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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