Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Making of a Super-Villain

The one thing any major Super-Villain needs to make them what they are is a good origin. What makes a character (to paraphrase Alan Moore's John Constantine), wake up in the morning and instead of deciding on breakfast, to choose instead to conquer the world? A weak back-story can make for a real lame super-villain, like Extant or the Ringer. In the comics, the Silver-age Lex Luthor was constantly one-upped by the angelic messiah-figure of Superboy, so Luthor is motivated by insane jealousy (It's similar to the sub-plot for the Lex/Clark relationship in the Smallville TV show, but with the added unrequited man-crush that Lex has for the Boy of Steel). Magneto is a racist, the Anti-Monitor has a lust for universal destruction, Prof. X is a control-freak and Dr. Doom is a megalomaniac. All are good stories that lend a character some depth.

Professor Zomax, the featured villain in the Fantomah story from 1941's Jungle Comics #14, is motivated by revenge on nothing less than nature itself, and I don't blame him. He had a ridiculously bad day...

Eventually Zomax leaves the hospital. His brain, however, is pretty much broken by the ordeal and he vows revenge on the planet. If you are going to go bad then go bad in a BIG way.

Luckily for the Professor's plans he had a tidal wave machine sitting around the lab and he put it to immediate use in ravaging the coastline.

Unfortunately for Zomax, Fantomah doesn't put up with any nonsense in her jungle and swooped in. Using her undefined mystic jungle powers, Fantomah turned back the wave, made Zomax fly a plane over the ocean and jump out to his death.

His reasons to take revenge on the biosphere makes Dr. Dooms' rants about his facial scars seem like the petulant whining of a 5 year old who didn't get the toy he wanted for his birthday. What Zomax went through that hot jungle day would push anyone over the edge. His back-story is absurdly fantastic and as far as I can tell he made only the one appearance. That's a shame, because he totally kicks the ass of many other of the villains we get in today's comics.

9 comments:

  1. Totally and completely disagree. The Joker, one of the best if not the best super villain ever, had no origin, at all, for the first half of his career, and nothing more than the Red Hood was known before the Killing Joke, and even that is questionable. Also lacking in origin, the Aliens from Aliens and the Borg (for a while at least). Truly nightmarish creations with hardly any understandable motivations. Just death and destruction.

    Now, obviously, a good backstory is important for any good character, a set of experiences that limit and prompt specific reactions to changes in the plot. And Dr. Doom is a great character. But Galactus is a great villain because he is so unknowable. So I think that a great villain doesn't NEED an origin story, and the kind of villain that keeps you up at night shouldn't have one at all.

    On the other hand, if nature beat the crap out of me, I'd be looking for my tidal wave machine too.

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  2. What do you mean, the Borg didn't have understandable motivations? They wanted to assimilate, in order to add our unique qualities to their own. I think that was on the second(third?) arc that even mentioned the Borg, when they kicked the Federation's ass. The one with all the Lokutus stuff.

    The first time the Borg was mentioned, they weren't all that impressive. They were just "Big Bad, Way Out There". They didn't explain them enough to make them impressive.

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  3. Fantomah is so cool. Sadly, I think this episode is the final appearance of the original version before lesser, and less nutty creators take her on a descent into blandness.

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  4. Zomax's rumble in the jungle is one of the most awesomely hilarious set of panels I've seen.

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  5. I agree with you, too. The creator of Fantomah was pretty uniquely bizarre and this origin is a great example. If modern comics were like this and Fletcher Hanks' other work, I'd buy a lot more of them.

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  6. well, he may not have origin stories as waked out as that, but i would say that garth ennis is a pretty odd creator. i mean, preacher? the descendant of jesus christ is killed by a morbidly fat church head, pushed out of a helicopter. or the nuttiness of "the authority: kev"; he loses his job because a government official, under kev's protection, gets eaten by a tiger.
    he's a lot more tame in punisher, working for marvel, but his stuff for dc was insane. in the good way.
    you gotta love a crazy irishman who would be on rooftops with an ak, if he wasn't writing comics.

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  7. I love it!
    It's over-the-top, Golden Age awesome-ness.
    It seems simple but it beats the hell out of anyone today.
    If comics were still so classically awesome I wouldn't spend that budget on classic volumes because there'd be too much new amazing-ness to keep up with!

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  8. so how about Zemo? He's a captain america. Zemo's super glue formula glues his mask permanently on to his head, i was blown away by the cheezy yet amazing concept of that, yeah i've been reading fletcher hanks quite a bit lately, man its awesome, big red is a crazy concept

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  9. zemo from captain america mythos, he gets his mask permanently glued on

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