Strip Talk #03: ‘Stupid smart’ villains livened up ’80s and ’90s

Lyndsey Mosley, editor-in-chief

“Sayonara, shell-backed simpletons.”

With that one sentence from season three of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 animated series, I was hooked on the legendary Oroku Saki. Everyone who was anyone in the late ’80s and early ’90s knows him as Shredder. I knew him as genius. Well, that is until he employed Rocksteady, Bebop, Baxter Stockman, the Punk Frogs, etc. on a regular basis. The list goes on and on of his failed attempts at finding competent criminal help in New York City, and as a TMNT diehard, I was inclined to bask in his lack of success in taking down my four favorite dudes with attitudes. Shredder is a prime indicative of what we at GI have come to term as “stupid-smart” villain syndrome.

Despite his genius IQ, as it was brilliantly displayed by Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actor and voice actor James Avery, Shredder was just the latest in the long list of villains who could cunningly devise plans and then ruin them with some of the stupidest behavior known to man. Some of the luminaries on this bumbling list? Gargamel from the Smurfs, Cobra Commander from GI Joe, Starscream and Megatron from Transformers, Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget, Wily E. Coyote from Looney Tunes, Flintheart Glomgold from Ducktales and Skeletor from He-Man. For these super villains it’s not enough to have their greatest adversaries in their sights. They have to find a way to mess themselves up generally because of greed.

Take for example, Starscream and Cobra Commander. Both assumed command of their respective groups (Decepticons and COBRA) after finding a way to usurp power from the original leader. Both eventually lost power when the original leader returned and highlighted their treachery and betrayal. Also, the troops under their command said it was better to be unemployed than work for them. If that’s not utter incompetence, I don’t know what is.

The villains of the ’80s have a lot in common: Smart, well read, articulate geniuses who could do anything they wanted, limited only by their hired help. It’s this lack of attention to detail that presents a challenge when selecting the greatest villain of this age.

Lyndsey Mosley is editor of Gaming Insurrection. Contact her by email at

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