In a sketch by British comedians Mitchell and Webb, two SS officers sit next to a roaring campfire. One turns to the other and says, ”Have you noticed we’ve got skulls on our caps? Are we the baddies?”
In the real world it’s not always obvious who the goodies are and who the baddies are. The fact that George W Bush and Tony Blair don’t have toothbrush moustaches makes it near impossible to indict them for war crimes, and besides, they’re on our side; they can’t possibly be the baddies.
However, in fiction, film, television and so on, life is a lot simpler. A few years ago I drafted a script for a radio comedy* about a supervillain called Sharabang. The conceit of the comedy was that in the 21st century life was hard for supervillains. In the old days anyone could hollow out a mountain and build a missile silo inside it. The sight of hundreds of lorries and cement mixers trundling along Honister Pass in the Lake District wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. Test exercises in which the top two hundred feet of the Old Man of Coniston open up like a giant manhole cover would come and go with barely a murmur.
But not anymore. Sharabang had to cope with Health & Safety, Working Time Directives, investment shortfalls and budget over-runs. And when his first rocket was ready to launch it wouldn’t start because his energy suppliers had let him down.
Some people do still manage it though. In the Marvel universe HYDRA do a good line in infiltration and in the first season of Agents of SHIELD almost get away with it. The only reason for failure is because they rely on scriptwriters over-complicating their fiendish plans.
But let’s be honest about something here . . . come closer so that I can whisper it. Wouldn’t you rather belong to the bad guys than the good guys? Think about it. The baddies are proactive, the goodies reactive. The baddies wear black, the goodies pastel shades. The baddies live in mountains, the goodies work in offices. Bad guys are brooding and magnetic and philosophically challenging; bad girls are hot, risk seeking and enigmatic. Good guys are sanctimonious, good girls are always tripping up.
Another problem afflicting the modern-day supervillain is recruitment. Imagine you see a job vacancy for SPECTRE. This is the late 1950s / early 1960s. You check the job description and discover your future employer is called the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. The clue is in the name, but in the hedonism of the 1960s nobody cared.
Nowadays, whenever you visit Monster or Fish4Jobs, all those vacancies in which the pay, job description and employer isn’t revealed will probably involve working in a former hollowed out mountain for a smartly dressed man with one eye and a grudge against the platinum industry.
I’d go for it. You’d probably prefer to live in the Little House on the Prairie, crying over the hardware store owner’s bread not rising and tripping through hay meadows to collect stream water, but I’d rather launch a death ray into outer space and race some leather-clad madwoman in a Ferrari along the roads of the Pyrenees. In fact, why don’t I be the supervillain? What could I call myself?
T.O.A.D. (The treacherous Organisation of Annihilation and Destabilisation.)
TOAD’s manifesto would include the following:
- People who begin answers with the word ‘so’ will be rounded up, reprogrammed and sent back out into the world where they’ll be hypnotised to begin every answer with the words ‘I’m a dick…’
- People who offer bogus advice to authors will be kept in a hidden labyrinth and provided with ambiguous instructions on how to escape.
- Famous people with no discernible talent will be abducted and imprisoned in airtight containers.
- Habitual selfie-takers will have their worst selfie permanently tattooed onto their faces.
As an incentive to joining, every member will be issued with a groovy uniform which includes a cap with a toad on it, a black Lamborghini and twenty-five million euros in a Swiss bank account. And a yacht. And free membership of the casino at Monte Carlo. And a rocket.
You don’t get that when you join Netflix, do you?
* I wrote that to make it sound like I was commissioned by the BBC, but in reality I wrote it speculatively and didn’t finish it. But being a supervillain I’m entitled to lie and exaggerate now and again.