Everyone loves the 80s. For some mysterious reason, even people who weren’t around to remember them make jokes about this oft misunderstood decade. Take me, for example. Having been born in the slightly less revered decade of the 1990s, everything I know about the 1980s comes second-hand. Some through hazy recollections by my parents, some through my ever-growing collection of Duran Duran memorabilia. But mostly, through its cartoons. Everything was bright and colourful, people’s motions were looped and awkward, and nobody seemed all that coherent or sober.
The best thing about these cartoons, though, was their bad guys. Whether they were multidimensional conquerors, or giant robots from a dead planet, or an international terrorist organization. They all sound marginally threatening at worst, or pants-shittingly terrifying at best. And yet, for whatever reason, the bad guys in these cartoons continuously fail outright, being thwarted by plucky teens or half-baked Jesus metaphors, proving time and again why villains like us just can’t have nice things. Take, for example…
Skeletor (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe)
Skull for a head. Lives in Snake Mountain. Legions of evil henchmen at his beck and call. Has a ram’s head on the end of a stick that he can shoot magic from. Oh, yeah, and he has a fucking skull for a head. Skeletor is the arch-nemesis of He-Man, and seeks to control all of Eternia by accessing the ancient secrets and powerful magic held within the walls of Castle Greyskull. At least, that’s what he claims. Personally, I think he just feels that a guy who is literally a chattering skull hovering in a hood would be better suited to living in a skull-shaped castle than a snake-shaped mountain.
Skeletor has come up with a few plans that, if put in the hands of a competent evil mastermind, would probably work. For example, in the very first episode, he traps the king and queen of Eternia in an alternate dimension using a magical gem stone. A smart man would read up on this incredibly powerful and potentially dangerous weapon. Maybe figure out if there was any way the stone could be broken to free those trapped within. Maybe even take precautionary steps to ensure no one fucks up your plan. But no, Skeletor doesn’t have time for stupid shit like research and forethought. He’s more of an ‘in-the-now’ kind of thinker. However, while thinking like that works great for impulsive Friday nights out, it proves slightly less effective when attempting a planetary takeover. Sure enough, He-Man prances into the scene, shatters the stone, frees the king and queen and saves the day.
This happens every single episode; Skeletor is consistently thwarted by He-Man and friends, even when the odds seem overwhelmingly stacked in his favour. How does he let this happen over and over again? Simply put, Skeletor is kind of an idiot. But at least he’s relatively level-headed. Not like…
Cobra Commander (G.I. JOE)
Ruthlessly evil and dangerously unstable, Cobra Commander is the leader of COBRA (Because that motif hasn’t gotten stale yet), the unreasonably well-funded terrorist group that wants to take over the world. With legions of mercenaries, weapons designers, spies and assassins at his disposal, Cobra Commander appears to be a genuine threat to world peace.
At least, he would, if he wasn’t crazy as a shithouse rat.
COBRA appears to have billions of dollars in financial backing. They have dozens of forts and bunkers all over the world, fleets of warships, whole battalions of tanks, a standing force of at least a hundred thousand troops, and whatever materials you need to mass-produce laser rifles. If a man with even a shred of military know-how was in charge of COBRA, they could potentially take over the world in a long weekend.
Unfortunately, Cobra Commander isn’t quite Sun Tzu. More accurately, he’s that crazy guy on the street corner that smells like soup and waves his penis at traffic. To illustrate this point, in one episode, the guy gets his hands on a population-melting superlaser. Rather than use it to, say, take Washington D.C. hostage, the guy decides a better use of this technology would be to carve his face into the fucking moon. This would be effective if A) people still thought the moon was a giant space-god, and B) he actually had a face.
Cobra’s lieutenants seem to be aware of their leader’s madness, and constantly try to go behind his back and undermine his command. However, he manages to keep his troops in line, largely through threats of death by firing squad that will totally be followed through with. Which brings me to…
Megatron (The Transformers)
Megatron, for the none of you that don’t know, is the leader of the Decepticons, a race of shape-shifting alien robots hellbent on ruling the galaxy and defeating the Autobots, their good guy counterparts. They have come to Earth as conquerors and pillagers, stripping our planet of its resources and enslaving its inhabitants. Megatron is completely remorseless, can transform into either a giant gun or a tank (depending on how feisty he’s feeling that day), and generally seems like he could lay a pretty severe smackdown on the human race all on his own. Of course, the Autobots are there to try and stop him at every turn, so he naturally needs an army.
But, therein lies the problem.
That’s Starscream, Megatron’s second-in-command and possibly the biggest piece of shit in media. He is constantly going behind Megatron’s back, disobeying his orders and generally being the worst soldier any commanding officer could ask for. He’s not even subtle about it, either; at least once an episode, the following conversation will undoubtedly take place:
Megatron: Yes, the Autobots will never stop us this time!
Starscream: If I was in command of the Decepticons, the Autobots would have been defeated eons ago!
Megatron: Starscream, shut the hell up or, I swear to God, I will blow your goddamn head off.
While I may be paraphrasing, you get the gist: Megatron comes up with a plan, Starscream sasses Megatron, Megatron threatens Starscream’s life. If Megatron had any common sense, the conversation would go a little differently:
Megatron: Yes, the Autobots will never stop us this time!
Starscream: If I was in command of the Decep-[Interrupted by Megatron blowing his goddamn head off]
Megatron: Now, anybody else wanna mouth off? No? Didn’t think so.
So, yeah. Skeletor’s dumb, Cobra’s insane, and Megatron is just far too liberal with his second chances. But these guys are at least dangerous and, despite all their flaws, still pretty awesome. And that’s what makes a good villain, right? Tell that to…
The Misfits (Jem and the Holograms)
Yeah, yeah. I’m a little ashamed that I know this show exists, too. The Misfits are a punk band that compete with the far more successful Jem and the Holograms for gigs and recording deals, even though their genres are completely different and they’d probably have two completely separate fan bases. Ignoring how awful it is that this cartoon stigmatized people who were different, the Misfits were just awful villains. In fact, I wouldn’t even call them villains. They’re more just catty bitches that hate seeing other people achieve success. Man, girls really got shafted when it came to cartoons.
As a side-note, the show would be infinitely more entertaining if the bad guys were the actual Misfits, wouldn’t it?