Sunday, June 28, 2009

Supervillain Schemes

Another essay for Everything Explained Through Flowcharts. I'm not really happy with this one yet. Not sure why not though. You'll have to imagine the graphics for the sidebars that are noted inside the brackets.


It sucks to be a villain. How would you feel if every time one of your plans failed (that soufflĂ© you burnt, that lop-sided sweater you knitted, or that child of yours who turned gay) everybody clapped? You’d be feel rotten, that’s how you’d feel. And you’d swear vengeance! [See Figure 1: Parting Oaths] Now, also consider the fact that supervillain schemes almost always fail. [See Figure 2: Supervillain Scheme Success Rate], and it’s easy to understand why villains are always scowling from the balcony of their mountain fortress.

(sidebar) FIGURE 1:

Parting oaths

  1. You have not seen the last of (your name)!
  2. You will rue the day you crossed (your name)!
  3. Vengeance shall be mine!
  4. My memory is as long as my reach.
  5. I’ll try harder next time!
  6. Every dog has his day!


(sidebar) FIGURE 2:


Supervillain Scheme Success Rate

Scheme succeeds: 5%

Scheme thwarted: 80%

Scheme succeeds, but only for a moment, then is thwarted: 15%


I know I shouldn’t feel any sympathy for supervillains; that, if they had their way, I’d be toiling in the methane mines of Titan, or be just another pile of bones beneath their throne of skulls. Although I can’t empathize with the black-hearted motivations behind their schemes, I still, unfortunately have more in common with supervillains than I do with superheroes. (Although I have little in common with either, because super isn’t an adjective that describes me well.) [see Figure 3: Things Super About Me] Rarely have I swooped in, saved the day, and been carried off on the shoulders of a cheering crowd. However, there have been many, many times when the poorly constructed plans that I dreamed about for months collapsed into shambles. (See Failures chart, page xx.) I can remember clearly the rickety skateboard half-pipe I built in the backyard that broke a friend’s leg, the useless philosophy degree I got in college, the awful band I formed in junior high. (We were called Leaky Stigmata. We only ever played one show, in the back room of a pizza shop, before a heated argument about “selling out” tore the band apart.) [See Figure 4 for Leaky Stigmata logo.] The only time I’ve come close to saving the day was when we went camping and I was the only one who remember to bring the ingredients to make s’mores.


(Sidebar) FIGURE 3:

How I’m super

  1. Super crabby in the morning
  2. Super hairy in unusual places
  3. Super stumbly after drinking lots of wine
  4. Super self-deprecating
  5. Super shy around strangers


Scheming is a distinctly villainous activity. Heroes certainly don’t scheme, they just wait around for the villains to do something, then stop it. Villains spend months, perhaps years, planning complex schemes—building lasers, breeding super-smart apes, searching catacombs for magical stones—and then, just when they’ve almost succeeded, just when their scheme is almost finally accomplished, a red light will begin blinking on the console of the superhero’s crime fighting computer. The hero will put down their newspaper, say something corny, and then fly over and punch the villain into submission. “Nice try, Dr. X! Maybe next time you should build a bigger robot.” Then the hero will go on vacation, perhaps to a tropical island somewhere, and walk down the beach kicking over sand castles.

 Supervillains are kind of asking for it though, since their schemes are always absurdly complicated. Why shrink the hero and make him battle a scorpion when you could just shoot him in the face? Or, if he’s already shrunk, why not just squish him? Ruling the world or destroying one's nemesis isn’t enough for a supervillain, he also has to accomplish it in a grandiose way. Often it seems that schemes are chosen more for their dramatic effect than their chance of success or degree of efficacy. [See Figure 4: Schemes With Impressive Visuals.]


(sidebar) FIGURE 3: Schemes With Impressive Visuals


  1. Floating battle zeppelin
  2. Barely controllable monstrosity
  3. Giant insect army
  4. Your face carved on the moon


This flair for the theatrical is the supervillain’s Achilles heel, but it’s also what separates him from run-of-the-mill hoodlums in the first place. The common thug’s brilliant scheme to rob the bank by walking in and pulling out a gun—although effective—is not on this chart. Yes, most supervillain schemes are guaranteed to fail, but at least they will fail spectacularly, grandly—a flaming comet streaking through the night sky (and hopefully striking something important).

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