The Villain's Master Plan: Why So Similar?

The Dark Knight So I have this idea for a movie.  We get this villain and he’s incredible. Unstoppable. Completely wrecks everything. Blows up buildings, and proves to be a menace that the hero can’t contend with. Then some how the villain is captured. Maybe he surrenders, or he’s outsmarted. But just when the hero is ready to deliver a lecture of disgust… BAM! The villain reveals it was all a part of his plan. He delivers this absolutely awesome monologue and then… and then… It all sounds familiar doesn’t it? It should. Ever since Heath Ledger’s Joker allowed himself to be arrested in The Dark Knight this has been a common occurrence? How common you ask? So common that some variation of this has occurred in no less than four other blockbuster films (The Avengers, Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, and Star Trek Into Darkness).

In The Avengers, and The Dark Knight Rises these “planned to be captured” schemes take place at the beginning of the film. In the former Loki is already captured as a result of the end of the Thor, and in the latter Bane’s plan involves pretending to be a prisoner until taking over a plane to fly to Gotham. Despite these differences the action itself as part of a scheme becomes an important part of the movie. This is not to say that the movies are totally similar (there are a ton of similarities between The Dark Knight and Skyfall) but it is enough of an issue that it becomes impossible to avoid. The plot by the villain in these cases prove as examples of their intelligence, and their power. It also provides the face-to-face conflict we demand to see in our movies. Joker sitting across from Batman in the prison is now an iconic moment in film. Not only for Joker’s “Why So Serious” dialogue, but because this is the first time in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series do we see this figures face off. Joker was a representation of absolute chaos and it was insane enough to work. There was power in the moment.

The more films revisit this trope the less impact it has. It stops feeling like something powerful and unexpected to yawn inducing.  When Khan surrendered to James T. Kirk in Star Trek Into Darkness I found myself sighing because I knew exactly where it was headed. The moment he was locked up I did a silent countdown waiting for the monologue and waiting for him to attempt to exact revenge. And it came but it didn’t carry the weight it intended.

Why is this so common? I wish I had the answer, but over the years I’ve discovered that I’m better at pointing out a problem than offering a solution. It could be the easiest way to get a villain into the situation. Brings them into conflict with the protagonist for the first time. Maybe these writers all have the idea at the same time (highly unlikely). Or simply that no ideas are original and they tend to just reach in and grab the idea that is the most readily available.

Maybe I will write that movie, but it looks like I’ll have to start from scratch.

Why Do Super Villains Tell Their Plan?

watchmen_still10 In the climax of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ masterpiece Watchmen, Nite Owl II and Rorschach confronted Ozymandias. It was a scene we’ve seen before. Heroes figure out what is going on and confront the villain. Aware of their approach, Ozymandias doesn’t only prove equal to the task but he easily dispatches of them. With his former teammates lying prone he reveals his master plan. What makes this scene so iconic is that it flips a common comic book trope on its head. He goes through his entire plan, but he differs from most villains in comics in that it was too late for his plan to be stopped. Remove that difference and we’re still left with a man who had to share his plan with those who tried to stop him. Why is it that super villains find the need to share this? To get to the root of this we first have to understand the difference between heroes and villains. In a work such as Watchmen what separates good from evil is left up to your perspective. Ozymandias is willing to kill three million people to save more. Rorschach is deemed a hero despite being a full on bigot. It attempts to give a realistic representation of the shades of gray that exist in life. In comic books the lines between good and evil aren’t so vague. Superman is good. Spider-Man is good. Some such as Wolverine, Batman, and Punisher get dangerously close to the lines but are also ultimately good guys. They are heroes in the sense that they are doing what they do to protect others. They often find themselves whether willingly, or not so willingly, teamed up for the cause of saving the world. While there are rough patches they manage to work things out. Teams such as Justice League of America and the Avengers are formed of superheroes that, mostly, swallow their ego and bounce ideas off of each other to come up with the most effective way to overcome the challenge. This is not to suggest that super-villains. There are examples such as Spider-Man’s Sinister Six, Flash’s Rogues Gallery, the X-Men’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and so on. What we consistently see is a clear-cut leader and his followers (Magneto with the classic Brotherhood of Evil Mutants), and lesser villains who join together to thwart a common foe (Sinister Six, Rogues). An example that proves how bad an idea it is for powerhouse villains to get together is displayed with the Secret Society of Super Villains. A fantasy dream team of villains put together to combat the Justice League always found itself strife with battles of ego between the likes of Darkseid, Lex Luthor, and Gorilla Grodd among others.

At the core a villain doesn’t want to share credit, and doesn’t want to feel threatened. Most of all when they succeed (for they never consider defeat) they don’t want to share any of the world that they now control. So they plan, and plan, and plan. Their minions (or followers if minions is too dismissive for your tastes) carry out their work and they are mostly isolated from the rest of the world.

A byproduct of not wanting to share credit of the spoils is the lack of equals that they respect to tell them how great the idea is.  The yes men who surround super villains will deliver praise, but no matter how self-absorbed they are aware of the reason why this praise is delivered. So back to the initial question: why would a super villain share their plan with their rival before (or after) it is completed? In truth it is because whether or not they’d like to admit it the hero is the closest thing the villain has to an equal. To let them die, or for the plan to succeed, without the hero knowing everything that went into it would leave their accomplishment devoid of that acknowledgement.

Where the heroes have a process of multiple eyes, and ears to come up with the best plan to save the world, the villain only has him or herself.  Despite Watchmen holding itself a part from the rest of the genre of superhero comics, it held true here. He shared his plan the same way Dr. Doom has on countless occasions in battles with the Fantastic Four. And the reasoning is simple: to feed their ego. Not only are they about to win, but also there’s nothing they could do. This is validation for all their planning. Proof that they can go about this all on their own.

Top Five Ways the Villains Win

LOD While I lack the title that is usually bestowed upon someone for completing a long, arduous term of study on a subject (Dr. of Psychology, Professor of Literature, King of the Lollipop Guild, etc.) I, nonetheless, consider myself a specialist in certain fields. Primarily those fields consist of dangerous chemicals, and the legwork done to become a 'specialist' mostly consists of abusing them to dull the bitter edge of my own empty, shallow, perverse existence... However ONE of the fields I have studied extensively will actually be the subject of this article. It, of course, is the subject of...

SUPER-VILLAINY.

EvilIncarnite

While most small children are awe-inspired by fantastic characters with unflagging moral compasses, honorable agendas, and a plethora of happy-super-friendly-sunshiny lessons to teach their audiences, I have always found myself rooting for the bad guy.  Maybe this was because I was always the last kid picked to play when the neighborhood ruffians would get together to beat the piss out of each other in the guise of "pretending to be superheroes". As all young boys know, getting picked last means you have to be the bad guy, so it was many a late summer afternoon I was busy getting my teeth loosened by Wolverine (a.k.a. Fat Russel Hendrix from down the block) while rattling off an arsenal of pedantic and cheesy one-liners cursing the X-Men and Fantastic Four and vowing revenge.

Back-story aside, some of the most vibrant and essential characters in the history of pop-culture and geekdom are, in fact, the bad guys. All too often, though, the bad guys trip at the finish line and are forced to watch their hair-brained schemes go up in smoke at the hands of some guy in flashy spandex tightie-whities with an impossibly square jawline and perfect hair. That said, I am here to present you with

THE TOP FIVE THINGS A VILLAIN COULD DO IN ORDER TO ACTUALLY SUCCEED

OM Jesus

One of the baddest badasses to ever BADASS is Magneto. His obvious post-traumatic stress, megalomania, narcissism issues and severe racism towards humans aside, the man is powerful. He can crush a tank without laying a finger on it. He can fly. He has a helmet that shields his mind against telepathic assault. He has very nearly succeeded in world domination time and time again, but has always been stopped at the last minute. Know why?

5. ) BAD PUBLIC RELATIONS

That's right. Magneto has assembled a team of like-minded brutes to help him fight against a world that has spurned them. After all, the X-Men storyarcs and films have done nothing if not furthered the notion that Magneto is truly nothing more than a victim in his own right. A Holocaust survivor who likely watched his friends and family slaughtered in front of his very eyes time and again at the merciless hand of the Nazi regime, all because of the way he was born. When he discovered that he was a mutant and immediately drew parallels to the steps being taken against his race by all humans at large, he wasn't letting that shit happen again. So, he gets his team together, recruiting these poor, misguided mutants from the mean streets and test labs of the world in order to make a rightful stand against the oppressive tyranny of racism and the inherently barbaric actions of a civilization living in fear of that which they do not understand. Now, if only he had a name for this team...

Oh. I know. Let's call them 'The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants'.

Okay. So therein lies the faux pas. The name of this coalition of wayward freedom-fighters literally advertises the fact that they are EVIL. They are known to the world this way, and might as well have called themselves "The Murderous Super-Powered Nightmare Team Of Death". If they had perhaps called themselves something else... Almost ANYTHING else, in fact, they might not be hated and reviled the world over, and might even get some people onside who were sympathetic to their plight... or at the very least gotten a government grant or something... However, Magneto is far from the only character in the history of comics and movies to make this blunder. In The Marvel Universe alone we have:

The Alliance of Evil, The Assembly of Evil, The Blood, The Carnage Family, The "Dark" Avengers, The Death Commandos, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Guild of Thieves, The Hellbent, The Insidious Six, The Institute of Evil, The Masters of Evil, and let's not forget the most creatively named group of evil-doers of all time... The Outlaws. This is by no means a comprehensive list.

Any decent public relations officer in the world would tell you that it is strictly NOT okay to use the words Murder, Crazy, Evil, Dark, Minion, Stalker, Blood, Death, Killer, Psycho, Savage, Sinister, Slayer or SATAN in the formal name of your organization (unless it's run by Donald Trump, in which case the court has declared that you are legally obligated to use ALL of these words in your Organization's name). Simply put, if you are the mastermind behind a plot to destroy, enslave, or conquer the known free world, it's probably best that the future denizens of your post-apocalyptic wasteland-kingdom don't think of you  as Captain McDouchebag of the Riot Asshole Division. Just sayin'....

4.) TOO MUCH FLASHY ADVERTISING

This one kind of goes along with Number 5. For this example we're going to take a look at arguably one of the evilest coalitions to ever not really exist. We're going to take a look at Cooooooooobbrraaaaa! , the rivals and menacing badasses of the G.I. Joe universe.

Watching these guys in action while growing up was like dousing my own eyeballs in buckets of flaming hot madness. I mean, seriously, what the hell is wrong with these people? Not only did they completely disregard rule number 5 (walking around with names like 'CessPool', 'Decimator', 'Doctor Mindbender', and 'Major Bludd') but they were also the least covert human beings on the planet. They literally had no understanding of the concept of stealth or being inconspicuous, and they were supposed to be a super-secret military organization standing in major opposition of the rest of the world!

Let's take a look at what I mean. For our first example, I present THE BARONESS.

MMMMMMMM

She was the Intelligence Officer and First  Lieutenant to Cobra Commander. Also, strangely, she appears to be a moonlighting dominatrix with a pleather-fetish. What in God's name about the way she looks says "Covert"? Is it the 44" stiletto heels, the full-leather gimp suit, or the pants that are so tight that you could count the change in her pocket from ten feet away (assuming there is enough room in said pants for the aforementioned change).

Okay, so maybe Cobra Commander is just a perv and likes having her around for eye candy. That's acceptable, but how do you explain...

DESTRO.

This evil-doer is a cutthroat businessman and arms-dealer who peddles military-grade weapons tech to the highest bidder. He also hires mercenaries to start revolutions and coupes all over the world to jack up business for this trade, which makes him a pretty effective badass badguy. It seems he has a real handle on what it takes to be a super villain... until you get a look at the guy.

Clean?

Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ on a Rusty Pogo-Stick, what's wrong with that guy's face?! And his outfit? And his eternally damned soul which, I swear to God, is trapped behind his black, vacant eyes? Why is he wearing a chromed steel mask? What's with the impossibly high Dracula Collar? Is this guy just a roid-raging Mr. Clean, or what?

But I digress. What I mean by 'Too Much Flashy Advertising' isn't just that these people are OBVIOUSLY out to kill you. It's that, while they're doing it, they are nearly always adorned with the LOGO of their evil organization. It's either larger than life on the backs of their jackets, sewn into the lapels of their coats, or tattooed into their very flesh. These guys are letting you know that it's no secret who just burned your village, bulldozed the church, and raped your cattle... Although by the laws of common sense it SHOULD be. Even their resident ninja, STORM SHADOW

Ninja

was emblazoned with their familiar logo. A NINJA, for Christ's sake! He's the avatar for stealthiness and secrecy, yet he's little more than a katana-wielding billboard advertising his vibrant evil-ness.

Again, I could spout a million violators of this rule, from the Foot-Clan in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Teletubbies (Don't TELL me they're NOT fucking evil!) but instead, let's just move on to...

3.) POOR REAL ESTATE INVESTMENTS

Were I to funnel my trillions of ill-gotten dollars into securing an evil headquarters, I would most certainly have some of the most stereotypical bad-guy stuff. I'm talking wild and exotic animals with surgically-enhanced laser-eyes, powerful doomsday weapons torn straight from the pages of sci-fi novels (or Dr. Suess' worst nightmares), and super-pimped cars with military-grade assault weapons layering every inch of their outer surface... However, there are definitely some things that we see done in a lot of comics, movies, and shows that I would certainly steer clear of. Such as...

Castle Grayskull

... living in a base that was hewn from stone and morbidly shaped like a mutated human skull. Likewise, I would probably never command my evil forces from...

Techno

... something that your company lunchcart resembles after you've done six sheets of high-powered blotter acid.

Castle Grayskull, The Technodrome, The Death Star, Asteroid M, Bowser's Castle, and even Mr. Burns' mansion in The Simpsons all make the same key mistake: They ADVERTISE their evil-ness. Everything from weapons of terror and lakes of fire to nightmare-fueled gargoyles adorn their palaces of choice, and this makes it incredibly easy to discern where these evil bastards are hiding. I mean, yeah, it's certainly important to be secure in your evil-ness, and also to be as intimidating a villain as possible, but do you really want to be so blatantly horrendous and flashy that even Mr. Magoo could look at your house and know you are the spawn of Satan himself? I think not. It's just a bad move. Whatever tools, gadgets, equipment and vehicles you have, it's likely that the heroes have something comparable, and they will use them to locate you. Do you want to make it as easy as humanly possible for them?

That said, let's move on to...

2.) A DILIGENT HR DEPARTMENT

I have probably spent more time watching films, reading comics, and absorbing myself in mainstream cartoons and television shows than I have spent NOT doing these things in my life, and as such I would consider myself qualified to call the following statement a fact:

Nearly all Super Villains have a bumbling, woefully inept, untrained, and under-skilled minion or sidekick that has ruined their bid for world domination countless times.

Don't believe me? Dick Dastardly had Muttley. The Shredder had BeBop and Rocksteady. Professor Coldheart had Frostbite. (That's right. I just sucker-punched you with the villains from The Care Bears. Howdoyalikemenow?)

Care Bears

This is a trend that can be followed going back to the days where reality television was a series of grisly hieroglyphs adorning cave walls. For some reason, the evil badass archetype has a penchant for befriending that kid in school that nobody wanted to play with. That's just how it is, apparently. However, this is a major roadblock on the path to successful world-conquering.

What I'm saying can be summed up like this:

I once got hilariously drunk, went into the office, got my foot stuck in a mop bucket, used the aforementioned bucket as a make-shift skateboard and challenged my co-workers to jousting matches using the mop. For this, I was promptly fired. In the world of super-villainy, however, I would have apparently been appointed second in command of an evil army. If evil corporations, militaries, rebel factions and coalitions had an HR department that employed any sort of screening process whatsoever, we would all be living under the iron fist of one horrible dictator or another. As it stands, one of the only things standing in the way of the complete annihilation of the human race, it seems, is the fact that the truly EVIL don't understand that it's a bad idea to have a drug-addled Jerry Lewis as their go-to guy.

And finally....

1.) SEE A DOCTOR

I know what you're probably thinking. It sort of defeats the purpose of being a maniac bent on dominating the free world if you have a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor or therapist working with you. I mean, OBVIOUSLY these villains are out of their minds, and 9 times out of 10 that's their incentive to purge humans from the face of the world. However, their narcissism, anger-management issues, megalomania, PTSD, OCD, or ADHD is not the target here. What I'm saying is this:

I have seen many a television show, movie and comic where the hero is able to exploit some sort of personality flaw, phobia, or bizarre compulsive habit that the villain has and use it to turn the tables at a critical moment in order to win the day. With the help of a mental health professional, the outcome might be a bit different.

What if we could cure the Bond villains of their unexplainable need to recite a lengthy monologue that outlines every detail of their evil plot to 007 while he's strapped into their death-device?

What if, instead of playing games all the time, The Riddler actually got down to business and used his genius-level intellect to his own end, instead of being compulsively inclined to leave hints for the greatest detective in the world?

What if The Joker.... Well, the joker would probably just KILL whatever mental health professional tried to help him in a way that could only be described using words like "maniacal" and "blood-spattered" and "hilarious".

But you get my point. It's often the little defects and quirks that a villain possesses that ultimately lead to the unfurling of their plans, ultimately causing their bid for wide-spread panic and terror to die on the vine.

Ultimately, I guess what I'm trying to say with this article is that if an evil corporation were to employ the same sort of tactics as, say, WALMART, we'd all be completely screwed.