We need a sexy new genre to replace all the tired old hybrids. Vampire love stories? That hot, sticky vein is tapped out. Zombies+literature? Long since decapitated. Whatever-punk? As Dirty Harry might say, we're not feeling lucky.
Someone needs to cast a whole new shiny mold, into which scores of authors and screenwriters can pour the hot, searing goo of storytelling. A bold new vision. And we're not waiting around for someone to invent it — we're stepping into the breach ourselves. We've got a brand spanking new genre, ready to launch a thousand sagas.
Behold the coming of... Evil Overlord Romance.
No, wait. Hear us out.
We really think this could work. Evil Overlords are sexy and mysterious, and their plans of world/universal domination are thrilling and dynamic. We've learned to sympathize with supervillains recently, but we haven't yet gotten the full effect of falling in love with an evil overlord. Someone who has massive engines of destruction, armies of fanatical (but incompetent) shock troops, and an amazingly cool black uniform. Think Cobra Commander, Darth Vader, Ming the Merciless, Darkseid, and so on.
And here's the thing: most _______ romance storylines boil down to "ordinary woman falls in love with a man who is dangerous, mysterious or untamed." Whether he's a werewolf, a vampire, a time-traveler or a barbarian, the man is always a representative of everything that a sensible person would run screaming from. Vampires are basically serial killers with eyeliner. Werewolves are people who have psychotic episodes once a month. Time-travelers are people who have alcoholic blackouts and wake up naked and unable to explain where they've been. Most barbarians do not yawp all that nicely, no matter what Walt Whitman may have told you.
So if what you really want is a man who's dangerous and scary, why waste time with these amateurs? Why not go to the source? The source... of power.
So what is Evil Overlord Romance about? At its basis, it's about a couple who cannot ever be together. Because he has no room for love in between trying to bring the world's governments to their knees. There are cities to melt. There are volcanos to set off. There are entire exoplanets to convert into space fortresses. Meanwhile, the protagonist cannot be with the Overlord until he renounces evil, which... whoever heard of a Neutral Overlord?
But this new subgenre shouldn't just appeal to romance fans. Anybody who cares about genre storytelling should be excited by Evil Overlord Romance, because it has the potential to recharge our interest in space adventure and big near-future exploration. You can explore a lot of big ideas and deep themes about geopolitical instability by telling the story of one woman who falls in love with a man with fearsome shoulderpads.
….What? Shoulderpads are coming back in fashion.
Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking this is going to be campy, or that the evil overlord will be shouty and obnoxious. But I really don't think that has to be the case. The best evil overlords are actually hella cool, and they get the job done. Think more like Darth Vader, and less like Cobra Commander. This absolutely does not work unless the main love interest is what we, in the business, call a Fiend I'd Like to Fuck, or a FILF for short. He should be suave and dashing and look good in a tux, and possibly have a distinguished — but not gross — scar on his face or something. Roger Delgado sexy. You know what I'm talking about here. Old-Worldy charm optional.
Which brings us to ingredient #2: The Evil Overlord has to be approachable somehow. We can't just meet him with all his armies and his mega death rays and his planet-sized war machines. As I see it, there are two different ways our main character can have her "meet cute" with the Evil Overlord, whom we'll call Zarth the Voice of Terror:
1) He takes her prisoner for some reason, and then winds up getting to know her while she's stuck on his giant War Sphere, or
2) The Evil Overlord must disguise himself as an ordinary young high-school student — or if we're skewing older, a young twentysomething slacker working in a convenience store — to search for an object of power to allow him to crush all the world's governments in his sexy fist.
I much prefer option #2, which allows our heroine to meet the FILF in a more relaxed, down-to-Earth setting — perhaps a nice and allows her to get drawn into the mystery of who this guy really is. He may call himself Brad and claim that his incredible reflexes are just a result of playing Call of Duty 2 for hours late at night, but there's clearly more to him than meets the eye. What's Brad hiding? Where did he get that sexy scar, and why does it glow so brightly whenever he talks about the wonders of neo-feudalism?
As for "Brad," he becomes more curious about this ordinary woman, whom we'll call Wendy, and her mesmerising beauty. She's headstrong and clever, and she doesn't take anything at face value. She's a sexy adventurer who lives for risk-taking, and she has a double major in archeology and poetry at the local college. Plus she goes rock-climbing and rafting every weekend, because she's active and outdoorsy. Possibly she plays in the local ska band too. Because ska bands and Evil Overlords go together like popcorn and yeast.
Maybe Zarth originally finds Wendy because she has the object of power he secretly needs — like, say, it's part of a family heirloom. A necklace, or a beadazzled tea cosy, or something. Whatever. Anyway, Brad and Wendy start spending a lot of time together, and soon he's taking her out on the town and stealthily vaporizing anyone who has a dinner reservation ahead of them.
What happens when our heroine finds out that her new boyfriend is secretly the leader of an Evil Army, or even better yet, a dictator from another planet? They have a huge fight. The winds blow the tears from her eyes, the howling of the Overlord's death hounds drowns out his sighs of regret. The air crackles with lightning from the Overlord's Van de Graaff Planet-Zapper. And then Wendy runs away from Brad, and nearly falls to her death from the high-up gantry of Brad's death machine. Brad swoops down and saves her, and they embrace one last time, before Wendy flees into the night.
Cue a long section of Wendy and Brad pining for each other — Wendy listening to acoustic guitar music, Brad fine-tuning his plans to crack the planet Earth like a goose egg. Wendy walking in the rain, Brad looking out over his massed armies with something in his eye. Wendy's friends trying to cheer her up with a new kitten, Brad executing some minions who failed him, but you can tell his heart isn't really in it.
At this point, it's appropriate to discuss whether it's really a good idea to depict Evil Overlords as being lovable, or whether it's perhaps glamorizing Evil to too great an extent. Shouldn't we be, you know, anti-Evil? But no. First of all, we all know that the villains are the coolest — not to mention the sexiest — part of any story. And the idealized dream of romantic love can best be summed up as the ultimately futile aspiration of redeeming or changing a bad boy. Every woman adores a yadda yadda. In which case, let's stop screwing around. If we're going to embrace evil, let's embrace capital-E Evil.
Other questions suggest themselves. Like, should there be some kind of stereotypical hero character facing off with this Evil Overlord? Like a Captain Hammer type, or whatever? To which the answer is, probably not. Twilight doesn't have a vampire-slayer in it. Unless you're going to make Wendy herself into the superhero/world-saver who accidentally falls in love with her arch-nemesis, in which case go for it. But having some other hero besides Wendy just takes away from the all-important focus on Wendy as our protagonist and the light to the Overlord's darkness.
Also, what about a love triangle? Sure, if you want to have two Evil Overlords both competing for Wendy's affections. Or possibly Wendy is torn between an Evil Overlord and a killer robot from the future, and they both love her equally. Or I could also see a Overlord-Wendy-Planetkiller triangle, if the Planetkiller had nice enough abs.
But what it's really all about is the emotional core of the story: the longing and despair and joy, the sheer coronary whiplash, that comes from two people who love each other so much but cannot ever meet each other halfway. Wendy and the Overlord have long conversations about their love that cannot be. They stare at each other from across the room at gala functions where the Overlord is accepting the surrender of the United Nations — and looking damn fine in a tux. Wendy and the Overlord keep running into each other and he murmurs to her under his breath about how sorry he is that her cat died from his last disintegrator ray demonstration, and how he would never do anything to hurt her. He only wants to keep her safe.
This stuff is pure emotional gold, man. It's the stuff of which great epics are made.
Eventually, of course, Wendy and the Overlord do get together, and they share a week or two of delirious happiness together. He promises to be less evil, and perhaps restrict his schemes of domination to one or two continents, and she tries to be more accepting, and for a while it actually works. They sit in bed together eating sorbet out of the skulls of those who dared defy the Overlord, or perhaps they go walking in the park, feeding the ducks and accepting the tribute of a grateful populace. They cook together. They watch old movies, or perhaps force actors to give them a live performance of their favorite films. A gauzy shroud of something approaching domesticity descends to cover their impossible passion.
Zarth fixes Wendy with his icy dark gaze and says, "Before I met you, I always used to ask, 'Why am I surrounded by incompetence?' But now, I keep asking, 'Why am I surrounded by such loveliness?'" Her only answer is to kiss him lightly.
Of course, it cannot last. Because their doomed romance is doomed, not to mention the story needs to reach some kind of climaxy thing. Tragedy strikes — for one thing, the Evil Overlord did not deactivate his Doomsday Sponge, as he promised, and in fact the Doomsday Sponge is still poised to absorb all the moisture in the entire world. But more importantly, Wendy's ska band is playing their HUGE GIG at the hottest club in her town, and the Evil Overlord promised he'd be there — but he doesn't show up, because he's too busy poking huge ironically round holes into Switzerland.
So Wendy decides she's going to marry the killer robot from the future instead, and her wedding day arrives incredibly quickly. Will the Evil Overlord show up in time? Will he remember to deactivate the Doomsday Sponge before it makes Wendy's wedding cake unforgivably dry? Can he convince Wendy to give him one more chance?
There's just so much raw frikkin potential there. Admit it: You want to read a whole Evil Overlord Romance novel now. This is a genre that's ready for... wait for it... world domination.
LOL-Karl Urban image via Fandom Slut. Thanks to Onomatopoetry, tara_oshea, tinytempest, chrispiers, thechaninator, steppinlazer, Mr_Brian_A, jennnmarshall, Arianwen09, gregpak, darth, notgoth007, moonandserpent, sbjacobson, BayBitch, tomOdaighre, Inphoar, hubbit, MandyBu, BadWolfLil, Harmalicious, marcbernardin, cascio, seananmcguire, lachendwolf, NannirK, OBermeo, kristenmchugh22, teresajusino, MetaGrrrl, dreamyeyed, carnivalerian, EveOCative, MuseZack, damiengwalter, joekinkopf, amy_geek, EldritchGirl, firebirdgrrl and everyone else on Twitter who helped me find cool overlords to feature images of.