6 Outdated Supervillain Tropes, Updated for Today

So you want to be a hip, modern kind of supervillain, huh? Allow us to help.
6 Outdated Supervillain Tropes, Updated for Today

Every good story needs a good baddie. This week at Cracked, we're examining supervillains of all sorts and kinds and finding out what makes them tick.

So you want to be a supervillain, huh? And not just any supervillain, either – you want to be a hip, modern supervillain, a new sort of sinister scoundrel better suited for this fractious future we all find ourselves in. The kind of vicious varlet the kids make TikToks about and the olds say “Who’s this TikTok?” about.

It’s an ignoble goal, to be sure. So we’re going to help. With a list of some of the most common bad-guy bungles to avoid, as well as some ideas of what you should do instead to drag all your deviousness and doombringing into the digital era.

Getting Yourself Caught as Part of Your Master Plan

The Walt Disney Company

Where You’ve Seen It: 

The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Skyfall

You all know this one. Loki gets himself captured in The Avengers to sow discord among our heroes and screw with S.H.I.E.L.D. Bane does it in The Dark Knight Rises in order to give Christopher Nolan a reason to destroy a plane in mid-air. But here’s the thing: If your plan involves actively getting caught, it’s a bad idea.

Let’s start with the fact that this particular scheme was hatched in 1966’s Batman … by an old lady with a rocket-powered wheelchair.

Warner Bros.


The plot was made popular more recently by the Joker, a literal insane person, so, again, you’re not off to a great start on plans to emulate. 

If literally any aspect of this highly coordinated double-cross goes wrong, congratulations, you're already in jail – or dead. If that C.I.A. guy in the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises had actually shot Bane or thrown him from the plane? Game over, man, game over! Also, most of the time the whole “getting captured” bit is simply a superfluous flourish: Bane ended up hijacking the plane he was in anyway, so why did he get arrested first? Dismantling an airplane while it’s flying is complicated (and cool) enough, dude. 

All putting yourself in harm’s way does is add an increased chance of failure. The risk/reward balance on this kind of thing is way off. Just ask Ma Parker: she tried to turn Gotham Penitentiary into her own supervillain lair only to be foiled almost immediately and then never leave again. That old woman 100% died in the prison she put herself in.

Warner Bros.

She learned to make some mean toilet wine, though.

Here’s What You Should Do:

If you’re really committed to the theatrics of a bait-and-switch, send in one of your henchmen, dum-dum. That’s literally what they’re there for. And if it absolutely needs to be you, you glorious narcissistic megalomaniac? Use a high-tech hologram or some kind of deepfake technology. Hell, even masks are so hyper-realistic now that people can’t tell if they’re real or fake.

Alternately, if, like Loki, it turns out you’re a mischief god with the ability to create super-compelling illusions that can fool an entire city of mythological beings for years, maybe just do that instead.

Because, look, if we can all watch people sing through cartoon avatars in primetime, you can figure out how to put your face on a lackey and let them get imprisoned instead.

Robbing Banks

Warner Bros.

Where You’ve Seen It: 

Just, like, everywhere, from the invention of money onward

Bank robbing is about as tried and true as villainy can get – but it’s not without its pitfalls. First, you’ve got to break into a vault, a place specifically designed to make that as difficult as possible, and then you need to carry that money out without getting shot or double-crossed or just dropping it all. Because, if you’re doing things right, that shit is heavy as hell.

Warner Bros.

We’re looking at you, Riddler.

Once you’ve got all that cash, you’ll need to launder it or spend it, obviously without getting caught up on those serial numbers and dye packs. Or if you’re just going to hide it, then you’ve got literal piles of money lying around and taking up space. Never mind all the ancillary expenses for guns, duffel bags, rubber masks, school buses …

Here’s What You Should Do:

Steal cryptocurrency. Or, if you want to feel like a fancy art thief, NFTs. 

For one thing, it’s way easier. You don't need a whole get-up to conceal your identity. Heck, you don’t even need to put on pants. Billions of dollars were stolen in 2021, sometimes through nefarious, pre-planned hacking, sometimes through SIM-swapping, but mostly through good, old-fashioned lying. That’s an increase of 500% in cryptocrimes from 2020, by the way, so clearly the bar to entry isn’t that high.

Crypto’s whole deal is transparency, but fat chance getting fingered for your felonious impulses. Unless that’s what you’re into, of course. While cryptobros and digital-wallet CEOs are quick to blame roving gangs of computer scientists, most arrests that have been made were of bored teenagers who forgot to cover their tracks. All the statistics about how safe crypto is are based solely on numbers drawn from accounts with openly criminal ties. The amount of money identified as stolen is absolutely dwarfed by the billions actually taken.

Also? No one’s going to care. Start brazenly stealing NFTs, and tons of upstanding citizens will be on your side. There’s literally no reason not to do this, aspiring supervillain.

Creating (or Just Unleashing) an Unstoppable Monster

Warner Bros.

Where You’ve Seen It: 

Batman v. Superman, The Incredible Hulk, Shang-Chi, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

When you’re up against a guy who can stop locomotives with a sneeze and fart himself over the Empire State Building, it’s understandable that you might want your own superpowered something-something to help even the odds. Or maybe you’re just a crime lord tapping into dark forces to get the one thing all your wealth and privilege and cold-blooded tactics can’t. We get it, we do. The theory is sound.

In practice, though? If Doomsday, Abomination, the Dweller-in-Darkness, and Hive are any indication, you’re pretty much signing your own death warrant, bud.

Here’s What You Should Do:

When it comes to unleashing some ancient evil, here’s our advice: uh, don’t? It’s a terrible idea, man. When has opening the door for some all-powerful supernatural entity ever not ended badly? That’s literally a horror-movie plot. And why would some otherworldly malevolence with the ability to reach across time and space want to work for you?

Instead, listen to Hive and just enjoy the fact that you’re a billionaire who lives above the law. Sometimes being unconscionably rich and utterly unaccountable for your actions is its own reward.

As for accidentally creating an unstoppable rampaging rage-monster, how about negating or removing the superhero’s powers instead? It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Gene therapies that reprogram cancer cells are already being approved by the FDA. A pill that unmutates defective proteins has significantly increased the life expectancy for people with cystic fibrosis while lowering the likelihood of needing a lung transplant. 

And that’s just ethical, well-meaning scientists working within the confines of the law. Surely, you, an unscrupulous supergenius, can turn those tactics twisted. After all, if Lex Luthor could splice DNA from himself and a very dead, broken-necked General Zod into a cave troll, he probably could have figured out how to un-super Superman instead.

Alternately, if even your mad science has limits, maybe don’t make your monster unstoppable. Put a bomb in its brain or something, Suicide Squad-style. Because that thing’s clearly gonna go nuts, forcing all those heroes you hate to band together and stop it, making themselves look even better in the process. And helping out a hero’s public image is, like, the exact opposite of what evil-doing is all about.

Having One Central Power Source for All Your Minions

The Walt Disney Company

Where You’ve Seen It: 

The Avengers, Stranger Things, The Phantom Menace, The Rise of Skywalker

Armies of robots are efficient, intimidating, and awesome. Those’re just indisputable facts of existence. Swarms of creepy-looking bad guys who act as one are also a huge plus for scaring the crap out of your enemies. 

The problems start, though, once you hive-mind those minions, connecting each and every one of them to a single brain or transmitter or power source or whatever. If someone tripping over an extension cord can undo your entire megalomaniacal plan, you might want to rethink things.

Here’s What You Should Do:

You know why hordes of zombies are such a problem? Because when you lop the head off the biggest, baddest one, the rest of the zombies don’t stop eating brains. Snapping off some random antenna doesn’t end the apocalypse either. Even shambling corpses know that having an external kill switch for your entire army is bad strategy.

The easiest fix, then, for your militia of mechanical murderers – or your secret fleet of extra-spooky Star Destroyers – is to invest in some batteries (and portable chargers) and then run your orders through a complex and spread-out grid-computing system, with some redundant administrator back-ups. Kind of like the Large Hadron Collider does. A single computer in Scotland (or navigation tower in Wild Space) going dark isn’t going to suddenly shut down the whole thing.

The Walt Disney Company

Because that would be stupid.

As for hive-minds or any other army where non-robot soldiers are mind-controlled and/or overly reliant on one single leader/mothership/superbrain to keep functioning – well, you don’t need to do that either.

If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that Jedi Mind Tricking people into fighting for you isn’t necessary. A series of coordinated disinformation campaigns more than does the job. If reality’s too much of a bummer, look to the Star Wars universe instead: Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars and plenty of other novels have explained that the Empire consolidated power and grew an army of stormtroopers by lying to citizens. True believers are infinitely more dangerous than an army of slaves. 

Better yet, just take a page from Natalie Zina Walschots’ Hench and offer your lackeys health insurance, a living wage, and maybe a little basic human dignity. Plenty of people would kill for that right now, no question.

Killing Tons of People to Save Tons of People

The Walt Disney Company

Where You’ve Seen It: 

Avengers: Infinity War, Watchmen, Eternals

Killing people to save people has become a common conundrum these last few years. Especially if your evil ass wants to look compassionate and complicated and get entire Reddit threads devoted to how right you are

This is, of course, different from, say, Ultron or Star Trek: Discovery’s Control who want to murder all of humanity simply because we suck. That’s understandable; we’re terrible. But killing sentient life specifically to save other sentient life? That’s a poorly thought out philosophy problem, not an actual, actionable solution.

Here’s What You Should Do:

The unifying trait of Thanos, Ozymandias, and that Celestial in The Eternals is that they all have unfathomably immense power. You kind of need to if you want to commit an intergalactic genocide in a matter of minutes.

But if they’d really meant what they said about doing what they did for the greater good, then why not just use their magic space rocks/life-giving superbrain/ability to rain squids on the world indefinitely to, y’know, create more food instead? Give everyone housing? Cure diseases? Even a couple hundred bucks is better than mass murder.

Warner Bros.

And far less smelly.

If the pandemic’s taught us anything – and it’s certainly questionable that it did – it’s that a lot of people going away all at once ruins lives, breaks brains, snarls resources, and creates even more problems. Killing a whole bunch of randos indiscriminately isn’t going to do anything good – and will almost certainly contribute to your eventual supervillainous comeuppance and/or being turned to dust and/or stone.

Rationalizing Your Supervillainy

Warner Bros.

Where You’ve Seen It: 

Goldfinger, Spectre, Superman, Man of Steel, Batman & Robin

There are a million reasons not to monologue. It gives the hero time to free themselves, call in reinforcements, or build a ridiculous gun out of scrap metal; it accidentally gives away a piece of information vital to your undoing; it might inadvertently turn your #1 henchmen against you; or, sometimes, your villainy gets recorded and aired to the very ones you’re villaining all over, which ends up being a whole thing.

There’s also the indisputable fact that laying out every last detail of your overcomplicated plan for world domination is a surefire way to make yourself look like an idiot. Take Goldfinger, for example. He irradiates all the gold in Fort Knox with the sole purpose of destabilizing the American economy. Which, cool, except the economy didn’t run on the gold standard. Whoops.

That was in the ‘60s and we’re still dragging him for it. In today’s increasingly critical and online world, screwing up that bad isn’t something you’re ever going to live down.

Here’s What You Should Do:

Just be evil. You’re good, bro. Mischief and mayhem doesn’t need to be excused. Do it for the love of villainy!

Anything more complicated than “Revenge!” is only going to open you up to ridicule. Or, like Blofeld, glaring plot holes. As they say, the devil’s in the details, and that dude’s whole deal is trying to make you look like an asshole.

20th Century Fox

Why invite this kind of drama in?

If you want to do something absolutely bonkers, just go for it! Trying to justify why you’re being a world-shattering tool is where you run into problems. Look at Thanos in the last entry. Trying to impress a hot skeleton lady actually would’ve made more sense.

Same goes for the O.G. Superman: Lex Luthor’s plan to turn Nevada into beachside property is so notoriously, mind-bogglingly stupid, it’s hard to take him seriously. If he’d simply laughed maniacally instead, we wouldn’t still be giving him shit 40 years later. 

You know why we love the Joker? Hela? Because they pathologically do not care. They just want to watch their various worlds burn. And that’s all the motivation any good supervillain really needs.

Eirik Gumeny (@egumeny) is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and assorted B-movie monsters. Or, if you’re more into classical literature, he added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby, too.

Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?