Monologues and Soliloquies

Monologues and Soliloquies

(pop culture)
In the middle of listening to Dr. Octopus brag about his power, Spider-Man once asked, “Tell me something, Ock … are you trying to defeat me by talking me to death?!” (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #6, 1969). The answer—based upon the propensity of villains to talk, talk, talk—appears to be yes. Monologuing, coined in The Incredibles (2004), refers to supervillains' tendency toward self-absorbed, self-destructive talking; instead of killing the hero, they give a speech about their greatness, the hero's feebleness, and the inevitability of their victory. Ozymanias noted the foolishness of monologuing in Watchmen #12 (1987): “I'm not a Republic serial villain. Do you seriously think I'd explain my master stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome?” In serials, villains such as Bela Lugosi's Dr. Zorka in The Phantom Creeps (1939) and Michael Fox's Dr. Grood in The Lost Planet (1953) talk at length about their plans for conquest and domination, creating enough story to fill twelve episodes. The same is true in pulps—writers working for a few cents a word had a great incentive to fill pages with speechifying villains. Ideologically driven supervillains such as Doc Savage's opponents John Sunlight (The Devil Ghengis, 1938) and Professor Homer Randolph (He Could Stop the World, 1937) or The Shadow's arch-enemy Shiwan Khan (The Golden Master, 1939) are more given to monologuing than crooks driven by avarice, but any criminal mastermind is likely to launch into a half-page of selfaggrandizement. Monologuing also allows writers to recap the storyline and fill the audience in on plot elements they might have missed, so monologuing serves storywriters' purposes well. But if monologuing were only a tool for the creators, it would not have lasted. Monologuing embodies central aspects of supervillainy. It is a form of hubris that comes out of the villain's belief in his absolute supremacy and the assurance that his plans are unstoppable. Hugo Drax, villain of Ian Fleming's Moonraker (1955), conducts a classic death-trap monologue with James Bond bound to a chair in the exhaust pit of a rocket launching pad. Drax says, “You don't know how I have longed for an English audience … to tell my story.” He then tells Bond the story of his life, finishing with the details of his plan to launch a nuclear missile at London, and closes by asking, “What do you think of my story?” Bond dismisses Drax's life as “sad business,” which goads the madman into beating Bond and forgetting about a lighter left on his desk. Bond burns off his ropes, escapes certain death, and stops Drax's plan. Drax should have pocketed his lighter, but his desire to reveal himself to Bond and exert his will over the hero overrides his common sense. Dr. No gives the classic dinner monologue. He feels confident that Bond cannot escape his island, over which he rules absolutely, so he relaxes with 007 over a meal, telling the secret agent, “It is a rare pleasure to have an intelligent listener and I shall enjoy telling you the story of one of the most remarkable men in the world”— himself, of course. Monologuing seems to put the villain in a state of self-absorption. Auric Goldfinger's eyes go blank and focus inward as he rhapsodizes on his love of gold and its power, “the magic of controlling energy, exacting labor, fulfilling one's every wish and whim, and when need be, purchasing bodies, minds, even souls.” For these moments Goldfinger enters a world made of his own words—an expression of his desire to stamp his image on history as the greatest criminal artist who ever lived. In the middle of listening to Dr. Octopus brag about his power, Spider-Man once asked, “Tell me something, Ock … are you trying to defeat me by talking me to death?!” (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #6, 1969). The answer—based upon the propensity of villains to talk, talk, talk—appears to be yes. Monologuing, coined in The Incredibles (2004), refers to supervillains' tendency toward self-absorbed, self-destructive talking; instead of killing the hero, they give a speech about their greatness, the hero's feebleness, and the inevitability of their victory. Ozymanias noted the foolishness of monologuing in Watchmen #12 (1987): “I'm not a Republic serial villain. Do you seriously think I'd explain my master stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome?” In serials, villains such as Bela Lugosi's Dr. Zorka in The Phantom Creeps (1939) and Michael Fox's Dr. Grood in The Lost Planet (1953) talk at length about their plans for conquest and domination, creating enough story to fill twelve episodes. The same is true in pulps—writers working for a few cents a word had a great incentive to fill pages with speechifying villains. Ideologically driven supervillains such as Doc Savage's opponents John Sunlight (The Devil Ghengis, 1938) and Professor Homer Randolph (He Could Stop the World, 1937) or The Shadow's arch-enemy Shiwan Khan (The Golden Master, 1939) are more given to monologuing than crooks driven by avarice, but any criminal mastermind is likely to launch into a half-page of selfaggrandizement. Monologuing also allows writers to recap the storyline and fill the audience in on plot elements they might have missed, so monologuing serves storywriters' purposes well. But if monologuing were only a tool for the creators, it would not have lasted. Monologuing embodies central aspects of supervillainy. It is a form of hubris that comes out of the villain's belief in his absolute supremacy and the assurance that his plans are unstoppable. Hugo Drax, villain of Ian Fleming's Moonraker (1955), conducts a classic death-trap monologue with James Bond bound to a chair in the exhaust pit of a rocket launching pad. Drax says, “You don't know how I have longed for an English audience … to tell my story.” He then tells Bond the story of his life, finishing with the details of his plan to launch a nuclear missile at London, and closes by asking, “What do you think of my story?” Bond dismisses Drax's life as “sad business,” which goads the madman into beating Bond and forgetting about a lighter left on his desk. Bond burns off his ropes, escapes certain death, and stops Drax's plan. Drax should have pocketed his lighter, but his desire to reveal himself to Bond and exert his will over the hero overrides his common sense. Dr. No gives the classic dinner monologue. He feels confident that Bond cannot escape his island, over which he rules absolutely, so he relaxes with 007 over a meal, telling the secret agent, “It is a rare pleasure to have an intelligent listener and I shall enjoy telling you the story of one of the most remarkable men in the world”— himself, of course. Monologuing seems to put the villain in a state of self-absorption. Auric Goldfinger's eyes go blank and focus inward as he rhapsodizes on his love of gold and its power, “the magic of controlling energy, exacting labor, fulfilling one's every wish and whim, and when need be, purchasing bodies, minds, even souls.” For these moments Goldfinger enters a world made of his own words—an expression of his desire to stamp his image on history as the greatest criminal artist who ever lived. Ultimately, though, monologuing is a weakness. It allows a superhero time to recover or escape a death trap; sometimes it serves as an unintentional confession. In Mysterio's debut (Amazing Spider-Man #13, 1964), he tells an apparently defeated Spider-Man all about how he faked the web-slinger's powers to commit robberies that would be blamed on Spider-Man. Mysterio does not realize that Spider-Man is faking his helplesness to cover his secret tape-recording of the villain's confession. Mysterio never gets to kill Spidey and the tape is used to convict him and clear Spider-Man's name. The Silver Age (1956–1969) marked an apex of the classic monologue with stories like “The Fantastic Origin of the Red Skull” (Tales of Suspense #66, 1965), in which the Red Skull reminisces about his life to a bound Captain America. The Red Skull discourses for seven pages, at one point slugging Captain America over the head with a pistol into apparent unconsciousness, saying, “And now if I may finish my narrative without any further interruption.” The second form of speechifying, the soliloquy, is performed without an audience or in front of obedient underlings who neither interrupt nor respond to their master's musings. In the soliloquy, the supervillain gives full vent to his ego, proclaiming his greatness and promising vengeance on those who oppose him. In Amazing Spider-Man #5 (1963), a solitary Dr. Doom declares, “When one is a master of science, as I am, there is nothing which cannot be accomplished! Sooner or later, I shall eliminate all those who dare oppose me!” But the monologue has great value in conveying the character of a supervillain. In Spider- Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One #5 (2005), Octopus holds an apparently defeated Spider-Man in his metal arms and explains that everything— including language—is technology and the “most telling of these technologies is morality … A device constructed to spur our race to greater things … the compass by which all actions and advances are judged. Surely, in the age of the atom, we are due for an innovation … human sentimentalism will be crushed in the wheels of progress.” While Octopus monologues, Spider-Man short circuits his metal arms through a feedback loop, rendering Octopus helpless. Had Octavius merely killed Spider- Man instead of holding him aloft and yammering on about his philosophy of life, Spider-Man could not have beaten him. But the villain's ego demands an audience, and his ego, not the hero's power, brings him down.