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Literature / How to Succeed in Evil

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Edwin: So Doctor Loeb, tell me a little bit about your business plan.
Dr. Loeb: World domination!!!
Edwin: That's really more of a goal than a plan.
Dr. Loeb: Domination!!! Domination!!! Domination!!!
Edwin: I'll just put down 'Mergers and Acquisitions'.

How to Succeed in Evil is a Podcast and a series of novels. Both incarnations are parodies of the superhero genre. In the story, supervillains are a dime a dozen and constantly rob banks, cause destruction, and all the other cliché things that villains do. Meanwhile, superheroes are anything but heroic; and frequently do much more harm in trying to subdue villains than good.

Enter Edwin Windsor, a man who becomes the first "Evil Efficiency Consultant", a freelance advisor for supervillains. While he does very well, he is constantly frustrated by his job because of the sheer idiocy of the villains he is forced to work with. Although he tends to provide villains with marvelous Evil Plans, their dim wits and large egos eventually cause Edwin's clients to mess everything up for themselves. Edwin still gets paid, so he tries not to think about it.

Eventually, Edwin cannot take the inefficient and wasteful nature of his clients and the world at large, and decides to finally cross the threshold into full supervillainy. As described by the author, Patrick E. Mclean, "Edwin quickly becomes something more than a villain and less than a hero. He takes out villains because they are 'incompetent and inefficient' and heroes because they are 'ineffectual and in the way.' He often does the right thing for the wrong reason. Which, as fans can tell you, is very entertaining."

How to Succeed in Evil alternates between lighthearted, funny stories and serious ones. It follows one main plot while also branching off into various prequel adventures. The updates are few and far between (almost a year has gone by since the last one because the author is currently working on the book), but every episode is available on the website and iTunes if you are up for a mini Archive Trawl.

This show provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: In the original podcast, Edwin had a pretty "wonderful" childhood. It's implied that his book counterpart lost his parents when they fell victim to being collateral damage in a superhuman conflict.
  • And Then What?: This is how Edwin manages to make Dr. Loeb to realize why he really wants to build an orbital laser: to get back at his mom.
  • Amoral Attorney: Topper, whose corrupt and willing to cheat. Paired with him actually being a great attorney, he's become one of the most feared men in the city's courtrooms.
  • The Atoner: Excelsior accidentally killed his parents when he ran into their truck while escaping imprisonment. Gus told him that he couldn't bring them back, but he could save others, so that's what he does.
  • Badass Normal: Edwin and Gus fit. Superlative Man didn't have any powers, but it's anyone's guess whether he was badass or not.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: It's not extortion...
  • Break Them by Talking: At the end of the series reboot when Edwin manages to get Excelsior to consent to being Buried Alive in concrete by appealing to his guilt and his desire to be a hero.
  • The Brute: Barry's (and his later incarnation of Cromoglodon) purpose is to break things because he's not qualified for anything else.
  • Commissioner Gordon: Excelsior's point of contact is Agent Gus, a grumpy and tough old man. Gus is a bit of a...reality-based inspection of the trope; Excelsior can be neurotic about saving lives and fighting villainy, and hence he can do a lot more harm than good due to his rashness and living in a world of cardboard. Gus's job is to keep the big picture in mind, motivate Excelsior when he's demotivated, and discourage him from doing damage by acting impulsively. Gus doesn't respect the agency he works for since it's run by arrogant and cowardly bureaucrats who have learned to take Excelsior for granted. Gus is the only real person Excelsior respects due to his hard-nosed resolve , and has become dependent on his handler for a sense of direction. When Gus is taken off of duty by having a stroke, the relationship between the other two parties collapses.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Applies to almost all of Edwin's clients; they could make a lot of money if they weren't so focused on being evil.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Topper, a man of short statue but grand appetites. He is heavily into bodybuilding and hedonism, eating an entire jar of whey protein and washing it down with a pony keg. He likes custom-built muscle cars, guns, and cheating at golf.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: Edwin strangely sits somewhere between this and Corrupt Corporate Executive, being a master planner with plentiful resources and a man running a legitimate business, and actually committing only a few crimes. When he hits his Rage Breaking Point, he leaves consulting and embraces this trope fully.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Played with for Excelsior. On one hand, he enjoys the adulation of the masses. On the other hand, he wishes people accepted him personally, not the image of him as a superpowered icon.
  • Dumb Muscle: Barry Banister is basically the Hulk; really dumb, and has a lot of muscle.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Edwin is evil but he's fighting evil-er people.
  • Expy: usually with a deconstructive twist:
    • Excelsior: Superman (powers, Midwestern origin) and Captain America (red, white and blue costume, patriotic symbol) without the ability to think independently. And, like Spider-man, his primary motivation is atoning for the death of his relatives, which he feels responsible for.
    • Barry Banister: Bruce Banner without the genius.
    • Bryce Warner, AKA The Lynx, is a clear stand-in for Batman.
  • Fake Nationality: Invoked. "Dr Loeb" is from Mississippi and his Austrian accent is transparently fake.
  • Foil: Topper is an opposite to his client Edwin in almost every possible way except gender. He's impulsive and hedonistic to Edwin's thoughtfulness and methodicalness. Short to Edwin's tall. Libidinous while Edwin is functionally asexual. And so on. Both are actually pretty smart and capable at their jobs, and love golf. See Odd Friendship, below.
  • For the Evulz: What separates supervillains from more pragmatic criminals like Edwin, who are primarily concerned with money and other resources.
  • Heroes With Bad Publicity: Heroes aren't likable people, especially if you're asking the local police who have to clean up their messes.
  • Hero Insurance: Villain insurance exists, but not hero insurance, which has been judged an "act of God".
  • Hulk Speak: Barry, again.
  • Insistent Terminology: Agnes being a proper English lady, she is quite insistent that she is not any sort of "executive assistant" - something she dismisses as barbarous jargon - she is a secretary and don't you forget it.
  • Invisible to Normals: Defied. Not only do people notice the super people around them, the majority dislike them because of all the damage they cause.
  • Large and in Charge: Edwin is freakishly tall and is often the one calling the shots.
  • Lord Error-Prone: Every hero/villain in the story; a career with these guys is what drove Edwin over the edge to evil.
  • Mad Scientist: Most of Edwin's clients. Special mention to Brainitar, who was driven mad by a phantom itch after he transplanted his brain into a robot body.
  • Mob-Boss Suit Fitting: (the novel for sure, probably the podcast too) features, actually, many of these. Edwin Windsor's tailor is not just such a consummate discreet professional that a consulting supervillain can talk freely in front of him, he's actually one of his closest and most dependable cronies. Edwin's favored mode of re-centering himself and rebuilding his morale after any big setback is by having a new suit fitted.
  • Morality Pet: Agnes and Topper are this to Edwin. Topper somehow manages to be an amorality pet at the same time.
  • My Greatest Failure: Edwin considers Brainitar this. Brainitar developed a revolutionary way to transplant his brain into a robotic body, but soon developed a phantom itch that drove him completely insane, torpedoing all of Edwin's plans to profit from the technology.
  • The Napoleon: Topper is a dwarf, and has constantly struggled for respect despite his stature. As a result, he lives a larger-than-life lifestyle and keeps a chip on his shoulder twice the size that he is.
  • Not Enough to Bury: Excelsior, in his attempts to stop the crash of Flight 206, discovers to his horror that while he is a man of steel, neither the plane he is saving nor the people on it are. The most he ends up managing to save is the Captain's arm.
  • Odd Friendship: Topper and Edwin. Their difference in height nothwithstanding, Edwin is cold hearted, impersonal, holds himself professionally at all times, and seeks his way through challenges with skill, diplomacy, and planning. Topper is a man defined by his passions; he's loud, larger than life, hedonistic, not afraid to pick a fight, puts himself fully into everything he does, and loves winning to the point that he actually became quite an excellent attorney as well as thinking that if you aren't willing to cheat to win then you're just being lazy. Both are drawn together by mutual respect for their drives and skill, and a love of money and golf.
  • Only in It for the Money: During his career as a consultant, Edwin is motivated largely by the pursuit of wealth. He hates destruction, since it means the erasure of assets that can be used and wiping away the capital that was used to create them. He thinks using supervillainy for power is pointless, since heroes always step in and it's easier to gain and maintain control of something if you simply buy it out. He often advises villains to go legit and use their powers in business pursuits, since it's a lot more practical than villainy.
  • Person of Mass Destruction:
    • Barry basically breaks anything that gets in his way, and seems essentially indestructible.
    • Topper, while an unpowered dwarf, sometimes creates more devastation than the super-powered individuals. After all, he's rich, he's got a severe case of short-man's syndrome, and he's got a knack for getting everyone else on board with his insanity.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: It's hard to tell whether Excelsior has this naturally or it was brainwashed into him by Gus (The third book reveals that it's guilt from accidentally causing the death of his parents), but it plays a very important role throughout the book.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Excelsior, in a variation, takes all his work from a body of the US government dedicated to keeping him on a tight leash, lest as a loose Person of Mass Destruction he do something counterproductive.
  • Retcon: In "How To Succeed in Evil" Brainitar's downfall is described as being the result of a phantom itch, and Edwin regards it as My Greatest Failure, because he invested heavily in Brainitar's technology and lost untold amounts of money when he went off the deep-end. Come "Brainitar" and it's clear that the title character is already off his rocker and Edwin never entertains the possibility that Brainitar might be otherwise. Edwin invests no money in Brainitar's technology and in fact ends the book richer than ever.
  • Secret Identity: Amazingman has one which is revealed pretty early.
  • Shoo Out the New Guy: Edwin 2.0 qualifies. Mr. McLean decided to re-write his main character by turning him into an Affably Evil, Lex Luthor-esque, Evil Brit complete with a suit that turns him invisible. Almost immediately afterward, Mr. McLean realized that his Reboot was a horrible idea and dedicated an entire episode to deconstructing him.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Deconstructed with Gus, who is seen coughing during the first half-to-two-thirds of the story, and then he has a stroke, and it turns out he's had cancer since before the story started.
  • Something Person: Names like 'Amazingman', 'Powerboy', and 'The Justinator'. Done on purpose.
  • Stock Evil Overlord Tactics: Deconstructed; Edwin points out the flaws in these methods and suggests better uses of these resources.
  • Superhero: Edwin toes the line between this and Supervillain, as noted in the description.
  • Superheroes Wear Tights: Though some of them really shouldn't and those who can pull it off annoy the sensible characters.
  • Supervillain Lair: With a sign out front so the pizza man can find it.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Edwin's company and henchman are all very competent; he doesn't hire idiots. But the rest of the world on the other hand...
  • There Was a Door:
    • Excelsior was dissuaded from using the three story window while going in. Going out, on the other hand...
  • √úbermensch: Edwin considers everyone around him to be "lemmings" and "ants".
  • Vapor Wear: Cindi with an I.
  • Villain Protagonist: Edwin is The Protagonist and also a super villain.
  • Visionary Villain: This is why Edwin became a villain, after a string of not-so-visionary clients; if evil is to be done it should be done efficiently.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Agnes and Topper despise each other and never waste an opportunity to trade barbs, but they have a grudging respect for each other and Agnes gets upset if Topper's insults aren't up to par.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Edwin delivers a truly magnificent one of these to Powerboy.