[ASH] Derek Radner's Private Journal #1 - Villainy

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Wed Nov 14 08:44:05 PST 2007

[Private Journal of Derek Radner - October 23, 2017]

     I've been thinking about villainy lately, now that I'm supposedly
"majoring" in heroism here.  It seems that so much of what they're teaching
us is negative...they're not so much training us to be heroic as they are
trying to instill an aversion to villainy.  Probably a safer path overall, I
guess, but it does tend to get one thinking about the other side a bit more
than might be healthy.  
     Of course, if I wasn't already thinking about the other side, I'd be
typing this journal up on my handcomp, rather than writing it by hand in an
old paper diary.  Not bothering with a cipher, though...this is all about
flying under the radar and avoiding the automatic sweeps I know they do of
all student accounts.  If they find this in the first place, it'll get
subjected to more advanced cryptoanalysis than I can hope to defeat.  And if
they're even looking for it, it'll probably be because I tipped my hand in
other ways.  All puzzles get solved in the end, right?

     What makes a villain?  What makes him (or her, or it) villainous rather
than merely a threat?  After all, no one calls a hurricane a villain, even if
it's as dangerous as five Doublecrosses during its lifetime.
     I think that it's a CHOICE that makes a villain.  It may be a bad
choice, an uninformed choice, or a choice influenced by weakness rather than
strength, but those who have no volition can't truly be villains.  They may
be monsters, threats to life and limb and property, but those without the
intelligence or the sanity to choose their path cannot really be considered
     So, that leaves out the most profoundly insane, whose psychoses utterly
control them, and those of animal intelligence or worse.  They can't make
even the most basic choices for themselves, so cannot bear the name villain.
Of course, it also means that if some of the fundies are right and we lack
free will, then the only villain in the piece is God Himself, since only He
gets to choose anything, and clearly He chooses to make our lives unpleasant.
But I don't really feel like writing about theodicy right now, so I'll just
let that slide.

     (Note in margin) "Nietzsche is dead." - God

     But what choices might bring one to villainy?  I've given this some
thought over the past month, but never committed it to the fixity of the
written word until now.  I think there's four basic categories of villain.

     Victims of circumstance
     Victims of personal failings
     Misguided idealists/crusaders
     True Villains

     Of course, most of these can be subdivided into further taxons, and I'll
probably explore them in more depth once I'm happy with these top level

     (Note in margin) Look at old senior year paper on hero types?

(underlined)Victims of Circumstance

     Someone with the power to make a difference is somehow stuck with the
consequences of a bad situation.  Maybe they're mentally ill but still sane
enough to realize that their actions are wrong, although those tend to be
more in the next category.  Maybe they fell victim to their baser instincts
once, got caught, and are now on the wrong side of the law.  Perhaps they
were framed, or accidentally used their abilities to harm someone who didn't
deserve it.  
     Villains of this sort are almost always temporary.  Either they find a
way to overcome their circumstances, or they transition into another category
of villainy.  Usually, if they stay on the wrong side of the law, it's due to
personal failings, but once in a while their time on the run leads to a
moment of enlightenment.  On the road away from Damascus, I suppose.

(underlined)Victims of Personal Failings

     Probably the most common category.  Nobody's perfect, and most of us
can't even pretend to rise above our weaknesses.  Greed is probably the most
common sub-category here, although it often has to be combined with a lack of
long-term vision.  Fear is also pretty common, especially for those who
started as victims of circumstance.  Minor insanities count as well, as do
powers that cannot be controlled properly (like Radiak, who so wanted to be a
hero, but he never had the willpower to damp down his radiation levels to the
point where he wouldn't kill people wherever he went).

     (Note in margin) Greed, Sloth, Gluttony, Wrath, Lust  ??  (Greed and
Wrath are underlined)

     Greed leads to villainy more often than any other cause I can think of
off the top of my head, but it usually ends up combined with stupidity or
lazy thinking, especially during the Third Age.  There are so many ways to
make a decent living, or even get rich, using superhuman powers that just
robbing banks is a monumentally bad idea.  But when someone with a lack of
vision finds they can break through walls with their bare hands, it can often
look like there's no way to make a mint than to, well, break into a mint.
This can combine with being a victim of circumstance, convincing the villain
that he can't go legit because of past crimes, but that comes around to a
lack of courage too.  Some of the strongest supernormals of the TwenCen were
some of the weakest in...call it heart.  And some of the most brilliant
inventors were some of the most foolish.  Sure, supertech isn't necessarily
usable by normals, but there's plenty of ways around that, ways to
incorporate supertech into processes that result in improved normaltech
     Fear, of course, is less often a reason to get into villainy than a
reason to stay there.  Face it, no one really wants to go to jail the first
time, and not many want to go back for a second stay.  If they did, it
wouldn't work as a punishment, right?  Sure, the DSHA bent over backwards to
try to make it relatively painless to turn yourself in and turn hero.  But
that's statistically speaking, and almost no one finds comfort in
statistics.  They're always going to be worried that their particular crimes
were so bad that they won't get that sweetheart deal, and end up getting
turned into the prison bitch of someone who can bend steel with their bare
hands.  Or they're just afraid of their identity being exposed...fear of
shame has driven entire civilizations, after all.

     (Note in margin) Lies, damned lies, statistics, government promises

     Then we get into paraphilias.  Frankly, I expect both heroes and
villains had more kinks than the general population by several orders of
magnitude...it takes at least an exhibitionist streak to run around in
skintight outfits, no matter how flattering they might be on someone with an
active Magene.  And a lot of villains got off on things that were not, under
any circumstances, legal.  A few were able to overcome their socially
unacceptable desires, or at least channel them into legally sanctioned
activities (like the infamously pervy Doctor Developer and his deathtrap
fetish), but most of them just kept going back to crime to satisfy their
     Related to paraphilias are other mental illnesses that, while leaving
their victim some degree of choice, did lead to antisocial actions.  People
given to fits of rage, or to kleptomania, or other types of brain rot that
weren't overridingly powerful (so they're not monsters), but that the
villains in question didn't have the strength of character to overcome.  A
lot of superheroes overcame such illnesses, even if it was a battle every day
not to lash out and kill someone.  What made the villain was that poor choice
to give in to those impulses, the poor choice to not seek help.

     And a lot of it comes down to that poor choice.  The villain is a
villain in these cases for reasons that can be overcome, with a little
willpower or vision or courage.  But they're weak in character and do not
make the choice necessary to let them stop being villains.

(underlined)Misguided Idealists/Crusaders

     Victims usually know they're bad people, they just can't find a way back
to being a good person.  But some villains are convinced that they're on the
side of the angels (sometimes literally).  
     These villains are promoting some cause or another, and it brings them
into conflict with the existing power structure.  I call them misguided,
because those who have just and true causes aren't villains of any stripe,
they're just somebody else's hero.  Both Richard the Lionhearted and Saladin
were heroes, after all.  WarStar was a hero, from what I've been able to
tell, just for another world.
     No, the misguided idealist is usually at least a little delusional, or
at best has let their cause blind them to the effects of how they promote it.
Frequently, the very people these villains claim to be fighting for distance
themselves from the idealist.  Look at the man who brought flaming death from
the sky down upon Bosnia in the early 90s.  While he claimed to be an Islamic
patriot, once the dust settled (and the fires went out) very few Serbian
Moslems were willing to claim him as their own.
     However, because they know their own cause is just, they will never
"reform", since there's nothing in need of reformation.  They're not victims
of anything (except maybe a few delusions).  And because they usually do have
a righteous cause to back them, they often attract large followings.
Sometimes these organizations self-destruct when their leader drops too
deeply into insanity, but other times they need to be destroyed from without.

     (Doodle in the margin of meteors raining down.)

(double underlined)True Villainy

     In "Paradise Lost," Lucifer has a famous quote about it being better to
rule in hell than serve in heaven, and that defines the true villain pretty
well, although the true villain will also have an eye on ruling heaven
eventually as well.
     Far from being a victim, the true villain is seizing control of his own
destiny.  And rather than being convinced of his rectitude, the true villain
knows he acts against the wishes of society, often embracing evil as a
personal virtue.  A true villain has realized that the system that most
people are happy to live within is itself a grand prison.  Oh, if you can
never reach the walls or ceiling, it may grant the illusion of freedom, but
the villain's reach is great.  The bars are obvious, and chafe.  

     (Note in margin) Chafing bars?  What was I thinking?

     So, the true villain makes a conscious decision to step outside of the
system, seek his own destiny and craft a new system that suits him better.
The rest of the world has already proven itself willing to live in prison
walls, the true villain is more than happy to oblige them by reshaping that
prison so that he's outside the walls.
     Sometimes, that's all a true villain wants.  Freedom to be responsible
to only himself, to do what he will without interference from the small-
minded people of the world.  But usually there's also a desire for control,
either to stroke the ego or perhaps out of a form of lese majeste.  I think
that's the term I'm going for, anyway.  

     (Note in margin) Noblesse oblige.  Although I wouldn't mind some lese
majeste either. 

     These villains know that they can make the world a better place, but
unlike the misguided idealists they harbor no illusions that the rabble will
thank them for it.  A true villain who is out to save the world knows that he
will be hated for generations to come, but rests confident in the knowledge
that one day his actions will be recognized for what they truly were.
     Anyway, the true villain seeks to cast off the shackles of convention.
Whether he also wants to place new shackles on others is purely a matter of
personal taste.


     Devastator - A tricky case.  He's probably insane to the point where at
best he's a victim of personal weakness.  But his vision was quite grand, and
it seemed like he was out to save the world FROM humanity rather than FOR
humanity.  We may never know, of course, since he wasn't one to leave memoirs
or do interviews, but I'd tentatively label him a True Villain.

     Lord Ebon - Fear.  Fear of death.  Near as I can tell, the man would do
anything to avoid having to cross over to whatever awaits the spirit after
the death of the body.  For all that he was one of the most dangerous men of
the TwenCen, he wasn't much of a villain as far as I'm concerned.

     Doublecross - Hard to say.  So much of his life is hidden behind layers
of his own devising, but he seems to have been all four kinds of villain at
one point or another, finally becoming an insane monster before Apollo
eliminated him.

     Antiochus V - If a villain at all, he's a True Villain, with a vision
for the world that doesn't include us.  But I might almost call him a hero of
machine life.

     WarStar - Definitely Somebody Else's Hero.  He was supposedly a one-man
vanguard for an invading force that thankfully never came.

     The Guys - Mostly motivated by greed and a lack of vision.  Harry Kane,
for instance, could have made millions controlling weather on the behalf of
agribusiness or even theme parks, but instead he hijacked cargo planes and
flew out the back with his stolen goods.  Alan Steel, however, was more a
victim of his own desire to be accepted.  He was too afraid that he'd never
make more friends that he wouldn't abandon The Guys even after he knew they
were bad people.  I suppose if he had left, they would have fallen apart
pretty quickly, though...something to think about later.

(underlined)What am I?

     Here I sit, with sleep pulling at my eyes, another day of hero training
awaiting me in the morning.  Will I fit into the slot the masters of the
Combine have envisioned for me?  Will I find my own failings drive me to the
role of villain...or will I find a reason to embrace it as my cause?  Do I
even have a cause?  Damn, I guess having superhuman powers is no defense
against teenage angst.
     I don't think I'm idiot enough to be a misguided crusader, anyway.  And
I like to think I have the balls to not be a mere victim of circumstances,
but I've never really been tested yet, and I might break when presented with
crisis and become a victim of my own failings.  But what will be my fate?
Hero out of inertia, villain out of weakness, or villain out of strength?
     Rather than being on the horns of a dilemma, maybe I'm on more of a

     (A doodle of a trident fills the left margin of this page.)

            This has been a Conclave of Super-Villains Special:
   ( )                Derek Radner's Private Journal                 ( )
    I           An Academy of Super-Heroes Universe Comic             I
    I               copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen                I
                              #1 - Villainy

Author's Notes:

     This is an idea I had kicking around for a while, something I'd poke at
while driving, that sort of thing.  I considered making this a Time Capsules,
but figured that doing it so soon after "How To Kill Superheroes" would feel
redundant.  Instead, I'm opening up what might become a recurring title in
the form of Derek's diary.  It's open to other authors as well, I figured
it'd be nice to have a place to philosophize about the nature of villainy
without it having to fit into a plot...there's only so much Derek (or any
other villain) can soliloquize in a story without bogging it down, after all.
     I figure this was his first entry specifically on the topic of villainy,
although he would also have mused on heroism in either private or in a class
assignment before that.  He became Triton in his sophomore year (2018-9), and
was either stopped early in that year or late in it (Lake Michigan wasn't
frozen at the time, so middle of the school year is out).  Given that his
Autobiography chapter (Time Capsules #2) involving his time at Leavenworth
starts as November 2019, it's likely he was caught in spring 2019 and had a
relatively speedy trial.  He spends the next 4 years in Leavenworth, secretly
communicating with Rebus on the outside, but it's unlikely he kept a paper
journal during this time, due to the lack of privacy even a normal prisoner
has, and most of his communiques to Rebus were either schematics or encoded
in puzzles.  He likely spent some time in early 2024 putting his memories of
the prison years down in a more permanent form, creating the basis for his
autobiography.  But his high school and college journals would have been
confiscated during the investigation leading up to his trial, and might well
contradict his later memories of them (i.e. a journal entry from 2016 could
easily contradict claims made in CSV issues by Derek about long-held beliefs,
being brilliant doesn't always protect you from self-editing of memories).

     Anyway, that's the conceit.  Derek Radner's highschool and early college
musings, maybe some of his later philosophizing during his time as leader of
the CSV or as Chancellor of Khadam.  Heck, there might even be an ancient
papyrus or vellum scroll recovered from ancient Rome with some of his
thoughts.  :)

     Character credits time.  Derek was created by me as a throwaway line in
Academy #0, and fleshed out in STRAFE #0 by Marc Singer (he's a #0 kinda
guy).  Most of his development since then has been in the hands of Tony Pi.


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