ASH: Derek Radner's Private Journal #7 - Conquerors
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Mon May 14 13:03:39 PDT 2012
[Private Journal of Derek Radner - December 2, 2017]
As I give more thought to villainy, I can see that some world conquering
sorts count as "true" villains, while others don't. And while I can
certainly go down the list of the worldbeaters and slot them into my existing
taxonomy, I think the specific motivations are worth examining on their own.
I'm going to exclude "institutional" conquerors for the most part,
people who are merely leading the invasion on behalf of some nation or group
that "does" conquest as part of their culture, unless they stand out from the
crowd. But the motives of most institutional conquerors are more a function
of their society's imperatives, and so you're really looking at the entire
culture rather than individuals. Individuals are always a product of their
culture in some way, of course, but I'd rather focus on the individuals who
decide they need to take over the world or some significant subset of it.
(Aside: all institutional conquerors have a common foe: math. The
empire-builders eventually choke on territory beyond their ability to govern
and fall apart, the locusts eventually become unable to acquire new resources
quickly enough to feed their existing armies. In their dying gasps, each
kind of conquering culture can spawn individual conquerors of note, and most
get started thanks to a successful individual. But in the middle, they're
just not as interesting to me.)
I think the four main motivations for conquest can be broken up roughly
into: egoboo, (crossed out "bored") challenge-seeking, stepping stones and
benevolent tyrant. And yes, that's in increasing order of respect I have for
the motivations, but they all have strengths and weaknesses.
This sort is insecure as hell, and needs to be constantly praised in
order to prop up his self-worth. He'll conquer a place just to add to the
choir singing his praises.
The weakness of this variety is obvious...he secretly thinks he's not
worthy, so he'll tend to self-sabotage. And he may be right in that he
doesn't really deserve to rule, so there's going to be some other weakness in
there to exploit.
A lot of the guys like this are flashes in the pan you've probably never
heard of, like The Mighty Steve. And that brings up another common weakness,
this kind of conqueror often stumbles into power and decides to use it to
make people respect them. So they don't have much of a plan, even if they
WIN they don't really know what to do with it.
On the other hand, your average Not-Mighty Steve doesn't wake up after a
particularly bad night and decide what he really needs is to Show Them All
and head out to conquer New Jersey. Egoboos have power, and lots of it. In
fact, thanks to their fragile self-esteem, they really need to have more
power than it takes to do the job before they'll feel confident enough to try
(although some are just stupid and don't realize they're not even
B-listers). Occasionally you get inheritors of power in this role, I've read
of a few Santari during their age of expansion who found themselves head of
House due to an accident and went on some serious rampages in an attempt to
prove they weren't the losers their fathers always said they were.
But it takes a thankfully rare combination of self-loathing and power to
create an Egoboo conqueror, so most of the cases involve sudden power-ups, so
the idiot doesn't have time to adjust to his powers and decide he still
sucks. So he has to have that point beaten into him like Manhattan-ASH did
to the Mighty Steve.
(Marginal note: Bored Now....)
Fortunately, these guys are almost solely the province of fiction,
although I think you might make an argument that WarStar was this type (I'd
tend to put him in the Stepping Stone category, though).
Sometimes when you have plenty of power *and* good self-esteem, you find
yourself running out of meaningful challenges. Sure, you could strive for
the betterment of humanity or something, but that gets boring when done
right. It can't all be punching stuff, no matter what the superheroes of the
TwenCen might have thought. So you get someone who decides that what he
really needs to test his power is a little bit of conquering. Whether it's a
city, a nation or an entire planet, the plan is to bite off more than he can
chew and then swallow it anyway.
While there's been a few delusional idiots who set out on this path
without the power to back it up, usually challenge-seekers don't jump right
from "I can beat up anyone in this bar" to "I can rule Australia" in a single
bound, and the less powerful examples meet their level of incompetence before
conquest enters their heads. The Peter Principle, applied to Peter the Great
or something. So challenge-driven conquerors usually have enough power to
make a serious run at it.
On the other hand, once they have it, what do they do with it? If they
were actually interested in running an empire, they'd probably have found
sufficient challenge in the non-hitting-people fields and not set out to try
to conquer. As has been proven many times throughout history (most notably
by the Mongols), conquering virtues don't necessarily translate into ruling
virtues, especially if you have no patience to learn the way of ruling.
The best we can hope for if successfully conquered by a challenge-
seeker is a sort of "catch and release" program, in which he hands back the
keys to office once he's gotten everyone to say uncle. At worst, he'll
destroy his plaything when he's done with it...especially if he feels it was
too boring a conquest.
Against this sort of conqueror, it's important to know when to fold and
when to keep fighting. Too little resistance, and he might feel insulted or
bored and blow up the place when he's done. Too much, and even victory could
Not that it's always obvious that this sort of conqueror IS this sort of
conqueror, of course. Cutting your losses when resisting an egoboo might be
exactly the wrong move.
These are very hard to predict or deal with. They're not doing it for
the praise, or for the challenge, or even for the rulership. They have some
other endgame, and taking over is merely part of their overall plan.
For instance, a Santari explorer stranded on Earth in 1840 might try
using his superior technology to take over a small nation and then kickstart
their tech development in order to make the parts he needs to fix his ship
and get off this backwards mudball. Or a necromancer might wage war merely
to increase the amount of death in order to power some sort of immortality or
apotheosis gambit. Someone expecting an invasion by his personal enemies
might conquer his nearby neighbors in order to forge a large enough force to
fend off the attack and save his own skin. That sort of thing.
Since the continued well-being of the conquered territory is probably
not a concern for this sort of conqueror, they could end up expended horribly
in pursuit of the goal...or released relatively unharmed (or even helped
somewhat) once the goal has been met. When fighting this kind of person,
it's vitally important to determine his goal. If the goal can be met in some
other way (magically teleport the Santari off-world, perhaps) or conclusively
shot down (destroy the artifact that the necromancer was going to empower
with all those souls), you can cut the conquest short. Of course, a clever
sort of person would find a way to not only meet/thwart the conqueror's
original goals, but also take over the place once the original conqueror
leaves. Especially if you can come across as a savior of the people and get
them to follow you willingly.
Frankly, it doesn't take much brainpower or insight to realize that the
majority of humans are idiots who will sooner or later render Earth
uninhabitable with their tribalistic squabbling. The natural human tendency
is to divide everyone into "us" and "them", and past a certain size of nation
it becomes nearly impossible to prevent fracturing. Right now we've got four
or five super-nations that account for most of the surviving population, but
they're only hanging together out of inertia from the bad times of the late
1990s. Once people start to forget the starving years, the Eurasian Union
and North American Combine will start to fracture, no two ways about it. The
Moslem Confederation has never really been that unified, but China appears to
have learned the lesson that tyranny is really the only way to go.
Sure, there's aliens out there to provide a "them", but they're too
distant and too (seemingly) benign to really work as a bogeyman. To get a
truly united world any time soon, it's going to require a True Villain
willing to be hated in his lifetime, to conquer the world for its own damned
good. If nothing else, providing a single obvious target for the "them"-hate
would make it easier for the common rabble to hang together.
The benevolent conqueror can't be in it for the ego stroking, because he
will be actively hated. He has to stick with it for the long haul, no matter
how boring the minutae of rule might be. And running the place has to be the
primary or even sole motivation, as any side projects will be weak spots
through which opponents can strike.
Of course, there's nothing to keep such a conqueror from enjoying SOME
of the fruits of his labor. Chicks dig power, after all. Just be sure to
let it go when you meet one who doesn't care about your power...getting
obsessive about the one person who says no tends to lead to the fall of a
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 2012 by Dave Van Domelen I
#7 - Conquerors
Just something I put together in my head while out on a shopping trip.
I actually devoted a lot of thought to the institutional conquerors before
deciding Derek wouldn't be that interested in them (since he didn't plan to
be one!), and I condensed all that down to a paragraph.
As usual, almost no proofreading beyond what I caught as I typed, since
this is supposed to be hand-written notes.
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