My theme for the A to Z challenge is Villain Archetypes.
Yes, 26 descriptions of some of your favorite villains of literature, TV, and movies.
April 24 – U is for Übermensch
Originally derived from Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra, the Ubermensch (I’m not doing the damn umlaut every time, people. Get over it) was essentially a reference to “Overhuman” or more colloquially, Superman. Ol’ Friedrich used the term as more of a social commentary about someone transcending morality. For the purposes of villain archetypes, the Ubermensch (to me) is a villian, arch or otherwise, possessing abilities, powers, or preternatural skills above and beyond that of normal men. These bad guys are not just smart or strong or fast, they are inhumanly powerful, supernaturally intelligent, and indescribably agile. The strongest human might be able to lift a car. An Ubermensch can lift two and throw them into low orbit (if it were physically possible, but I digress). The fastest man can run four minute mile. This antagonist can run one in .4 seconds. Yes, these particular villains often lend themselves to comic books, and that’s where the majority of them reside. Some supernatural or scientifically modified characters fit this bill too, and the graphic medium is not the only place we find examples of the Ubermensch.
A very old conundrum that comic book geeks are very familiar with (and is kind of illustrated in Superman II) is: if regular men and women could suddenly do extraordinary things, whats to stop them from breaking laws and violating social norms? The Ubermensch is the prime example of what happens when such inconceivably powerful men (and women) no longer feel constrained by the society that spawned them. They don’t have to obey laws, because they can’t apply to someone that’s no longer fettered by human limitations. Many times that is the motivation for an Ubermensch arch-villain. They commit deplorable and heinous acts because…who’s going to stop them? These archetypes are also sometimes employed as trusted servants or henchmen, though these examples are often more brawn then brains. Surprisingly, an Ubermensch can be very redeemable, as they’re often made to see the consequences of the horrible atrocities they commit. This will tend to drive them wither further into homicidal madness, or make them repentant enough to use their powers to right the wrongs they’ve committed, often with one fatalistic gesture that leaves the audience feeling sympathetic for the inhuman villain they’ve hated the course of the story.
The key to writing/creating a good Superman, whether its a villain or a hero, is to focus on what makes them human, not what doesn’t. Many creators (at least the good ones) choose to play up the flaws and foibles of their Ubermensch villains, which often lead to their downfall. If you choose to make an invulnerable antagonist, make sure he’s greedy or fragile in another fashion. Perfectly unbeatable villains are as bad as perfectly flawless heroes. It makes the story feel less realistic, and if you’re employing an Ubermensch into any facet of your story, you’re going to need all the believability you can hold on to.
Some famous Ubermensch Villains (Not all comic books…but mostly)
- Loki (Avengers)
- Magneto (Marvel)
- Black Adam (DC)
- Khan Noonien Singh (Star Wars)
- Magnus the Red (Warhammer 40K, though just about any of the Primarchs fit)
- Dr. Fu Manchu