Yet another superhero concept: Behind the Mask

Oh, hey, welcome to my home! I’m glad you guys could make it out today. No, Mr. Nigma’s my father, call me Edward. Can I get anyone anything to drink? So Lex sent you guys to me, right? You’re looking to get into the game, and want some pointers… oh, you need the basic elevator pitch. Alright, let me get a Coke and we’ll get started.

The role of the villain is a long and traditional one. The first thing people tend to ask is what separates a villain from a common criminal. That requires a lot of unpacking. You really need to consider one thing: if you’re smart or powerful enough to be a villain, you could have a comfortable life way easier than going into crime. Have you seen the rates you can get from lots of private firms for any kind of ability to channel energy in ways physics can’t fathom? If you can sneak into a bank vault, you can make top dollar working as a completely legit courier for mega corporations or get the CIA to pay out the nose for you to contract. Hell, I have no powers other than my own towering intellect, and I could easily be pulling down millions a year from the markets or making triple-A video games. No, if all you’re interested in is getting rich, there are far safer and more lucrative ways for the gifted to pursue that goal than simple crime.

Being a villain, on the other hand, is a grand calling. It’s not about getting rich, it’s about becoming immortal. No, I don’t mean schemes like what al Ghul has going, though that’s a frequent side effect, I mean achieving such notoriety that your very image becomes legend in your own lifetime and beyond. We villains become iconic forces, defining our own myths by setting ourselves in opposition to those Campbellians in tights. Virtually every hero of any talent quickly becomes a legend, and we sort of, well, tag along. And it’s way easier than trying to be a hero yourself. As a hero, you’re at the beck and call of society, you’re constantly having to fight both criminals and villains, and you rarely make any money doing it. As a villain, you set your own hours, you often earn enough to live in fabulous comfort between visits to Arkham, and, most importantly, the only people you get in a fight with on a regular basis tend to have a deeply held aversion to killing. Seriously, look at me: run of the mill criminals are terrified of me, and the Bat has caught me dozens of times at this point and the worst I’ve gotten is a few broken bones when I really pissed him off. As long as you stay on the good side of the other villains in town, you have almost nothing to worry about other than sanitarium food for a few months a year.

So have I gotten you on board with the concept and you’re ready for the how-to? Excellent, let’s proceed…

Your first step is, of course, to find a likely hero to set yourself against. Ideally, you want someone just a little more skilled than you, and with something thematic you can do within your powerset that makes you a clear opposite. There has to be thematic resonance to get you into the myth, you see. Imagine if, say, Captain Cold and I traded places. The Flash would have me in jail in seconds, and the Bat would either accidentally be dead or have to call in the Justice League every time the Captain popped up. There’s just a power imbalance. Plus, thematically, there’s nothing I could do where my intellect proved a reasonable foil to a guy that’s all about speed, and, well, the Bat already has a cold-related villain with a much better backstory link to his own past. But against the world’s greatest detective, I totally have a niche. And freeze rays are excellent at making fast things slow down, so the Captain’s set as well.

Now, this step may be harder for you if you’re committed to being a team. You’ve got a few options. You could each pick a solo hero in the same region and make them team up to fight you regularly. You could set one of you up as the main villain and the rest as his lieutenants, then pick a more powerful hero. Or you could see if you can find a likely team to set yourselves against. Maybe the Titans or one of the minor League spinoffs as a start?

Once you’ve got a hero, you can come up with an identity. Part of this is a costume and name, but the biggest part is an agenda, methodology, and “insanity” that will really get the hero’s goat. (I highly recommend pretending to be insane, by the way, Arkham is way nicer and easier to escape from than Blackgate.) Take me as your example once again; my whole schtick is that I have to do crimes that prove I’m the smartest man in the world, and I can’t resist challenging the Bat to prove me wrong. The irony is that it’s more the other way around: he can’t help himself but to drop anything else he’s working on to make sure nobody can ever say I actually outsmarted him. You’re going to need to do some surveillance on your guy for a while, or at least make friends with the rest of his Gallery: you can’t be an effective villain if the hero, and the public, isn’t interested in your concept.

That’s the next step, the public. You can’t just start doing crime like you’re hoping to get away with it. No, you have to regularly challenge the hero, in full view of the public. Start out messing with the police and politicians, maybe. Leave cryptic clues in the newspapers if that’s your thing. A lot of the newer kids are testing out blogging and social media. But, at the end of the day, you want TV cameras rolling on your latest atrocity and, if you can swing it, on the brutal melee between you and the local caped vigilante. These days, with the 24-hour networks, you might even go global on a slow news week. You ever notice that villains always burst out of the front of a bank, right into the police and news van blockade, just as the hero is flying up? It’s all about the free press.

Anyway, I’ve rambled at you long enough. If you’re ready to be a proactive entrepreneur in the field of immortality, this is certainly the gig for you. Questions?

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