Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How An Arch-Nemesis Was Made

When I began developing ideas for my new superhero story a few weeks ago, I had many of the key elements worked out right away. I knew everything about my hero - his past, his fears, his flaws and strengths. I also had plenty of challenges for him to overcome and enemies to defeat - corrupt police force, anarchists with time bombs, and a mysterious fiend ripping peoples heads off all over town. That's enough to keep any crime-fighter pretty busy for almost 400 pages.

But there was something missing. Isn't a superhero supposed to have an arch-nemesis? Even the ones that have a running mix of bad guys to fight usually have at least one villain that stands out from rest - the Joker, Green Goblin, Lex Luther. I wasn't sure if there were any solid rules on that sort of thing.

And I wasn't dealing with a standard hero either, because I write steampunk and this was a 19th century setting. He doesn't wear tights. Technically, he doesn't even have any real super powers; just a quick wit, lots of moxie and a slew of really neat gadgets to get him through. Kind of a cross between Teddy Roosevelt and Batman.

I needed to decide the issue fast, so I did what any other logical, intelligent person would do and I asked Twitter for help. The response was clear - a superhero should have an arch. And not just any arch. There are some very specific things to consider when inventing the perfect foil for a superhero, like how he reflects parts of the hero and his role in the hero's origin story.

All well and good, but what I really wanted to get into was how over-the-top I could make him or her. One of the best things about speculative fiction is that there are certain times when you can just go nuts, especially when it comes to evil geniuses. Of course, they need to be believable and relevant, but also I wanted someone with some flare. My mind was reeling with all the possibilities. I decided to use that old trick that writers sometimes use, and pick a real person/character as a base for my nemesis.

Instantly I knew that my inspiration would be Paul William’s dastardly character, Swan, from the movie The Phantom of the Paradise. The impish, Faustian villain with long blond hair and over-sized glasses was the perfect jumping off point for my Victorian arch-enemy. Obviously, my villain won’t have the same goals or personality as Swan, but visualizing the character helps bring him to life on the page. Too bad I can’t dress him in polyester as well because that would be truly scary.

I started thinking of other models I might use for future villains and have the beginnings of a pretty good rogues gallery: Groucho Marx, Lady Gaga, Pee-wee Herman, Dan Quayle, that chick from the Progressive Insurance commercials... it really is too easy these days.

Who makes your list of people who should be turned into super-villains?

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