So You Want To / Create a Rogues Gallery
A Rogues Gallery
is a set of memorable Recurring Characters
who return from time to time to torment the heroes. Having a set of baddies to pick from as you wish is certainly helpful.
This page is here to help you achieve it.
When to use it, and when not to?
A rogues' gallery doesn't work in all types of shows. What it does
work in, though, is:
- Episodic Series, in which heroes battle Monster of the Week after Monster of the Week. Recurring rogues provide familiarity and give you opportunity to include story arcs without actually changing the basic formulae of your series - not to mention that, if you create TV or film series, it means you have to find and pay fewer actors.
- Long-Runners. It's hard to invent thirteen or twenty different villains and if you manage it well, it can be a pity to discard them after their story arc. Rogues gallery allows you to return and recycle the same set villains without appearing boring. Conversely, a story with only one notable villain group appearing practically every episode gets stale unless a Lensman Arms Race is involved, which makes "So Last Season" become "So Last Episode."
- Stories with Very Powerful Heroes/Many Heroes, where one villain simply wouldn't be a match against the good guys. Then you can give every hero a tailored villain and preserve the feeling of equality.
However, there are some stories in which a rogues' gallery just plain doesn't work. Those are:
- One-Shots and Single Episodes. Stuffing three villains into 40 pages/120 minutes work will not do much except for confusing your viewers and drowning your work in chaos of characters competing for screen time.
- Stories With a Definite Big Bad. They are about the Hero fighting against the Big Bad. He might have some dragons, but all in all, the story focuses on Hero vs Villain struggle and introducing extra elements only draws viewers/readers' attention away from this main conflict.
- Stories of Improper Genre. A disaster movie - or series of disaster movies - doesn't have a rogues' gallery - unless hurricanes, tornadoes and so on are your rogues. Neither does a Slice of Life series. Keep that in mind and ask yourself - in the world that you've created, with the heroes and plots you have, would a gallery of rogues be even remotely feasible?
Matters pertaining to the entire group
- Thematic Rogues Gallery is your friend. Even if your hero has all the powers, only a fraction of bad guys can be adversaries for him. If your hero lives in Urban Fantasy series, s/he likely won't meet aliens, because they don't match the tone and style of Urban Fantasy. If your characters' Protectorate is a single city, s/he won't fight people who try to take over a country continents away. If your character is a kaiju, it should fight other giant monsters, because (1), that's what people want from a kaiju, and (2) other forces won't present much threat to it.
- Don't take the above too far - make your rogues a diverse group. If your hero controls water and air, the hero's opponents shouldn't be all Flying Bricks who like Playing with Fire.
- In the same vein, make your rogues not only a diverse powerset, but a diverse group of people (creatures) as well. Five cackling, middle-aged men with Bald of Evil and Beard of Evil are just one rogue with five different powers when it comes down to facing them.
- Aesop Amnesia is your enemy and It Only Works Once should apply to every rogue. If they menace your hero on regular basis, they should remember what happened the last time they tried. How often can they fall for the same trick, really?
- The same applies to your hero. If in their first fight, a particular rogue uses a super secret move, then it won't be super secret by the time the rogue and the hero meet again. Have the hero remember it and prepare accordingly.
- Sooner or later the rogues will realise that other members of the gallery exist. If a rogue can't face your hero alone and win (and seeing how he's pounded by the hero in his every appearance, he likely can't), then he (or she, or it) should consider a team-up. If they don't, there better be a good reason for it - pride, perhaps, or paranoia?
The typical rogues
Or, the must-haves of your gallery.
- Arch-Enemy: Your hero's worst nightmare. The most dangerous of the lot by a long shot, he's the one who comes the closest to killing them and is relentless in his pursuit of the hero. He might be responsible for the death of hero's parent, spouse, lover, friend or child and/or has a personal grudge against the hero. If someone is to form a Legion of Doom of your rogues, it will be him.
- Evil Genius: The smartest one of the lot. If your hero's main gimmick is punching stuff, he's a threat the hero is unused or unprepared for. Instead of charging the hero head-on, he makes use of hero's weaknesses, blind points and flaws to lay a hit. Instead of attacking him directly, he might strike at his finances or headquarters. Probably next to nothing in terms of sheer physical power.
- The Brute: The biggest and most physically powerful of the lot. The opposite of the Evil Genius - he will attack the hero head-on and he will strike him with all his might. Provides plenty of action scenes for the punching-type hero, but will be a big threat for a Guile Hero. Not known for his brains.
- The Heavy: The one who opens the path of furthering the scheme, he's the deadliest henchmen who can provide a serious threat to the heroes, or being The Dragon himself.
- Dark Chick: Simply put, the token girl, as most rogues in the gallery are men. A source of Fanservice, because Evil is Sexy. She may come in a few different flavours:
- The Baroness likely has some henchmen and/or works as The Dragon for another type of villain. She loves torturing the hero's loved ones and friends and may be close to the Arch-Enemy in terms of danger she poses.
- Dark Action Girl is the most likely to give our hero a good beating and force him to abandon the Wouldn't Hit a Girl rule. Somehow, she's the rarest female character in the Rogues Gallery - likely because the galleries are already chock full of fighting men.
- Femme Fatale is the feminine counterpart to Evil Genius. While Evil Genius uses his wits, Femme Fatale employs her feminine wiles. She generally tries to seduce the hero, but for what purpose varies: perhaps she wants to assassinate him while he's defenseless (eg. in bed), perhaps she wants to rob him or attempts to make him do a Face–Heel Turn. She might be more anti-heroic than actively villainous and if hero tries a High-Heel–Face Turn, you have a subplot of Dating Catwoman ready to go.
- Evil Counterpart: A character whose powers, background etc. are similar to hero's, but who decided to go into crime instead of crimefighting. He possesses similar - or identical - powers and perhaps even MO as the hero and usually uses the same color scheme. Not So Different speech is optional.
- Foil: A polar opposite of your hero. If the hero is Making a Splash, this villain is Playing with Fire. If the hero is a Glass Cannon, this villain is a Stone Wall.
- Ax-Crazy: This one's mad, and murderous. All semblance of sanity is gone and the hero can't negiotiate with him - he can only try to stop him. Those villains are usually over the top, and often have a Power Born of Madness, making them even harder to fight.
- Mad Doctor: A medical professional gone wrong. He may've been a surgeon, a psychologist, whatever - but now, for whatever reason, he uses the art designed to save lives to take them instead. The most likely to have Dark and Troubled Past, which works as a Freudian Excuse for his evilness.
- Mad Scientist: A cousin to Mad Doctor, the Scientist is much crazier. He's shunned by scientific community for breaking the human rights and general squickiness of his experiments. The second most likely source of Nightmare Fuel, the Mad Scientist hides behind monsters or machines he created and would like to obtain more specimens for his experiments.
- Fallen Hero: This villain used to occupy the same position as the hero, or perhaps had similar powers. However, something made him turn. Perhaps the stress has broken him. Perhaps he became He Who Fights Monsters. Perhaps he was furious that people he saved didn't respect him. In any case, now he's on Team Bad Guys and the hero must stop him. The additional plus of this villain is that he represents the dark side of the hero.
- Badass Normal: Among characters who are geniuses, superpowered, thematic and crazy, this villain stands out as someone strangely mundane. Maybe he's a Dirty Cop, or a chief of a criminal organization. Or a Professional Killer, who assassinates the heroes without a miss. He may be Affably Evil, even beloved by the community. Regardless, he can still fight the hero on even terms.
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: The comic relief in your story, this villain just can't do things right. More often than not, he's a Butt-Monkey Played for Laughs, a Card-Carrying Villain and someone so terrifyingly bad and being... bad that not even other villains treat him seriously. Of course, when he takes a level in badass...
- Punch-Clock Villain: They are only working for the gallery for their livelihood, and may not even be evil to begin with. A common position for amoral Bounty Hunter and mercenaries. Chances are that they're very likely to be Anti-Villain themselves, and if they somehow share the same goals as the heroes, they may even work alongside the heroes briefly. However, if their friends are killed by the heroes...
Note that those types can - and do - overlap. Nothing forbids the Arch-Enemy
from being an Ax-Crazy Mad Scientist
, and The Brute
might have the same powerset as the hero, just less brains.
Fleshing out the rogues
Having decided on a general theme - say, aliens, or crazy criminals - you can flesh out each and every member of the gallery with his/her own theme. This will keep your gallery diverse and colorful. Among popular themes there are:
- Nature: The villain believes himself to the epitome of Gaia's Vengeance. He may be The Beastmaster or have a Green Thumb. In his arsenal there are poisons, man-eating plants, vines and the like. For some reason, Nature-themed villains use plants more often than animals, so having a villain be The Beastmaster will be a breath of fresh air here.
- Robotics: This villain presents that Cybernetics Eat Your Soul. He will combat the hero with all the latest gadgets and if Everything Is Online, he's likely to take advantage of the fact. He might be a robot, a cyborg or an AI.
- Science: A less "modern" and shiny cousin of robotics, this is Science Is Bad in effect. This villain's MO ranges from elaborate machines of doom to genetically-engineered evil monsters and mutants.
- Magic: This villain is a sorcerer or sorceress and uses magic against the hero. He can work for demonic entity or try to Take Over the World with his powers. He's likely to use Blood Magic and creepy symbols. Occasionally, he might also be a deadly Necromancer who flips upon the dead, both the deceased heroes and villains had no other choices but to fear and obey him, which provides a serious threat to whoever came across him.
- Clowns: Monster Clown is a classic, and this villain milks it for all it's worth. He wears clown's make-up. His gadgets, hideout and minions are props and members of Circus of Fear. Whenever he appears on-screen, you can bet on Creepy Circus Music to show up.
- Corporations: Corrupt Corporate Executive by day, villain by night. Or perhaps both at the same time. This villain rules over a Mega Corp., wears all the best suits and has a lot of money. You better explain why he runs any illegal operations, though, because otherwise you have a fine case of Cut Lex Luthor a Check on your hands.
- Animals: Just as there are many Animal Themed Superbeings, so are supervillains. However, while heroes usually use animals associated with goodness or power (Batman being an exception), the villains theme themselves after insects or reptiles.
- Mythology: This villain takes inspiration - or is a member of - a pantheon. This is a very wide category - you can base entire Rogues Gallery on characters from Classical or Norse mythology. This character has a mythological beast/god's name and likely uses symbols associated with it.
- Demons: Whether he wears red and uses a pitchfork or is an actual denizen of Hell, this villain brings Satan to mind the moment you look at him. He may have magic powers or simply brutal strength, but he's likely terrifying and powerful. The struggle of the hero against him underscores how the hero is Good, while the villain is Evil.
- Angels: On the flip side, some villains may instead wear white and uses an angelic motif as a symbol of their power and authority over the world, bonus point for being Villain with Good Publicity. However, Light Is Not Good, what's clean at the outside can be very corrupt beneath their skin.
Of course, you can come up with your own villains, themes and motives. The point is, they are to be diverse, interesting and on a proper power-level - just dangerous enough to present a threat, but not enough to take the hero down in the first try.