Sunday, December 9, 2012

Supervillains in Retirement

So, as you can probably tell from the hour at which I'm posting this, it was kind of a crappy week; but I wasted the time productively, getting a shareable Sims2 neighborhood to the testing stage and passing it along to a couple of people for playtesting. One must keep the wheels turning somehow, and if nothing else it's an exercise in a new format. Anyway, one of the characters is a Criminal Mastermind (the top of the game's criminal career) who has, theoretically, retired to the country, except that he hasn't quite gotten around to the part where he stops working. As a result, he drives off in a limo to commit dastardly deeds every night and shows up in a supervillain costume to hang out at the swimming pool or the General Store during the day. Sometimes he pokes people and sometimes he comes with his wife and spends all his time canoodling her.

When one of my playtesters sent me notes on play, I was amused to find that she was loving this guy, making plans to get him a Persian cat named Doomsday to love on, when suddenly she looked in the relationship panel on the Heads Up Display and uncovered the affair he'd had with a young lady (now pregnant by his son) and became furiously angry with him. He can be a supervillain offstage all he wants, and it's cute; but she can see his wife, and his wife adores him, and cheating on her is Different.

I get this, but I also find it hilarious.

And then she sends me pictures of him out and about in his supervillain finery, and I start to wonder, How would you do this in a story? And could you do it, and be funny, without sacrificing a strong moral sense?

Mad geniuses and over-the-top supervillains have been a bit of a meme for awhile now. I first became aware of this in 2005, when I started reading Narbonic, a comic about mad genius and romantic love. I see it in YA literature (Catherine Jinks does it quite well), knocking around the web (as in the grand satire "Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog"), and it's even reached the mainstream movie audience in Despicable Me. But as far as I know the Monty Python bunch led the way with a sketch called "Mr. Neutron," in which "the most dangerous man in the world" prompts government officials, spies, and so on to take all kinds of panicked action, while he goes around chatting with the neighbors, sitting in spindly garden chairs, and going shopping. He apparently has the power to destroy the universe, but not the motivation. (What motivation would be sufficient, anyway?)

But could you center a work on a figure who was evil, and likeable, and retired to the country, and never did anything to the people around him; and bring him to justice; and make the reader feel both the powerful necessity of bringing him to justice, and the pity that it should be necessary?

And if you could do all that and still make people laugh (because people hate stories that make them think too hard, but will forgive any work that also makes them laugh) -
Well, you'd have done a good job of work, then.

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