Why are major supervillains so often older than their superhero counterparts?

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Lex Luthor, Dr. Octopus, Green Goblin, Kingpin, Magneto... Joker is kinda ageless, but at least in Batman the Movie he is older than Bruce Wayne. Is the age difference an attempt to appeal to teenagers wanting to rebel against grown-ups?

Tuomas (Tuomas), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 10:32 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Villains aren't in general the forces of authority, is the thing.

Andrew Farrell (afarrell), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 10:38 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Yeah, at least in some cases - like Green Goblin, R'as Al Ghul in Batman Begins, Magneto - they represent bad fathers, and, in the case of the former two, are contrasted with good (but deceased) fathers.

Tuomas (Tuomas), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 10:48 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Also, I think almost all the ones I mentioned are forces of authority, i.e. they aren't just regular criminals but control an army of followers/employees/henchmen, it's just that they represent "bad authority".

Tuomas (Tuomas), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 10:51 (twelve years ago) Permalink

One (rather dull) explanation is that age = experience, wordlyness and some sort of wisdom, which are good qualities for an opponent to have if you want the hero to feel outgunned, especially if he's young and unexperienced.

Daniel_Rf (Daniel_Rf), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 11:03 (twelve years ago) Permalink

And I mean, criminal masterminds are older as a rule, not just in supehero comics - they have to be, because getting gangs together, getting power, growing rich, these things take their time and one has to rise through the ranks to get there.

Dr.Octopus doesn't really fit in with that, but then he's hardly an authority figure in the Luthor/Kingpin sense, if teens are supposed to identify him with anyone it'd be the fuck-up ex-authority figure that went totally off the rails, not the current one.

Daniel_Rf (Daniel_Rf), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 11:08 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Youths are innocent and idealistic, old men are crotchety and reactionary. Life stomps the goodness and idealism out of you. Youthful liberalism turns into hardened, frequently assholish conservatism.

barefoot manthing (Garrett Martin), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 12:07 (twelve years ago) Permalink

And isn't that the exact reason teens hate grown-ups?

Tuomas (Tuomas), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 12:09 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Not always. Sometimes it's the other way around, especially lately.

Matthew Perpetua! (Matthew Perpetua!), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 12:23 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Wouldn't it be cool to have a middle-aged liberal superhero who fights a young neo-con villain?

Tuomas (Tuomas), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 12:25 (twelve years ago) Permalink

You mean like Earth 2 Superman vs Alexander Luthor?

aldo_cowpat (aldo_cowpat), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 12:57 (twelve years ago) Permalink

because it's harder to get behind a guy beating up someone younger than him!

s1ocki (slutsky), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 13:36 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Hence the B.O. failure of Rocky V.

Huk-L (Huk-L), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 14:11 (twelve years ago) Permalink

yeah that guy coulda used some right guard.

s1ocki (slutsky), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 14:20 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Anyway, Batman, and Batman Begins especially, is ALL about rejecting/accepting father figures. Though I'm not sure where Scarecrow fits in with that.

ALTHOUGH, as we'll see in the fall, in the 50s/60s Batman became the Father Figure (as did Superman, esp. in Jimmy Olsen). And then he had to fight George Michael.

Huk-L (Huk-L), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 14:32 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Scarecrow=obnoxious younger brother.

chap who would dare to start Raaatpackin (chap), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 14:41 (twelve years ago) Permalink

because it's harder to get behind a guy beating up someone younger than him!

But it's also sort of hard to get behind a guy beating up some frail old man! Thus the "mess with superhero's mind until he/she snaps and starts whaling on me, causing everyone else to turn on them" plan oft used by Luthoresque villains.

Daniel_Rf (Daniel_Rf), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 15:57 (twelve years ago) Permalink

That's kinda emo, innit?

c('°c) (Leee), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 16:03 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Old folk are k-emo.

David R. (popshots75`), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 16:11 (twelve years ago) Permalink

The Vulture always seemed an ill-matched villain for Spidey. Like beating up a pawnshop owner. But with razor-sharp wings.

lumberingwoodsman (Chris Hill), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 16:21 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Have you seen Darwyn Cooke's Spidey/Vulture/Valentine's Day story?

Also: Captain Marvel/Billy Batson vs. Dr. Sivana!

Huk-L (Huk-L), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 16:46 (twelve years ago) Permalink

No, but I like Darwyn Cooke. Is it collected in a trade?

lumberingwoodsman (Chris Hill), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 17:01 (twelve years ago) Permalink

er, I guess that's the French version of the original issue

Huk-L (Huk-L), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 17:04 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Lex Luthor isn't older than Superman, they were both teenagers back in Smallville. Superboy made teen Luthor lose his hair, remember?

The Yellow Kid (The Yellow Kid), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 19:22 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Which turned Luthor into an old, while Supes stayed young and virile!

Huk-L (Huk-L), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 19:32 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Local library hath failed me - only Tangled Web trades #1-4. I'll keep an eye out at Half Price Books.

lumberingwoodsman (Chris Hill), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 19:33 (twelve years ago) Permalink

When his foster parents found bank documents Lex had hidden from them, Lex's foster father confronted his daughter Lena and demanded that she seduce Lex (who had fallen in love with Lena) into giving her parents the money under the lie that they would use the money to pay for their daughter's college education, which they had no plans on doing.

Lena, who had feelings for Lex, refused and for her trouble was beaten to death by her father.

Gracious. Murder -- what a bother!

c('°c) (Leee), Wednesday, 2 August 2006 19:53 (twelve years ago) Permalink

eleven years pass...

I think it's interesting how most of the recent Marvel and DC movies have decided to go down this route too. Off the top of my head, in all of these movies the villain is clearly older than the hero(es), and sometimes even an older relative or a parental figure:

Iron Man
Iron Man 2
Captain America
Thor 2
Captain America 2
Guardians of the Galaxy
Doctor Strange
Spider-Man
Guardians of the Galaxy 2
Spider-Man
Thor 3
Man of Steel
Wonder Woman
Justice League

And in Avengers 3 they're gonna fight Thanos, who's the step-father of the two of the protagonists.

Avengers 2 and Captain America 3 are kinda bordeline, cos in the former the villain is an ageless robot, and in the latter there's is a mastermind roughly the same age as the heroes, but really the antagonists are the other heroes. Iron Man 3, Avengers 1, Thor 1 and Ant-Man feature antagonists who are pretty much the villainous counterparts of the heroes and around the same age. Superman vs. Batman is the only example I can think of, where the villain is younger than the heroes.

I wonder if this is a larger trend in science fiction (Darth Vader comes to mind), or something unique to superheroes? In fantasy this kinda makes sense, since the antagonists are often (demi)gods/wizards/etc, who'd you expect to be ancient, but in superhero stories there usually still human, or at least the same race as the hero.

Tuomas, Sunday, 19 November 2017 19:42 (one year ago) Permalink

This is also true of basically every myth throughout recorded history, though. The oldest superbeings have always hated humanity. Civil War subverts this trope by having the older super face off against the younger one, ie Cap's greater faith in people vs Tony's weary, utilitarian cynicism. There's very little else, in any genre, that's done so.

El Tomboto, Sunday, 19 November 2017 20:44 (one year ago) Permalink

in Little Orphan Annie you have the youngest and the oldest executing a flanking maneuver against some middle-aged assholes. Orphan narratives frequently do that, I guess.

El Tomboto, Sunday, 19 November 2017 20:47 (one year ago) Permalink

i.e. Moses & God vs Egypt (imagines the pharaoh as an alcoholic foster parent singing about how much he hates kids)

El Tomboto, Sunday, 19 November 2017 20:49 (one year ago) Permalink

"What's the matter with kids Jews todaaay"

Οὖτις, Sunday, 19 November 2017 21:10 (one year ago) Permalink

Btw I’ve just learned about Tim Tangherlini so I haven’t checked all this out but it seems like good stuff

http://ucla.academia.edu/TTangherlini

El Tomboto, Sunday, 19 November 2017 21:19 (one year ago) Permalink

This is also true of basically every myth throughout recorded history, though.

Is it, though? In the Bible, for example, Satan is greated by God, and therefore is one of his children. In Norse myths Loki is typically depicted as younger than Odin, and some of the big bads (Fenrir, Jörmungandr, Hel) are Loki's children, so clearly of a younger generation than the heroes.

Civil War subverts this trope by having the older super face off against the younger one, ie Cap's greater faith in people vs Tony's weary, utilitarian cynicism.

Are you referring to Cap as the older one here? Because even though Steve was born before Tony, Tony is physically older and has spent more years in a conscious state. He's also the oldest of all the superheroes involved in the conflict, so it makes sense for him to be the world-weary, realpolitik type. While Steve is literally a remnant of a more innocent, black-and-white era. So I don't think the movie subverts the trope at all.

Tuomas, Monday, 20 November 2017 14:11 (one year ago) Permalink

Something that goes against this trope is the original Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, in which Hyde is at first depicted as smaller and younger than Dr Jekyll

Fox Mulder, FYI (dog latin), Monday, 20 November 2017 15:55 (one year ago) Permalink

In the Bible, for example, Satan is greated by God, and therefore is one of his children

NT = Satan is the older bad guy, Jesus is the younger hero (would also accept God as older bad guy)

Οὖτις, Monday, 20 November 2017 15:59 (one year ago) Permalink

Because everybody wants to beat up their dad, that's why.

Ripped Taylor (Old Lunch), Monday, 20 November 2017 16:01 (one year ago) Permalink

Odin kills Ymir, who is definitely older

Οὖτις, Monday, 20 November 2017 16:03 (one year ago) Permalink

also Loki is not Thor's brother - he's *Odin's* brother, making him technically the uncle of his traditional enemy (Thor)

Οὖτις, Monday, 20 November 2017 16:05 (one year ago) Permalink

anyway, Tombot is right, the "kill your parents/older generation" strain is super-common in mythological systems the world over

Οὖτις, Monday, 20 November 2017 16:06 (one year ago) Permalink

These sorts of things occur a lot, right? When I was a kid, I used to wonder why it was the small guy in the cartoon duo who was the brains of the operation while the big guy was slow and bungling, when in real life it was my (slightly older, taller) friend who had all the smarts.

Fox Mulder, FYI (dog latin), Monday, 20 November 2017 16:14 (one year ago) Permalink

(maybe also worth noting that Satan is not in the OT, where God is nominally the metaphysical protagonist. When Satan does finally show up in the NT, Jesus is the younger protagonist)

xxp

Οὖτις, Monday, 20 November 2017 16:18 (one year ago) Permalink

Peter Parker fought some hella old dudes at the beginning, when he was at his youngest -- the Vulture, The Tinkerer. Disparity in ages was pretty extreme. [I know the Tinkerer was really a Skrull or something.]

J.J.J. was also an old guy. The Lizard was a professor. And of course the Green Goblin wasn't just a metaphorical father figure, but literally the dad of Pete's buddy.

Of course, when you're in high school, most people are older than you. But Pete was surrounded by old/older folks... even on the good side (Aunt May).

absorbed carol channing's powers & psyche (morrisp), Tuesday, 21 November 2017 05:40 (one year ago) Permalink


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