Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dragons, dinosaurs, and giant monsters

I just had a very weird conversation. Someone I thought was an otherwise ordinary independent super presented me with some very interesting evidence, and said the following:
I've found your supervillain guide interesting. While I don't personally promote villainy, if one must be a villian, I prefer that they emulate your example.
Your series included speculation on ghosts, werewolves, and other creatures of myth. I want to add some observations of my own.
Animal mastery powers, such as those held by Beast Boss, Sea-czar, and the Scarab Guardian, are nothing new. In the time of Aharu, now called Horus, the animals served the god-kings of the old dynasty. They knew the rules of power inheritance even then and they married and bred accordingly, to conserve the power of their blood. Their servants were the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky, the meaner creatures of the street. Cats were not gods - they were the eyes and ears of the gods.
Familiarity breeds contempt. As the generations passed, mundanes learned our tricks. So we forced our powers to grow, using what we thought were rites of supplication to the greater gods. Today we know it as the Hashmal process. It was torture, plain and simple, but we did it to preserve our dynasty. We even tortured our children, locking them in their youth forever to create envy and amazement from the people.
It wasn't enough. We needed more. We took the lizard, the crocodile, the bird, and we stretched our power to the utmost. We made monsters. Do you think that Stage 2 is the most that an animal master can endow? We learned better.
Our creations struck fear into the hearts of the unbelievers. Our authority waxed again. None dared challenge us.
Well, there was one threat which we still faced - each other. The human heart hasn't changed that much. Jealousy, mistrust, fear. We felt these things. We set our monsters upon each other, and upon our rivals. The common folk thought of it as war in Heaven. Our priests knew better, but dared not question us.
We had long since melded human and animal bodies, created giants of our pets, and even recreated living corpses from dead flesh. We committed the final blasphemy. One of our sand-shifters found ancient bones. The creatures they represented would be monsters in our age, but utterly ordinary in theirs. You know them as dinosaurs. And we resurrected them - and made them more, and mightier, than anything that walked the earth before or since.
If you have been to Egypt, you have seen the Great Sphinx. Think of that as... a pet. A toy. We created dragons that darkened the skies.
I would like to end this tale by saying that the greater gods punished us for our blasphemy. The truth is far more prosaic. We destroyed each other, for the meanest of motives, for the pettiest of reasons. Greatness was in our grasp and we were simply.... too human to use it properly.
If you must be a villain, be a superior one. If you must live in your own way, don't be a slave to your baser nature. If the world's ways do not satisfy you, create a better world and challenge your fellow man by your example.
So... yeah. I know most of you are thinking "by Odin, Stage 2 dinosaurs". I can't fault you, because I thought that myself. But, I also want to say that I approve of the rest of the message. We villains have a unique chance to be better than our corrupt society. We don't have to do what they say, as long as we're true to our own code.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Spandex: the whole story

Awhile back, I was asked about wearing tights and I outlined what and when a villain should typically wear. Today I want to go into more detail about skin-tight outfits, also known as "super-tights", spandex, or whatever.

Cost. The worst part about the cost of super-costumes is the expense. If you have a motif, you're basically custom-ordering a new one with your pattern on it every time it gets damaged, which will be a lot. This is why many villains prefer color patterns to distinctive symbols.

Comfort. Spandex doesn't breathe at all. It won't let sweat and body fluids out. This might be rough for mundanes, but for supers - who often have alternate metabolic arrangements - this is a non-issue. What spandex does do is stretch and give, which is something you really need your attire to do.

Appearance. As I mentioned before, spandex will make your toned Stage 3+ body look great. This is important because appearance is a valid tool for distraction, charm, and manipulation. Fuego, the villain turned hero in the 80's, was reputed to have "the abs that launched a thousand ships", and he worked it for all he was worth.

Biology. Wait, what? Yes, really! Many supers have powers that radiate directly from their cells. The effect past the skin is very short - a few inches at most, more often than not. An example is the field radiated by teleporters, or many kinds of defensive barriers. You can learn to push this field further - and usually do, unconsciously - but it can be exhausting in the long term. The solution, unsurprisingly, is to wear thinner clothes and not carry things in your hands.

Protection. Basically nil, but by the time you're ready to wear spandex for the reasons given above, you usually shouldn't need much protection from conventional weapons. My personal rule of thumb: once being shot at point-blank range feels like being punched in the chest, you're bullet proof and can switch over to spandex. Before that, wear body armor. Seriously.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stage 2 civilians

Not everybody at Stage 2 becomes a hero or villain, obviously. Not all tall people go into basketball, even though height is a prime characteristic of successful basketball players. So what are the rest of them doing?

Stage 2 provides physical and mental advantages over mundane humans. "Mental advantages" doesn't necessarily mean super-intelligence. What it does mean is that Stage 2 supers lack some of the mental gaps or disadvantages that mundanes have to deal with. They deal with surprise better, they have more neuroplasticity, better reaction times, and so forth.

Because of this, most Stage 2's excel in fields that depend on physical prowess or charisma, not intelligence. The people who make it into CEO positions at big companies might be brilliant thinkers, but they tend to have won their position through maneuvering and social benefits rather than some incredible invention or innovation.

So what do Stage 2's do when they aren't putting on body armor and throwing shuriken at criminals?

Businessperson. It's said that all corporations are sociopaths, and successful CEOs must be as well. Stage 2's tend to have the ultra-competence required to pull the job off without stabbing everyone around them in the back, so there's a fair number of corporate officers are Stage 2.

Diplomat. A surprising number of diplomatic appointments, especially to dangerous or unstable countries, are Stage 2. This allowed, for example, an American in Syria to rescue his staff after insurgents attacked their base a couple years ago in Syria.

Scientist. While super-intelligence isn't really a thing at Stage 2, many scientists are called on to do dangerous, grueling field work. Biologists, climatologists, chemists, and more find value in the benefits that Stage 2 provides to them. Many interesting breakthroughs have been made because a Stage 2 scientist was able to work in the right place at the right time. A few such intrepid souls have advanced to Stage 3 because of some overly dangerous encounter, of course.

Sports athlete. There are now separate competition brackets for Stage 2 athletes. Since they are officially banned from Olympic competition, and since their numbers aren't quite large enough, most of their exhibitions happen on Pay-Per-View television. These shows have gained more and more pageantry over the years, since essentially the performers are able to operate at Olympic levels more or less continuously and can take the time they'd spend training or recuperating to practice new stunts. This category also includes MMA fighters, boxers, and the like.

Television personality. The demanding schedule and requirement for telegenic speakers makes Stage 2's a logical choice when some producer needs to point a camera at someone and have them read the teleprompter while sounding natural.

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Just because this part of the guide was boring to write, here's some badass music celebrating super-villains. Enjoy.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Q&A: Civilian casualties during super-brawls

"Cautious Californian" writes in with:

Why is it that there are so few civilian casualties during many hero-vs.-villain encounters that turn violent? I do my best to run away & rob another day, but some villains seem trigger-happy. Shouldn't that be incredibly dangerous?

This was true back in the 60's and early 70's. What happened after the first few attacks was that strategic planners got involved. They reached out to the people who'd devised London's defenses during the Blitz, to the Israelis, to the Army Corps of Engineers, and so forth. A lot of this expertise filtered into FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) when it was signed into existence in 1979.

Everyone's conclusion fell into a few different buckets.

First, that all rebuilding should include hardening of the buildings that were damaged. This meant emergency shelters, accessible stairwells, structural reinforcement, and the like. Every reconstructed building would include food, water, electricity, and first aid kits. Every shelter would have a signaling system to contact the fire department, police, and so forth.

Second, that supers could rebuild damaged infrastructure far faster than conventional contractors, given similar levels of competence. This led to the funding of super-teams like the Metahuman Task Force, at least in states that were willing to throw around their tax-driven revenues. Conveniently, most states where a lot of these fights happen are also ones with a lot of tax money to spend, so there you are. Nobody cares about throwing down in Kansas.

Third, that nothing could really stop a reasonably powerful super except another powerful super. This has led to the current schizophrenic legal views on supers in the United States.

If you're a supervillain, you may not actually appreciate the outcome of all these steps. You haven't actually worked in an office building or a skyscraper. Here's what it's like.

When word comes out that a villain is nearby, there's a klaxon broadcast through the building. The building security service comes on over a PA system, asking people to descend the stairs. The elevators get shut down, with the exception of those needed to evacuate disabled people. The office workers mill around in the elevator room, checking their mobile phones, gossiping, and being impatient.

If the building itself does come under attack, security tells them to continue down the stairs and into the shelter. Head counts are taken. Someone in security calls the police dispatcher, who ignores them in favor of the more important calls coming in talking about the battle. Once the danger passes, everyone is escorted outside and goes home for the day while the building is inspected for structural damage.

So yeah, the short version is that while a single villain attack can cause millions in property damage and lost productivity, there's a lot of stuff in place to keep the civilians physically safe.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Permanent villain depowerment?

Whenever I talk about power-suppression drugs, the same question always gets asked: "can the authorities take powers away from villains?"

So far, no. And when it happens, you'll know, because it'll be the biggest news since the discovery of superpowers to begin with. It'll mean calls for legislation to forcibly depower all villains, even those in jail. There'll be pogroms in other countries, riots, news articles, pundits. Everyone will want to control the "problem" (supers), with depowerment the punishment for noncompliance.

Until then, as far as I know, only the heroine Illumina is capable of permanently depowering someone, and even then there are some villains she can't (or maybe won't) depower. Rest assured that the authorities are furiously trying to learn her secret, though. So far, from what I know, she isn't cooperating.

Depowering drugs might be a thing in 20 years or 200. All we know now, thanks to Illumina, is that it's possible. But even then, it's not like Eve-active women will stop giving birth to new supers. Powers - and heroes, and villains - are here to stay.

The legalities of permanent power loss

Furman v. Georgia laid out a four-part test in 1972 for what constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment": whether the punishment degrades human dignity; whether it is inflicted in arbitrary fashion; whether it is rejected by society; and whether it is patently unnecessary.

One depowered villain (the first Blacklight) actually tried to sue the government for sanctioning Illumina's power drain on him. The case was thrown out for technical reasons, but the government's defense was very interesting, and troubling. First, they claimed that since supers were essentially extra-human, the loss of these extra powers did not impinge on basic human dignity. Second, they argued that the punishment wasn't arbitrary, because it followed the conventional pattern of escalation of force that police use every day. Third, they said it wasn't rejected by society because of its novelty (the judge was not amused by this line of reasoning). Fourth, they argued that Blacklight's actions had placed people in jeopardy, and that as a repeat offender it was not "patently unnecessary".

Blacklight's prosecution argued from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, that depowerment violated the "security of person" the Declaration called for. Whether the government was correct that supers are human plus something else, they said, wasn't relevant. In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man still deserves his one eye.

Aside from this argument, they also tried to refute the government's position about societal rejection by drawing analogies to lobotomies and chemical castration, two techniques that have been used recently to deal with prisoners (criminal or otherwise). They went back further and compared loss of power to amputation.

Overall the government had a good case, though I am certain Blacklight's legal team would have better chances with a more sympathetic (or less biased) judge. That said, I expect that any permanent power loss mechanism will be employed by the government long before the legality of doing so is settled at the national level - it's too powerful a weapon not to use.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Villain punishment in other countries

I collected stories from a few international villains. After hearing most of them, I concluded two things. First, that I didn't want to talk about law enforcement in other countries, because I clearly don't have enough information to give sound advice. Second, American villains are lucky sons of bitches.

Let's run down a few of the alternatives.

Oubliette

In eastern Europe, a group of powerful heroes found a way around the Hashmal process. Rather than trying to hurt their villains to death and risk empowering them further, they pitched them into abandoned salt mines and sealed them away under thousands of tons of material. This didn't directly injure the villains - physically - but those guys are essentially trapped in living tombs miles under the earth. That's just mean, man.

Forced labor

Some villains (and for that matter, some heroes and unaligned civilian supers) are put to work as living engines or tools - those with heat or electrical powers are chained into devices which can harness their output, for example. There's a few heroes who have chosen to walk away from Omelas and criticize this practice, but for the most part, nobody cares - villains are villains, right?

Depowerment and execution

Power-suppression drugs aren't just used in America, or for making it safe to jail a super. In some places, they're used as a prelude to execution of villains. The worst part is that the bodies of the condemned are then handed over to scientists and researchers for experimentation.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Villain parole and rehabilitation

Though it's not a topic I hope most readers of this guide will need to know, I want to talk about villain parole & rehabilitation. There was an earlier topic on breaking into the movie industry, and several people asked me to expand on this topic.

In general, villains don't get offered parole unless there's somebody external pulling strings or advocating for their release. Usually this comes with a set of conditions (gainful employment, on-the-job monitoring, ACTION poking its nose into your business) that makes getting out an onerous burden. Extraordinary acts of good behavior - and I mean more than just "not breaking out with the rest of the guys", I mean things like actively putting down a prison break or riot - can sometimes lead the way to a reduced sentence for newbie villains. For us old-timers, nothing short of flashing serious money at the judge and/or the DA will get the wheels of justice sufficiently greasy.

The old trick of a villain lawyering up and walking that you'd see on shows like S.W.A.T. and Supercop in the 1970s don't work any more. From the late 70's to the 90's, the American justice system had a concept called the "rolling conviction", which was meant to fix the problem of supervillains breaking out of jail with ease. The villain Floodwater's legal team came up with a great workaround which effectively killed the usefulness of the rolling conviction, which neatly coincided with the rise of newer villain incarceration technology from companies like TRS and Johnson & Johnson. Plus, there's decades of precedent that have redefined fundamental terms like "assault" and "deadly force" when a superhuman is involved.

Law firms will work for anyone. However, because any or all of your legal holdings will probably long since have a lien on them (to pay for the damage you did), you usually won't have a legal source of funds to retain a good firm, and a bad firm won't be able to spring you. You'll need to have laundered your money into some legitimate holding arrangement not tied to you, or have a wealthy patron (like a movie studio). A rare few villains, like the Scarab Guardian, effectively had this done for them by the government.

Your conviction as a villain - along with everything that went with it, like blood draws, DNA evidence, power weaknesses, testimony, and so on - will always stay on the books. Once a villain, always a villain, as far as the justice system is concerned.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Q&A: Why isn't there a single prison for supervillains?

After talking about incarceration, I was asked:

Why doesn't America just build a single super-villain prison and lock them all up there? Wouldn't it be better to consolidate all the anti-power technology, stronger cells, and trained guards in a single place?

There's several reasons why this isn't happening. Here they are, in no particular order.

Economic interest. Even Federal penitentiaries are located in one state or another. Congressional representatives get campaign contributions from the companies who make power-suppression drugs, from people who build prisons, and both private and public security companies who staff them. In general, the Congressmen want to keep the campaign contributions coming, but more importantly want to send pork to their state. So nobody wants to pick a single site, because there's got 50 smaller ones pouring slop into the trough. Thus, the necessary legislation won't be able to pass.

NIMBY. Short for "not in my back yard". This is the local legislature's answer to "hey can we put hundreds of dangerous demigods in your most populated city?" Seriously, there's been Congressional push-back against building wind farms in their states, because they're afraid of spoiling their view. Nobody wants a consolidated prison in their state for safety reasons, and they aren't making enough campaign contributions at the local level to sway anyone's opinion here.

Accidents and sabotage. That said, there is a legitimate argument about safety. For example, say that you're distributing 22 types of power suppressant to 100 inmates. One screw-up, one swapped bottle, one "accidentally" damaged dispenser or placebo introduced by a ringer, and a pissed-off and re-powered villain is going to rip your prison a new one.

Prison breaks. If someone put 100 villains together under a single roof, I promise the rest of us would blow the shit out of the walls and get those guys out - even if we didn't like them personally. Every active villain out there means less law enforcement resources to dedicate to you. If you do it right, those villains won't be competing with you or interfering with your capers. So overall, a stable and sizable population of free villains is compelling enough for the rest of us to take steps like this.

Thanks for the questions, and keep them coming!

Villain incarceration and transportation

These days, the technology behind keeping supers imprisoned is pretty good. It wasn't always like that. In fact, "villains can escape from jail a week after capture" is such a persistent meme thanks to decades of poor understanding of super-biology and lack of experience.

Chemical restraints

The current state of the art in super incarceration is chemical restraint. These are drugs, either "generic" or tailored to an individual (or set of powers), that inhibit the use of one or more super-powers. Part of the goal of the Transhuman Capability Catalog was to track the specific mechanisms behind powers. Based on this information, companies like Persona and Pfizer are able to synthesize suppression drugs.

The use of these drugs has been evaluated for constitutionality in many of the circuit courts within the United States. No legal challenge has reached the Supreme Court as of yet, and it's doubtful that they would hear one - there's too much at stake to meddle with something that's working.

The actual administration of these drugs depends on the super. Some are ingested with food, others are injected, and others are delivered as an aerosol in the prisoner's cell. The drugs can take effect anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours after delivery, and could be effective for hours or days. The first and second generation of power suppressors are now off the market since it was proven that almost all supers would develop a tolerance and eventual immunity to their effects.

Occasionally a prison will experiment with attaching collars containing suppression drugs to their super-inmates. The goal is to create a system that maintained the suppression while also allowing the inmate to roam around the complex with less supervision.

Physical restraints

Supers who are unable to break out of a jail cell, one way or another, are pretty rare. That said, some do exist. Most prisons would prefer their existing cells to an expensive drug deal with Big Pharma, so there's a fair amount of competition for "easy" villains.

Prisoner transfers

When a villain needs to be moved - to another facility, or to stand trial, or something similar - it's a big deal. The cops keep the transfer route a secret, even from other departments, until almost the day of the transfer.

Here are a few ways that villain transfers have been detected and interfered with:
  • Prison financial records indicated a cancellation of the power suppression drug order, along with a requisition for vehicles.
  • Suppression drugs were replaced with a placebo by an insider.
  • A prison placed orders for a tailored suppression drug despite not having the prisoner for which they were tailored.
  • Guards or other police officers took a bribe to reveal the details of the route.
ACTION is pretty good about providing security for this work these days, so most prison-break scenarios for villains require a fair amount of inside information. Acquiring insider assets, keeping them paid, and getting actual useful information from them are all big challenges for villains who want to take care of their fellows. But if you do break another villain out of the slam, you can and should expect plenty of gratitude. The value of this cannot be overstated.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

How to take over the world, ocean style

After writing about taking over the world, several of you wrote in with a suggestion for how to deal with the world's largest powers. I want to summarize the various points made.

Like I said in my post about super-swimming, Earth is 70% water, but the interesting things happen on the other 30%. That said, it's not like it's empty. For example, here's a short list of things which we've dredged up from the sea.
  • A colossal squid, 43 feet long, and around 900 pounds.
  • A Portuguese man-of-war, that can reach 30-150 feet with its tentacles.
  • A fin whale, 80-90 feet long and weighing tons.
During World War II, the US Navy did experiments, along with the New Zealand military, into creating a "tsunami bomb" under the name Project Seal. The goal was to devastate coastal cities - which frankly is most of the important ones. Humans may not live in water, but we live near it. As Magma pointed out to me once, "there's been a city at the mouth of the Tiber for the last 10,000 years".

The program revealed that a line of explosives, about 8 megatons and 5 miles off the coast, could indeed create a tsunami. Most of the energy would be wasted hitting the continental shelf, so it was considered inefficient. But hey, you got a better idea?

The United States' Ohio-class submarines (fourteen currently active) carry Trident missiles, with eight W88 warheads. Each of these has a yield of 475 kt, so you need two such missiles to reach 8 megatons. More missiles means more explosions, and each Ohio carries 24 Trident IIs.

Remember what I was saying about giant sea monsters underwater? How hard do you think it would be for someone like Sea-czar to find and take control of an Ohio-class sub with his army of aquatic minions? The real barrier at this point is a knowledge of submarines, nuclear engineering, and hydrodynamics. But once you can do that, a single submarine lets you threaten every city in America, simultaneously, staged from depths that'd prevent anyone but the Navy from acting against you. And even they'd have a rough time.

So yeah, I'm just going to say this one more time: respect aquatic supers.

Q&A: Taking over the world edition

My observations on taking over the world (or at least a country) sparked some feedback. First, thanks for everyone who got in on the conversation.

Dr. Frogge points out: Of course any world domination scheme with a decent chance of success will be held tightly to the chest - I’m not about to release MY plans until it’s all over.

I'd expect so! Like any good caper, secrets and specifics are for you and you alone. Like anything else in this guide, my goal is to get aspiring supervillains to start thinking in certain ways about the topics important to their chosen field.

"Ambitious in Alberta" says: Between peak oil, global climate change, international unrest, and open civil war, we supervillains don't have to do anything. When the world breaks, we can come in and pick up the pieces.

Yeah - you and everyone else. I wanted to leave it implicit in the post, and I went as far as mentioning the heroes, but any world conquest plan must necessarily take your fellow supervillains into account. All it takes is for any 3-5 villains of your power level to team up and take you down, and I guarantee you there's that many for every would-be conqueror.

There, I said it. If the world falls apart, it will mean a villain civil war. Some villains will decide they liked the good life of civilization enough to protect what's left of it. Others will decide that a larger slice of this very big pie is worth a few former friends. You can bet that the long planners and clear thinkers in the villain community are looking at the scenarios you talk about and have taken plenty of steps, so if your hope is to be on the top of the food chain, you better be one of those people.

"Mexican Megalomaniac" says: Who in your opinion has come closest to world conquest, or at least world destruction?

Sore wa himitsu desu.

"Eyepatch of Power" says: Aside from the difficulties in destroying threats to your power, you sound pretty down on world conquest. What else don't you like about it?

I think running the world is the antithesis of the villain ethic. Actually keeping a world running well enough to enforce your will is a lot of work. You have to learn a lot of skills, you have to interact with a lot of people, and you're going to be tied down, making decisions, answering peoples' bullshit questions because they can't think for themselves, and just generally managing shit. You don't have time for you, because you'll be too busy.

Don't believe me? Look at before-and-after pictures of any US president, especially a two-termer. The job turns those poor bastards gray and carves deep grooves in their faces. Early in his campaign, the president who led us into Iraq (the first time) looked like your friendly grandfather. Midway through the actual war, he looked like Death warmed over. The office of the president is one of the most powerful positions on Earth, and it sucks the life out of anyone who gets close to it. Now, multiply that by 200-odd countries.

Basically, if I wanted a busy, stressful day job, I'd go get one.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How to take over a country

Since "how to take over the world" seems too lofty an ambition for any single supervillain at this time, let's talk about how to take over a country. My dog-eared copy of "The Prince" is a great book, but Machiavelli's writing style can be purple, so let me condense the important lessons down, and add a few of my own from observing people like Faduma.

Conquest of a state requires some mixture of ability, fortune, and opportunity. If this sounds like the standard of "means, motive, and opportunity" in United States criminal law, that's not accidental. Taking over power in a state is inherently an extralegal sort of thing, and it's how things got done in the United States, Israel, and the Soviet Union.

Ability here means far more than a strong super-power. It means having the skills necessary to lead large groups of people; coordinating complex plans and devise plans with sufficient contingency to cover most outcomes; successfully predicting the results of your most likely actions; and understanding the numerous perspectives that are present in any big group. If you are the sort of person who can do these things, you probably already realize it.

Fortune, these days called "luck", is just being in the right place at the right time. You can't just say "well I'll take over a country today". Circumstances have to be such that you are the best choice for that job, and that a good candidate country, with favorable political conditions, actually exists.

Opportunity means that some country exists where your particular combination of skills, powers, background, and motivation make it possible for you to step into a leadership role. Machiavelli illustrates this by saying "it was necessary to Moses that he should find the people of Israel in Egypt enslaved and oppressed by the Egyptians". You don't take over a prosperous and contented group of people. You take over a group of people who are being hard done by, and promise to fix their shitty situation. Of course, this also applies to people like Adolf Hitler - the Weimar Republic was practically begging for a man like him, and Europe collectively reaped what they had sown through the Treaty of Versailles.

So what are the ingredients for conquest?
  1. You need a country where times are tough.
  2. You need people who are ready and willing to listen to someone - possibly an outsider, if you aren't a native of the region.
  3. You need a message - something more detailed than "I will lift you up out of bondage". Find out what their biggest problems are and find something that sounds like a solution.
  4. You need a way to communicate your message to them in a way that doesn't get the existing authorities to come crush your movement.
  5. You need to distribute this message and build your support to a critical mass.
  6. You need a tipping point - a disaster, an assassination, something - that will force people on the fence to come down on one side or another, preferably your side.
  7. You need a core group of loyal followers to pick up the pieces from your tipping point and carry forward the momentum of your new order.
Let's look at Faduma and what she's doing in Somalia. Basically, the vampire queen is repeating this process in successively larger and larger circles. First her village, then her region, and eventually the whole country. She got her family together, organized them into a paramilitary squad, and ran off bandits and thieves. She fed and sheltered anyone who came to her village for aid, turned them into lesser vampires, and used them to build a base of support. She took that program to the larger region. Today she's helping deal with larger issues like qat addiction and land degradation due to poor agricultural practices.

Her people are her family, friends, and fellow Somalians, so she's got an advantage there. Her message is one of loyalty and independence. She's used targeted assassinations and vampiric conversion to great effect when dealing with the opposition. While some think that she's crazy for attacking UN troops instead of making nice to receive UN humanitarian benefits, rejecting outside aid actually raises her esteem in the locals' eyes (for complex cultural reasons). While it does mean some extra suffering, it basically solidifies her control over her people.

She is very strict on thieves - no matter who stole from who. That said, she is perfectly fine with claiming the spoils of war from anyone who attacks her, and has amassed a decent fortune in doing so. She's been using this to buy arms on the international black market. Rather than enriching herself, she's treating such income more like a long-term investment, so clearly she has a bigger vision than just making herself feel good.

Ultimately, whether Faduma becomes Somalia's ruler or not, she's got what it takes to do the job. Her example is one that I'd recommend to any aspiring super-conqueror.

Monday, August 18, 2014

How to take over the world

I've talked several times with a villainous colleague, Dark Aleph, about taking over the world. It's not something I plan to do, but she has some very specific ideas - usually centered around bio-terrorism. I don't think she can succeed, but I humor her. That said, I do think it'd be helpful for new villains to understand why taking over the world isn't something that supers can easily do. Then I'll talk about a group that disagrees with me.

What it means

"Taking over the world" means two things from a practical perspective: eliminating sources of opposition, and guaranteeing compliance with your agenda.

Eliminating sources of opposition requires that you basically destroy the command and control centers of every major world power. And the first step of that process means total nuclear disarmament.

You start with the sovereigns, aka the "nuclear club": the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, the United Kingdom, and France. Nukes are also stored in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Italy. Just to be safe, you want to sweep the former Soviet republics. Theoretically these were all transferred back to Russia, but to believe that you'd have to trust the Russians. You also have to scrub Germany, Japan, Sweden, South Africa, Taiwan, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada, all of whom are the proverbial screwdriver's turn away from having nukes.

Why nukes? Because no super has survived the blast of a multi-megaton detonation, and it's very likely that no conceivable super could do so. I know one who survived a kiloton blast, and she was intensely unhappy with the experience. If you really become a global tyrant, someone will find a way to get a suitcase nuke to go off in your face, and that's the end of that. So: no nukes.

Any country on that list is also a country that could mount a significant military opposition to your plans, so at that point you're done. After that, you mostly worry about the intelligence services of Russia and Israel, and the special forces of Germany, Britain, and South Africa.

Oh, and while you're at it, you have to kill every significant superhero out there. Good luck with that.

Guaranteeing compliance with your agenda requires that you subvert the dominant political groups active in a region, or change the culture enough that people will accept you as monarch. The former is far easier in a democracy - you take over the Parliament or the Congress or whatever, install a figurehead from the local population, and go to work. The latter is very difficult; cultural changes happen over generations, not years or months. So my advice is to follow the example of the Romans, who put local leaders in charge and just rolled in once a year to collect taxes.

Overall, you'll find this a very hard sell in democracies where the culture of freedom is strong, like America. Natives of the US will violently resist any outside attempts to control them. You find similar veins of strong nationalism in the UK (look up "euroscepticism" sometime for examples) and elsewhere.

Why it won't work

Essentially, there are too many moving parts in a real government, much less a dozen or more of them. One nuke, one assassin, one crucial betrayal, and it's all over.

Some hardcore bad guys prefer the simplicity of the alternative: depopulation. Kill 90% of the planet, they reason, and you've eliminated 90% of the opposition. Ethical considerations aside, the remaining 10% will include the leaders of government and heads of the military and intelligence apparatus, who have been planning for exactly this sort of attack for years.

The US recently released details of "Project Cycle", a set of operations that were put together between 1962 and 1972 as contingencies against a superhuman uprising. Their planning has certainly gotten better since then, and there's no unclassified reports post-1972 to figure out just what they have up their sleeves.

Even assuming you also killed off every hero that's out there - somehow - it's not like new heroes aren't being born daily. Down the road, you'll be facing someone younger and more determined than you, and possibly tougher.

Who's trying it anyway

Persistent rumors in the villain community talk about an organization known as "the Pact". These guys supposedly are working on a plan for world domination, and they have an unbeatable selling point. "Work with us," they say, "and we'll make you immortal". Don't scoff - according to the rumors, the Pact has some sort of way to resurrect the dead, provided they've been through some sort of initiation process. Even if you commit suicide in a jail cell, they say, the Pact could bring you back.

If true - and frankly, it's so incredible I don't see how it could be - then they represent probably the only group capable of true world domination. But again, it's just a rumor.

Werewolves

Short version: yeah, they're real, just like vampires.

Some junior villains felt like I pissed in their Wheaties by talking about chi powers like they aren't a real thing. I'll throw those guys a bone and talk about something that is legitimate - even if it's not what they expected. Most of what I know about werewolves comes from two sources. The first is the supervillain Wolf 359, who is one. The second is the genetic testing of the remains of a guy named Jack Gamble, buried in Providence.

Interview With a Werewolf

First, here's Wolf 359's take on lycanthropy:
Lycanthropy is the condition wherein a human becomes a wolf - or a hybrid between man and wolf. This section of the Transhuman Capability Catalog will be revised in the next edition, but currently lycanthropy is in under TCC T - adoption of animal traits. Other forms of shape-shifting exist under the blanket term "therianthropy". It is surmised that the most common animal observed is the wolf, due to the wolf's proximity to early human settlements, the fear of the wolf by the most widespread members of then-contemporary culture (farmers, ranchers, and woodsmen), and the relative merits of the wolf form versus others.
Therianthropes are Stage 3 or higher human beings. TCC T forensics indicate that animal attack is a factor in adoption of this power. The body adapts to the attacker's physical characteristics and activates savage instincts suitable for an immediate counterattack. A fascinating, if unverified, data point is that every Stage 2 who has been attacked by a therianthrope became one as well. Could this attack vector override the normal Hashmal process of power selection?
Historical Werewolves

Jack Gamble had been locked away in Rhode Island after accusations of witchcraft, but he died before the case could be heard by a judge. Unlike Salem, there wasn't a huge witch scare, so it didn't get much press. But there was enough evidence of interest that a parabiologist named Steve Hodgson received permission from the town of Providence to excavate Gamble's grave. He published his findings, which suggested that Gamble's body had both human and lupine genes. Though actual evidence of super-potential will have long since decayed, he had enough for a hypothesis.

Essentially, Hodgson speculated that Gamble was a super, and that his power let him change his body's gene expression. Only about 9% of all human DNA has meaningful gene sequences, allowing for two or three other alternate forms and the possibility of hybridization between them. Hodgson's hypothesis was later tested on DNA taken from Wolf 359, and accepted for inclusion in the TCC.

How did Jack Gamble become a werewolf? In legend, you'll find stories like people being given a magic belt by the devil. A werewolf's bite is reputed to be contagious as well. Like vampires, it's said that the victim of a werewolf attack can become a werewolf. In practice, we're not sure of the reality of this - Wolf 359 either can't or won't create more werewolves, and he's not talking about the process. I couldn't get anything else about it from him, even speculation.

The Beast of GĂ©vaudan, in France, is widely considered to be an attack by regular wolves, not actual werewolves.

The Transformation

Do you become a monster on the full moon? Apparently not. Hodgson interviewed folklorists and historians, who suggested that peasant superstition attributed occult significance to the full moon. Anything that would make someone fearful - the night, the full moon, Friday the 13th, having your ex-wife meet your mistress - would tend to trigger the transformation.

The transformation is apparently physically painful - the super's body changes its default gene expression to either full wolf or hybrid man-wolf, and then triggers a rapid regeneration cycle.

Werewolves may or may not retain their full consciousness. Because the genes being expressed can include those affecting the glands, a human brain can be overwhelmed with foreign neurochemistry.

Vulnerabilities

Pseudaconitine, the toxin which is derived from Aconitum or "wolfsbane", is a poison no matter who gets it. That said, it apparently interacts with the receptors present in a werewolf's body and not only reverts their hybrid transformation in large doses, but also interferes with the normal super's healing factor. It's been used successfully to hunt and trap Wolf 359.

Despite high hopes from Pyrepower and other young villains, apparently there is not a secret war going on between vampires and werewolves. Pyrepower also assures me that she's a member of Team Edward.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chi powers and the super-martial artist

Is there anything to "chi"? Also known as "qui", "ki", or translated variously as "breath" or "inner strength", conventional wisdom says that the feelings experienced during rigorous martial arts exercise are no more than a body producing endorphines. So do super-powered martial artists have something different? And have supers revealed the existence of a real thing called "chi"?

The short version is: anyone claiming that "chi energy" is real is trying to sell you something.

That said, there are some significant, and scary, things that supers can do with the martial arts. Let's review just a few that I've heard credible stories about.
  • The touch of death. Supposedly martial artists can "stick" to an opponent, reading their body's signals through close contact. It's a medical fact that there's a moment during the human heart beat when a brief, sharp impact will stop it. The fatality rate is estimated to be about 65%, but those are cases where the victim was in a position to receive help. I'm told that some super martial artists have keen enough senses and good enough responses to pick up on this moment and take advantage of it.
  • Walking on water or rice paper. Several supers have a metabolism which is partially or wholly supplemented by electromagnetic energy. They're able to use this to run on water, stick to surfaces the way a gecko does (via the Van der Waals force), and even leap great distances (through a combination of repulsive forces against a surface and a super-charged contraction of the leg muscles).
  • Pressure points. Like the touch of death above, the ability to "non-violently" disable a dozen men with a few light touches sounds awesome, until you remember what electrical discharges do to muscles. Now go re-read the part about supers powered by EM. Several of the TCC classifications turn you into a walking taser if you do it right.
Let's talk about a couple of supers best known for their martial arts expertise. Both of them are exceptions from the stereotype.

Diver. She's more of a ninja type than a martial artist. Her control over light and darkness are mostly used for stealth applications, but remember, she does that through manipulation of the electromagnetic force. She can probably pull off anything on this list, and several other tricks. Her "laser sword" and "laser kunai" probably make punching and kicking irrelevant in terms of doing damage, but she's the whole package.

Tao. He's more of a speedster than an EM controller, and so can't do several of the things here. He can run on water, but that's because he can shift his weight before the surface tension collapses. He has been known to do a sort of nerve strike attack, and I'm not personally sure why it works. As usual, post if you got something good.

None of the other supers I'm aware of have demonstrated some new unknown form of "chi" energy. Mundane martial artists have yet to do the same, though obviously they can do amazing things compared to untrained mundanes - the way we can kick their asses in turn.

So yeah, the long version is that while people might use the term "chi", it's not really describing an independent sort of energy. We talk about the "runner's high" in the same terms, and chi is really just a combination of that - a release of energy in the body, combined with the body's fighting potential being fully realized.

None of this should remove any of the wonder or grandeur from the idea of chi. Martial artists embody a single-minded dedication that I sometimes envy. The ability to hone their entire self - body and mind - into a living weapon, then charge it with some overriding purpose such as the pursuit of glory, the protection of others, or the perfection of their art, is an amazing thing. It makes me frankly proud to be human, and even if a guy like this is fighting me, I'll show him some respect. To me, "chi" is far more significant when it's seen as the marker of success in the practice of the martial arts. To call it some sort of external energy is like saying midichlorians produce the Force. Let it be its own thing. Let it be the reward for hard work and dedication. And do you know what "hard work" translates to in Chinese? Kung fu.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Powered armor and the scalability of "super-technology"

Astute readers have noticed that I claim we don't have super-technology. "But wait," they say. "What about armored heroes like Scrapper and Lawsuit, or villains like Gridlock?" So I'll talk about powered armor, and those heroes and villains specifically.

Scrapper

Scrapper's superpower is iron manipulation. He can mold it, shape it, cause it to flow like water, whatever. Apparently he's got unlimited amounts of the stuff, too. The armor does things that require large amounts of electricity. I did some research and courtesy of a friend up in the New York area, I got this:
Scrapper generates bioelectricity at Stage 4 levels. Suit uses induction to draw power & run systems. Suit is a modified Raytheon XOS 4 w/ battery packs removed & induction system replaced. Iron superstructure maintained by Scrapper's power & is not part of original Raytheon spec. Company rep claims XOS 4 is "on loan" for "field test". Sure.
So there's no magic here, just the usual hydraulics and superpowers we've come to expect. The suit isn't wearable by anyone else because Scrapper's powers are required to make it work.

Lawsuit

First, let me say this is the corniest hero name on record. Second, she's kind of the same deal. From my Los Angeles source:
Lawsuit is wearing a highly modified CYBERDYNE HAL X suit, built by a company in Japan. She has considerable electrical control powers and uses those to drive the suit's motors. Her machine symbiosis ability is on par with Dr. Link, formerly of the American All-Stars and now working with Persona advising its Icons team. Private sources who followed the money trail uncovered a Persona connection to CYBERDYNE, suggesting that Link himself might have had a hand in the design of the Lawsuit.
Lawsuit can't just shape iron, but she can interface with electronics mentally, so again, she's providing a good chunk of what a "super-suit" might need to work for regular people.

Gridlock

This is a matter of public record, but it hasn't been widely disseminated, so here goes. Gridlock has significant electromagnetic powers (he got his name by shutting down the LA electrical grid and I-5). He uses those to project open-air holograms and manipulate metal, and these days he prefers to assemble metal into big masses and hit people with it, dressing it up like a high-tech robot. Stories that he's a quadriplegic or quadruple amputee wearing a suit are rumors, nothing more.

Powered armor progress

For the mundanes out there who'd like to fly around in a super-suit, don't give up hope - but you aren't there yet. Companies like Raytheon and CYBERDYNE aren't alone. There's about a dozen people working on powered exoskeletons, mostly for military applications.

These companies have two things working in their favor. First, they can get durable supers to help test their inventions. Insurance for this sort of research is very favorable when nothing your machine does is physically capable of injuring its wearer. And second, they've been able to reverse-engineer the physiological adaptions of people like Brawl and try to incorporate them into their products.

They have one huge factor working against them: power. Supers generate their own energy, but a suit can't do the same. There's been discussions (on Wavelength, natch) about how super-blood will be kept in a container in the suit and harnessed for this purpose, but that's not realistic even if someone could make it work. Until someone creates a really efficient generator that can fit into a power suit, their applications and power will be limited.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Apprentices of note: Pyrepower

Since Pyrepower did a big favor for me the other day (not that kind, fan fiction writers, sorry), I thought I'd do something in return: give her a little more exposure (again, not that kind). So here's my favorite apprentice's secret origin.

Pyrepower got her start a few years back. She lived in Texas. She was on track to be valedictorian at her high school. She had great grades, plans for college, you name it. But she was Stage 2 by then, so of course she was doing better than her peers.

She was going to be the designated driver for her group, who were all going to a big post-football party - pigskin being a very big deal in her town. They went to the party, they had fun. She wasn't really the "party girl" type. The football team was all there, natch, and they were all drinking, natch. They pretty much had their pick of girls, and most of them went upstairs with the girl (or girls) they wanted at the party.

One of Pyre's friends wasn't interested in the attention from one of the jocks, so she asked for a ride home. Pyre said okay, she'd go get the car. They drove away. The jock piled into his car with a few other friends and took off after them - motives uncertain, but probably guessable. On the road, they crashed, and Pyre's car went off the road. She was trapped in the wreck and burned alive, transitioning to Stage 3 in the process. Her friend apparently got out but passed out, and was hospitalized. The jocks were shaken up, but not seriously injured.

Pyre's body was still transforming and healing itself. She woke up in the hospital a few days later. Her friend was on medication and being treated for burns and smoke inhalation. In the meantime, the jock had given a statement to the police that Pyre had been drunk and hit their car instead. The cops bought it - pigskin being a very big deal in their town - and let the guy go without any warning or fine, even though it was clear they'd been drinking.

So our girl is accused of drunk driving, her insurance company refuses to cover anything, her parents are totally upset with her, and her chances at giving the valedictory go up in smoke. She spent 17 agonizing hours recovering from being charred literally to the bone, and she was not happy.

So she goes after the jock and his friends in a big way. This is where I come in. I'd like to say I was coincidentally in the area, but I get a news feed of likely or confirmed Stage 3 transitions and I headed down to see what was going on. I stop her before she burns them alive in their own car, because I'm a nice guy like that.

"He's going to play football!" she screamed at me. "My life was ruined, and he's going back to play football!" Well, this seemed unfair to me, so I had her tell me her story. I checked it out a little bit - trust, but verify, you know? - and told her, fine, we'll come up with something.

So we go back to the jock - well, she goes, and I hitch a ride in shrunken form to observe - and she lays out the deal we worked out. Life for life. She didn't die, neither does he. But it's not fair that he gets off because he's a football dude and she's an academic, so she's gonna give him a choice. Fess up about what really happened that night, or she's going to break his legs so he can't play, and whenever he's healed up, she'll come back and break them again. I credit the movie "Casino" with the idea.

Our boy agreed to the deal and said he'd confess. A few days of nothing and one broken leg later, he realized that keeping his word was a good idea and came clean. Of course there was no going back for Pyrepower at that time, but she wanted nothing more to do with these people anyway. She had a lot of unexpressed anger that was going to take time to bubble up and deal with. I told her that since was 18, she was an adult, and she could do what she liked. If she didn't have job prospects (her impending DUI conviction, and the assault charges, saw to that), I'd offer her on-the-job training. I explained my version of villainy. Professional lawbreaker was a hard sell at first, but she discovered she had a taste for it.

I got her into some therapy for the trauma and the anger management. We picked a code name. I wanted something else, but she said Pyrefly was too goofy. She doesn't believe me when I say the shortened name sounds like "peepee" and is embarrassing. I'm happy to say that she's doing good, she's furthering her studies, and she's not just perpetrating violence and theft all her life. She's a good kid, and I'm proud to have her as an apprentice.

----

My short name is Pyre, not PP.

----

You're welcome to think whatever makes you happy, kid.

Movement powers: phasing

Probably the best known user of phasing powers is the hero Covenant, and I can't interview that guy. So here's some speculation and second-hand information.

Important note for active supervillains: contrary to reports, I believe that the Icons member Diver does not have phasing powers, despite her attempts to cultivate the impression that she does. Apparently it's all an illusion generated by her light and invisibility powers, so don't be fooled!

Phasing

Phasing is the act of moving through solid matter without disturbing it - basically, you're a ghost. I was looking for a better name for this, because supers with phasing would have to be called phasers, and this isn't Star Trek. Oh well, screw it.

This is one of the more subtle powers, because not everyone has an opportunity to see you do it. If you are able to phase (I'm not saying phaser here, people!), and you can get away with not revealing it, try not to - it makes a fantastic trump card.

Defenses against phasing

The physical basis for this power is poorly understood. The Transhuman Capability Catalog tentatively calls it a subclass of electromagnetic control, based on the theory that the super is flooding the atoms of his body, and whatever he's passing through, with enough energy to move their electrons into higher orbitals and give the Pauli principle room to work. There's some quantum weirdness past this point which I don't feel qualified to discuss.

This opens the door to some sort of anti-phasing defense, though. Some sort of metamaterial where electrons are already super-charged, or a macro-molecule (a large carbon nanotube for example) where the atoms' electrons are already in a fixed energy state, might resist phasing. I'm not aware of anybody that has actually deployed this sort of defense, but if you hear of one, let me know.

Moving and other considerations while phasing

In general, people don't worry about falling through the floor while phasing. Their bodies develop a mechanism to push off of nearby atoms electromagnetically while in the phased state, and their subconscious mind takes care of doing what their conscious mind seems to want. They can walk up or down stairs, "climb" through solid material, then step out onto a solid support.

From the interviews I've read, people have described it as feeling like swimming. Virtually every phasing-capable super (still not saying it) has developed an adaption for breathing, and some have shown adaptions to high-pressure conditions, the way aquatic supers have.

As a defense mechanism, phasing isn't perfect. It takes effort and energy to maintain the phased state, so weaker users (not saying it...) must still defend themselves from bullets and such in the usual way - by not getting shot. Stronger supers can just stand there and let the lead go through their bodies.

I have yet to see a battle between two such supers, so I have no idea how their powers will interact. That said, I'm sure it'd be interesting.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Q&A: Why is 9/11 so significant?

I sometimes get asked - always by supers - "what is the significance of 9/11?" They think that just because there have been violent supervillain attacks in the United States, that a couple of towers coming down shouldn't be a big deal.

9/11 was a big deal for the same reason that the OKC bombing was a big deal: it was done by mundanes. Don't know why this matters? Let me break it down.

Super-terrorism

When a supervillain knocks down a building, it starts a very definite chain of events. The Feds get involved, because any violent crime involving powers is automatically flagged as an act of terror. That opens the floodgates of Federal money, Federal law enforcement resources, and Federal jurisdiction. Next, whoever perpetrated that shit gets his ass nailed to the wall if the local heroes, ACTION, the FBI, or whoever can do it. Next, the owners of the building that got aced call their insurance company's claim representative, hand over the ACTION paperwork, and get paid. Next, the insurance company files the paperwork to put a lien on any stolen property the supervillain had that could have been recovered. Finally, they call up some local outfit, like the MTF, and ask them to do repairs. Again, this usually comes out of ACTION's budget, and is paid for by the American taxpayer. Democrats love this because it gives them an excuse to raise taxes. Republicans love this because it lets them appear tough on crime. Independents hate it, because I dunno, nobody votes them into office so they'll bitch about anything.

What you should have noticed about this sequence is that it's very cut-and-dried, and it centers around one guy - the villain. The Man just has to mobilize some force, ride in like the Lone Ranger, and put boot to neck. Americans lap this shit up like sweet, sweet candy. You think it's a coincidence we're a nation of cowboys? America saves the day in a big, visible way, and that makes everyone happy. Furthermore, it's preventable! You just lock that villain up, and you lock up any other villains you come across, and voila, no more buildings go tumbling down.

The invisible enemy

Now we go back to 9/11. Who did it? It took weeks, months, or years to puzzle it all out. It was the sort of crime that could have been done by anybody with the right motivation. It's the sort of crime that could still be done, despite the security theater the government has put in place since then. It's the sort of crime that an awful lot of people want to do, because of America's absolutely racist, intolerant, violent policies toward other countries. The CIA overthrow the democratically elected government of a country, put a man in place to keep the oil running, and then pundits and hawks talk about bombing them because they don't like Americans for some reason. Imagine!

There's no villain here to lock up. There's no bright costume to point at and say "it was that guy". And deep down, the people in power, and the American citizen, know that they're out of their depth. All of America's mechanisms for dealing with super-crime are useless against an enemy without a face. It costs millions to incarcerate a single super-villain, but it will cost trillions to fully prosecute a war against who America thinks its enemies are - and that war will create still more.

In short, America is dealing with an invisible, intangible, infinitely large enemy that it created, and that grows stronger with every attack. Wouldn't you be afraid?

Veteran villains' reactions

Why were veteran villains like me horrified by 9/11? Why did you see pictures of Professor Pulsar on television, weeping tears through his mask? First is obviously the wholesale loss of life. Few villains are willing to kill so many civilians, and many - I hope most - of us prefer not to murder civilians at all. But secondly, we recognized immediately, like the American All-Stars did, what must have happened, and what it would mean.

The stress of dealing with this new reality tore the All-Stars apart and paved the way for the formation of hero teams like the Icons and Team Lambda. Villains have felt the backlash in different ways. The upgraded security apparatus that America put in place has focused more scrutiny on us, the way it's focused on everyone and everything else. That's one more reason we dress in colorful costumes and battle heroes in casual slug-fests. We know what "serious" looks like, and none of us are eager for the hammer to come down. Pageantry and sportsmanship is better than an angry Fed.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Movement powers: teleportation

I asked Exodus, probably the most powerful teleporter on the planet, to do a short piece on the hows and whys of this form of super-movement, but he said it was "boring", and Pyrepower wasn't willing to provide the "accommodation" he asked for in return for his services, so screw him. Instead, I'll talk about what is known (or suspected) about teleportation.

Teleportation

Larry Niven's "The Theory and Practice of Teleportation" gives us the obvious definition: "Teleportation is any method of moving from point to point in negligible time". Published in 1971, it included some speculation on psychic and mechanical teleportation. With the emergence of Apollo in 1962, it was hoped that provable psychic teleportation would eventually lead to a mechanical substitute. So far, no dice. Keep hoping, misfits.

Nobody is really sure exactly how teleportation really works. Most of the people who can teleport aren't interested in sticking around to be studied. It's one of the strongest arguments in favor of a radical new cosmology. Maybe we'll get there once a professional scientist develops the power.

Lairs

If you can teleport, your lair is anywhere you want. Seriously, I don't even want to write this section.

That said, your best bets for lairs are abandoned salt mines, underground cave systems, abandoned military complexes, and that sort of thing. It usually takes some doing to find a secure location, so the hardest part about constructing such a lair will be research. Also remember that many such places will need ventilation or may have problems such as chemicals, radiation, or other contamination. To stay safe, educate yourself.

Slightly less exotic lairs can be constructed in hard-to-reach areas such as northern Alaska, Siberia, or the Antarctic.

Defenses against teleportation

We don't have force fields or weird alloys or anything that's likely to keep teleporters from entering a place. This leads to tightened sphincters from strategic defense thinkers and law enforcement types, and it's not likely to change in the future.

That said, there are ways to stop teleporters, but they're costly. Exodus was first caught because he blabbed about his next target to a cute girl who happened to be a Fed. They flooded the complex with an aerosol version of a "generic" (non-tailored) power-suppression drug, harmless to mundanes, and he finally took a Taser to the face once he actually teleported in and couldn't get out again. From what I hear, it cost them about $1.5 million, and they still couldn't keep him locked up for long.

Contrary to public opinion and popular fiction, teleporters don't necessarily need "line of sight" to hit their targets. Just how they reach their target varies from teleporter to teleporter, but an opaque wall isn't always going to work. That said, seeing where you're going is definitely safer.

Conservation of momentum and energy

Niven's article asserted that conservation laws must hold. Apparently they don't - teleporters can and have moved between altitudes or inertial frames of reference without difficulty.

I had a conversation with one teleporter (Papa Legba), who described the act of teleportation as "going out" and "coming in". He mentioned "the rushing of the wind that is not wind". When I asked him if you could "go out" without "coming in" again, he just laughed, and it was not a fun sound to hear. The impression that I got was that conservation issues are dealt with in the passage through the medium he hinted at - teleportation isn't a straightforward bridge between two points in space. Or that guy could just be off his rocker.

Teleportation as the ultimate killing tool?

Teleporters, generally, can't just pull someone's heart out of their chest. Current physics suggests that whatever teleporters do requires a clear energy differential - which is good if you want to teleport someone along with you and you do so by grabbing hold of them, but bad if you want to be selective. Apparently the "force" that teleportation exerts is stronger than gravity but weaker than intermolecular forces.

In layman's terms, a typical teleport can't pull your wallet out of your pocket, or your heart from your chest, but he can drag you somewhere if he grabs hold of you. Higher-powered teleporters, like Exodus, have been observed selectively teleporting objects away from people, even at extreme ranges - Exodus himself was able to pull a pair of pistols out of a man's hands from across the planet.

None of this really matters since you can just teleport a mundane 500 feet in the air and drop them, of course. Supers are another matter, but aren't we always?

The ability to rapidly teleport works a little like a speedster's powers, from what I am told - you basically "program" your mind and your subconscious does the rest. This is how Papa Legba is able to do his notorious "crossroads walk" and visit hundreds of places in a few minutes. Some teleporters have done similar tricks while in combat, moving rapidly and disrupting an enemy unit's formation.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Movement powers: super-speed

Speedsters are an odd lot. Their powers are misunderstood and sometimes controversial. To set the record straight, I've asked veteran villain speedster Hurricane Hal to talk about this. I've done some editing of the text, with his permission.

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Hey all, Hal here. Mr. Big and I go back a few years and I was very flattered to be asked to talk about what I do. And what I do is run! Let's talk about speedsters:

We don't think radically faster than most people. Super-speed isn't time acceleration. Instead, we're moving our bodies faster. This is a combination of force control, muscular adaptions to moving very fast, and alterations to the nervous system. Our subconscious minds do process motion at super-speeds, but there's plenty of evidence that it happens thanks to the myelin substitutes you'll find in speedsters' brains rather than some kind of time-related power.

We don't perceive things at higher rates. Let me see if I can describe what it's like. When you fire a gun, you take aim, you track your target, but the bullet is off and doing its own thing the moment you pull that trigger. Now instead of a gun, imagine that the bullet is your body. You aim your mind at an objective by focusing on what you want, where you plan to move, whatever, and you commit to it. There's a brief moment of disorientation and it's done. Sometimes the subconscious will do its own thing - speedsters can and have dodged bullets without thinking about it, for example. But we notice all these things after the fact.

We don't send up huge currents of air around us - though we can. Most speedsters have a limited amount of control over the air surrounding their bodies, enough to keep us from being burned alive by friction. We create a slipstream effect that puts the air back where it was once we've gone past. Skilled speedsters learn to use this control to guide the slipstream laterally and create a huge gust of wind as we go by.

We don't age quicker or eat more. Some speedsters might develop a large appetite, but research shows that it's mostly psychosomatic. Their bodies feel the calorie burn and produce feelings of hunger. As we get more used to our powers, those cravings fade. A lot of speedsters I know don't even eat food except as a hobby - our bodies metabolize something else.

Obstacles in our path can still kill us. Someone asked me if I could run through walls. I said yeah - if I wanted to die! You've still built up a tremendous amount of momentum and delivering it to a solid object will very definitely hurt. That said, the slipstream will divert things like water vapor, so I don't die if I run through a rainstorm. If it would hurt you to run through something, it'll hurt a lot more to run through it faster, plain and simple!

Super-speed punches don't work like you think. Speedster fans like speculating about a super-fast person who could run up to a target and punch them, claiming that the momentum will do a lot more damage. Yeah - that works! Unfortunately the damage goes both ways. Newton's Third Law of Motion still works, and you'll break your arm. So let me tell you the secret to super-punches.

Linear momentum is a vector quantity, calculated as p = mv. That's mass times velocity. For example, say that you (a burly 100 kg) sprint (5 meters per second, or about 11 mph) at me and punch me. Your momentum is 100 * 5, or 500 kg m/s. The dominant factor is your mass, no duh. Big men have been kicking sand in the face of the macs at the beach for millennia, everyone knows this.

But instead of punching me with your fist, say that you're a speedster using your slipstream control to punch me with air. You push the air forward just before you connect. The mass of a cubic foot of air is about 0.03 kg, which at the above speeds is negligible - 0.03 * 5 is 0.15, orders of magnitude less. It's a breeze. But you're not moving at that speed, and you're not just moving air normally. I can reach Mach 10 with a good punch, and the slipstream effect is another order of magnitude in effectiveness. That makes my momentum calculation to be 0.03 * 34000, or 1020 - twice the punching power of our typical man at a sprint! And I can do that several times a second. Yes, I can tear through rock and steel without too much effort if I want to. And by the way, the slipstream works on water too, which is a lot heavier than air.

My advice to people interested in fighting hand-to-hand as speedsters is "don't" - there's far more effective uses of your power in combat. But if this is your thing - and it is incredibly flashy and intimidating if you can do it - then I strongly suggest learning a martial art that focuses on fast strikes, so you can build up the necessary muscle memory to do it at super-speed. American Kenpo, Kajukenbo, and Baguazhang all teach fast hand strikes. Wing Chun is a great style, because of its fast strikes, but also because the style works with relaxed muscles and that's how speedsters operate.

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Mr. Big here again. Thanks for the contribution, Hal!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Movement powers: swimming

Today I want to talk about one of the under-respected superpowers an aspiring villain can have, which is amphibious adaption or super-swimming.

Swimming

Like flight, there's definite limits past which unmodified humans can't go without risking long-term injury or death. Ordinary air mixtures can't take a diver past about 250 feet, while a modified rebreather allows a distance closer to 750 feet. Navy divers have gone down as far as 2,000 feet in special suits. The only contenders for truly deep dives are specially designed submarines or mini-subs, like the Trieste (36,000 feet). By comparison, heroes like Pelagos have reported unaided dives to 20,000 feet and have probably gone deeper. I have second-hand knowledge of villains like the Deep One and Sea-czar who have reached - and sometimes casually hang out in - the Hadal zone at the lowest level of the ocean.

That's pretty incredible if you stop and think about it. That's 1000 times the pressure of the atmosphere. A mundane would be crushed flat. Even the specially designed subs meant to reach such depths will start breaking down, and it takes hours for them to get down and back again. So why do aquatic supers get a bad rap? "Earth is 70% of water", they say, which is true. The reason is that the interesting parts only happen in that other 30%, because that's where the humans are. So how do you make the most out of an affinity for water?

Lair placement

Like flying, only more so, the ability to reach depths of 1000 feet or greater basically immunizes you from conventional pursuit. Unlike flight, you have nearly infinite options for lair location - you aren't restricted to mountains, you can just dive and dive and dive until you find something you like. For this reason, aquatic villains are nearly impossible to track down. Conventional radio transmitters will cease working quickly if you were tagged for some reason, and satellite tracking isn't an option for governments or military trackers.

It's not completely awesome. Villains on teams, or who want to take a prisoner, mistress, etc. home with them, are out of luck - unless you can grant your ability to someone else, your lair is for you alone.

Caper options

Aquatic villains tend to build capers around the following:
  • Piracy on the high seas. Surprisingly lucrative - unlike mundane pirates, depending on the cargo, you can just sink the ship, let the crew abandon ship, and salvage the cargo from underwater. Not always an option, of course. Sea-czar got around this by actually flipping ships, which left the cargo hold high and dry but obviously screwed the crew up but good.
  • Use of waterways as an approach or getaway tactic. Villains have operated everywhere from Venice to the Mississippi river by sneaking up on their target, doing the job, then swimming away.
  • Storage of valuables in unexpected places. Watch the 2003 "Italian Job" for some ideas here - the thieves drop a safe into the canals, then send a decoy speedboat to lure the cops away while two guys crack the safe underwater. Similarly, the "Kraken Skulls" villain duo would steal fully loaded tractor-trailers. Skulls would drive the truck off a dock into the water, and Kraken would retrieve its contents.
  • Use of water as an area denial tactic. This isn't something you can do in every time or place, of course. The Deep One was fond of blowing dams, then swimming through the drowned areas and looting whatever he could.
Some specific considerations for underwater capers:
  • If you are driving vehicles off docks and the like, remember that the weight of the engine will tend to pull a car down nose first, and probably flip it. Big rigs do the reverse, since most of the weight is in the trailer.
  • When working with a team, remember that you probably can't just communicate freely with them. Some teams are accustomed to a secure radio hookup. In such cases, the underwater members can buy specialized wireless transceivers and similar gear from companies like Ocean Technology Systems. OTS also sells ComRope for wired communication, if you are worried about having your comms sniffed.
  • Dive watches (ISO 6425 compliant) are rated for a specific depth, and they're getting better. If you need to schedule your capers, or otherwise just keep track of the time, make sure it's clearly marked as a diver's watch.
  • The magic distance for bullet penetration is about 8 feet. Get deeper than this, and people shooting at you from the surface are out of luck. If they're using assault rifles or something, it's more like 10 feet. By comparison, the canals in Venice are fairly shallow - 6 feet or less. The grand canal is closer to 15, but it's still a tight fit.
That's it for aquatic operations! Remember that there are no stupid or useless powers, only stupid or useless supers.

Late Addendum

"Pacific Pirate" writes in to talk about the subject of sonar detection. I'll let her message speak for itself:
Mr. Big, you talked about detection for flyers, but not for us aquatic types. The thing every super-swimmer has to know about once they wade out of the kiddie pool and into blue water is thermoclines. 
Thermoclines are layers in the water that reflect sonar. They're created by temperature differential. They're found at specific depths - you can feel one as you swim through it. They're crucial for us because of the use of hydrophones and sonar is becoming more prevalent. Modern hydrophones are sensitive enough to pick up a typical super-swimmer within a few miles. That may seem like a lot, but it's not when you're diving. Still, it's a problem. Passing through a thermocline hides you from these instruments. 
Understanding sonar in general is probably useful too, so here's some additional information.
Sonar is being used to repair trans-oceanic cables, find oil deposits for offshore drilling, look for wrecks, and gather geological data for volcano monitoring. It's also being used to find our underwater bases, and track us. Side-scan sonar will pick up protrusions from the sea bed immediately. If you plan to build an underwater base, find a cave system, or burrow into the surface if you can. Building a structure up from the sea bed will be spotted. This is only an issue if someone has scanned the area before and can do a comparison, of course. When in doubt, do some research and see if you can find evidence of prior scans. 
Thanks for the shout-out, and good luck with your guide!

Movement powers: flight

I'm doing a series on alternate movement forms available to supers. Some of these things you will have figured out already, or really should have. Others might be new.

Flight

Flight is the dream of man. Gods, wizards, and ancient heroes were all able to muster this power in the stories. A lot of supers have it, via a lot of different options: control over fundamental forces like gravity, some sort of force field or barrier, actual wings, and so on. Almost all supers who can fly also have the required secondary powers necessary to use it effectively: resistance to oxygen deprivation, extreme cold, and so on.

The red line for humans is about 26,000 feet. Past that, an unmodified human will basically suffocate to death because they can't take in enough air to oxygenate their blood. Tibetan natives and other people have shown actual evolutionary adaptions to these conditions, and high-flying supers either share similar traits or possess alternate mechanisms (such as long-term oxygen storage, like whales, or even independent systems for sustaining cells that doesn't require oxygen at all).

Lair placement

Flying supervillains have found it advantageous to build their lairs on mountains. The top ten tallest mountains in the United States are all found in Alaska: Mount McKinley, Mount Saint Elias, Mount Foraker, Mount Bona, Mount Blackburn, Mount Sanford, Mount Fairweather, Mount Hubbard, Mount Bear, and Mount Hunter. Colorado is the big winner for those who prefer the continental United States, with peaks at the 14,000 foot mark throughout the Front Range and Sawatch Range. Such lairs are largely impregnable without serious effort, and to date, no such lairs have been successfully raided by mundane law enforcement. They have been successfully hit by heroic supers, though - you're not the only one who can fly, so beware!

Detection

It's been observed that people aren't accustomed to look up when searching for someone. That's usually true, but military and elite law enforcement teams are getting better training these days, so don't count on just floating on the ceiling. What you can count on is getting to hiding places that nobody can effectively search, even if they suspect your presence.

In general the human body cannot be detected on air traffic control radar, military aircraft radar, and the like. Long-range targeting systems will find it a challenge to pick you up. Sophisticated thermal sensors, motion sensors, and anti-missile systems are all built to pick up small, fast-moving objects - that's you, by the way - so you're not totally undetectable while flying.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Elemental powers and the Hashmal process

I love working with newbie villains. They always ask the questions that get you thinking, or at least show that they're thinking. Here's my favorite from Pyrepower.

"Rock and fire aren't on the periodic table. The four elements are magical, but if there's no magic, why can some people only control those things?"

The Aristotelian or "classical" elements are air, earth, fire, and water. Control of these elements is common enough that the Transhuman Capability Catalog has a whole section (TCC E) for people who manipulate them. So far there's no known instances of controlling "aether" or "akasha", probably because such things have no physical analogue. Notably, there are fewer wind-controllers in China and more people who control metal and wood, which are the classical elements familiar to Chinese.

During a stage transition, the body struggles to adapt to the trauma that's been inflicted, and is usually still being inflicted - for example, being in a burning car wreck. The powers that you get from that experience are often (but not always) powers that will save your life immediately and forestall future incidents of that type. Someone who is badly burned will get fire powers. Someone drowning or being crushed by pressure can get water powers. That sort of thing.

The really neat - and scary - thing is that your body seems to know what's causing the trauma, on a macro-level. It recognizes the problem from a holistic perspective and adapts. Most parabiologists believe in the Stubbs-Robur hypothesis, which basically says that people have the potential for a range of powers, and that the brain is constantly (and unconsciously) sending out activation signals to the body's cells for those powers. When the mitochondria in those cells reach an energy production threshold, the signals are allowed through and your new powers manifest. Most of these powers will concern the fundamental forces (electromagnetism, gravity, the strong and weak forces), and as soon as your brain feels the danger has passed, activation signal production ceases. Any limitations on the power from then on are based around your subconscious blocks, not around the mitochondria.

In layman's terms, you get as strong as you need to be to break out of danger, and no stronger. And you get only the power you need, not something more generic. This makes sense from a biological perspective, but it sucks for those of us who wouldn't mind a buffet of godlike abilities and are stuck with something specific. Since the classical elements are ingrained into your subconscious thanks to your education and upbringing, often your brain will accept the limited form of power that controls those elements.

Professor Pulsar described it to me like being an Olympic athlete. There's Olympic-caliber runners, jumpers, cyclists, shot-putters, archers, yadda yadda. But the specific things about their bodies that make them Olympic-caliber for their sport aren't the same. Look at the abs of a top-quality runner vs. a top-quality bodybuilder some time and you'll see what I mean. There's no "general athleticism" quality. In the same way, everyone's power development tends toward the specialized. The body doesn't know you'll want a big spectrum of powers for later, it's concerned with keeping you alive now, and it adapts accordingly.

I do know a guy who tried to work this system. He used hypnosis and conditioning to try and deeply convince himself that a certain type of power would be the most appropriate response to any sort of injury. I know what happened to him, but I won't talk about that here. Buy me a drink some time and I'll let you know how it turned out.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Q&A: Breaking into movies

"Hollywood Hopeful" writes:

Mr. Big, I got a lucrative offer from an unnamed studio to do special effects for, and star in, some of their upcoming science fiction movies! They are promising to work with me to obtain amnesty for previous villainy. Is this legit, and should I take it?

This is not the first time I've heard something like this. While I can say that some such offers are legitimate, I can't say that most are, and certainly not whether this one is.

Is it a good deal for the studio?

I did some research on this, because I was curious. The VFX budget for a film these days can be something like 20 to 50 million dollars, and double that for an effects-intensive film (like some scifi). This money goes to building a rendering pipeline, hiring about 150-250 people for six to twelve months, software costs, training, HR and other overhead, and so on. If you're hiring an established effects house, they'll have soaked some of this cost themselves thanks to earlier productions, but they might also not be available when you come knocking. Either way, you're talking about 10 to 100 million dollars.

Top-drawer law firms are billing at $1000 an hour these days. A supervillain who recently went through this process with his legal team told me that they estimated about 200 hours of billable work for preparation of a case, and another 200 hours in the courtroom (about 25 nonconsecutive days). The whole process was going to take 1 to 2 years of calendar time, but most of that is the court's schedule being busy, and the lawyers would go about their other business during that time. Since the law firm probably averages 2000 billable hours a year, handling 10 cases a year, this sounds about right to me.

The studio - if it is serious - will see $400,000 as a line item expense, compared to their overall budget for a single film. If they expect to have you under contract, and I expect they will, they'll amortize this cost over several pictures. If your powers are good enough to replicate even 10% of the visual effects they want, and you're able to work as quickly as they want, it's totally worth it to them.

Is it a good deal for you?

Former villains get a tremendous range of responses from the public. For some, a villain will always be a villain, screw that guy. Even if your interest in reformation is genuine, some people will simply never accept you. If many such people are on the crew of the films you'll be working on, it will be a painful, miserable process, and you will have the Feds up your ass at every moment of the production, waiting for you to make a single slip-up. That's the biggest risk.

If you're looking at a movie career strictly from an economic perspective, it's not that great compared to professional villainy. By hours worked, you can make 5-10 times as a villain what you'll be making on this gig, even if they pay you what they'd budget for VFX. They won't - the point of hiring you is to save all that money, so they'll probably try to negotiate an hourly with you, along with penalties for late delivery of the effects.

If you're looking at it from a quality of life perspective, it's up to you. Maybe villainy wasn't your thing, and that's totally okay. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise - you should do what you feel is best for your life.

Is the offer legit?

This is the biggie, isn't it. There's ways to find this out, though. Don't take any of this as legal advice. My information may be out of date, so talk to a lawyer.

Did you see "Argo"? The CIA smuggled a guy into Iran by setting up a fake film, and a lot of money was spent making all of that happen. Be sure you aren't worth a similar amount of investment.

Get a contract. Even if you're under indictment, you still have rights. You can sign a legal contract with the studio, and have them pony up some money. Not to you - any assets under your name can be seized by the Feds to cover your crimes. Instead, you want to establish a LLC - limited liability company - that will be paid to deliver the effects work, and you'll be hired by the LLC for this work. If the studio pays out an advance to the LLC, it was worth it to them to appear genuine.

Get specifics on who's handling your amnesty case. Call them up and get confirmation. Once you have an actual court date for the pre-hearing, the US government is in the process, and most judges don't like to be dicked around by the Feds. If it's gone this far, it's probably legit.

Conclusion

This sounds like it could be a good thing for you, if you're interested in the job. To recap, expect to be in this for the long haul; expect that it could be a scam and find out for sure; and make the legal system work for you for a change.

Good luck!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blog will be back tomorrow!

Mr. Big had to go throw down today, and some suckers got served. I'll be back on duty with the guide tomorrow!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Villain Morality: Supervillain's Code

I've talked about religious and political systems a bit. I'm going to toot my own horn a little bit and talk about what I consider the ideal moral system for supervillains. Without further ado, here's Mr. Big's Code of Villain.

The supervillain's first duty is to know how to fight. All other rights or privileges may be removed by force, and can ultimately be defended by force. Know when not to fight, but be prepared to fight anyway. Knowing the proper use of your powers is part of effective fighting.

The supervillain's second duty is to his good name. Your reputation will compel respect or mockery, love or fear. Honor your word whenever you've given it. Never give your word unless it's the only price that will buy you what you want.

Don't kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Don't draw all the water from the well. Sooner or later, you will need the civilian population, the local economy, your friends, your enemies. Give, when you can afford to be generous. Take, but do not exhaust. Commit crimes, but not atrocities.

Be respectful of the powerful. Be understanding of the weak. You have a place in the world's hierarchy. Move up it whenever you can, but don't force yourself or you'll regret it.

Aside from these things, there's the two-word advice I give to any aspiring supervillain, or anyone else for that matter:

Be practical. If something isn't working, stop doing it! If what you're doing now isn't working very well, try something new!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Villain Morality: Objectivism

Villains who read "Atlas Shrugged" might identify with the protagonist characters: powerful, smart, sexy, and separated from the masses. The dedicated reader might move on to learn more about Objectivism, the philosophy developed by the author.

Objectivism's core tenet is that knowledge and values are objective (hence the name). What most people think of, though, is Objectivism's views on altruism (uniformly negative) and the free market (uniformly positive). Ayn Rand was born and educated in Russia, but moved to the United States in her youth. Apparently she fell in love with capitalism on the way, and her experiences growing up soured her on any sort of collectivism or communism.

"My philosophy is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his own absolute," she writes. Most supervillains could get on board with the first half, and are still with you depending on how you define "productive". Many budding Objectivists would not be fine to hear that Rand sharply criticized "hedonists" and "whim-worshipers", which describes a lot of villains I could name. Plus, Objectivism regards the initiation of force as immoral, which, y'know, is what we do all day.

I don't think it's correct to classify Rand's philosophy as prizing "selfishness" the way most people think of it today. Rand promoted people doing useful things - but they were simply expected to also get paid for it. Her heroes are titans of industry, builders, manufacturers, and so on. They contributed to the greater good of society, but Rand was very insistent that all such contributions be justly rewarded by the free market. Because of this, Objectivism is actually much more of a superhero thing.

Rand's feelings on the free market are a little more accessible for villains, since a black market, backed up enough powerful crime kingpins to keep everything fair (except for them) is as close to a "free" market as you can probably hope to get. Government regulation, international trade, and so on put a very big thumb on the scale when it comes to legal markets.

All told, the more cynical of us regard Objectivism, and Rand's works promoting its ideals, as a sort of capitalism fan fiction. The philosophy encodes many of Rand's particular quirks (Murray Rothbard relates a story in "The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult" that one of her followers considered smoking to be a moral obligation of the system) and she was very clearly the person at the center of the system, rather than one promoter of many. It's ironic that her worst experiences in Russia would later be mirrored in the Objectivist community, such as periodic "purges" (though presumably non-fatal ones).

Rand's efforts to promote Objectivism were ultimately successful enough to get the attention of people like the chairman of the Federal reserve, and prominent senators and VP candidates. If appealing to the interests of such people is part of your program as a villain, you should give some thought to learning more about Objectivism. But since the Fed chief testified that he'd badly misjudged what business greed would do to the American economy, I'd advice giving Rand's advice on capitalism a pass.

Objectivism continues today under new management, and has changed direction a few times since Rand's death. Like a buffet, the aspiring supervillain may not like everything that's on the menu, but may find enough to fill a plate.