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Thread: Week 16- Supervillains

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 16- Supervillains

    Tuesday. It's one of those days that I love. It ends in “y” and everything. I have a special affinity for days that end in “y”...

    And since it's Tuesday, I guess that means it's time for another installment of Bolts & Nuts, right? Right. So, let's get to it.

    Last time around, we started talking about superheroes, and I spoke about supers in general, and about the heroes in specific. This time around, I'm going to talk about supers in general, and supervillains in specifics. The two, contrary to current belief, are not interchangeaeble.

    Let's talk about supers generation for a little bit. Last week, I advocated the use of table-top role playing games, and that still applies. While I play City of Heroes, I'm not really in love with their generation system. Let's look at it for a little bit.

    Let's say you create Pen-Man in the City of Heroes generator. You want him to be able to fly, and be really strong. Of course, he won't be able to fire ink or create ink shapes or anything like that, but you take something with a dark energy melee and a sword or something. The sword will be substituted for the pen in your imagination. You make the closest approximation to Pen-Man that you can using their generator. It's not the best, but it gives you an idea of what you want.

    Then you start going through missions, and Pen-Man grows more and more powerful. Initially, he couldn't fly very fast, but he was able to get there. You go through the levels, and you get more powers and stunts. More weapons. But you keep going. Now you're level 35, and Pen-Man is no longer the character you started out with. He can teleport. He can heal. He can teleport others. He can run really fast. He has all of these powers that don't fit within the scope of his original generation. That's the fault of the generator. Basically, when it comes to creating supers that I'm going to use in comics, I only use City of Heroes for costume generation. And even that's somewhat limited.

    You have three body types: call it male, female, and the Hulk. You can adjust the bodies from there, making them taller or shorter, more or less robust, and they have all kinds of costume parts and shadings and heads and such. Literally millions of permutations, and even with those, you're still limited only to what they have. Basically, all of this is just to say that this method of generation will only get you an approximation of your character—not something that's as close as you want it. It's your imagination. Use it to the best of your ability.

    But, the above is the reason I don't advocate online role playing games. They're limited. Much more limited than tabletop rpg's, in my opinion. With tabletop rpg's, you're able to do anything you need to. You're able to adapt given powers into anything you need, if they're not already there, and in understanding the system of creation, knowing what the numbers mean when it comes to power levels et al, you're able to get your initial character to be as powerful as they need to be, and then build them up from there over time—just like in the comics. I'm a Marvel person, so I have a few Marvel systems under my belt, and am able to create characters decently fast under them. So, I know that with the power set I gave to Pen-Man, it's basically a derivative of Cosmic Energy Control, and he would be powered accordingly. Not simple, but you get used to it.

    Supervillains are different. Not much when it comes to their generation, but enough. Because of the sophistication of today's reader, it's not good enough for the bad guys to be evil “just because.” That might have flown in the 60's and 70's [and possibly even the 80's], but it's not going to fly now. Not if you want to have a good villain.

    The best villains are the ones that you can identify with. They should also be the most powerful. We'll get into powers in a little bit. I'm going to give you the best villain I think has ever been made: Magneto. Screw Darkseid, screw Venom, screw Ra's al Ghul, screw Luthor. Screw 'em all. The best villain ever made is Magneto, and I'm going to tell you why.

    The reason is simple: Magneto is not a villain. He's definitely not a hero, but he's not a villain. He wants betterment for mutantkind. He just has a really aggressive way of going about his objective. For those of us that remember Secret Wars (and if you don't, or have never read Secret Wars, go get the trade. Seriously.), Magnus was with the heroes when they first got to the Beyonder's space station, not the villains. That is important. He's a “villain” who's reason for being is not villainous. He's actually an aggressive altruist.

    And that's what you must do in creating a good villain. Their mission, their reason for being, must be identifiable as something sympathetic to the common reader. It has to be. What's Darkseid want? The Anti-Life Equation. Cool, but how is that identifiable with the common reader? Ra's al Ghul is an eco-terrorist. I can kinda get behind that. Everyone is getting “green” nowadays, and DC did the smart thing in bring back the Demon's Head. Judicious use of him is now necessary for him to be a real threat. It can also make him into a worthy villain.

    Basically, I'm talking about ideologies. It doesn't have to be diametrically opposed to your hero, but it should make them sympathetic to the reader. It should make them hard to be seen in a villainous light. Diametric opposition can be boring, because it's black and white. The best villains don't see themselves that way. They're deeper than that. Their goals are bigger.

    Once you have a villain that's worthy of the name, with an ideology that is good but taken to the extreme, what needs to happen next is their power set.

    A good hero is defined by their villains. Let me say that a little differently, because there's a bit of debate about that. The previous statement is a little broad. A good superhero is defined by their villains. This actually says more about the villains than it does about the hero, although most people don't notice it.

    From a standpoint of raw power, your villain should be either as strong or stronger than your hero. Their job is to push the hero to their limits, usually physically, but it could also be mentally or emotionally. The thrill is simple: how is the hero going to overcome the villain? If the villain is no match for the hero, where's the contest?

    Spider-Man versus the Kangaroo. No contest. Superman versus just about anybody. No contest. It's uninteresting. However, you put Spidey against Venom, then you have a match. Superman and Darkseid? You've got a brawl on your hands. Your villains should serve one of two purposes: pushing your hero in some way, or giving your hero a break after lots of challenges. It doesn't get any simpler than that.

    Now, not all of your villains need to have a big reason for being and ultra powerful. Look at the Kangaroo. The Gibbon. Look at Slyde. These characters are there to provide a break for your hero. There's no real challenge to them, and their reason for being? Money, usually. Sometimes they do team ups for revenge or something like that, but generally its money. A character like the original Kraven is there for the challenge of the hunt, and Bullseye just likes to hurt people. These characters are okay, as long as you take them for what they are. Understanding the purpose of these characters will lead to making better heroes and villains.

    The thing that I like most about villains is that I get to think bad thoughts. Not only do I get to think bad thoughts, but I get to draw others into my bad thoughts. I get to go into some very dark corners, and come out the other side. Villains can do that for you. They can be disgustingly bad, and you can put that down on paper and free yourself of it.

    And that's what's really happening when you do a story. Stories have conflict, and the conflict you put down on paper is really nothing more than self-examination. Think about it. What does Identity Crisis and Secret Invasion say about Brad Meltzer and Brian Bendis? Meltzer went into some dark corners with Identity Crisis. Not everyone liked it—it made some people downright uncomfortable—but that doesn't detract from the power of the story, or the fact that there were some honestly messed up things going on in Meltzer's head.

    Robert R. McCammon wrote a book called Baal. It's got some similarities to The Stand, but it's still its own story. There were some honestly dark things going on in that book, and McCammon said that he wrote it while he was feeling powerful and invincible and pissed at the world.

    Anne Rice lost her daughter, and then wrote a book. That pain and sorrow and sense of loss became Interview With The Vampire, the start of her Vampire Chronicles.

    Dark places. You can do that with your villains. I'll go so far as to say that you should go there with your villains. Not so far as you lose your readers, but pretty far.

    What's too far? I, personally, have few boundaries when I write. I'm twisted, and I'll be the first one to tell you. However, I know that there are certain things that most people just won't go for. Hurting children, especially babies, even though you see it all the time in the news. That tops most people's lists. That, and rape. There's just something about those two that most people will throw their hands up and drop you like a hot potato, story merits be damned.

    Robert Kirkman wrote a story that was very dark. It was basically an issue of torture. A “hero” torturing a bad guy. Of course, she had a great reason for it, but Kirkman went into a very dark place in order to tell that story. It was also the subject of a lot of long letters, about half and half: half in condemnation, half in understanding and praise. Of that half in condemnation, there were a few that said they wouldn't pick up the title anymore. That means Kirkman went into a very dark place, and touched uncomfortable nerves in people. If you've written something in such a way as to move someone to write to you saying it was basically snuff porn and they were never going to pick up the title again, you've done one of two things: you've either written snuff porn, or you've written a deep, dark story that caused a very real reaction in your audience.

    Time to lighten up a bit. Now, we're going to talk about flip-flops. Magneto as a hero, Sandman as a hero, the Black Cat as a hero. Whenever you see a character flip, you're seeing a writer say that they have nothing else interesting to say with the character as a villain, so they have to jump to the other side of the fence for a while.

    There are two things concerning flips. The first is that it's almost a villain turning into a hero, and hardly ever a hero turning into a villain. The second thing is that the flip generally doesn't last. [I'm speaking in generalities, folks. No hate-mail or “corrections”.] If you decide that you want to flip a character, then you need to make sure you're not hurting the integrity of the character. That's sometimes a lot harder to see than you think. [This will basically be something determined by your editor.] Flipping isn't something done without a plan, and without being carefully thought out. However, it's also a fine line to straddle. Magneto's done it a couple of times, and Namor can't make up his mind. When a hero turns into a villain, there has to be a damned good reason for the flip. The bigger the character, the bigger the reason. Green Lantern Hal Jordan springs to mind. Flipping the character again [redemption] has to be an even bigger spectacle.

    So, what am I saying with all of this? Let's run down the list.

    When creating a supervillain, the good ones have ideologies that are sympathetic to the audience, making them less of a villain and more a misguided soul. Magneto.

    When creating a supervillain, they serve one of two purposes: either give the hero a run for their money [Venom], or give the hero a break [Slyde].

    If they're giving a hero a run for their money, they have to push the hero to their limits, either physically, mentally, or emotionally, if not all three.

    It's okay to go to dark places with your villains. Honestly, that's what they're there for.

    If you're going to flip a character, make sure the flip makes sense, and understand that more than likely, it won't last.

    Now, while I want you to think of these as rules, understand that they're really more like guidelines. However, by following them, you'll be creating better villains, and by creating better villains, you'll be creating better heroes.

    Homework is to create two villains for your hero. The first is to push them, and the second is to give them a break.

    Next week, we may talk about Diamond. We may talk about something else. We'll see how it goes. See you then.

    Any specific questions, ask them in this thread, and I'll answer them. If it's something of a more delicate nature, e-mail me. I check my e-mail constantly, and will do my best to get back to you within twenty-four hours, depending on the number of you who decide to flood my inbox. No attachments, please. They'll be deleted without being opened. (I know, I know, but blame the virus-makers.)

  2. Join Date
    Jun 2008
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    Another winner for the pile!

    Although, I guess my new villain idea of Baby-Killer McRapist is a wash, huh?:eek:

    As far as RPG systems to generate heroes, I use the old MAYFAIR GAMES DC HEROES rules. I think the system was last seen as "BLOOD OF HEREOS" or something silly, when MAYFAIR lost the RIGHTS to the DCU.

    It's not a DC thing, just that I find their system is the easiest and most flexible. It's one of those point systems and that helps balance the power. Depending on haow many points you use to start, you already know which hereos and villains are in the same power categories.

    I've used the Marvel rules...I just like the MAYFAIR system better. Just a comfort thing.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  3. StevenForbes Guest

    I definitely understand the comfort thing.

    I generally use the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game rules, which is card based. Fun, easy, and as long as you have a decent Narrator (DM/GM), you're good to go. The classic Marvel Super Heroes game was very fun for me, too.

    I've also played Champions, and while I was able to get pretty specific with my characters, it also took a LONG time for generation. While I like generating characters, Champions made it tedious. (Then again, I was creating characters like Iron Man and my own take on Deadpool, mixing and matching some characters to great effect. Do you know what happens when you use Gambit like paprika? You get a hell of a character...)

  4. Join Date
    Jun 2008
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    I remember Champions...that was compatible with RIFTS, right? Used to play those all the time!

    Also, the Villains & Vigilantes rules had a great little dice system that can be used to randomly generate miscellaneous baddies (and goodies) for, you know, when you want to have that one team-member come totally out of left field. Sometimes they have to be scrapped, but often enough, you get the character genearted and WHAM inspiration hits you over the head with instant backstory!
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  5. StevenForbes Guest

    I'm thinking my next post will be about role-playing for comic book stories. What do you think?

  6. Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Post Thanks / Like

    I think you are like the Macguyver of comic-writing articles.

    We can give you a toothpick, an old bazooka joe comic, a used napkin, and a crayon, and you'd turn into an insightful how-to filled with theory, pragmatism, and backed with solid proof.

    Therefore, with an ALREADY relevant topic, like Role-playing for character creation, you're sure to knock our virtual socks off!
    Last edited by SebastianPiccione; Monday, March 16, 2009 at 02:12 PM.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  7. StevenForbes Guest


    While I thank you, I'm not THAT talented.

    I'd need at least five Bazooka Joe comics and two crayons...

  8. Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Post Thanks / Like

    I feel so disillusioned.......
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  9. Sliverbane Guest

    Yes!! There is no Batman without The Joker.

    Fun, fun.... This has made it even more apparrent I need to spend some quality time with my villains!!!

    Did you just site Robert McCammon!! Woooo! I think it's been 13 years since I read Baal! I think McCammond's 'Swan Song' was more like 'The Stand' - but that's just me.

    Oh, yes I've gone to some dark places to create my villains. Some very scary-sick places, indeed.

    I have a villain that pushes my hero's limits. And I have a number of villains that are just a warm up to the main event. I use the 'break' villains to train my hero and face some facts before he steps in to the ring with the Big Boys.

  10. StevenForbes Guest

    Glad you liked it!

    Create those villains. Make them good. Make sure that you know their place, especially when you get to those dark corners.

    Just make sure you have fun.

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