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 Heroes Vs. Villains

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GoldenBard

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PostSubject: Heroes Vs. Villains   Sun Nov 14, 2010 5:46 am

Just wondering, but am I the only one who thinks that many of the PD comics superheroes are really cool, but the vast majority of PD comics supervillains are pretty lame? There are a few stand-outs (Claw, Green Sorceress, Frankenstein), but the vast majority of villains strike me as being rather blah, just hoodlums and mad scientists in fancy make-up (of course, look at the Clown; a mad scientist with fancy make-up and a gimmick can be pretty cool).

I blame the pulps (which I love, btw). How many pulp villains returned? All I can think of are the Shadow's Shiwan Khan and Doc Savage's John Sunlight (I'm excluding the pulps that were based on villains, of course). That seemed to carry over into the early comics. As I look as lists of PD villains for use in stuff I'd like to write, precious few really seem up to the task as is. Of course, that doesn't mean that I can't tweak them a bit to make them more interesting. I've also been lifting ideas for villains from old horror movies (I loved how Eclipse's comic The Prowler used Murder Legendre from White Zombie as the hero's arch-enemy). I'm just curious if anyone else feels the same way, or am I just being too tough on the GA/PD bad guys?
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argosail

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PostSubject: Re: Heroes Vs. Villains   Sun Nov 14, 2010 6:55 pm

If you look at my Free Universe site, you will notice that there are about half as many villains as heroes. That's because I am only doing profiles of the coolest characters, and you're right, most of the villains are pretty generic. A gang boss, or a guy with a hood on his head is not very colorful or interesting. And most of them do not have any powers. There are, however, some cool villains left that have not been documented on PDSH wiki or Free Universe. I will soon be adding a few more of my favorites including Fang (a Black Fury villain who can turn invisible), Mr. Twist (an Atoman villain who looks and acts just like Lex Luthor) and the Vulture (a Lash Lightning villain who puts Marvel's "Vulture" to shame).

Horror is definitely the place to find powerful and menacing villains. I think guys like Nosferatu and Countess Siroon have the potential to be awesome villains.

I think there are a number of reason why there aren't a lot of great arch enemies in the Golden Age comics:

1. The Nazis, organized crime and paranoia over fifth columns in America were all serious concerns that were weighing on people's minds at the time. Nobody felt the need to exaggerate those threats. Quite the opposite. People wanted to read about great heroes that could protect them from such threats, and they wanted those heroes, who represented their ideals, to prove their great superiority over loathsome threats. So, most of the time, the villains were kinda weak and cowardly, and easily defeated by a man of virtue.

2. Many of them were written while we were at war, and nobody had much use for pacifism or idealistic compassion. In those days, the bad guys needed to die, plain and simple. Most of the heroes had no beef with killing their enemies when they were a threat to society. So, in the comics, even when a good villain was introduced, they were often killed in the same issue. You just don't have as many arch enemies when you kill everyone you face off against. So, the bad guys never got developed and nobody really felt the need to put much thought into a character that was only going to last one issue.
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PostSubject: Re: Heroes Vs. Villains   Wed Nov 17, 2010 8:23 am

Yeah, I noticed the imbalance on the site, Argosail; that may be one of the things that got me thinking. Of course, one of the problems you have is that you are trying to keep the villains on the site as close as possible to the originals, whereas writers can tweak things as much as they like. For instance, in one of the original Thesson tales, he fought Dr. Hodl, a standard-issue mad scientist who invented a destructo ray (the red blight). The good doctor gets tossed off a mountain at the end of the tale. So, in my stories, I'm planning to bring him back as a brain-in-a-jar kind of villain. Granted, this in and of itself isn't the most original idea, but it's a better starting place than another mad scientist!

You made some interesting points about the psyche of the population at the time these books were written; I hadn't considered a lot of this before.

On a related note, anyone know if Fu Manchu is PD? It seems like he should be, but I've never found a reference to that fact.
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PostSubject: Re: Heroes Vs. Villains   Thu Nov 18, 2010 3:12 pm

Yes, Fu Manchu recently entered the PD. He will definitely get a profile on the site eventually.

Though my site is a little lopsided, there are still plenty of great villains in the golden age comics that I just haven't gotten to. But I tend to do profiles based on what character has me the most excited at a given moment (usually whatever PD comic I've been reading)...and there are a ton of really cool heroes that I want people to know about. But I still have some more favorite villains as well.

I think you're onto something Golden Bard. Hmmm...what she we call this...how about "ballooning" a villain. Does that sound like a good cheesy "buzz word." You start with a sad, whithered, generic villain that isn't much more than a name and an unoriginal gimmick. Then you go get some great villain ideas from modern comics, and you fill up the sad withered shell of a golden age villain with all the traits of an awesome, well-developed modern villain. Comics creators are constantly recreating the same basic characters, and basically just giving them a new name and a new look. But if you look to Golden Age comics, you can get their name and at least some inspiration for their look and backstory, from a pre-existing golden age character, in some sense preserving that character, and giving your new character some built-in history. The art is to cleverly find a link of some kind between the character you want to update, and the modern archetype you want to assign him to. This could work with a lot of questionable GA characters. The key is to make them a little more powerful and sinister, so they represent a greater threat to our heroes.

Another source of villains that I have been looking at are the slightly more questionable and under developed "heroes" of the golden age. For example, the character "Phantom Sphinx" is portrayed as a hero. But reading the comics, I see that he never actually does anything selfless. He avenges the man who freed him, and he fights demons who are trying to conquer the earth. But his backstory says that he was a general and part of the monarchy, so maybe the only reason he defends the earth is because he plans to conquer it himself. When he saves people, they can all be seen chanting "Rule Us." He would be a very powerful villain. Then there is "Purple Zombie"...a "hero" who is transformed when he is sent to the electric chair. But why did he really go to the chair, and why did he really survive? Maybe there is something much more sinister about him than what we read. You could extrapolate this reasoning with a number of other "heroes" who demonstrate violent behavior and questionable motives.
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PostSubject: Re: Heroes Vs. Villains   Fri Nov 19, 2010 3:55 am

The idea of turning an old "hero" into a villain is an intriguing one, Argosail. I'm a little surprised that I didn't think of that myself, because as I began compiling info on GA PD characters, there were a few that I thought were kind of "sinister" and felt like "They'd make a better villain than hero!" I just never took that final step to, "Hey, I can use him as a villain!"

As for ballooning villains (great term!), a lot also depends on setting and style. If you're going to somehow bring these characters from the 30s to the modern era (ala Terra Obscura, Project Superpowers, or Femforce and the "Vault heroes"), then the evil scientists gain a bit more street cred. I once wrote a letter to AC pointing out that the evil scientists they brought out of the Vault were underused. Think about it. These are guys who nearly conquered the world dozens of times, working with electricity and massive "computers" that worked on vacuum tubes! Now they have access to atomic power, microchips, nanotechnology, and the Internet! How could they NOT be a threat?
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PostSubject: Re: Heroes Vs. Villains   Sat Nov 20, 2010 1:32 am

One of my PD update ideas was to have Black Skull as a "serious" version of the Joker, commiting horrible crimes to see if he can send people off the deep end. He views life as a grand play in which he is a vital protagonist, a main villain. He knows that sooner or later he will eventually push someone too far and be killed, but doesn't care, believing that "it will be a tremendous development in the plot".

As I mentioned in the Astro-Man thread, I like to think of The Claw as a version of Darkseid/Nyarlathotep, discarding many of the GA stories.

Stardust the Super-Wizard and Fantomah are two "heroes" that lend themselves very well to being villains, what with the sadistic punishments and such.

~~Yzz
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GoldenBard

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PostSubject: Re: Heroes Vs. Villains   Sat Nov 20, 2010 8:33 am

I like the idea of a "'serious' version of the Joker," Yzz, but who's Black Skull? That's a villain that I don't think I've ever come across.

You can do what you want with The Claw, I guess, but I always thought that he was one of the few PD villains who was cool enough to stand on his own. The guy's basically a combination of Dr. Doom, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Godzilla! But your mention of Nyarlathotep brings up the point that, of course, the Cthulhu mythos is in the public domain and could make for some interesting stories. Most of the actual deities, of course, would be too powerful for most superheroes to take on one-on-one, but they could empower "avatars" or have cults trying to bring them to Earth, etc. (I like that idea; I'm going to add it to my idea file right now...).

Stardust was a bit dark, for sure, but I think you really hit a bulls-eye with Fantomah. She's powerful, monstrously muscular, dressed in black, and has a skull for a face. She screams "villainess!" You can even use her pretty, nonpowered self to do a female Jekyll/Hyde kind of set-up.
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PostSubject: Re: Heroes Vs. Villains   Sat Nov 20, 2010 8:56 am

GoldenBard wrote:
I like the idea of a "'serious' version of the Joker," Yzz, but who's Black Skull? That's a villain that I don't think I've ever come across.

Laughing I got the name mixed up...

Black Death is the guy I was thinking of, the actor-turned-murderer who went against the Woman in Red.

Black Skull is a character I created.

~~Yzz
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GoldenBard

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PostSubject: Re: Heroes Vs. Villains   Sat Nov 20, 2010 10:12 am

Yzz wrote:
Black Death is the guy I was thinking of, the actor-turned-murderer who went against the Woman in Red.

Okay, him I've heard of. And the fact that he's an actor makes your take on him even more interesting. Did you ever see the movie The Game with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn? I could see Black Death staging all kinds of elaborate set-ups like in that movie to try to drive his victims over the edge. THAT would be an interesting villain!
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PostSubject: Re: Heroes Vs. Villains   Mon Nov 22, 2010 5:26 pm

It's funny that you should mention Stardust. I'm going to be starting a new section of characters on the heroe'svillain pages called "Gray Ones." Stardust will be one of the first (I already did the art on him).

Stardust is a really fascinating character. He is nearly all powerful, but almost always likes to fist fight with people. He lives on a star, and his origin in just totally inexplicable. Is he an alien? Is he from the future? What is he? Why is he 8 feet tall?

My take: Stardust is actually the avatar of a sentient star. It has been observing earth, wanting to interact with other sentient beings. So, it creates Stardust in the image of the superheroes of earth, so it will be accepted and respected. In fact, it makes Stardust 8 feet tall, so he will be the most respected. When Stardust feels what it's like to be in a humanoid form, he just loves it, and wants to challenge himself, which is why he likes to fight with his fists. So he goes around on earth, trying to earn respect by being the baddest hero ever. But then one day...he tries to stop The Great Question. The Great Question manipulates him, and makes him question who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Maybe the "bad guys" just want to conquer so they can bring peace to the earth. Maybe the heroes are foolish for trying to prevent this. So, the question greatly confuses Stardust on moral and philosophical principals. Stardust decides that the best way to determine who's right, is through trial by combat, which is much simpler than philosophy. So he begins taking heroes and villains to his private star and makes them compete in gladiatorial games against each other and against him. He basically becomes the Beyonder in the Secret Wars.

He is scary powerful, and not terribly likable, so he does make a good villain.
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