him handily every time, but if he keeps coming back, sometimes that can be more disarming to Daniel than a Doctor Vengeance victory. I think there’s some potential for annoying Daniel to the point of acquiescence. And wouldn’t that be fitting of a sniveling little bitch like Vengeance.

  7. Pingback: NaNoWriMo, Starbucks, Football (Both Kinds) and James Bond, Or: A Random Blog For a Sunday Afternoon | Out Where the Buses Don't Run

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