Friday, June 06, 2008

The Villainous Tarot

Our recent conversation about composing an "anti-Trinity" has brought me back to the idea of villain archetypes.

The idea of villainous archetypes certainly isn't new, or unique to comic books. But when part of your central schtick is "one hero with many foes", then devices that help distinguish those foes become useful. Conceiving of archetypes among villains then helps you create new ones: you can see where the "gaps" are in the hero's villainry and create a character to fill it.

This concept is similar to the Dynastic Centerpiece Model we talk about here. In the DCM, we find patterns between a Dynastic Centerpiece and his or her helpers and supporting cast. In what I will call the Villainous Tarot, there's a set of archetypes that DC villains fall into it, in which, like the Dynastic Centerpiece Model, the members are defined in terms of their relationship to the central hero. The more fully that "Tarot" is filled out, the potentially richer the hero's Rogues' Gallery is.

Filling out the Villainous Tarot isn't a sure-fire thing. If you fill it with crappy villains, then your hero will still have a crappy Rogues Gallery. BUT-- and here's the key thing -- quantity (or, more accurately, variety) is more important than quality. More on that later!

But first, let's take a look at a sample for the Trinity...

Batman Superman Wonder Woman
Mocker Joker Prankster Angle Man
Crime Lord Penguin Lex Luthor Veronica Cale
Opposite Number Killer Moth General Zod Devastation
Twisted One
Two-Face Bizarro Silver Swan
Mental Challenger Riddler Mr. Mxyzptlk Dr. Psycho
Physical Challenger Killer Croc Parasite Cheetah/ Giganta
Gadgeteer Penguin Toyman
Sexual Challenger Catwoman Maxima RIP
Evil Genius Hugo Strange Lex Luthor Dr. Poison / Egg Fu
Manipulator Mad Hatter
Dr. Psycho

These are just some of the more obvious villainous archetypes. They aren't mutually exclusive (one character may fill more than one role) nor unique (one role may be filled by more than one characters). Nor is there any necessary hierarchy among these archetypes; for various reasons, a hero may wind up with an "archenemy" who's a Mocker (the Joker), an Evil Genius (Lex Luthor), or an Opposite Number (Zoom). Nor are these roles immutable; villains can evolve from one role to another (as Hugo Strange once evolved from Evil Genius to Opposite Number or Twisted One) or occupy different roles as the situation demands (e.g., the Penguin as Gadgeteer or Crime Lord). Role can be usurped; the attempt to create Devastation as an Opposite Number for Wonder Woman didn't stick long-term, and the new "Super-Manazon" that DC appears to be planning will now take that role instead.

And this is why the variety, overall, is more important that the quality. Quality is easy to fix. If a villain in a particular role is crappy, all it takes is one issue to give them an upgrade or make them more interesting. As long as a villain has any recognizability, they can be given a new paint job (e.g., Catman, Egg Fu, Black Hand). It's harder to introduce new villains and make them stick than it is to revitalize them.

When I asked you to come with an "anti-Trinity", you each chosen a different set of villains, and, consciously or not, your choices were influenced by what role the villain plays in that hero's Villainous Tarot. Some of you chose villains with the same role, so that they would all have a common goal to give your team unity. Some of you, on the other hand, chose villains with three different approaches to give your team variety. It's like in Risk, when to get extra armies you can turn in either three of the same card, or one card each from the three different types. Re-examine your own choices with the Villainous Tarot in mind, and see what it tells you!

Just like the Dynastic Centerpiece model, the Villainous Tarot can highlight weaknesses in the mythos of a hero. Try filling in the grid above for another hero. The problems are immediately apparent. Most of Flash's villains are, essentially, gadgeteers (and one trick gadgeteers, at that). Small wonder, then, that they've largely been lumped together what amounts to one threat with a variety of faces ("The Rogues"). No one's taking the role of the Mocker of Green Lantern (except for, you know, me and the rest of the internet). Black Manta has to fill five or six slots in Aquaman's tarot, and if you want to have a serious laugh (or a serious headache, depending on your attitude) try and fill that grid in for Green Arrow or the Martian Manhunter.

The nice part is that, in pointing out gaps, the Villainous Tarot spotlights opportunities. As previously mentioned, somebody at DC obvious thought something along the lines of, "Hey, Batman and Superman each have at least Opposite Number, maybe more; shouldn't Wonder Woman have one, too?" Angle Man's not really Wonder Woman's Mocker, just the closest she has to one; he could be pushed more in that direction, and new villains could be placed in his original roles as Mental Challenger, then Gadgeteer. Wouldn't someone Grimbor-like be an amusingly ironic foe for Wonder Woman, perhaps as an enslaver of trafficked women? Or old villains could be re-purposed to fill those roles; wouldn't Circe be more effective as a Mental Challenger for Wonder Woman, rather than as a tepid Mocker of her values?

The specifics of what is done what role or which character are merely details, and you could make a wide variety of interesting and valid choices. I wouldn't want to see every hero's Rogues' Gallery become cookie-cutter predictable, but I would like to see writers and editor take greater advantage of some obvious opportunities to fatten up their hero's Villainous Tarots!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Riddle Me This: Trinity

Pretend you are the persons writing/editing Trinity.

You must select an "anti-Trinity" of villains to oppose the Trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. You may not use the obvious choices (Joker, Cheetah, Luthor), but you may use anyone else, resurrecting them if need be.

Whom do you choose and why?


With due deference to the Bat-Blog from whom I stole this because I couldn't resist its glory (and to whom I already owe debt for identifying my long-lost Whitman Activity Set!):

I shouldn't find that cart so hilarious; but I do.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy

... in my comics this week.

  • Black Adam needs a trip to Mattress Discounters.
  • Manhunter + Blue Beetle = Great Happiness.
  • "I don't need a translator." Mr. Terrific and Amazing Man are my new favorite comic book comedy duo!
  • Nightwing fighting fire with fire.
  • Jonah Hex versus One of Those Women From Love & Rockets.
  • Hey, I guess it's the modern "Mystery Analysts of Gotham"!
  • Ryan Choi was particularly disarming this month.
  • Finally getting to see Damage's face. Sigh!
  • Ramsey's great-grandparents.
  • The giant octopus that doesn't do anything.
  • Now we know where the spooky lighting is coming from in DC's latest series of house ads.
  • Nick, isn't that gun a bit extreme, even for you?
  • The Atomic Skull taking a face-plant into wet cement.
  • Detective Comics being full of detectives and detecting.
  • Esteban's insightful and cogent explanation of the appeal of bullfighting (and most reality tv progamming).
  • LOTS of neck-snapping in Secret Invasion! Sigh; I guess you need to read DC if you want a decent decapitation... .
  • Jonah puts up with a lot of bull.
  • Jarvis's polite request.
  • Having Nightwing fight an old Black Condor foe? Ingenious!
  • "I'm a giant sea monster of the depths. It's what I do."
  • Batman in a Chat Room.
  • Dr. Choi's savior. Both of them, really.
  • Dylan receives a package, and all that it implies. Shudder.
  • Concerning the House Ad for Uncanny X-Men #500: so, do all of Marvel's female characters seem like drag queens, or what?
  • Nightwing doing snappy patter during fight scenes... in his head. Why aren't you reading Nightwing, people?
  • Todd Rice flying a helicopter makes me hot. Or doing anything else, really.
  • House of Mystery = the new Sandman.
  • Kr'ali Stark...?!
  • Fabulous two-page synopsis of Manhunter-so-far.
  • "I heard they were developing her for HBO." Priceless!
  • Batman can't save everyone, particularly not from themselves.
  • "This one's on me." Oh, Jonah, you slay me (and most of your supporting cast!).

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


I would like an applet for my sidebar, that I can fill with pictures and captions thereto, that will cycle through them randomly upon each refreshment of the page.

Is there such?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Weather for J'onn's Funeral Services

"Hello, everyone. I'm meteorologist Misty Hazen, joining you, my colleagues here at station WFLA, and all citizens of Apex, as we mourn the loss of our treasured hero, J'onn J'onzz, the 'Martian Manhunter'.

"Services will be held for Mr. J'onzz all this week throughout Apex, so that everyone can find time to attend. Let's take a look at the forecast for the week so you can plan accordingly...

"Today the weather will be normal and seasonal, with large earthward meteors expected all over town.

"Tuesday, falling planes are anticipated in the morning,

but in the afternoon, those should taper off...

..and completely disappear by the late afternoon.

"Wednesday should be lovely in the city, with falling meteors,

but prepare for scattered crazy bullets in the countryside.

"Thursday, look for both sudden giant and freak waves in the area of Rainbow Beach.

"Friday could see some serious falling safes...

particularly in Toontown.

"Saturday should be clear, with the possibility of an automotive tornado in the Gawking District.

"Sunday, the weather should return to normal with flaming meteors exploding over mid-town."

"Wishing you all safe mourning,this is Misty Hazen, saying, 'Look to the skies! Keep watching the skies!'..."