Login
Password

Forgot your password?

Five Favourite Fictional Criminal Masterminds

By Edited Dec 23, 2015 2 7

Unlike the serial killers, for the criminal masterminds killing people isn't an end in itself. They may be perfectly willing and capable of killing people, either individually or en masse, but this is simply a means to an end.

Their usual goals are the attainment of power and the acquisition of money. The latter often to gain more power. They could probably be considered sociopathic, rather than psychopathic.

Criminal masterminds only really appear in fiction. True criminals tend to be criminal morons rather than masterminds. If there are any masterminds of this type in real life, either they're so good they've managed to hide their identity, or they've pursued their plots through "legal" avenues.

Many villainous characters aren't included for a number of reasons, usually because they do not really qualify as a "mastermind." Darth Vader is more muscle than mastermind; he just enforces policy and plans, he doesn't make them. The Joker, for all his cunning, does not make long term plans; essentially he just likes to break things and kill people. Very few comic book super villains could be considered true criminal masterminds, either they have some redeeming features, like Magneto, or they just aren't into long term planning. Harry Potter's nemesis, Tom Marvello Riddle, better known as Lord Voldemort, despite being a supremely evil individual, relied more on power and force than planning.

Professor James Moriarty

Porfessor James Moriarty
The nemesis of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, the "Napoleon of Crime" James Moriarty is a multi-talented mathematical genius who has built up a massive criminal empire in Britain.

Interestingly, despite his portrayal as Holmes' ultimate foe, he only directly appeared in two of the original Sherlock Holmes stories and, as the stories were in the majority told from the viewpoint of Dr Watson who never actually met him, Moriarty never directly appears in the books. Instead, all descriptions of him are related by Holmes himself.

The portrayal of Moriarty in later adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories has him being an actual character who is seen interacting with Holmes, such as in the recent film adaptation by Guy Ritchie, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows where Moriarty is played by Jared Harris, and the Steven Moffat's BBC series Sherlock, as Jim Moriarty, played by Andrew Scott.

Moriarty's character has been embellished over the years to become the true nemesis of Holmes. His original creation by Conan Doyle was simply to create a villain suitable to kill off Holmes, although he was later brought back, having survived the fall at Reichenbach Falls, whilst Moriarty perished. Although, given how many times the Holmes stories have been retold, it is certainly possible that Moriarty may survive and return himself.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Ernst Stavro Blofeld
A villain from Ian Fleming's James Bond stories, and Bond's own arch-enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld is the head, sometimes referred to as Number 1, of SPECTRE, SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, a global terrorist and criminal organisation.

Blofeld appears more in the films than he does in the books, appearing in six films but only three books. He apparently died in the opening sequence of For Your Eyes Only, although this is only a presumption.

Blofeld's history, none of which is revealed in the films, has him being born on 28th May 1908, to a Polish father and a Greek mother, in Gdynia, then in Germany, but currently in Poland. Blofeld studied political history and economic at the University of Warsaw, then radionics and engineering at the Warsaw University of Technology. Prior to the Second World War, he copied and sold top secret wires to Nazi Germany, before moving to Turkey prior to the German invasion of Poland in 1939, destroying all records of his existence.

During the war, foreseeing the defeat of Germany, he aided the Allied Powers, being awarded numerous medals for doing so. He then moved to South America before founding SPECTRE.

In the films, Blofeld has a white cat, which he is seen stroking. Initially, his face was never revealed in the films. His portrayal in the film You Only Live Twice by Donald Pleasence with a bald head and scarred face and wearing a tunic like lapel less grey jacket (similar to a Nehru jacket) are spoofed by Dr Evil in the Austin Powers films, Dr Evil also having a cat, Mr. Bigglesworth. As he is played by different actors each time, his appearance alters from film to film.

The aim of Blofeld, and SPECTRE, is less world domination than it is to make money. SPECTRE is a commercial rather than a political enterprise, and any acts of terror they carry out are designed to, either directly, or indirectly working for another organisation, generate large sums of money.

Palpatine

Emperor Palpatine
The Star Wars prequel trilogy may have had its problems, introducing new annoying characters (like Jar Jar Binks, a contender for the Wesley Crusher Annoying Character Award), making Vader seem less menacing thanks to Hayden Christensen's portrayal of a young Anakin Skywalker and going into too much detail where it didn't seem needed, but one thing it did was reveal Senator, then Chancellor and finally Emperor, Palpatine to be a true criminal mastermind. Just because he worked for the government of the Republic didn't make his actions legal, although it could be argued he was more evil than criminal.

His devious nature was somewhat revealed in Return of the Jedi, where he manipulated the Rebellion forces into attacking the under construction new Death Star with the intent of completely destroying them, but it is in the prequel trilogy where his deviousness and scheming reach their true peak.

Beginning with his helping manage an attack on his own homeworld and the planet he represents in the Senate, Naboo, by the Trade Federation and their droid troops using his, at that time, unknown other side as the Sith lord, Darth Sidious, he uses this to become Chancellor of the Senate.

By his hidden support of the Separatists in their attempt to secede, he brings the Republic to the brink of civil war, enabling him to use the discovered clones to create an army, who will later be shown to be ultimately loyal to him, whilst using the threat to gain vast emergency powers during the hostilities.

By playing on the fears of Anakin Skywalker, whilst suggesting that only he can help him, he is able to turn the young Skywalker against the rest of the Jedi, destroying the Jedi order and allowing him to proclaim himself Emperor. As a final act, he then has the newly named Darth Vader meet and kill his erstwhile Separatist allies, making his authority absolute.

By means of a long and cunning plot, as well as having absolutely no regard for what happens to anyone else, Palpatine manages to achieve his ultimate aims, hiding his identity from the Jedi as the secret mastermind behind the various plots until the endgame.

Lex Luthor

Lex Luthor
Superman's archenemy, Lex Luthor, after his re-creation in 1985 in the series Crisis on Infinite Earths, is one of the very scarce comic book supervillains who could qualify as a criminal mastermind. Prior to that, Luthor was originally depicted as a mad scientist. Although his primary foe is Superman, his global ambitions have caused him to come into conflict with many other of the heroes of the DC Universe, such as Batman when Luthor tried to take control of Gotham City after the earthquake by forging land deeds in his name (No Man's Land).

Luthor's ultimate aim is world domination. In his new, post 1985 backstory, Lex is born in the Suicide Slum area of Metropolis, where he vows to lift himself from poverty. One of the first steps on his path to riches is to insure his parents without their knowledge, then sabotage their car, so that they are killed in an accident, leaving him free to claim on the insurance. He studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and, upon graduation, founded his own business.

Lex Luthor is a white collar criminal and industrialist, and, although not Superman's physical equal, has been depicted as being much, much more intelligent than him. He has utilised many methods in his, often unsuccessful, attempts to rule the world, including removing his brain from his body - his body having been poisoned by the effects of the Kryptonite ring he wore to keep Superman away - and had it transplanted into a new, cloned body which he then passed off as being Lex Luthor's unknown son, or Lex Luthor II. Even when arrested and tried for his crimes, he manages to be completely acquitted, claiming they were the actions of a clone of him. At one point, Luthor even managed to become President of the United States, although not for a full term.

Luthor's depiction in other media, such as film and television, is frequently different from that in comics, and his origins are often different also. Luthor's current portrayal as an industrialist, no matter how smart, as opposed to his original mad scientist persona, has not been popular with all fans. Neil Gaiman remarked in 1994 in an interview in Hero Illustrated "It's a pity Lex Luthor has become a multinationalist; I liked him better as a bald scientist. He was in prison, but they couldn't put his mind in prison. Now he's just a skinny Kingpin." Kingpin being Marvel's crime lord in New York City who has battled Spider-Man and Daredevil to name but two superheroes.

Dr. Fu-Manchu

Dr. Fu-Manchu
Dr. Fu-Manchu was created by British author Sax Rohmer in the early part of the twentieth century, and was the foe of Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie, who were very similar in some respects to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, although Smith lacked Holmes' genius. Nayland Smith was originally a roving commissioner in the Burmese (Myanamar) police, although he later joined Scotland Yard and British Intelligence.

Fu-Manchu was described as being a master linguist, adept in both the sciences and the arts, both those that are widely known and taught as well as more obscure ones unknown to conventional centres of learning, and having the brains of any three men of genius.

Fu-Manchu disdained the use of traditional means of murder, such as guns or explosives, instead preferring more arcane means, such as deadly poisons extracted from serpents, insects and other creatures as well as plants and funghi and living weapons such as a previously unknown giant deadly centipede. Agents like his dacoits (an Anglicised version of the Hindustani word "dakaitee" or bandits) would wield these weapons or knives rather than use guns.

Fu-Manchu employed a variety of agents to do his bidding, from the dacoits mentioned above, to members of other secret societies and cults, such as the Indian Thuggee cult (from whom the term "thug" derives), an organisation of assassins who would kill in the name of the Hindu goddess Kali, as well as members of his own society, Si-Fan.

Originally, Fu-Manchu was an agent of the Si-Fan - probably not its leader - who was responsible for assassinations and attacks on Western Imperialists. In a book by Cay Van Ash, Rohmer's assistant and biographer, who wrote books in the series after Rohmer's death, Fu-Manchu had possibly been a member of the Chinese Imperial family and a backer of the losing side in the Boxer Rebellion. The Si-Fan are a criminal organisation who make money through activities such as white slavery and the drug trade.

Fu-Manchu was estimated to be over seventy years old at the start of the first book, and aged little since, thanks to the elixir vitae, a life-extending formula created by Fu-Manchu and continually improved upon.

The Fu-Manchu books have at times been criticised - with more than a little justification - for their portrayal of Easterners in general and the Chinese in particular. In the first book, The Insidious Fu-Manchu, barely a few pages in Dr Fu-Manchu is described as "the yellow peril incarnate in one man." Referring to the Chinese or other Orientals as the Yellow Peril is more than a bit prejudiced.

This inherent racism in the series and in its original hero Denis Nayland Smith has on more than one occasion caused productions in other media to be ceased or abandoned.

The character of Dr. Fu-Manchu has inspired other fictional Eastern villains, as well as having a type of mustache named after him.
Sherlock: Season 1
Amazon Price: $34.98 $16.40 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 23, 2015)
Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (Widescreen Edition)
Amazon Price: $349.99 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 23, 2015)
Advertisement
Advertisement

Comments

May 22, 2012 11:07am
toebunkers
I can't see Ernst Stavro Blofeld without thinking of Austin Powers. Great article!
May 22, 2012 11:17am
egdcltd
Thanks. Yes, Dr Evil does pop into your head when you see Donald Pleasance's portrayal, although it was originally supposed to be the other way around.
May 30, 2012 4:22am
Pindar
Very well written and enjoyable article egdcltd :)
Jun 11, 2012 3:49am
DonnaCosmato
Wonderful roundup of these high profile criminal masterminds! This was not as creepy as the serial killers one was but the information was just as fascinating.
Jun 12, 2012 2:21am
egdcltd
Thanks. Yes, the masterminds aren't as creepy - even though they may actually kill more people. It's just with them, it tends not to be personal, so they often don't bring that personal craftsmanship to each kill like the serials do.
Mar 27, 2015 3:50am
woodymarx
Great heroes require equally great (evil) villians and my vote goes to Prof Moriarty. The books by John Gardner (fiction) about him are gems and I would encourage anyone who loves Holmes to read them for the 'other' side of the Moriarty tale. They will tell you who the man we see in the Sherlockian Canon 'really' is.
Thanks for writing.
Mar 28, 2015 3:46am
egdcltd
One thing that's interesting about Moriarty is that it isn't Moriarty's creator who has developed the character. He only achieved his true status through the work of other writers.
Add a new comment - No HTML
You must be logged in and verified to post a comment. Please log in or sign up to comment.

Bibliography

  1. "Professor Moriarty." Wikipedia. 28/02/2014 <Web >

Explore InfoBarrel

Auto Business & Money Entertainment Environment Health History Home & Garden InfoBarrel University Lifestyle Sports Technology Travel & Places
© Copyright 2008 - 2016 by Hinzie Media Inc. Terms of Service Privacy Policy XML Sitemap

Follow IB Entertainment