Henchmen, Minions, and Underlings

Henchmen, Minions, and Underlings

(pop culture)
Supervillains need more than garish costumes, formidable powers or weapons, and egomaniacal monologuing to bring their schemes to fruition: they require grunt labor as well. Although such lowechelon bad guys (and gals) very often do not satisfy many of the criteria for supervillainy themselves, the machinations of a great many supervillains and evil organizations are hugely dependent on the efforts of their faithful followers. Almost always ranking at a level considerably below that of a supervillain's team partners (such as members of the Frightful Four or the Injustice Gang) or sidekicks (such as the Joker's junior crony Harley Quinn), the motivations of supervillainous aides-de-camp vary. For many, including the campy, crooked-camera-angle stooges of ABC's Batman television series (1966–1968), henchmanship is a means of sharing in a particular supervillain's profits. For others, like the uniformed paramilitary goons employed by industrialized, weapon-happy world-beaters like G.I. Joe's Cobra Commander or the Blofeld-esque Dr. Evil (who debuted in 1997's Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), the henchman game appears to be simply a paycheck job that includes medical benefits and perhaps even compulsory union membership. The masked, rifle-toting, blue-and-red clenched henchmen of Chris Claremont and John Byrne's Hellfire Club are disinclined to give their last full measure of devotion to their mutant bosses for a mere paycheck; when confronted with Wolverine's razor-sharp adamantium claws, one such flunky not only disarmed, he also answered all the hero's questions about his employers (X-Men vol. 1 #133, 1980). Very rarely, a flunky will prove to be highly “upwardly mobile” in a given evil organization, and this usually happens more because of happenstance than innate skill on the part of the henchmen (otherwise, he would likely have pursued a different trade in the first place). A good example of an underling's accidental rise to prominence is the faceless stooge of Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) who is experimentally transformed into the large-brained entity known as MODOK (Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing), whose newly activated psionic powers quickly landed him in the organization's driver's seat (Tales of Suspense vol. 1 #93–#94, 1967; Captain America vol. 1 #133, 1971). By contrast, henchmen who might be better characterized as minions or underlings—such as the uniformed acolytes of Marvel's Hydra, the offthe- rack Nazis of comics' Golden Age (1938–1954) and the Indiana Jones movies, or the genetically enhanced followers of Star Trek's Khan—fill out the bottom ranks of a supervillain's hierarchies out of a quasi-religious devotion to their charismatic-yetnefarious leader. “Hired” henchmen, by contrast, are far less inclined to blithely throw their lives away defending a supervillain; superspy Nigel Powers (played by Michael Caine in Austin Powers in Goldmember, 2002) even manages to convince one of Dr. Evil's armed guards to lie down on the floor rather than force Powers to kill him. “Do you have any idea how many anonymous henchmen I've killed over the years?” asks the suave secret agent of the compliant hireling. Henchmen are permitted varying degrees of autonomy in pursuit of their superiors' criminal objectives. Most of these, like the battle droids and stormtroopers of the Star Wars movies, serve merely as the arms and legs of their super-patron's whims, annexing territory and defending the villain's headquarters from interlopers, very often at the cost of their own lives. These faceless, and usually hapless, goons have no decision-making authority and are generally no more than supernumeraries, however essential their contributions may be to a given supervillain's cause. Others, such as the assassins, terrorists, and rogue scientists of SPECTRE—the organization that bedeviled James Bond throughout the cold war—function more or less independently. Organized into cells, these operatives identify themselves using code numbers and answer only to SPECTRE's highestranking members, such as Ernst Stavro Blofeld or his one-eyed successor, the nuclear terrorist Emilio Largo. But SPECTRE's underlings are a cautious lot—their leaders punish all discipline breaches with summary execution. Henchmen everywhere share several characteristics, which are frequently and justifiably lampooned. Detention-cell guards tend to stare intently in one direction and to be far too easily distracted by the sounds pebbles thrown by captured (and soon-to-be-escaping) heroes; paramilitary henchmen, such as the stormtroopers of Star Wars, are notoriously poor marksmen, incapable of hitting even the most stationary and distracted of in single-file lines, rather than simply surrounding and overwhelming them. This appalling lack of quality control is easily understandable, however, in the light of labor economics. Even though heroes continuously create new openings for all manner of henchmen, minions, and underlings, supervillains have no paucity of recruits; in the world of professional henchmen, it is clearly an employer's market.