Welcome back nerds, geeks, and hopelessly lost normal folk! I’m doing something outside my usual formats this week and writing an ode to my favorite kind of comic book super-villain: the costumed mercenary.
Wait, What Kind of Villain?
Whether they are a mob hitman with a super-whip, corporate security with a cold gun, shape-shifting biker ninja terrorists for hire, or a raving lunatic with an over-active healing factor and inconsistent moral standards, these are the super-baddies that are in it purely for the cash. Hypothetically, the G. I. Joe team could hire the likes of Zartan, Major Bludd, and Firefly away from Cobra for the right price and Iron Man could turn Justin Hammer’s super-villain army into his corporate security force, but the good guys just don’t fight evil with their checkbooks.
There are some super-heroes that do it for the money, Silver Sable and Paladin coming to mind most immediately, and even more anti-heroes for hire (Deathstroke, Deadpool, Lobo, any merc that’s headlined their own book), this is primarily the domain of the bad guys.
What Makes Them Interesting?
They are comic books at their most comic book (well, without getting into aliens and monsters). Here in the real world, we’ve seen masked bank robbers armed with entirely more ordinance than is necessary (admittedly, not exploding boomerangs) to rob a bank fight it out with cops. We’ve seen a disturbed man with oddly colored hair massacre innocent people for no real reason. And REAL serial killers get famous based on gimmicks, up to and including wearing a mask and taunting the police.
But so far as I know, real life hitmen and mercenaries don’t do that. Most hitmen are desperate, lowlife losers who get caught quickly. Even if John Wick-esque hired killers did exist, they wouldn’t be decked out in a gaudy costume with a single, easily recognized gimmick – that’s a great big flashing neon sign that says “arrest me” if ever there was. And Blackwater’s not arming their contractors with bleeding edge sci-fi style weaponry and I’d be shocked if they permitted broadswords to be used on duty.
There is no style of “normal” human comic book villain that is less realistic than the costumed mercenary. They are, conversely, the most likely to arise if superhuman powers became a reality – if mutants were real, I promise you that Erik Prince would be hiring them to fight overseas. They’re not petty bank robbers or terrifying homicidal maniacs or corrupt businessmen in power armor, they’re competent professionals that happen to dress like a bird or wear a one-piece spandex uniform. No matter who they’re working for, they’ll show up and fight the likes of Batman or Spider-Man…as long as the money is in their swiss account.