Big Ups for the Bad Guys

by Cherie Priest

Whenever I’m asked about my favorite Wild Cards villain, I risk sounding like some kind of originalist weirdo – because the guy who always springs immediately to mind is the original baddie who was there at the beginning: Dr. Tod. But hear me out: like so many of the varied and complicated characters in our strange little universe, there’s a lot more to his story than immediately meets the eye – despite his apparent simplicity. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a Lawful Evil character every time.

He’s not a cackler, not a Grand Plan Explainer in the tradition of Bond or Scooby villains. He’s not even a maniacal madman with convoluted motives, much less a charismatic cult leader or a Wants to Rule the Worlder. He’s just a guy who wants money, and he doesn’t care what’s required to acquire it. 

What does money represent to him? Hard to say, though “power” is the obvious answer. Autonomy, freedom, and control are powerful enough motivators individually; put them together, and you have a guy who would microwave kittens for the right price. 

It’s not that he’s set out to be mean and terrible – that’s merely a side consequence of his true calling. There’s something almost refreshing about how straightforward he is, especially when you contrast him with a character like the Puppetman.

I like the Puppetman (Gregg Hartmann), too – that skeevy politician who thrives on nastiness and havoc, though he’s very good at hiding it. He wants power as much as the next guy, but while he’s at it? He’d like to burn down the world, or drown it in sewage, whichever sounds more entertaining at the time. He’s almost a Moriarty figure, in the vein of the semi-recent BBC series with Cumberbatch et. al. – someone who is outwardly charismatic and friendly, but who secretly fantasizes about skinning people alive for giggles. 

That said, if I had to assign him a moral alignment, I’d call him Neutral Evil. in some respects Mr. Hartmann is only as bad as the worst impulse of the people he touches…but when you shake as many hands as he does, that’s not saying much. Maybe that’s part of the horror of a politician who can literally manipulate hearts and minds: he brings out the worst in everyone, and he does it on purpose. But what’s the “worst” at the bottom of our deep, dark little hearts?

 Maybe we don’t want to know.

So if you forced me to choose a nemesis, I’d run with Dr. Tod any day of the week. At least that guy can be bought. 

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cool bad guys in the Wild Cards – but those are the ones who’ve stuck with me the most over the years. These are the guys to whom I compare all others, and if you’re not familiar with them, I strongly recommend that you try out some stories that feature these overclocked alpha jerks.

But when it comes to purely fun bad guys, you have to drag the Astronomer into play, too – if only to represent Chaotic Evil. Even though he’s (in some regards) the mirror image of Dr. Tod, he’s an awful lot of awful fun. The Astronomer brings Big Chaos Energy to every scenario due to his immense mental powers and megalomaniac sensibilities, but he’s not after money or power in any specific sense; he just wants to spread pain and misery through torture and terror, because that’s how he recharges his own superpowered batteries. He can’t be negotiated with or bribed, and he can’t be reasoned with. He wants what he wants, and although those desires might be a moving goalpost, they’re always driven by that creepy core of twisted wickedness. 

Look for Dr. Tod in Wild Cards Volume I: Wild Cards – “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!”, and check out Gregg Hartmann in any number of Wild Cards projects – he’s been around for ages, and he always knows how to blow up a scene. You can find him in the same volume that introduces Dr. Tod – Wild Cards Volume 1, in the story “Strings,” so consider that book a two-for-one in the appalling villainy department. For the Astronomer, pick up Aces High and look for “Pennies from Hell.” Then settle in for some good reading about some bad guys, and don’t say I never did nothin’ for you.