Take a minute and think about your favorite bad guys. Whether it’s planet-devouring Galactus or not-quite-as-threatening Captain Boomerang, supervillains come in all shape and sizes. The Supervillain Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Destruction and Mayhem shows how you. Yes, YOU can be a part of this exciting, competitive world. We sat down with author, Matt Wilson who adapted the book from his blog The International Society of Supervillains, written in the voice of bad guy King Oblivion, PhD.
Geeks of Doom: Hello Matt Wilson. Can you describe The Supervillain Handbook briefly?
Matt Wilson: Sure. The way I sort of sold it is like this: Unemployment is so high, and there are all these problems with the economy for the last several years: why wouldn’t people think about Supervillainry as an option? However, I’d warn everyone not to take any advice from the book. I have no legal responsibilities for any City Halls attacked by irradiated killer apes.
GoD: Very safe. You’re credited on the cover this way – “As told to Matt D. Wilson.”
MW: The actual credited author on the cover is King Oblivion PHD, it’s all written with his expertise. It’s an expert’s guide to being a bad guy. The whole book is presented from an unreliable narrator perspective where according to him, he always wins. I might do something later where we find out what the real case is.
GoD: Villains can be pretty compelling, even though there’s a hierarchy from henchmen on up to Demi-god, so much of their time is spent hyping themselves up to others. And yet they’re almost always failures.
MW: They’re egotistical, self-involved and some guy who punches really hard always figures out a way to beat them. What better sort of figure for comedy then that? I’m not the first one to pick up on this, obviously. The Venture Brothers does it beautifully. One of my favorite characters of all time is Rimmmer from Red Dwarf and he encapsulates that so perfectly. I just don’t think there’s any funnier character then the pompous ass that doesn’t know that he’s also a complete loser.
And there’s a whole other element of comedy where Supervillain plots are just so needlessly complicated. They go through all this extra work just to rob a bank. You don’t get as much of that maybe now as you did in the silver age. The classic idea of comic book supervillainry is throwing Batman into a vat of acid or into the reservoir, then string him up with giant piano strings. It’s not just about being a criminal, it’s also about being theatrical. There’s so much that’s funny about it that I was able to write a whole book!
GoD: You mention in the book a number of Supervillain fails, and that got me thinking that there are a lot of memorable villains that started off cartoonish and over time have evolved to be authentically menacing. I’m thinking of someone like Magneto for instance. Like, what a ridiculous power.
MW: What a ridiculous name.
GoD: Exactly, and yet, he’s managed to become such a great character.
MW: There’s a fine line between being a lame Supervillain and a cool one. Dr. Doom’s real name is Victor Von Doom. [laugh] That is his real name. But people, including myself, think that he’s one of the coolest villains in comics. And then there’s Typeface, who ends up being a punchline.
GoD: It’s almost like a confidence thing.
MW: It is a confidence thing. There’s something about a certain kind of ridiculous supervillain, a certain type of character, that just fits better in context then others. And I don’t know necessarily what that alchemy is.
But, I was talking about supervillains that tie Batman up to giant piano strings; that was a Joker story. That’s just what the Joker was in the 50s and 60s, the silver age. But now the Joker is this homicidal, dark serious villain, so some of it is evolution, some of it is just being the right idea at the right time.
GoD: Now we have big stories like Avengers vs.X-Men where the bad guys seem to be taking a back seat and books like Suicide Squad and Thunderbolts where they’re main characters but are in positions where they have to do good… or else. Where do you see supervillains in comics today?
MW: I don’t know, I don’t know if people have known what to do with them for about a decade, in terms of making them genuine threats in comics. I think there have been great stories that feature supervillains. The best story in the last decade or so was the Mark Waide, Mike Wierengo Fantastic Four story about Dr. Doom where he sends Reed and Sue Richards kids to hell! That’s a great use of an evil, theatrical bad guy.
The other side of that coin is that as superhero books and characters have gotten darker and edgier, they’ve gotten less colorful fun and more psychopathic and more gross. I’m gonna not surprise anyone who knows me when I say that Identity Crisis is one of my least favorite stories in the past decade. Particularly, I hated that it took a goofy silver age villain, Dr. Light, and made him a rapist. I just don’t think that’s good for comic book supervillains, when they’re just like trash novel bad guys.
GoD: But what’s the difference for you between a character who sends innocent kids to hell and a character who’s a rapist?
MW: It lacks grandiosity. I don’t want to read about guys in costumes who are rapists, I want to read about guys in costumes who want to turn continents upside-down or carve their names on the moon.
GoD: My personal favorite ‘Rogues Gallery’ is Spider-Man’s, and when I think about it, one of the best qualities is just how rich the villains outfits are. From Electro to Mysterio to Doc Ock. They don’t look real or even practical, but they’re certainly theatrical. As opposed to most original characters being created today-
GoD: I mean, maybe I’m getting ‘crotchety-old-man’ here…
MW: Sure, [laugh] no, I get the sense that’s true of design in all comic book characters, not just with bad guys. In the [DC's] New 52 all these characters have all these visible seams on their costumes so they look like track runners. And I get that, it looks real, but if I wanted it to look real- I think the trend of making comics more like movies- It might make comics more popular but at the same time it takes away what makes comics so special, and if it’s going to look like a movie why don’t I just watch the movie? I don’t think its crazy to think design can still be great or fun or imaginative, and I think that there are trends that make it less palatable to do that.
GoD: So what books can you point to that have been fun and imaginative like that?
MW: There was a series that not a lot of people read that I loved a lot written by Paul Tobin and Jeff Parker called Age of the Sentry. It had really great character design in it. There was Harrison Oogar, the brilliant cave man, there was Cranio, the man with the tri-level mind. There was actually several designs of that character but every design was goofy and really fun.
GoD: I often say that the two big trends in superhero books since the early 2000s were to either push comics to feel more like movies or high end cable TV, something I think Bendis does well, or to go in a more fun, hyper-comic book direction, like, say, Atomic Robo.
MW: I’m not saying there’s not a place for the serialized TV/movie style. I love Scalped, which reads a lot like an HBO TV show. But at the same time that high-concept superhero stuff, it’s a personal preference but I just tend to prefer that.
GoD: You’re a comedy writer, who do you write for?
MW: Easy, I write for myself. I’m doing this to make myself laugh. I guess my main goal has always been to not go for the easy, obvious joke. Comedy, for me, should always be about surprise. What I always try to do is write something that’s not obvious and catch myself off guard. If something springs to mind that’s a nice misdirection that’s usually what I’ll go with. At the same time I’m always writing for, beyond myself, people who have a similar sense of humor that fits in with that mindset. There’s plenty in this book that I know the folks who know the secret handshake of comics will like.
Matt Wilson is a busy, busy man. On top of having a new book being released April 25th entitled The Supervillain Handbook: The Ultimate How-to Guide to Destruction and Mayhem, Matt is the co-host of the podcast Comics Alliance Presents: War Rocket Ajax, writer of the webcomic Copernicus Jones with artist Daniel Butler, and writes at his blog, The International Society of Supervillains with King Oblivion, PhD.