Attention evil geniuses! Do you know the ten terrible mistakes that can doom your brilliantest imbroglios to bitter failure? Study the examples of the ten most moronic super-geniuses of all time, and avoid their dreadful fates! Don't fear the spoilers...
Okay, we hate to diss Dr. Horrible, because after all he is us and we are him. He's the little evil guy, just trying to get by and make his way in the world — and we totally identify with him, since the alternative would be identifying with Moist. But still — as evil geniuses go, he's pretty inept. Take the freeze ray he shoots his nemesis Captain Hammer with, which wears off prematurely. Or the death ray, with which he plans to shoot Captain Hammer afterwards — Dr. Horrible gloats too long, and Captain Hammer is able to seize the death ray away from him and shoot it at him. And then the death ray misfires — and Dr. Horrible comes out on top, thanks to his own blundering. Except for poor, poor Penny, killed in the crossfire.
Okay, first of all, a butterfly-themed supervillain? Doctor Octopus would cover his face with all four robot arms in shame. The poor Monarch is obsessed with destroying Dr. Venture and his family, but can't even get sanction from the Guild Of Calamatous Intent, let alone recognition as a threat from Venture himself. As series creator Doc Hammer states, "failure, that's what Venture Bros. is all about. Beautiful sublime failure," so it's tough to pick one incident. In Tears of a Sea Cow, after finally winning back Dr. Girlfriend and gaining membership in the Guild, the Monarch still can't keep from arching Venture, despite Guild regulations. He infiltrates Venture's lab and has sex with his guard robot GUARDO. Then Dean walks in on this, and The Monarch insists he's trying to infect the robot with Chlamydia, and manages to convince Dean that if he reports this scheme to his father, he'll be playing into the Monarch's plans.
He gets fashion points, for replacing the upper part of his skull with a transparent dome, to show off his brain. And he succeeds where the other villains have failed — he captures the Tick, transforming him into a two-headed bluebird-Tick who speaks French. While he has the Tick helpless, he tries to auction him off — but this is where his scheme falls apart. Die Fledermaus disguises himself as The Rake, a made-up villain who looks like Die Fledermause, except with a rake tied to his head. And Arthur, meanwhile, frees the Tick.
This is the classic evil genius over/underachiever problem: He builds a killer robot and programs it to attack the city, so he can defeat it and look like a hero. The only problem is, he makes the robot too smart and it develops a mind of its own, so it defeats its creator with easy. Later, he tries to capture the Incredibles' new baby, but its developing super-powers are too much for him.
His catch phrase ought to be enough to clue you in: "The same thing we do every night: Try to take over the world." A true evil genius shouldn't have to try, and it should only take one night. In one of his most notable blunders, in the episode "That Smarts," the Brain manages to build a super-machine that boosts Pinky's intelligence, so they're both super-geniuses. But Pinky becomes depressed and decides to reduce his intelligence to become stupid again. But Brain, not realizing this, decides they might be better off with Pinky being the smart one and Brain being the stupid one — so he, too, reduces his own intelligence, leaving them both too stupid to operate the brain-adjusting machine.
At first blush, you wouldn't think that Cartman belongs on this list, but just consider his bizarre schemes. In the episode "Go God Go Parts 1 & 2," he's too impatient to wait for the Nintendo Wii to come out, so he puts himself in cryogenic suspension, and accidentally stays frozen until the distant future. Once in the future, he manipulates all the warring factions and changes history using a Time Phone, causing huge suffering just so he can get himself a Wii. Eventually, he gets trapped in a Wii-less time loop, because he keeps going back in time to try and convince himself not to put himself in suspended animation — and the past Cartman never listens to the future Cartman.
Possibly the most elaborate scheme, for the least reward: he orchestrates several episodes of terrorism/mass murder, just to find someone who's invulnerable, so he can create/uncover a superhero to be his nemesis. Final proof that reading too many comic books will make you imagine a fourth wall when there is none. And of course, by so doing, he ensures his own defeat and incarceration.
This supervillain from the 1960s turns up in our world, unaware that time has passed him by and a million dollars is no longer much of a fortune. His schemes are great: set off all the world's volcanos at once, turn the Moon into a death star, shoot the White House with lasers, create deadly floods, bring back the dreaded Alan Parsons Project — but there's always some crucial flaw. It's hard to believe anything can go wrong with sharks armed with frickin lasers — even a child could make that work! But somehow, he manages to mess it up, again and again.
There have been many different versions of the scourge of Metropolis: the mad scientist who's mad at Superman because Superboy zapped his hair off, the business mogul who just wants Superman out of the way, the shadowy politician... but they're all kind of clueless when it comes down to it. Lex Luthor usually has everything you could possibly want — power, prestige, hot babes in chauffeur outfits, even the White House — but he still blows it all going after Superman. His battlesuit is emblematic of the problem: For one thing, it's a hideous green-and-purple color scheme. But also, it often goes wrong in the worst possible way. At one point, Lex gets his own whole planet of people who love him, Lexor, marries an alien princess. But then his battlesuit goes off during a battle and accidentally overloads the "Neutrarod," a spire he'd built to counter the planet's geological instability. And as a result, all of Lex's subjects die, including his wife and kid. He blames Superman, of course.
Like Lex, he's almost got it all, including his own country where everybody his his loyal vassal. He builds time machines and robot versions of himself, and even manages to build an Emotion Changer to force scores of supervillains to crash the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm. But every one of his schemes goes metal facemask up, because he over-reaches. At one point, he managed to steal the nearly limitless powers of the Silver Surfer, but lost them because he insisted on challenging the barrier the Surfer's master, Galactus, had put around the Earth. He's lost battles with Luke Cage and even Squirrel Girl, whose squirrels chewed through the wires powering his Doombots.
Additional reporting by Josh C. Snyder. A version of this article first appeared in November 2009.