A Taxonomy of Scientific Villainy, Part 2

Last week I wrote about 2 types of scientific villains as part of a personal quest to categorize the types of science villains routinely seen in the world of comics. I don’t have much time to plan very far ahead so suffice it to say that while this us Part 2, it is one part of many, and feedback from the iFanbase to shape future ideas and directions is not merely requested, but is necessary.

Previously, I presented the Icarus model of scientific villainy, wherein someone for selfish reasons develops a new technology that backfires upon them and thus they unleash their frustrations on the rest of us. Mr. Freeze (technically a Dr.) and Doc Ock represent two nice examples from the Big 2, but it also brought to mind what is probably a subset of the Icarus model: The Jekyll & Hyde.

The Jekyll & Hyde

Notable examples: Mr. Hyde (obviously), The Lizard, Green Goblin, (The Hulk), Man-Bat

For those unfamiliar, Dr. Jekyll created a potion which unleashed a brutish alternate personality named Mr. Hyde (poor bastard never finished his thesis to become Dr. Hyde, I can relate). The story is a tale of one man’s internal struggle between good and evil urges within, and parallels to comics are plentiful, but perhaps not as plentiful as you might think.

There are several examples that seem like they might apply, but actually don’t. So a few debunkings are in order to serve a contra-examples to hopefully bracket a further discussion.

Two-Face – Seems almost perfect, except Harvey Dent is a law villain, not a science villain. Furthermore, the scarring of his face was involuntary.

Beast – Yes, he took a potion, and yes he transformed into a “monster” but he can’t change back the monster is still Hank McCoy.

Captain Marvel – He's a hero. And Science != magic. And for those not in the know ‘!=’ means ‘does not equal.’

Poison Ivy – Right on the cusp, but her transformation was involuntary, which may necessitate an additional categorization down the line. Stay tuned, true believers.

But there are legitimate examples, like the ones I just mentioned in the Notable Examples. I think they all fit well within the Icarus Model, but there’s that additional twist of the divergent persona that is occasionally repressed. It makes for a fun narrative device because you can always plausibly assert that a character has permanently reverted to good, always knowing that the potential for Hyde to reassert exists as an omnipresent threat.

And I think that’s the key. It’s the stochastic back and forth that creates the ultimate tension between hero and villain. Spider-Man wouldn’t have such a hard time with Dr. Curt Conors if there wasn’t always a sliver of hope that should his Hyde-like Lizard personality be purged then Conors would be truly redeemed (or at the very least redeemable). Tombstone presents no such challenge because he’s just a thug, nothing beneath the surface suggesting rehabilitation. And the hero, as a hero, will always hold out hope that the bad guy can become good, or at least non-bad.

Beyond Morality

Notable Examples: Abracadabra, Kang, Vandal Savage , The Steins (Runaways), Chronos, Professor Zoom

You’ll notice a trend with the above examples, they’re not really from around here temporally speaking. As uncomfortable a concept as it may seem: morality is fluid. Not all cultures today share the same morality, and morality changes over time within a culture in some pretty significant ways. Used to be you could own people and no thought that was wrong. Now we find ideas like that abhorrent. And there are things that our modern culture is ok with that future generations will find equally as disgusting. Based on history the trend seems inevitable.

And that’s what has happened with the above villains, they were living in a time when morality was different, but now they’re here and they’re gonna mess stuff up. It’s entirely possible that these characters are villainous jerks in their own times as well (sorry, verb conjugation gets tricky when dealing with time travel).

This should also apply to every single alien or otherwise non-human baddie but I don’t think it does. The whole point of this category is that they’re BEYOND morality, not completely off to the side of it. So I personally think this category should be reserved for humans and near humans (Homo superior, Homo magus, etc.). There are humans, like Lex Luthor and the Joker, that might declare themselves beyond morality, but since they just declared it themselves and have no frame of reference for a future morality they could ascribe to, I don’t think they qualify (especially since I wouldn’t call the Joker a science villain in the first place).

Nothing I’m saying excuses any of the terrible things these villains do. Just because we know morality will be different in the future doesn’t mean we can plan for it, we just have to abide by the morality we have now and try to be flexible when new ideas that challenge the old pop up. Letting bad guys off the hook based on future morality would be like picking a day next year when you know it’s going to be sunny and burning your umbrella the night before. Odds are there will be sunny days next year, maybe the day you picked, maybe not, but it’s too far out to be able to predict with any certainty. Basically what I’m saying is “bad guys = bad guys.”

So that was round 2. I think I have at least 1 round left in me for next week, meaning the saga continues! Once I wrap things up the floodgates of you all finding ways to break this new system can begin in earnest. And I don’t say that defensively, I will be disappointed if no one at least tries to find counter examples for the categories I put forth. It’s how both science and arguing about comics continue and thrive.


Ryan Haupt has ideas about what morals will be like in the future. None of them belong on a comic book site. However, he may give hints about what tomorrow holds on his podcast Science… sort of.


  1. I don’t know how I missed your first piece, but both of these articles are awesome.  Love the thought and ideas put in.  

    I feel like it’d be hard to stop and have a final round, as you’ve suggested.  There is alot to a good villain, and breaking down the archtypes could go on and on for a LOOONG time.  Especially considering the depth to which you’re going.

  2. Excellent.

  3. Thought provoking as always, Ryan. Looking forward to part 3.

  4. I also think that Beyond Morality doesn’t absolve behavior because they either chose to come to a new time line, with a different morality, and if they didn’t choose it, they’re there now so get used to it! The Steins got stuck in the 21st century, and being time travelers they knew how to adapt and adopt. It wasn’t until they were given the “apocolyptic out” that they abandoned the current morality.