A Comic Book Entry – Thoughts on Villainy: Minion Management

It is indeed hard to be the Big Bad.  It’s hard to get to the top, and being at the top is no picnic (especially since there were probably other avenues to infamy and fortune).  And of course, good help is really hard to find.  But once you’ve got good help, it’s important to manage those minions.  Honestly, a lot of comic book villains (especially in comic book movies) are very poor at managing basic human resources.

I’ve already covered recruiting issues and creating superweapons, so I’ll talk mostly about the normal minions.  Now, a lot of the rules of evil human resources depends on having a clear hierarchy of authority.

Evil Human Resources Rule #1 – Have a Clearly Defined Organizational Structure
If a Big Bad does not establish this hierarchy, dispensing disciplinary action would be uneven at best and arbitrary at worst.  This is not to say Big Bads don’t have the right to be arbitrary, but any organization runs better if the minions understand their roles and the expectations of those roles.

Part and parcel of that rule is the next one:
Evil Human Resources Rule #2 – Match the Minion to the Task
The success of any mission depends on having the right people for the job.  If Low-life Johnson is a stereotypical thug, sending him on the mission to steal the delicate and sensitive scientific equipment might result in him callously breaking the stuff.  Likewise, timid Mad Scientist McGee might not be the best person to helm the getaway car for an armed robbery.  This rule applies for the lowest level minions, as in the above examples, but also for higher level minions.  Professor Psychopath should probably be in charge of scientific experiments and Cruelty Spike-Armor in charge of the extortion racket.

Evil Human Resources Rule #3 – Do not Comment Crimes off the Clock
When one hires minions for an evil organization, obviously one of the desired qualities is a certain level of immorality.  Minions can have a strong sense of right and wrong as long as they consciously choose wrong, or minions can just have a rather fluid or mercenary sense of morality.  While this is a necessity, it also brings along with it a host of potential problems.  The minion that can commit crimes on the clock may not have many qualms about committing crimes off the clock.
The reason why you do not want this is very simple: you do not want any evidence that connects you to your criminal organization (i.e., plausible deniability).  Now, perhaps your minions already have criminal records.  That wouldn’t be too surprising, really.  But those crimes are in the past and not related to your organization anyway.  But if that minion is brought up on charges, even those not related to your organization, that’s a potential link to you that an eager young assistant District Attorney out to prove herself or the jaded cop just trying to make it to retirement might see.  You don’t want that.  Minions that commit crimes off the clock regardless of whether they engage in tax fraud or high-level felonies become liabilities, especially those with criminal backgrounds.  Minions that commit crimes off the clock should be subject to disciplinary action if they aren’t caught by the police.

Evil Human Resoures Rule #4 – Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
But aren’t minions in police custody liabilities?  Yes, I did just say that.  So shouldn’t the Big Bad make every effort to keep them out of jail?  Well, that greatly depends on several factors.  A minion in police custody is indeed a liability, but how you as the Big Bad deal with that incorporates many factors.  The first question to be asked is – where in your hierarchy does this minion fall?

3a) Low-level minions – these are recent recruits or those who show no capability for advancement.  You probably use them for cannon fodder or evil experiments anyway.  They are basic thugs and while you do send them in to steal advanced scientific equipment or military technology, they don’t know how this fits into your grand scheme (heck, they’re probably so ignorant they don’t even know what they stole besides, “big shiny valuable thing”).  They simply aren’t important enough or trusted enough or smart enough to know anything about your grand schemes.  In that case, if Low-Life Johnson mugs someone off the clock, let him go to jail.  If Low-Life Johnson is stupid enough to get caught carrying out one of your crimes, let him go jail.  What’s he going to really tell the police?  Surely there are already rumors of you running your criminal organization anyway.  While you may be paranoid Low-life will be taken seriously, take a deep breath and realize to the cops and detectives, he’s probably only repeating those unsubstantiated rumors in order to take the heat off of him.

– Do not, under any circumstances, bail this low-life out, even if he was committing a crime for you.  When Low-Life Johnson is represented by Scummy Harvard-Lawyer III, whom he cannot possibly began to afford, that would make even the most oblivious, stereotypical, doughnut-eating beat cop think, “Hey, that’s suspicious.”  Because it is.  That makes the cops follow Low-life Johnson more closely, or worse, gets him tagged with a superhero stalker who’s convinced Low-life Johnson will lead the superhero right to you.  And let’s be honest, Low-life Johnson might just be that stupid.  So let him go to jail.  He knows nothing to incriminate you, so don’t incriminate yourself by attempting to help this idiot.  You can always find more low-level minions.

– Do not, under any circumstances, increase the severity of the crime.  By that I mean that if you think you really need to protect Low-Life Johnson from going to jail to protect yourself, don’t give the cops any more reason to be suspicious.  In this example, Low-life Johnson mugged someone.  Don’t send in assassins to kill the victim with the assumption if the victim is dead, Low-life gets off.  You’ve now increased the severity of a simple mugging to murder and conspiracy to commit murder.  While this may get Low-life off because there’s no witness, this only implicates Low-life in a more significant crime.  Now he’s definitely going to be followed closely by the police or superheroes.  Also, don’t kill Low-Life Johnson either.  Again, while dead he certainly can’t incriminate you, but the circumstances of his death will cause cops and superheroes to look more closely at his past and recent activities and that may eventually lead them to you.

3b) Higher-level Minions – Here’s a bit of a conundrum.  Higher-level minions are the ones who direct the raids on S.T.A.R. Labs or Roxxon to steal the equipment.  They are probably smart enough to guess what you might want a particle accelerator for.  They’ve been with the organization long enough to have been party to many crimes and may even be able to implicate you.  Worse, they may be weak enough that a suitably tough cop or superhero could get them to crack under pressure and agree to turn state’s evidence on you.  At this point, it may be appropriate to send in Scummy Harvard-Lawyer III to bail the Dragon out.  If the Dragon is high-level enough, the cops and superheroes are already suspicious.  Utilizing your resources to keep the Dragon out of jail may be the smartest thing to do at this point, although depending on why she was caught (crime off the clock or incompetence), she may be subject to further disciplinary action.  Then again, her weakness may mean it’s time for her to be “taken care of” in which case an assassination may be appropriate.  Is it suspicious?  Hell yes.  Does it further incriminate you?  Possibly, but as the Big Bad you must perform the cost-benefit analysis on whether it’s worth it to keep the Dragon around.  Good help really is hard to find, after all.

Evil Human Resources Rule #5 – Disciplinary Action is Applied Equally
Having a clearly explained hierarchy and set of expectations is only ones step for smooth minion management.  Disciplinary action is vital but must be applied as described in the manual.  For example, if Lt. Cruelty Spike-Armor deals with all failures with extremely painful deaths, while Lt. Dominatrix Minion follows the manual, this is going to create some friction within the organization.  No minions will want to work for Cruelty Spike-Armor because they don’t want to be killed.  This makes Cruelty Spike-Armor a less effective lieutenant, which also weakens the effectiveness of your organization.  Even as the Big Bad, it is not recommended you apply disciplinary action in an arbitrary fashion.  If Cruelty Spike-Armor kills seventeen low-level minions because one guy spilled coffee, and you let that go, but Dominatrix Minion kills a low-level minion for botching an easy job so badly a superhero ended up involved and you rant and rave and dock her pay for daring to deal out death without your permission, you can bet Dominatrix Minion is going to end up a much less trustworthy lieutenant.  Again, this weakens your organization.

Evil Human Resources Rule #6 – Have Clearly Defined Rewards, Bonuses, and Benefits
Obviously you don’t want to pay out too much money, but it’s probably a good idea to reward a job well done with more than, “You get to keep your life.”  You are the Big Bad, true, but ruling by fear is really exhausting.  Ruling with efficiency is probably going to keep you and your organization on top for longer.  I’m also not saying that killing minions for no good reason is something to avoid.  You’re the Big Bad after all, and a hazard/perk that comes with working for an evil organization is killing lower-level minions.  But still, it is to the benefit of the smooth operation of an organization that every member understands how likely their demise may be as well as the potential of upward mobility.  Thus, a low-level minion may work hard to advance to avoid being killed.  A high-level minion may do good work so they get a bonus.  Such a bonus could be money, or a vacation, or an allowance to kill two extra minions the next fiscal year with no penalty.  Letting your high-level minions go on vacation not only gives them a much needed break, but it also gives you a chance to see how vital they truly are to your organization.  Does everything run smoothly without them?  If yes, is that because they made sure of that, or is it because they don’t really contribute?  Also remember that anyone who works just for money can always be bought off by someone with more money.  You need to provide those less-quantative benefits such as healthcare, bonuses, and so on, in order to keep talent within your organization.  Is it expensive?  Yes.  But is it worth it?  Well, as the Big Bad, that is always for you to decide, but such a cost-benefit analysis is worth considering.

Remember, the point of effective management is to further your criminal goals.  Anything that weakens the organization is not going to further your criminal goals.  And while yes, human resources is boring bureaucracy, it is still important, just like having a stable of scummy lawyers.  Well-defined human resources policies also allow you a toolbox to use to evaluate the worth of your minions.  It’s not easy being the Big Bad, and really you should do everything to make sure you stay on top, and your organization stays on top.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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