Monday, March 27, 2006

Patterns of Villainy

Exactly one year ago, I first posted my thoughts about the Dynastic Centerpiece Model, the set of archtypes clustered around a central hero that are so common in DC comics (the "Batman family" for example).

One idea that I threw out at the time but never followed up on was that villains in certain archtypes also attach themselves to the "Dynastic Centerpiece", that is, the hero. I meant to get it, but then I discovered Vibe, and noticed something odd about Hal Jordan's head, and then the haiku thing started and ... well, time flies when you're having fun.

Perhaps now that I actually have a reader or two on occasion, I can get some help thinking about the Antagonistic Archtypes of DC (and, I'm sure, other comics and literature).

Off the top of my head, these are some of the likely categories, followed by some quickie examples...

The Mocker: The Joker, the Trickster, the Prankster
The Heroworshipper: Hugo Strange, Cicada, the Silver Swan, Black Manta
The Untouchable Crime Lord: The Penguin, Lex Luthor, Veronica Cale
The Former Ally: Sinestro, Two-Face, Silver Age Lex Luthor, the new Red Hood
The Dark Reflection: Killer Moth, Zod, Devastation, Rival, Inertia, Prof. Zoom,
The Femme Fatale: Catwoman, Encantadora, Star Sapphire, the Cheetah
The Mental Opponent: The Riddler, Mxyzptlk, Ares, Hector Hammond
The Physical Opponent: Mongul, Blockbuster, Giganta, the Shark

Am I off base? What other villainous archtypes do DC heroes tend to have in their "anti-dynasties"? Remember, I'm not looking for merely a shtick; lots of heroes have villains with freezing powers, but that's not an archtype. We're looking for some that defines a storytelling role or a relationship with the hero.


Anonymous said...

So would the new (or old TAS-wise) LiveWire fit the Mocker bill for Supes?

Killer Moth as a Dark Reflection of Batman? Maybe if Batman is so dark that his "dark" reflection is actually a lightweight. I mean, KM is a real cornball loser...

The "former ally" thing is iffy - it's incidental in most of the cases given, in that the villains don't really seem to act any differently than they would if they hadn't been former allies. Red Hood would be the exception, obviously... but I think Sinestro fits better as "Dark Reflection".

Also, if Birthright is the new canon for Superman's origin, you won't have to go back to the Silver Age to find a Lex who's a former friend.

Odd that you didn't give Flash any mental opponents. Admittedly, most of his rogues are more flash than substance (er, pun not intended), but at different times several of them have presented a more cerebral challenge. Maybe Abra Kadabra?

And surely we can do better than Encantadora for a Super femme fatale. Why not Maxima? Sure, she's named after a sensible sedan, but other than that . . .

There are a couple of other categories. Well, one is more of a metacategory: "designated archenemy". Joker and Luthor may be the only ones who have a solo lock in that one, but it's a category nonetheless.

Then there's Nigh-Omnipotent Ultimate Challenge: Ra's al Ghul, Darkseid, Ares, Parallax . . .

Anonymous said...

Certainly the new villains that stick around will be the ones that don't serve the same 'function' as an already existing villain, so the ones that last will have a niche all their own.

You might consider as an archetype the morally shifting character: a character who's sometimes a hero and sometimes a villain for significant stretches of his/her history. Catwoman would be an obvious example, the 80's Manhunter another. The original Heat Wave from Flash might be placed here.

A few nickpicks:
-Myxzptlk should be a mocker, or perhaps in his own, Imp category, with Bat-mite and that guy from Aquaman. Braniac is the classic Mental opponent for Superman.
-Shouldn't Wonder Woman's Femme Fatale be a guy?
-Obviously there's some overlap here: Sinestro is clearly also a dark reflection

I had a few other thoughts, but they've escaped me just now and I have to run at the moment...

Anonymous said...

I would say that Killer Moth isn't *quite* Batman's 'dark reflection'..Honestly, that's either Prometheus (from the Morrison JLA) or if you want to get really obscure there was that character by Mike Barr and Michael Golden called the Wraith, who was supposed to be the "player on the other side" who essentially had the same origin as Prometheus (bad parents,etc.)

Don't also forget Big Cosmic Megalomaniac: Anti-Monitor, Darkseid, Thanos, Dormmanmu, Nightmare, etc.

How about Black Adam? he's sort of "former ally" but he's not really a "dark reflection"..I think you have to amend this..a "reflection" is NOT the same as an OPPOSITE. Batman is a great example...he has the 'dark reflection' above-Prometheus, and his OPPOSITE is the Joker...The Joker is crazed and maniacal and announces loudly whereas Batman is dark, solemn,and rational.

Another good example is the Justice League, their 'dark reflection' is obviously the Crime Syndicate of Amerika-but their opposites are the Legion of Doom/ Injustice League/Secret Society of Super Villains..each opponent complements or matches the hero slot.

Anonymous said...

"Replacement" would be the first archtype I could think of: Azreal, Artemis, Cyborg Superman. Not an ally, not a reflection, someone specifically designed to take the primary hero's(or heroine's) place.
For a few issues, anyway.

Jeff R. said...

There's the Misguided Idealist (Poison Ivy, Terra Man, Ras Al Ghul, to name a few.)

"Femme Fatale" is probably too broad a category. It at least divides into the Jilted Admirer and Psycho Ex subcategories, with a few that don't quite make it into either one.

One more: the Nemesis of (His/Her) Own Creation, a deadly villian that came into being because of the hero's own well-intentioned actions. (Computo, Movie Joker, to name a couple.)

Steven said...

The Thinker is Flash's Mental Opponent.

And Batman's Dark Reflection, the villain with his skills and abilities who represents what he could become, is Catwoman.

Zod is Superman's Dark Reflection, I agree. What the hell is Bizarro, then?

Anonymous said...

"Zod is Superman's Dark Reflection, I agree. What the hell is Bizarro, then?"

He'd be Superman's Mocker(y).

And good call on the Thinker. Totally failed to remember him. Shame on me.

Steven said...

How can you forget the digital junk?

I was almost going to say Grodd, or Abra Kadabra, but c'mon...

His name is "The Thinker." He might as well be named "The Mental Opponent."

"Shouldn't Wonder Woman's Femme Fatale be a guy?"

Methane, my dear lad, Wonder Woman has a Femme Fetale because, well, there are women in this world who... oh, how do I put this?... prefer the company of other women. We call these women... Amazons.

Anonymous said...

No, Scip is right on about Killer Moth. As originally conceived, KM was very much an "anti-Batman". He would come to the rescue of criminals when they flashed the "Moth-Signal", he drove a "Moth-Mobile", etc. etc. This wasn't carried through his later appearances, though, and he became more of a generic crook.

MarkAndrew said...

Really, any villain worth his/her salt is a bit of a dark reflection anyway.

How about The Rival as a category: Someone who wants to usurp the hero's position. Ocean Master, Atuma, and the current, (and sometimes the old school) Lex Luthor.

Anonymous said...

I ain't got much to add except that I agree Sinestro is more dark reflection than former ally...

Oh yeah, and that Mocker category is pretty uniquely DC - the only Marvel characters I can think of who come close to that would be the Impossible Man and Madcap, and neither of them pop up very often these days...

Anonymous said...

The Ancient: Ra's Al Ghul, Vandal Savage, Morlun (?), maybe Darkseid - alive for centuries, gaining knowledge, but never wisdom...

Nice color-coding, by the way.

Scipio said...

I have a reason why Mxyzptlk is the Mental Challenger (in fact, he's the purest example of it).

There is no physical defense or attack against him. The ONLY way to defeat him is to outwit him. Dealing with Mxyzptlk has consistently been Superman's only purely mental challenge.

Yes, Mx likes to mock Superman, but his principle function is present a mental problem and challenging Superman to solve it ("Can you trick it doing what is required for me to leave?").

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest something like

Street-Level Criminal: Captain Cold, Killer Croc (ignoring post-Hush), Angle Man...

They may not represent a specific mindset, but these are characters who have entirely human motivations, such as greed, and aren't interested in anything except for robbing a bank, stealing a painting, etc. I believe these characters to be important because they often have more in common with the people that the hero is trying to save than the hero his/herself. Of course, that's assuming they can be written correctly; ie: not as a cannibalistic crocodile monster.

Anonymous said...

The Filler (or The Moderate Waste of Time): May be dangerous, may be useless, but is always reliably out of the way in time for the Next! Big! Arc!: Rainbow Raider, Gentleman Ghost, Major Disaster, Sonar, Tyr, The Toy, Calender Man.

Anonymous said...

How about "The Magician"?
Felix Faust, Mordru, etc.

Scipio said...

Ha! I almost included the Magician, Bill, but I couldn't figure out whether it was a role or a schtick...

Steven said...

"Yes, Mx likes to mock Superman, but his principle function is present a mental problem and challenging Superman to solve it."

I see that, but I also thought at first that he would go better in the mocker category, especially when Superman has an opponent named Brainiac.

I guess then we need a better definition of what you are looking for. Is it the way the villains sees the relationship, or is it the way the hero does?

Take the Mxy example. To the imp, his role is to make fun of Superman, take him down a peg and humilate him and Mxy would be insulted to consider himself a mental opponent (because it would imply Superman might be an equal).

But as you point out, to Superman, he functions as a mental opponent, because he can't just be punched into submission, but he can be tricked. And as Marcos pointed out, Bizarro functions as a much better, though unintentional, Mocker.

However, for [snicker] Killer Moth, only the Moth saw himself as the Dark Reflection of Batman. Batman never fought him and thought, "He's just as fast >gasp<, just as strong. I can't beat him." I don't know what he is, though. Lame?

That said, I'd change "Crime Lord" to the more general "Evil Leader" to incorporate all villains that employ armies of other name villains to fight the hero from the shadows.

And I'd suggest the following additions,

"You Make a Good Point, But...": the villain with good motives and evil methods. This would include homicidal "superheroes" and hottie eco-terrorists.

"My One Weakness" Man: Kryptonite Man, Sinestro, um... Bondage Dude?

The Man: Evil people in places of legitimate authority. Checkmate, the Luthor Presidency. Not so much a problem for Batman, but it puts law-abiding Superman in a pickle.

The Frankenstein: the villains of the hero's own creation: Brother Eye, the Joker (whose clearly a Mocker, yes, but he's also fits into most of the other categories as well).

The Body-Snatcher: "There's an innocent/good person inside there" Eclipso, Starro, the Yellow-Space Worm ret-con thing, O.M.A.C. Even Two-Face, to some extent.

That's all I can think of right now.

Jeff R. said...

Hm. Let's put this to practice by examining (the original) Firestorm's Rogue's Gallery.

Multiplex was a go at the Dark Reflection. Also fits into a "Guy From Your Origin Story" niche, but still...Later on, there's Shadowstorm as an even more literal Dark Reflection.

Hyena is our Body-Snatcher character.

Typhoon is tough. Any guesses?

Killer Frost is obviously a Femme Fatale; the original one was in the Jilted Admirer subcat. Plaqtique fits the generic Femme Fatale slot.

Black Bison hits 'The Magician' nicely.

Mindboggler works as 'Mental Opponent' and Brimstone as 'Physical Opponent.' Although you could also make a case for Stalnovolk in that latter category.

And then we have Slipknot and Bolt, who are both generic mercenary villians who can be loaned out to support anyone's rogue's gallery where there's money to pay them...

Anonymous said...

Just about any well-established villain is going to fit into multiple categories. The Joker is both a "mocker" and, post-Alan Moore at least, a "dark reflection"; Doctor Doom has his origin as a "former ally," but he's also a "mental opponent" and a "rival," as well as what badb catha calls a "field marshall" (although that one needs a better name).

Similarly, every well-established hero is going to have multiple instances of most of these. Batman alone has multiple "mockers" and femme fatales, and more "dark reflections" than I can keep track of.

Steven said...

I don't think Magician is a good role, because it feels more like schtick (like ice powers).

Unless it's a Hierophant: a revealer of things.

These are those villains who know "deep secrets" promise to reveal them (next issue), if only the hero meets them in some dark graveyard or alleyway or commits some kind of crime for them. It's kind of a Hanibal Lecter thing.

That I see as a role for Faust, or Mordru, or the Joker (when he's incarcerated).

Anonymous said...

Typhoon was a sailor on a ship that Martin Stein was on. I think that Stein might have had something to do with the nuclear engine in the bathyscape that exploded turning the sailor into Typhoon.

I would classify Black Bison as a former ally as he was one of Ron Raymond's teachers.

Jilted lover : Killer Frost (was rejected by Martin Stein before she got her powers, Maxima, Cheshire, Magneta sp?.

Evil Sibling : Lightning Lord, Kalibak, Grim Reaper, Juggernaut, Ocean Master, Black Fire, Dr. Doom (in a storyline that I think has been since abandonned), Bane (ditto), Thanos (brother of Eros/Starfox), Terrax (if you regard Galactus as the father of his heralds), Magus (time traveling version of Adam Warlock), Loki.

Evil Parent Ultron (creator of the Vision and Jocasta), Magneto, Darkseid, Satan (Ongoing enemy of Daimon Hellstrom), Steve Dayton (adoptive father of Changeling, sometimes a villain) the Order of St. Dumas., Galactus (if you consider him to be Silver Surfer's father)

Anonymous said...

after further thought I would agree that both Felix Faust and Mordru could fall under the "Near Omnipotent Ultimate Threat" or NOUT Category.

When I read this this morning, I don;t think I realized you were actually thinking in terms of archetypes and functions.

word verification: "nubvd" -- what Bruce needs after a night with Dick. (No! I didn't make it up! It's really my word verification!)

Marc Burkhardt said...

To somewhat follow Simon's lead, how about the Sympathetic Monster? A menace that must be dealt with, but not necessarily evil in and of itself.

This category could fit the original Bizarro (check the avatar), the Silver Age Blockbuster, Solomon Grundy (in the JLI cartoon, at least) and the Patchwork Man.

Of course, over at Marvel these characters are heroes.

Anonymous said...

I have to defend Killer Moth here. At least pre-Crisis, KM was regarded as a Serious Threat(tm) by the big bad bat. He didn't show up that often for a story, but pretty much every time he did, Batman dropped everything to concentrate on Drury. Further evidence is provided by the fact that every time (and I do mean every time) the comic found an excuse to have Bats go through his Rogue's Gallery -- which was pretty often -- Killer Moth is in the top five by Bruce's rankings. Often in the top three. Granted, this may be partially the writers trying to gussy KM up for the casual reader, especially seeing as the pictures of the Rogue's Gallery tend to be on the computer monitor, which as we all know are incapable of rendering color. (To be fair, it might just be the Batputer can't render color since uploading a jpg of KM's costume, which has very nearly burnt out my monitor.) But the fact remains that Killer Moth used to be regarded as a threat, at least within the Batcave, even if very few readers took that as gospel.

I always liked Killer Moth, though. Guy had so much brass he clanged when he walked. Think about it. Deciding to be the reverse Batman for Gotham's criminals -- that takes a lateral thinker of epic proportions. Dumping all your capital into gadgets and gimmicks to duplicate Batman's shtick -- that takes some serious confidence in your criminal business plan. Kidnapping Bruce Wayne -- why hasn't everyone else gotten in on this act? The cat's loaded and there is apparently no better way to lure Batman out, unless you want to kidnap Gordon...out of the middle of a police building where the people around him haven't taken any sort of vow to never kill criminals and in fact practice doing exactly that? Designing a costume -- I'm not even concerned with the color or stripes here -- that features wings even though you, personally, don't fly at all? Genius.

Blockade Boy -- there some way you could see clear to fixing up the Moth's costume to make him cool? Gotta keep the wings, though, I think.

Anonymous said...

I dunno...Killer Moth looked just about perfect in Batgirl: Year One.

Steven said...

Killer Moth? Really? You're going to the mat over Killer Moth?

I mean, gah, look at that thing. It's hideous. It's ridiculous.

He may have had stones to become the anti-Batman, but they were between his ears, not his legs.

No one in the history of the world has ever been afraid of a moth (except maybe sweater collectors).

He specifically chose an animal totem that gets eaten by his opponent. That's like a Spider-Man villain calling himself "the Fly" or a Green Lantern villain calling himself... well, "Killer Moth."

The man is lame. Lame lame lame. And the post-Neron version only made him worse. I kind of like the Teen Titans cartoon version, but even there the joke is how lame he is.

Anonymous said...

No, no, no. See, it's Killer Moth. Clearly, that elevates him above the moths that circle lampposts and don't kill anything. Killer moths probably have mandibles and fangs (yes! both!) and rend their prey into pulpy bits.

...okay, well, I agree that he's not actually as cool as the concept, but all I'm sayin' is, Bats gave him props back in the day. Post-Neron, they tried to impressify him up by implying that now he eats people, but Batman has like eight other opponents who do that and several of them didn't even have to trade their soul for that. All they wound up doing is sort of saying he can reproduce through parthogenesis-via-larvae which is creepy but not impressive in any real sense, especially since I seem to recall that none of the offspring were viable enough to survive long. Although that would have given them the opportunity to bring back the original -- or a semblance thereof, anyway. So, yes, entirely on board with the "Charaxes is crap" motif.

Anyhow, I always liked his belief that he was equal to Batman in every important way, despite never beating him. But I guess my point is that, in the comics, Batman agreed. Of course his costume doesn't matter in that light! If Batman marks him as badass, it automatically gives him 5,000 Awesome Points to use at a participating Denny's! Let's face it, Batman's foes rarely have "sensible color palette" as a selling point. (Unlike Flash villains, of course, one of whom is based entirely on --one might say clings desperately to -- that very concept.)

Bringing up Teen Titans, however, means that I get to point out that *that* version engages in hand-to-hand combat with Robin for several minutes with no indication that Robin is jobbing it. He also hands Starfire her goldtoned butt before having his flying engine of destruction betray him.

Regardless, I submit that the suit aside, Killer Moth is the king of all Batman villains. Think if Neal Adams had drawn him first -- we'd all be tripping over each other in our fundamental need to proclaim how he'd totally kick Ra's ass.

All right, that last paragraph isn't true. I still like him, though. And I think we can all agree that he would've kicked Azrael's ass from Gotham to Opal City and back, after of course stopping in to remind the Shade that he still owes him twenty bucks for using the phrase "like a moth to the flame" two weeks ago while soliloquing about Jack.

Anonymous said...

Spiderman did have a villain named the Fly. Scourge killed him over twenty years ago though.

Steven said...

Wha-really? I thought I was being clever. Now it turns out I was extra clever. Go me.

I know that the Crime Syndicate Batman was named Owl-Man because owls eat bats. That makes sense to me.

Speaking of, didn't Man-Bat end up eating Charaxes? Or did I just dream that?

Ouranosaurus said...

How about "Wicked Mentor" and "Evil Apprentice"?

The Bat-family has a bunch of these. Didn't Bruce Wayne seek out Lady Shiva to retrain him after his back was broken? And there's Nite-Wing, the new Tarantula... Dick has bad luck with apprentices.

Some of the evil mentors overlap with evil parents, but not all.