In this installment of Villain Archetypes, we look at the classic villain boilerplate I like to call “The Runner Up.” This person always comes in second next to the hero, whether in terms of professional or romantic conquests (sometimes both). The constant thwarting fuels a deep-rooted hatred spurred by jealousy and an intense desire to be the one in the spotlight. Oftentimes, the Runner Up is always in second place because they are lacking in intelligence, creativity, strength, charisma, or some combination thereof.

Because they know they can’t best the hero on their own, the Runner Up decides to join forces with another villain. This villain tends to be less flamboyant, but also more intelligent and cunning than the foolish Runner Up funding the endeavor. Unfortunately, the Runner Up can’t control their partner, and suddenly finds themselves in an even worse situation then before (third place).

I’ll use iron Man 2 as an example since it just came out and even non-comic book geeks will be able to follow the story. Weapons manufacturer Hammer continually falls in second place to Tony Stark both professionally and personally. Frustrated, Hammer is willing to work with a convicted felon Vanko in order to best Stark on his own turf.  As predicted, Vanko is an unstable and unwieldly villain in his own way and bent on doing more than just show up Stark–he wants murder.

This theme is common in all types of superhero media, from movies and comic books to television shows and novels. Jealousy is an old motive. It’s just more fun when they have superpowers and gadgets.

Advertisements