Thoughts on Villain Team-Ups: Is It a Limited Tactic?

Joker and Lex Luthor

Villains teaming up is a classic twist to a series.  You have two established characters who don’t necessarily share a common enemy.  Yet, they work together for the same goal, which causes the heroes to do the same.  It happens a lot in comic books, lengthy TV series, and on-going novel tales. I’m not talking about a main villain with a bunch of henchmen either.  These are two heavies on equal footing joining forces and staying on the same level.

For me, this is always a fun twist, but I find that it doesn’t have that much variety.  Most of the time, the villains turn on each other in a way that ruins the plans.  I know a big thing about bad guys is that they’re paranoid, egotistical, evil, etc.  These aren’t traits that go with loyalty and trust, but it doesn’t mean that they should fall apart whenever things get tough or victory is in sight.  You would think villains who are calm and collected when they’re alone would still be that way in a team-up.  Guess it’s a clash of egos at times, but it becomes a predictable milestone.  The heroes don’t even have to do more than survive long enough for the implosion.  They don’t because there are death traps to circumvent and the expected fight between heroes when they first meet.  We’re not here this week to talk about that though.

Honestly, I’d really like to see more villains work together to the end.  Even if they lose, I want them to go down as one or help each other escape.  Failure by their own hands makes it feel like the whole thing was done solely for the sake of story.  There’s not growth in them that can carry over to their next appearance.  Villains may be evil, but that doesn’t mean they can’t evolve in some fashion.  You can still be a bad guy while having a sense of loyalty and working with others.  It’s hard to believe for some, but there have been groups of villains in reality who never stabbed each other in the back.  Why can’t they be the same in fiction?

So, what you think of villain team ups?  Cliche and overdone with no chance of redemption or an idea that has yet to meet it’s real potential?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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17 Responses to Thoughts on Villain Team-Ups: Is It a Limited Tactic?

  1. inkspeare says:

    Interesting. I am asking myself your question right now – how do I feel about it? My answer comes more from a generational point of view, so I think millennials and younger generations, which are more used to crossovers will see it in a different way. I like my villains being kept separate, although I can take a brief period of collaboration (brief is the word here) and I think that is why some series today end up boring me, and I lose interest very quickly. They go on for so long with the same “collaboration between villains, or even the same thread, that I stop watching. For me the old phrase, “this doesn’t change things,” goes. I truly think in my case, it is a generational point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know. I grew up with tons of crossovers. They were big events back then. I don’t see nearly as much these days. Anyway, I get what you’re saying about keeping things separate. It keeps things clean. Although, this brings up a common question for comics. If there are all these villains trying to rule the world, why do they never run into each other? Especially when you see that they’re all operating in the same region. Similar goals and shared territory or enemies will inevitably bring villains together. It’s fairly unbelievable that they’d never cross paths.

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  2. L. Marie says:

    I love a good villain team up. The Justice League animated series and The Batman/Superman animated series had several of those. Always fun episodes. The only issues come in the movies when there are too many villains and not enough screen time. That’s what happened with the third Raimi Spider-Man movie. And some people complained about the Riddler/Two-Face team up in Batman Forever (though I kind of liked that movie). DC seems to do a lot of villain team ups in the CW shows.

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  3. Hhoky says:

    I think, while there may be room for villain growth and evolution (and hasn’t disney been doing exactly this lately? Maleficent anyone?) you can’t stray far from the villainy archetype without loosing the integrity of the role. IE: villains are supposed to be selfish, power hungry, self serving egomaniacs. Wanting to not only own and destroy but be the only one owning or destroying.
    So, while team ups can (and have) worked before between villains, in the end there can be only one. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • It depends on the villain. There are multiple archetypes in the category. Has to be since you have such a wide variety of heroes. Even the selfish part can be stretched by a villain wanting everything for their group instead of them alone. This is that benevolent ruler who only cares about his own people and not those outside his circle. A villain to some and a hero to others. That type would be able to function with another villain if it benefited his group.

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  4. Villain team-ups sounds like a good idea. I just can’t see both behaving themselves to a point of keeping the team together. This is true if it looks like the hero is winning. Then one or the other villain wants to go for self-preservation. Super post, Charles.

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  5. Villain team-ups take be back to watching the original Batman movie when I was a kid (the Adam West/Burt Ward version). There was an epic team-up of villains, but the villain’s psyche is inherently obsessed with being in power so a team-up of any kind usually ends up with them double crossing each other which is entertaining in itself. In an era of many superhero team movies in the mold of The Avengers, a good villain team-up might be entertaining. Of course, we can always watch the current events in Washington to fill that need (sorry. had to go there).

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    • It’s been a long time since I saw that movie. I don’t remember if the villains turned on each other or not. In comics, there were times villains would work together effectively. Sinister Six in the Spider-Man comics comes to mind.

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  6. Another great post, and I don’t see why it has to be the same old thing all the time. I think you could make this work better if the villains teaming up were also the main characters. It would be easier to write if they were supposed to show growth and maturity of some kind. I would see this as more of a buddy story than two distinct villains. More of a Butch & Sundance thing than two random heavies that decide to team up.

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    • That could help. I like to put villain scenes in to show growth even if they’re not the main characters. This way the audience knows what they’re doing. I always hate it when the villain is absent for most of the story and shows up at the end with just the right power level and resistances to make them a challenge.

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  7. Just looking at your image, I thought that was a team-up that realistically would never happen. (Comics, realistic, ha ha!) Luthor has his background in business, and you’d think he would approach any a villain partnership with that in mind. “Will I get a good payoff from my investment in this venture?”

    Interestingly, one case where the villains have stuck together is Poison Ivy teaming up with Harley Quinn in the animated series. That became a regular partnership in print, which also expanded to include Catwoman. So you had these three women sharing a house (paid for by Catwoman, if I recall) where they watched each other’s backs while also challenging each other’s life choices. Instead of “will this pay off for me,” it was “will you get hurt if you do this?”

    It was a really good series for a while, but then of course they re-did their whole universe a couple of times and now it never happened. That’s one thing I hate about comics.

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    • Luthor and Joker have teamed up a lot. They’re both smart enough to see how the other can be useful and Luthor is good at appearing to be unconnected for the events. It would be like two world leaders joining forces against mutual enemies too. I mean, Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo come to mind.

      My minor problem with Catwoman, Ivy, and Harley is that they’re really from three different categories. Catwoman has been a hero for awhile if not a highly good-skewed anti-hero. Harley has been an anti-hero who skews more towards ‘bad’ like Deadpool. Ivy is a full villain and that’s where she shines. I felt like this was forcing all of them to be something else fir the sake of ‘popular female character team up’ time. Much like the Spidey/Deadpool comics, I feel that it grows thin after a few issues. Ivy and Harley have a chemistry that didn’t quite work with Catwoman.

      As far as redoing universes, that’s a fairly new concept in terms of how often it occurs. DC has a multiverse to account for different versions and reboots. Now, both companies just erase, restart, and sometimes abruptly go back to the original timeline.

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  8. ospreyshire says:

    I don’t want to repeat myself too much from another post I commented on, but I’d be fine with more villain team ups that don’t involve conflicting egos or cliche team names.

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