Secret empires and the mooks who love them

Professor Power, the low-level Marvel Universe villain pictured below right, is a really smart guy who plugged himself into a robotic exoskeleton. His super-suit gives him the regular suite of superpowers associated with such a costume — enhanced strength, flight, invulnerability and the ability to shoot lasers.

A nice collection of powers indeed, but only when you’re softening up some regular folks. He can toss them around like a rag doll in a spin cycle.

But pit him against a guy with the proportionate abilities of spider and things get a little dicey. Throw him against a team of heroes like that and he’s in for a world of hurt.

That’s why Professor Power, and many supervillains invest in something else besides personal weaponry … hired help.

Over in the DC’s Gotham City, most of Batman’s rogues gallery add three or four hired hands. This helps slow down Batman (and whichever sidekick he has with him at the time), and give said bad guy a chance to bring his plans to fruition. In many Batman stories, and the 1960s Batman TV show in particular, each thug had a clever name or was dressed to fit the villain’s theme.

In the 1980s, I was always fascinated by a story in “Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man” where two villains, the Owl and Doctor Octopus assembled large gangs — at least 20 per side — and warred with one another. Spidey, of course, was caught in the middle.

Even larger than the Owl and Octopus gangs are the armies assembled by the likes of Professor Power. For a while, he was the Big Cheese of the Secret Empire, an organization that was able to put a dozen squads and heavy artillery on the battlefield. The same can be said for the forces of AIM (Marvel), Hydra (Marvel) and Kobra (DC).

Another Cobra, one spelled with a “C” and best known as the terrorist organization of G.I. Joe fame, is even larger than all those guys. It has has battleships, flies hundreds of jet planes, operates whole countries and rosters in the thousands.

But who are all these “Liittle Green Army Men”? Who in their right mind is going to sign up to be part of a supervillain’s army? They’re sure to get their face beaten in. They might even serve time in jail. They work in horrible conditions: Guarding canisters of poisons, go on patrols through experimental
particle facilities, and everyone around them is armed to the teeth.

Why would they sign up for such awful assignments where they are inevitably used as cannon fodder against the likes of Thor and Superman?

It’s just not exactly what you’d call an OSHA-approved work conditions.

But they do it anyway. Why?

While it’s rarely fully explained on a case-by-case basis, hints are often dropped as to what draws people into these organizations. Some of the reasons are:

  • Beliefs in racial purity. (Superheroes are impure and trying to control the “little people.” “We may be in-bred hillbillies, but we gotta keep our genetics in line!”)
  • Religious fanaticism. (Often the supervillain at the head of the organization is considered a high priest or even a god.)
  • Nationalism. (The entire secret army is composed of citizens of the same country who are defending their way of life, their specific ideals or their right to expand. “For Belgium!”)
  • Matched Accessories (“If we all dress alike, we’ll be scary!”)
  • Themed Accessories (“If we pick a theme, we’ll be even more scary!”)
  • Money — Option One. (For small gangs, the promise of the leader of a big payout draws many into the fold.)
  • Money — Option Two. (Some groups seem to offer shared profits, where it benefits the group to stick together in research and development as well as offense and defense.)
  • Money — Option Three. (In larger organizations, it’s clear that the soldiers actually earn decent wages, and even get insurance payouts for disability and even in death. “Yeah, I lost this eye when the Beast Boy turned into an Ibex and rammed me.”)
  • Made that Way. (Some of these armies are all clones or robots who were designed to be loyal to their general.)
  • Trained Together. (Some thugs, Ninjas and mercenaries in particular, trained together, so they often fight as team. Their past successes make them believe they can overcome their newest target. “The Hand has never been defeated! Except those three times by Daredevil, two by Wolverine and that time Kitty Pryde was in Tokyo — But they don’t count!”)
  • Mind Control. (With a little hypno-power, the big bad evil guy takes control of a large group of people, and they do his bidding. … This never ends well, by the way.)
  • Strength in Numbers. (“If we get enough of us regular folks together and give everyone a laser-heat gun, then there’s no way a Aquaman can beat us. We just gotta stick together!”)
  • Loyalty Rewards. (The longer you survive, the better your reward. Maybe the boss will even turn you into a supervillain if you play your cards right.)
  • Politics. (By stirring up the fanatical leanings of a group, the head honcho manages to build an army of devoted followers.)
  • Lack of Choice. (In the case of supervillain monarchs and leaders, the “army men” don’t even realize they have the right to question their authority. Other times, they know their family faces repercussions for their failures. “If I don’t secure this  ventilation shaft, Count Vertigo will make my pet goat so dizzy she’ll puke!”)

Of course all these options can be mixed up, merged or morphed in one way or another depending on the particulars of the organization.

Regardless, they help bring together armies that, on paper at least,  have a chance to take down the likes of Captain America and the Avengers, Batman and his cronies or even a rag-tag group like the Defenders.

That’s just the group that Professor Power took on.

 He failed, just like they all do, but at least he had four dozen other shoulders to cry on when he did.


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