6 Supervillains From History That Make The Joker Look Subtle
Look, we're not so far gone that we can't tell the difference between comics and reality. Fiction demands a certain suspension of disbelief, because real-life bad guys understand that dry, drawn-out political subterfuge is much cheaper and more effective than a clone army.
Then, occasionally, some crackpot leaps straight off the pages into our world. These are men with brazen, insane and often ridiculous plans for world domination that grant him comic book supervillain status. Like ...
First of all, look at him:
Out of frame, he's cradling a white Persian cat.
You could fill a whole article about real-life supervillains from Nazi Germany, but if we're to pick just one to fill our Nazi quota for this article, we're taking Otto Skorzeny, and not just because he looks like every single Bond villain who ever existed. Skorzeny was an "Obersturmbannfuhrer," which is German-speak for "chief ass-kicker of the Nazi SS." He specialized in warfare tactics that even the Nazis considered "unconventional." We're talking paramilitary training, misinformation, deception and other sinister shit designed to kill an enemy from the inside like a Nazi-voting Alien.
Picture this guy goose-stepping out to "Horst Wessel Lied."
Skorzeny led the commando operation that rescued Benito Mussolini from capture, headed a plot to assassinate FDR, Churchill and Stalin at the Tehran Conference and was a key player in a commando operation that operated behind Allied lines a full year after Germany's surrender, code-named Werwolf.
But Skorzeny's career as a lone-gun supervillain didn't begin until after the war. After Skorzeny escaped from his military tribunal, he went into hiding in Spain, where he spearheaded the ODESSA Network, which was for all intents and purposes a slightly less overt version of Bond's SPECTRE organization, and not just because long acronyms sound evil. ODESSA's ultimate goal was world domination, which it hoped to achieve by first rescuing and recruiting all the ex-Nazis in hiding around the world, then creating a kind of decentralized "Fourth Reich" made up of international "Nazi colonies." Any plans for moon lasers or weather machines were, at this point, only theoretical.
And their space station was pretty much just a storage shed.
Skorzeny didn't even stop there. In the 1970s, when the rival world conqueror, the Soviet Union, was at the height of its power, Skorzeny made a grand return to supervillainy that DC comics would have envied. He formed the Paladin Group, which described itself as "an international directorship of strategic assault personnel straddle the watershed between paramilitary operations carried out by troops in uniforms and the political warfare which is conducted by civilian agents." In short, the real life Cobra Command.
Above: civilian agents.
So did Skorzeny die in a nuclear power plant meltdown, or in a fistfight with Bruce Willis in an out-of-control helicopter? Nope, it was plain old cancer. Considering that his life so closely paralleled the plots of our favorite action movies, we feel kind of ripped off.
You know him as the fascist leader of Italy and Hitler's BFF in World War II. But why is he on this list instead of, say, Hitler? Let's put it this way -- here is Mussolini's lair:
His evil lair. Seriously. That is not Photoshop.
He was also known as "Il Duce," which roughly translates into "The Leader," or simply "The Head." Seriously, this guy's mutant power was having a huge freaking head.
And what a head it was.
So while Hitler was really just a lucky douchebag with little-man syndrome, Mussolini was more or less a real-life Lex Luthor. We mean that in the sense that, just like Luthor, he was a fragile Everyman with a huge head who kept scheming against a near-invincible enemy and got his ass handed to him every time. And of course had that mega-sweet-looking lair.
Mussolini's straight-from-a-comic-book plan was to rebuild the Roman Empire with himself as Caesar, but while Hitler was brazen enough to march into Poland, Mussolini started off more conservatively, by "conquering" Ethiopia, which in terms of military badassery is about one step above conquering Antarctica. After this initial esteem-building victory, Mussolini went on to lose virtually every single war he started, despite employing people around the clock to find places to stick his enormous head.
Which they did.
Mussolini's prescription to these fatal setbacks was always more propaganda, which by the end was so pathetic that it was said his speeches "actually caused demoralization and division among the Italians listening." As an ally, he ended up being an even worse sidekick for Hitler than Bebop and Rocksteady ever were for Shredder, and to this day, he's frequently accused of costing Germany the war just by existing. In the end, he was captured and killed by the Communists, leaving the business of war to men who less resembled cartoon characters.
The second cousin (once removed) of Spanish conquerer Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizarro always lived in the shadow of his famed relative. After Cortes conquered the mighty Aztec Empire, Pizarro went in search of something else to murder and pillage, just so he could say he did it too. Luckily, there was another empire just down the road that was conveniently unconquered. Pizarro was kind of like the Darth Maul to Cortes' Vader -- not as well-known, but his lightsaber had two blades.
He traded in the bitchin' head tats for a beard.
By the time the Spanish conquest of the Incan empire was complete, he was now not only a self-made governor, but was known throughout the continent as Pizarro the Cruel, Pizarro the Torturer, Pizarro the Despised, Pizarro the Unholy and, somewhat less creatively, Pizarro the White Person.
Also, Pizarro the Fabulous!
But Pizarro's quest for glory came second to his real passion -- the cities of the Inca were paved with gold. So Pizarro's approach to thwarting the Inca wasn't so much a straightforward military victory as it was a campy, Dr. Evil-style extortion racket.
After a friendly meeting with the Incan emperor, Atahualpa, went sour, Pizarro did the rational thing and kidnapped the emperor for ransom. The price he demanded? "A room full of gold." Seriously. While inflation rates have since changed, it's about as close as anyone has ever come to holding an entire country hostage for "one hundred billion dollars."
Because Atahualpa wasn't as attached to his gold as he was to his life, he not only supplied the ransom but included a smaller room filled "twice over" with silver, just as a bonus. It's probably safe to assume that Pizarro hadn't counted on it being this easy, because he just went ahead and killed Atahualpa anyway, by strangling him in public.
Illustrated here. Probably.
Oh, and as if to rub it into every single one of you from beyond the grave, Pizarro remains to this day one of the most successful self-made men in history. Living in a room full of gold tends to earn one a reputation.
And, occasionally, nephews.
Sir Basil Zaharoff
If Otto Skorzeny was a Bond villain, then Basil Zaharoff was Destro, the wealthy and psychotic arms dealer from the G.I. Joe universe. Zaharoff was known as the "Merchant of Death," the "Mystery Man of Europe" and eventually "Sir," due to his being such an evil genius that the British had no choice but to knight him.
Sir Basil Zaharoff, standing in front of a huge explosion.
Zaharoff started his career of villainy modestly, as an arsonist for the Constantinople firefighters. Yes, you read that correctly. The corrupt Turkish fire department actually hired people to start fires in rich people's houses so firefighters could go in and steal all their shit. It was fun as far as evil enterprises go, but Zaharoff had grander aspirations.
He later became a huge-time international arms dealer for Swedish munitions company Thorsten Nordenfelt, but with a twist: Zaharoff figured that the best way to make a living selling weapons was to first create demand by starting a bunch of wars, so that's exactly what he did.
And Zaharoff didn't even have the Coppola name to back him up.
After selling the world's first submarine to the Greeks, Zaharoff went running to the Turkish government to tell them what he'd done. Understandably frightened, the Turks bought two submarines of their own. Realizing he had a good thing going, Zaharoff then went to Russia and helpfully informed them that Greece and Turkey were stocking up on submarines, and furthermore, he'd heard them saying that Russians were a bunch of jerks. So Russia bought some subs. The icing on the cake was that much of the product that Zaharoff was shilling was faulty, overpriced garbage. His submarines fell apart as soon as they tried to fire a torpedo.
It's pretty much impossible to pin even a ballpark body count on Zaharoff (after all, he wasn't pulling the trigger). To give you an idea of how much hardware he put into the world, by the summer of 1918, Zaharoff's profits were so huge that he distributed "at least" 50 million francs for the Allied war effort (and incidentally secured ongoing demand for his wares). The British rewarded his "service" to the war by granting him a knighthood, which he modestly accepted.
"For outstanding achievement in the field of 'selling machine guns to people in funny hats'."
Despite Zaharoff's efforts to prolong it indefinitely, World War I did eventually end, and he spent the remainder of his years earning even more unbelievable profits as the manager of a popular casino in Monte Carlo. An evil casino? We're guessing almost certainly yes.
Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Egypt, may not be the most brazen of villains on this list, but she does stand aside as the only one whose schemes all involved blowjobs. Her groin-conquest of Europe was so notorious that the people snidely nicknamed her "the Gaper."
This was before her robot-fighting days.
Cleopatra's career started off evil enough: She conspired with Julius Caesar to overthrow her husband (who was also her brother. It was Egypt.) and make her pharaoh. Also, at some point between her blowjobs, she talked Caesar into adopting the leap year, which, as far as evil plans go, isn't as lame as some we've seen over the past century of comic books.
But getting it on with Caesar was just the beginning of her sexy, sinister conspiracy, which eventually turned the whole damned planet upside down and did things to it that make us feel like we need to take a cold shower.
Caesar looks like he could use a trip to the frigidarium.
Cleo's regular romps with Julius eventually produced a son, Caesarion, whom she of course married (again: Egypt). She was never able to coax Caesar into adopting the brat as his heir, but Cleo hit a spot of luck after Julius "happened" to get assassinated while she was in Rome, and she promptly gained control of Caesar's David Schwimmer-esque subordinate Mark Antony through the only way she knew how.
Rome, engaged in civil war after Caesar's assassination, now had Cleopatra playing both sides by grabbing every dick she could find that could grant her a little political brawn. Unfortunately, the rival supervillain Augustus, whose power was evidently blowjob immunity, crushed her dreams along with the Egyptian navy at the Battle of Actium, prompting her to take her own life to avoid capture. This battle ended not only Egypt as a sovereign nation but also the Roman Republic. And all because the Queen of Egypt put out.
And because Mark Antony sucked ass at admiral-ing.
The East India Co.
If you remember anything from American history class, you know the East India Co., often called the British East India Co. It was this organization's nefarious attempt to monopolize the tea industry in the American colonies that led to the Tea Act and the Boston Tea Party. If you don't remember history class, well, then, you know them as the bad guys in the Pirates of the Caribbean films (Note: The true story does not involve a pirate with an octopus for a face).
Davy Jones may have been involved in the sinking of the Lusitania, though.
But that's just one tale in the larger story of an evil corporation that secretly ruled the world for over 200 years. Starting out as a small intercontinental trading venture in 1601, it eventually went on to become the world trade equivalent of Microsoft circa the 1990s. But it was the company's under-the-counter drug operation in China during the 18th and 19th centuries where its supervillainy truly showed.
One of its key trade products was opium (basically unprocessed heroin). The company monopolized the production and export of Indian opium, but when the Chinese Empire, its best customer, began to see the unfavorable side of massive, widespread heroin addiction, it made the wise choice of banning the drug. The East India Co. wasn't about to take that shit lying down: It hatched a plot to deliberately get the Chinese people addicted to opium so their leaders would have no choice but to repeal the ban and open up trade.
It does look like some potent shit.
Over the next few decades, the East India Co. sold its opium to shady drug dealers in India who smuggled their wares into China to create a massive consumer demand via millions of new addicts. When China uncovered the plot, it waged war with Britain, which unsurprisingly sided with the British East India Co. The two Opium Wars both resulted in catastrophic defeat for the Chinese, who had to forfeit Hong Kong to the British, and that provided a convenient outpost for the ongoing free supply of opium to a needy, hopelessly addicted populace. Needless to say, the East India Co. posted one hell of a good year after that.
"Nice country. We'll take it!"
So what became of the East India Co.? Terrifyingly, they still exist, though in a diminished capacity. Mark our words, it's simply biding its time.
And learn about some more historical bad guys in the brand new Cracked.com book!
For modern supervillains, check out 5 Real World Criminals Who Were Certified Supervillains. Or turn yourself into the bad guy with 6 Web How-To's That Are Apparently For Supervillains.
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