The face of evil is an ever changing one. In cave man days, the villains of every story probably had big scary teeth and a hunger for a heapin’ helpin’ of man meat. As our tastes and fears changed, so did our villains. Comic books are a good example. We’ve seen Nazi villains and communist villains. We’ve seen mad scientists and nameless horrors from beyond infinity. Lately, though, there’s been a new favorite. And it wears an entirely different type of suit.
Superman is the purest, most uncomplicated form of hero. You name the human attribute, he has it, elevated to the Nth degree. So naturally he would need the most fundamental villain. Thus came Lex Luthor. He was evil for evil’s sake. He wore ridiculous outfits, built giant robots, and tried to take over the world daily. At least, that’s how it started. Times changed, and so did Luthor. Have you seen him in the last few decades? No more green pants and purple shirt. He traded them in for Armani. No more titanic mechanized monsters or death rays. At least, not unless they were for government contracts. Luthor turned into what we all fear most these days. Not just an evil mastermind, an evil CORPORATE mastermind. He is rich and powerful, and at least superficially legitimate. Among other things, that means that the man of steel can’t just punch him in the face, because he’s got something more powerful than kryptonite to worry about. Lawyers. Yessiree, Luthor even made a successful presidential bid. Imagine that? A supervillain in the white house? I mean, you know, a smart one?
What I love most about this anything but recent move toward the corporate version of evil is that it has found its way into even more fundamental stories. Remember Jungle Book? Here was a story that could have been written at the very dawn of human society. The villains are snakes and tigers, the things primitive man would have most had to worry about. Fast forward to that inexplicable restructuring of the Jungle Book’s characters, TailSpin, and what role do we find our ultimate villain in again? Shere Khan is now a corporate predator, suit and all. And he plays the part to great effect. Not only does he still represent the opposition, but he manages to become even more terrifying by not being CONSISTANTLY evil. See, you can always trust an old fashioned villain, because they will always do everything and anything they can to screw people over. The corporate villain isn’t just a bastard, he’s a magnificent bastard. Someone of negotiable loyalties, more than willing to use the heroes when it suits him, and crush them when it doesn’t. Yep, sometimes to make something more scary, the best thing you can do is make it LESS evil, if only by a smidgen.
Now, as I say, we used to be afraid of Nazis, and there WERE Nazis. Likewise, communists and tigers existed, too. The good folks of Hiroshima can even attest to the existence of mad scientists. But as these scary things faded from society, so too did their influence in our entertainment. But the evil corporate supervillain is still very much at large, so that must mean they are still around. Obviously run of the mill bad people in three piece suits are all too real, but I’m talking about SUPERvillains. Do they exist? Oh, they do. And he isn’t even being subtle about it. I’m talking about the one, the only, Sir Richard Branson.
Let’s look at this guy, shall we? Rich? Check. Famous? Check. One company that has its tentacles into absolutely everything? Check. In possession of technology far more advanced than anything available to anyone else? THE MAN HAS A FLEET OF SPACESHIPS! He even named his company “Virgin”, probably because that’s what he’s going to want sacrificed to him when he’s done taking over the world. And as if none of that were enough, the guy has been knighted and has a goatee. If you still aren’t convinced, you should know that he has been made an honorary “Doctor of Technology”, so whether or not he puts the obligatory “Dr.” in front of his inevitable supervillain name is really a matter of preference at this point.
It all goes to show you that, if you want to know what the greatest threat in the world is, you really need only look as far as the comic book writers. Those guys really have their finger on the pulse of the apocalypse. The armed forces should have a special branch dedicated to finding out what the hottest type of comic book bad guy is, so they can plan accordingly. I, for one, am going to be keeping my eyes on Sir Richard Branson, aka the nefarious Dr. Virgin. Who knows what he’s got in store for all of those stem cells…