Running A Supervillain Organization: The Definitive Guide

Lessons on branding, team-building, and avoiding getting stabbed.
Running A Supervillain Organization: The Definitive Guide

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’ve decided to become a supervillain. Good for you! Evil is, like, huge right now. And I’m also glad to hear you’re not going the typical sole proprietor route with this and actually starting an evil organization! That’s a big leap!

Now, I’m sure you’ve been reading a ton of Tony Robbins books and paid for all those Tai Lopez success seminars. And don’t get me wrong, those are amazing resources if you’re going for your realtor’s license or opening a chain of Subway franchises. But the business of real villainy has some subtle nuances to it that many have failed to consider, so here are some tips of what (and what not) to do.

DO: Come up with a Great Name for the Organization

Nothing is more important to your supervillain group than the name you choose for yourself. You have to control the narrative about you at all times, and don’t let anyone choose your name for you. Unless it’s J. Jonah Jameson, in which case just roll with it. Sure, he’s a greedy, sensationalist prick, but credit where credit is due: If coming up with catchy villain names is an art form, Jameson is Leonardo da Vinci.

J. Jonah Jameson No Way Home

Sony Pictures

He named The Sinister Six in No Way Home, off-screen. 
The sixth villain? Spider-Man!

The best supervillain team names out there always hit that sweet spot where it tells people nothing about your intentions, yet just enough to know you’re not to be trifled with. SPECTRE, Hydra, The Hellfire Club, The Ten Rings, The Syndicate, Cobra Command … The name has to be catchy, intriguing, yet also leave people afraid to ask too many questions.

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DON’T: Make the Name Too Obvious

A definite no-no in the name game is to make your group the literal opposite of the people you’re fighting. We get the point you’re trying to make, that you’re all just different sides of the same coin, but really … the Injustice League?!? The Dark Avengers? You’re taking on the Fantastic Four, so you call yourself the Frightful Four? You can’t expect to be taken seriously with dollar-store brand names like that, pal. Plus, it just makes you look thirsty as hell. You might as well play Peter Gabriel on a boombox outside Tony Stark’s house. 

Likewise, don’t give away the game by pointing out how evil you are. Consider the optics. No one ever self-identifies as evil unless they’re desperate for attention, begging to be caught, or has a humiliation fetish. When you leave out as many negative connotations as possible, it might make more people sympathetic to your cause. 

Mission: Impossible fallout

Paramount Pictures

This group from Mission: Impossible knew how to do it. 

For example, if the Brotherhood of Mutants were recruiting, at the very least I’d want to read the brochure. But the Brotherhood of Evil mutants? Well, that’s a bridge too far. The League of Assassins is another one that’s a little too on-the-nose. But, the League of Shadows? Now we’re talking! Not only does it sound more mysterious, but it also lets people know that they’re not just about killing people.

DO: Hold Onto the Copyright like Grim Death

Once you’ve decided on a name for your evil organization, the next step is to get that name licensed and trademarked. I know that may seem a bit unnecessary seeing as copyright laws will become null and void once your plans for world domination come to fruition, but hear us out here. 

For one, you don’t want to run the risk of announcing your presence to the world only to immediately have some identically named plumbing company in Omaha send you a cease and desist letter. The last thing your bad guy boy band needs starting out is to be forced to change their name like Shazam did back in the Silver Age.

Captain Marvel Shazam

Fawcett Comics

He picked that name before Marvel Comics was even a thing! Barely before, but before, dammit. 

For another, everyone involved with the creation of the group’s name must agree on how that name should be used—and more importantly, credit everyone accordingly. SPECTRE didn’t disappear for decades because James Bond defeated them. No, it turns out they couldn’t operate because screenwriter Kevin McClory didn’t get proper credit in the novelization for Thunderball. And since he came up with the names for SPECTRE and Ernst Blofeld, he laid claim to the copyright and tried to launch his own Bond franchise with it purely out of spite. Think that could never happen to you? Well, never say never (again).

DO: Develop the Brand

Once you’ve decided on a name, now it’s time to develop your brand identity. Which means you’re gonna need a logo. Something bold … dynamic … versatile … something that looks equally good on a business card, website, car decal, conquest flag, stitched on a uniform, branded on a henchman's arm, or drawn out in burning gasoline on the White House lawn. You know, standard brand marketing stuff.

You may luck out and have an underling that has a passion for graphic design, but it wouldn’t hurt to farm this project out. If you’re on a tight budget, put a listing on Fiverr and see what happens. For security reasons, you might not want to publicly divulge exactly what your organization is about when describing what you’re looking for in the design. It’s probably best to just lie and say it’s for a comic book or a mobile game you’re developing or something. You’ll get tons of hits on that.

Kick Ass The Game

Frozen Codebase

Well, maybe not a mobile game. You're evil, but you're not a monster. 

A more experienced freelancer is also a good option, but please make sure you’re crystal clear on deadlines, otherwise the project could take forever. Plus, threatening to kill them won’t get the job done any faster, as most freelancers often pray for the sweet release of death. 

For best results, shop around for an ad agency. It’ll be more pricey, but damn it’ll look slick. Also, you don’t have to worry too much about the security risks, as most ad agencies out there simply do not care who they work for. They would sell weed killer as baby formula if they knew the check would clear. 

DON’T: Slap Your Logo on Everything

Ok, so the logo looks great, the new weapons coming out of the R&D department are literal fire, and now that everyone has matching uniforms, henchmen morale is at an all-time high. However, in recent weeks you have seen a 10,000% increase in undercover government agents infiltrating the organization. How did you possibly get on every government’s radar all of a sudden?

I’ll tell you why! Because your elite squad of covert assassins are wearing their branded uniforms out in the field. Henchmen getting neck tattoos, really? You laser-etched your organization’s name on every shell casing. The tail piece of every poison-tipped dart is in the shape of your emblem! Who do you think you are, Nike? This operation is supposed to still be a secret!

Ant Man deleted scene

Walt Disney Pictures

Even if you're not a villain, neck tattoos are a no-no in the business world. 

I’m not saying the uniforms were a bad idea. They’re surprisingly comfortable and the nanofiber armor breathes like Egyptian cotton. Plus, they really make you look like you’ve got your shit together and not like some fly-by-night operation. All I’m saying is, until the time is right, maybe only wear the uniforms around the office, cool? 

Hell, no one found out about the Avengers until after they won their first battle. That’s when you’re supposed to launch the marketing campaign. Until then, put away the damn T-shirt cannon.

If you need to identify each other out in public, be more subtle about it. Get matching pinky rings like those guys over at SPECTRE. Maybe whisper your catchphrase like Hydra does, although that could get awkward if they accidentally say it to the wrong person. Is there any way you could get those glowing inner lip tattoos like that Killmonger guy had?

DO: Make Sure All Your Supervillain Partners Can (Or Should) Work Together

Now, let’s talk about the plan. More specifically, let’s look at how your plan could possibly (and most likely will) fail. Many supervillain team-ups, shadowy organizations, and evil cabals have royally screwed the pooch over the years, so let’s learn something from their mistakes and try to avoid making them ourselves.

For an individual villain, strategy is a piece of cake. They can see how they want everything to end and plot out every move towards that endgame. Lex Luthor even makes detailed maps of continents that don’t yet exist! However, when you’re collaborating with other supervillains, everyone may agree on the same ultimate goal, but each member has their own motivations at play that could muddy up the works. There’s a finte line between strength in numbers and having too many chefs in the kitchen.

X-Men Apocalypse

20th Century Studios

Too many cooks can spoil the brotherhood of mutants.

Each of these bad guys could be driven by a variety of factors: Greed, revenge, self-preservation, or maybe they’re just a psychopath with nothing better to do. The point is those conflicting agendas can create tensions that could jeopardize the whole operation. Besides, anyone evil enough to qualify to be on the team in the first place didn’t exactly get there by playing well with others. So, tread lightly and watch your back.

Also, make sure the villains you team up with have powers that don’t conflict with yours. Like in Batman and Robin: Poison Ivy can unleash pheromone spores, has poison lips, and she can control plants. Not bad, but all of her powers are plant based, and you know what plants hate? Cold temperatures. So why on earth did she partner up with Mr. Freeze of all people? That was the dumbest idea Joel Schumacher ever came up with, and he’s the same guy who put nipples on the Batsuit.

DON’T: Get Too Cocky About Your Henchmen

Then there are tactical issues. For one, always assume the good guys will have backup arriving at any moment, so be sure to bring extra henchmen just in case. Second, just because your warriors are willing to die for your cause doesn’t automatically mean they are actually good at their jobs. For example, The League of Shadows are supposed to be the most disciplined, highly trained ninja assassins the world has ever known, and yet a surprisingly high number of them drop like a rock after one punch from Batman, or even no punch at all. 

Likewise, maybe don’t hire idiots or cowards. In Iron Man 3, Aldrich Killian and AIM had a squad of soldiers who can regenerate and breathe fire … but he also hired a drug addicted, blabbermouth, washed-up actor to be the public face of his fake Ten Rings terror campaign. When Tony Stark raided the compound, that Trevor Slattery guy folded like a cheap suit.

Years later, in Shang Chi and the Legend of The *Real* Ten Rings This Time, Xu Wenwu’s soldiers were all on board with fighting through the Ta Lo villagers while their boss unleashed the Dweller-In-Darkness upon the world. But that hench-douche Razorfist changed his tune pretty freaking quick after seeing Death Dealer’s soul get sucked out by an ancient octopus-bat thingy, didn’t he? They didn’t need to call a truce with the villagers in order to survive. They just needed to get their hands on the same weapons, and it’s not like their armory was super secure. It was a windowless hut with a thatched roof, for crying out loud!

DO: Be Efficient

Which brings us to the biggest problem area, logistics. We're talking making sure everyone is where they need to be when they need to be there, have the tools they need, and this is key: know not to dick around. When your armed foot soldiers have the good guy surrounded and outnumbered 12 to 1, they don’t need to be taking turns fighting hand-to-hand. Maybe you don’t need to position everyone involved in your operation so they’re lined up to be taken out in order of rank and power level. Seriously, are you trying to take over the world, or reenact Streets of Rage?

Likewise, you know you don’t always have to capture the good guy alive, right? I know this whole thing is personal for you and you want to savor this torture session, but they wouldn’t have stormed your compound if they didn’t already have a pretty clear idea what your plan is. So you don’t have to give them a long-winded, over-practiced speech explaining why. They’ll only barely be paying attention anyway because by the time you finish your little spiel, they’d have already figured out seven different ways to escape.

DON’T: Take Crap from Overly Ambitious Underlings

Even when you’re trying to take over the world, you’ll have to put up with some office drama. There’s gonna be gossip around the water cooler, workers talking shit about you on their Lazarus Pit breaks, and passive-aggressive company-wide emails from Cheryl in HR complaining that someone dropped an actual bomb in the second floor unisex restroom. It really sucks, but you’re the boss. The city-flattening, atomic death buck stops with you.

Unfortunately, an evil organization is way more cutthroat than most businesses. You’re surrounded by workers who would kill to get a promotion because that’s exactly what they’re encouraged to do. It says so in the employee handbook! So, what do you do when one of them starts gunning for your job?

darth vader emperor return of the jedi

Walt Disney Pictures

After all, you killed your master to get this job. As did he, and his master before him. 

They may want to be sneaky about it and try to poison you, so your first course of action is to not eat or drink anything that’s been handed to you. Make your own coffee at home. Cancel the Friday pizza parties and cupcakes in the breakroom on someone’s birthday. Whoever complains the loudest about the new policy is your primary suspect, or you might be one step closer to finding out who’s been stealing everyone’s lunches out of the fridge. Either way, win-win!

Some may be more upfront about their power grabs, like Starscream from Transformers. That guy has made no secret of how badly he wants to usurp Megatron and take control of the Decepticons. He has tried and failed too many times to count, but aside from that, he’s still damn good at his regular job duties. It’s a tough call: You hate to lose him as an employee, but at the same time … where’s the trust?

Given the nature of your business, you have two very different ways of “terminating” an employee, and each one has their massive drawbacks. Firing an employee could mean they might take everything they know about your organization directly to your competition. Or worse yet, the Department of Labor. Do you have any idea how expensive it is to make a volcano lair OSHA compliant? Those scientists you kidnapped and forced to work around the clock might now be entitled to overtime pay! Plus interest!

Hank Scorpio

20th Century Studios

Not all supervillains offer free dental care.

If you choose to get rid of that worker the other way, it could really hurt employee morale. Productivity might plummet because you just proved that there are very clear limits on how far they can advance in the company. Sure, you’re keeping them in line, but you’re killing their ambition.

The trick for handling overzealous employees is to direct that power grab energy into tasks that sound important even though they’re completely meaningless. Have you tried an “employee of the month” contest? Try team-building exercises, or friendly (non-lethal) competitions at a company retreat. You might not think that offering a $50 Starbucks gift card as a prize would avert a coup d’etat, but you’d be surprised!


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