Evil Organizations

Evil Organizations

(pop culture)
The annals of supervillainy are replete with alliances of amoral individuals who work in concert toward common illicit ends. While such “evil organizations” may employ disparate methods, most share several core characteristics: a rigidly hierarchical network of agents, operatives, and henchmen, led or overseen by one key leader; numerous hideouts and safehouses; a high-tech infrastructure, of which massively destructive weaponry is usually an integral part; and a predilection for world domination, either overt or covert. Evil organizations frequently derive their names from portentous acronyms. The British superspy James Bond often faced off against operatives of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), a cold war–era criminal order that originated in Ian Fleming's 1961 James Bond novel Thunderball, and reprised its world-threatening activities in five more 007 novels and seven Bond feature films. Nuclear blackmail and assassination were among the favorite tactics of SPECTRE, whose diversely international members identified themselves with numeric designations. The group's leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, described SPECTRE as “a dedicated fraternity whose strength lies in the absolute integrity of its members.” T.H.R.U.S.H. (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity), a similar acronymic fellowship, bedeviled United Network Command for Law Enforcement agents Napoleon Solo, Illya Kuryakin, and April Dancer in television's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964–1968) and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (1966–1967); U.N.C.L.E.'s agents frequently had to rely on the assistance of ordinary citizens to thwart T.H.R.U.S.H.'s various schemes for global tyranny. For decades, comic-book superheroes have run afoul of acronymic evil organizations as well, including Marvel Comics' A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) and DC Comics' H.I.V.E. (Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Extermination). A.I.M. (which debuted in Strange Tales vol. 1 #146, 1966) is initially a legitimate-appearing technology company whose benign inventions long concealed its World War II Nazi origins and provided cover for the machinations of its sinister, bucket-headed operatives and their decades of work toward world conquest; these schemes were routinely thwarted by Captain America and Nick Fury of the cold war–era spy bureau known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division; later, Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate). During the 1980s, Mark Gruenwald's Captain America stories showed A.I.M. holding trade shows at which they sold their weaponry to the highest bidder. H.I.V.E. was established in Superman Family #205 (1981) by the H.I.V.E. Master, a criminal savant who brought numerous acts of high-tech terrorism to bear against various configurations of the New Teen Titans. Like most of its ilk, the mission statement of Marvel's Hydra focuses on establishing a new global fascist order by means of space-age technology, which its founder—the Nazi Baron von Strucker—based in part on alien Gnobian technology he discovered in 1944. Hydra, which debuted in Strange Tales vol. 1 #135 (1965), differs from most other evil organizations in at least two respects: its name, appropriately enough, derives from the unkillable multiheaded beast from Greek mythology rather than from an acronym, and the group is organized as a cult whose army of masked and costumed foot soldiers treat their leader, whom they address as the Supreme Hydra, as a semi-divine figure. The brainchild of writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, Hydra reached its creative zenith under the innovative artistic guidance of Jim Steranko in Marvel's original Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. series (1968–1969). Other evil organizations have a decidedly more straight-ahead shoot-em-up military bent, as is the case in the action figure–inspired, supersoldier-oriented animated storytelling universe of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. Since writers tend to design villainous organizations specifically to test the obvious strengths and plumb the hidden weaknesses of their heroes, COBRA and its spin-off group V.E.N.O.M. engage in armed and armored combat and are organized along military lines. The former organization is composed of armed combat operatives, some of whom take snake-suggestive names (Copperhead, Pythona, and Serpentor), and sometimes uses psionic-powered agents in combat; the latter is a cabal of chimeric human-animal hybrids possessed of superhuman fighting skills and inhuman determination (G.I. Joe: Valor vs. Venom, 2004). The motivations of both groups are both vague and irrelevant, since they serve mainly as foils for the G.I. Joe combat coterie, giving their cartoony, PG-rated, direct-to- DVD action its raison d' être. The long-ago, far-away galaxy of George Lucas' Star Wars films was governed for centuries by a peaceful and egalitarian Republic—until the rogue Senator Palpatine usurps power, thereby transforming the government into what is arguably the ultimate in evil organizations: the Galactic Empire (Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, 2005). Palpatine ascends to the position of emperor, annexing system after system, capitalizing on the terror inspired by his fearsome Imperial Starfleet and its armored, moon-sized Death Star space stations. The Empire's dissolution comes about within decades, because of the actions of stalwart rebels and as a consequence of the poor morale of the overreaching Empire's own punishment-weary minions, as seen in Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (1977); Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980); and Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983). But evil organizations often must employ subtlety rather than brute strength in order to bring their plans of conquest to fruition. Marvel's Secret Empire began as a division of Hydra, but took a substantially different and independent direction years later in the hands of writer Steve Englehart. Englehart's take on the Secret Empire brought Watergate-era politics onto the four-color page, complete with a takeover of the federal government by ruthless agents patterned after members of the Nixon administration. Like Bond's SPECTRE, the Secret Empire assigned numbers to its operatives, and Captain America apparently discovered that the group's leader, the hooded Number One, was actually the president of the United States! Captain America found this insidious intersection of his nation's government with a supervillain organization so demoralizing that he temporarily mothballed his red, white, and blue costume and shield and adopted the stateless superhero identity of Nomad (Captain America vol. 1 #175–#183, 1974–1975). From the 1980s forward, many evil organizations began to adopt the mantle of big-business legitimacy, no doubt encouraged by news stories of real corporate malfeasance, such as the endemic stock market and savings-and-loan scandals of the day. DC's Intergang, originally a Prohibition-era organized crime enterprise in the city of Metropolis, is taken over by broadcasting mogul Morgan Edge, who uses the resources of his legitimate WGBS media empire to abet and conceal Intergang's multifarious acts of supervillainy, which include the development of high-tech weaponry and the use of superpowered “enforcers” who employ paramilitary tactics, poison gas, wall-crawling devices, and quasimagical superweaponry from the Jack Kirby–created planet Apokolips in their endless pursuit of wealth and power (Forever People vol. 1 #1, 1971). Intergang's erstwhile “corporate” crime boss, Morgan Edge, has gone on to appear twice in the WB network's Smallville series in 2003 (played by Rutger Hauer and Patrick Bergin), in which he serves as a foil to the overlord of yet another “evil corporation”: Lionel Luthor, the father of Lex Luthor, a ruthless boardroom raider committed to amassing corporate and supernatural power, as well as to the development of various and sundry high-tech—and often kryptonite-based— weapons. Because of their obvious silly aspects, evil organizations have made compelling targets for satire and parody for decades. The curiously nonacronymic 1960s evil society known as KAOS, presented goofball cold-war adversaries for the equally nonacronymic CONTROL, and its bumbling American spy Maxwell Smart. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) began a film trilogy that gave us a SPECTRE-derived parody crime organization that used Starbucks and a Hollywood talent agency as “cover,” and whose plans for world domination included a digging device designed to cause global volcanic eruptions, a space-based laser, human organ trafficking, and a Carrot Top movie. FOX's The Simpsons has depicted the Republican Party as a secret, world-conquering organization run by both tycoons and vampires who plot global domination in a secret headquarters located in a forbidding mountain keep. Even comic books have gotten into the business of parodying evil organizations. In Bongo's Simpsons Comics vol. 1 #3 (1994), Krusty the Clown unsuccessfully pitches a television drama in which his spy bureau K.L.O.W.N. (Keeping Law & Order With Novelty Items) goes toe to toe with Gabbo, the power-mad ventriloquist's dummy who runs the evil organization known as W.O.O.D. (World Order of Dummies). Just because something threatens the world doesn't mean it can't also be funny.