12 Career Options for Those Who Want to Be a Part of the Superhero/Super-Villain Scene Without Actually Becoming a Superhero or Super-Villain
Lack of funds, lack of training, lack of access to poorly guarded radiation research labs… whatever the reason, the sad truth is most of us will never have the opportunity to be a superhero or super-villain. But that’s okay. Truth is, not everyone is cut out for that kind of life. And besides, there are plenty of career opportunities out there for those who want a taste of the scene but don’t have what it takes to fill out the Spandex. Take the always important role of henchman: while the headlining villains may get all the cover appearances, there is a steady demand for reliable and able-bodied henchmen in the comic-book universe. After all, someone has to soften up the hero before the final battle, someone has to fetch the supplies needed for the villain’s latest scheme, and someone has to carry out the usual grunt work (guarding lairs, harassing sidekicks, keeping the boiling oil at a consistent temperature) so the big bosses can focus on the big picture. The pros to being a henchman is that it’s an entry-level position that’s open to anyone with a strong work ethic (and lack of other ethics), plus steady work is guaranteed if you can offer up something extra-special in the theme department — like, say, be a pair of twin brothers applying to work with Two-Face’s crew. On the other hand… well, let’s just say there’s a reason why there are plenty of job openings in this field. Better yet, ask Bob the Goon from the first Batman movie about the occupational hazards that come with working for a somewhat mercurial boss.
2. Butler/manservant/major domo
Think of how much time an average joe like you or me spends every day attending to life’s mundane details: cleaning house, running errands, responding to fan mail (well, I can dream). Now imagine how much time you would have for those tasks if you were a grim vigilante forever haunted by your inner demons and the CEO of a major multinational corporation. You start to see how things like keeping the good silver polished get pushed way down the to-do list. Enter the always-dependable manservant to keep the household humming whilst the hero spends his days and/or nights attending board meetings and saving the city from dastardly plots. Especially helpful are the loyal servants who come with skills that come in handy for a superhero type; at various times, Alfred Pennyworth has been an ace mechanic, accomplished actor (with a knack for impersonating voices), expert fencer, capable medic, and pioneer in the fields of computer, mechanical and electrical engineering. Oh, and in his downtime he cultivates roses. You know, to keep busy. Of course, the risk here is you better hope no one figures out who you’re really working for, or — if your employers already have a public mailing address — that the bad guys never get past the security system, as the Masters of Evil once did when they assaulted Avengers Mansion. Because if it’s your job to answer the door, no one else is home and the best defence you can muster is a witty bon mot, well…
3. Tech support
Time was, all a superhero needed to save the day was a snappy cape, a winning smile and a good right hook (“Eat fist, Mussolini!”). Alas, those days are long gone; more often than not, what wins battles in these more digital times is having the right tools for the job. And whether it’s fixing high-tech toys, maintaining criminal databases or hacking into secret government networks, it’s the rare hero that can keep abreast of advances in computer technology and squeeze savate lessons into an already hectic schedule. That’s probably what Bruce Wayne was thinking he adopted Harold, a mute hunchback (and former patsy of the Penguin) who just happened to be extremely gifted at fixing computers and electronics. He spent many happy years upgrading the Batcave’s technological resources until the villainous Hush tricked him into betraying Batman by getting him to sign Bruce up for multiple AOL accounts. Or something.
4. Information broker
Remember that scene in Kick-Ass where the young hero first goes out on patrol, gets bored, and then realizes the toughest part about fighting crime is finding any? That’s the big problem with being a superhero; not every criminal announces his upcoming crime spree with a riddle, so you have to know where to find trouble before it happens. But where to start? And when you’re tacking down a particular villain, where can you go to find that one piece of intel that will lead you to his secret lair? Given the choice, most superheroes would rather move on to the “knocking heads together” portion of the evening as soon as possible, just as most villains would prefer proceeding to the “count all my loot” part of their plan as quickly as they can. Whichever side of the law-and-order fence you fall on, an information broker is a good friend to have… assuming one can define a friend as “someone who will answer any question you have, so long as you make it worth their while.” After he ditched his silly, office-supply-inspired costume, Noah “the Calculator” Kuttler made a tidy living offering information (heist tips, blueprints, etc.) to villains willing to pay his standard $1,000-per-question fee. Work from home and collect cash while other people go out and risk their dental work for a payday? Sounds like a plan to me.
5. Gadget supplier
You say you’re good at inventing freeze guns and anti-gravity shoes but lack the courage or physical prowess to put them to good use? No problem. Just set up shop as a friendly neighborhood gadgetsmith, offering your customized wares to any costumed type willing to meet your price. Let’s face it — every super-villain needs a little something extra to stand out from the crowd, and those not lucky enough to have the skills to build their own weapons will find someone like this can come in handy (and for comic writers, it helps solve the plausibility problem that arises when you make every super-villain a disgruntled genius of some kind). As one of the first villains Spider-Man ever encountered, Phineas “the Tinkerer” Mason has a long history in the Spidey-verse, using his talents to help all types of costumed villains (and on rare occasions venturing out himself). His specialty is crafting sophisticated weapons and gadgets out of parts from ordinary appliances; among his satisfied clients are Mysterio, the Kingpin, the Scorpion, the Black Cat, and others whose equipment needs exceeded their engineering abilities. And then there was Big Wheel, the wanna-be super-villain who hired the Tinkerer to build him a giant rolling wheel with guns so he could… um, harass a teenager on a souped-up skateboard? Ever get the feeling Spider-Man’s writers in the ’70s just gave up at some point?
6. Costume designer/tailor
But do you really want to know what sets the super-villain apart from your ordinary, run-of-the-mill villain? It’s not the perfectly pitched evil laugh or the impressive-looking death ray. No, if you want to make it in this business, you’ve got to dress to impress. And sure, you could pull on a white lab coat, call yourself Professor Pain and hope to get taken seriously by the local superhero union… but real pros know you just can’t buy respect off the rack, and certainly not in a (shudder) costume shop. Paul Gambi was a tailor in Central City who discovered a lucrative sideline designing and mending costumes for the growing number of costumed criminals pitting themselves against the Flash; on one or two occasions, he even allied himself with the rogues to take a shot at the Scarlet Speedster himself. That didn’t work out so well (middle-aged tailors not being the menace one might expect), and he went back to servicing other super-villains’ sartorial needs. Another low-profile tailor, Peter Gambi, worked on the side of good, creating the electrified costume that would transform inner-city teacher Jefferson Pierce into Black Lightning; last I checked, the Internet said there was no relation between the two gentlemen aside from their mad sewing skills, so let’s just assume all people named Gambi are really good at tailoring.
7. Logistical support
Think “henchman” but without the sordid connotations. Larger organizations run by superheroes or clandestine government agencies are just like any other business, with a lot of people involved in making the enterprise work. Think of a professional sports team; the guys on the field might be the stars, but it takes the effort of a whole lot of people to put on a game, from the coaches and equipment managers to the ticket takers and guys in the stands selling novelty “No.1” foam hands. So it only stands to reason that a superhero group with, say, a massive satellite in space (as seen in the Justice League Unlimited series) would have plenty of job openings for IT support, engineers, security guards, administrators, receptionists, janitors, cooks, you name it. And if working in space is a little outside your comfort zone, you can apply for any one of several jobs at a more earthbound place like S.H.I.E.L.D., the Department of Extranormal Operations or Checkmate, the chess-obsessed covert ops agency where field operatives are called “knights” and their support staff (i.e., the ones who do everything from drive the Knights around to fetch their supplies) are dubbed “pawns.” Good thing it’s a clandestine group; can’t imagine it’s easy convincing kids at the local job fair to think of “pawn” as a desirable career option.
Ever notice how every team just happens to have an ace pilot or driver in the line-up, or how superhero modes of transports (like the Avengers’ Quinjet) are apparently so simple to operate that any member of the team, even the cat-babe in the bikini, can just pick up the controls and go? Comic stories aiming for a little more verisimilitude know that planes tend to be complicated pieces of machinery, which is why some teams make a point of including members with backgrounds as pilots. Of course, when costumed aviators are in short supply, you can simply hire one; Jean-Paul “Frenchie” DuChamp designed and piloted Moon Knight’s “Mooncopter” out of gratitude for the masked avenger, while the man known only as Briscoe was hired by Amanda Waller to ferry the Suicide Squad to their missions, a task he accomplished in a black stealth helicopter he slept in and dubbed “Sheba” after his dead daughter. There was a story there, but readers never got to hear it because he died while accompanying the Squad on a trip to Apokolips… which he should have seen coming, given how “you will come here and die” is the slogan for that planet’s tourism board.
Just as it’s hard to imagine Batman building his own mainframes or installing the latest version of Windows on his PC (discussion: which OS does the Bat-computer use? Annnd… go!), it’s tough imagining him giving the Batmobile an oil change, or banging out the dents from the latest chase through Gotham’s streets. Sure, he could fix his own car if he wanted to — he is Batman, after all — but that’s the kind of work that takes time away from cleaning up Gotham’s streets. Viewers of Batman TAS first met Earl Cooper in “The Mechanic” — an auto engineer who put lives ahead of profits, he showed his gratitude to Batman for saving his life by building a better Batmobile and fixing it when needed. He did this in a state-of-the-art garage secretly funded by Bruce Wayne, but the jig was up when one of Earl’s suppliers figured out why he needed certain specialized parts and ratted him out to the Penguin. Not to worry, though, as some quick thinking saves the day… but not the car, alas, which ends up totalled. But hey, while there might be some risk working as a superhero’s mechanic, at least you’ll always keep busy.
10. Clean-up crew
What’s that? You say there’s another 50-foot-tall robot rampaging through downtown Manhattan and hurling taxicabs at one of the local heroes? Well, you just know someone’s going to have to clean up that mess after the fight is over. Created by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie, Damage Control is a company in the Marvel universe that specializes in repairs and renovations to buildings and public spaces damaged by superhero battles. You might think that’s the kind of work that any regular construction outfit could take on, but not a lot of companies would be equipped to deal with, say, one of their employees finding an alien artifact in the rubble of a super-battle and turning into a being of immense power. That’s what happened to construction worker Rex Randolph, who renamed himself Edifice Rex and then took off into space to seek a higher purpose. So if you’re looking for a vocation that offers plenty of exercise, fresh air and a higher-than-average chance of accidentally gaining super-powers, this might be just the thing for you.
11. Museum curator/staff
Batman may be lucky enough to have a whole cave to store his crimefighting mementoes (and a butler willing to wash the bat guano off them), but not every superhero has that luxury. And assuming you last long enough to build up a collection, sooner or later you’re going to have to deal with all that junk… or hire someone else to do it. Over in Central City, the residents showed the Flash some hometown appreciation by building a museum dedicated to his crimefighting exploits. An actor by the name of Dexter Myles started out as a tour guide, but his stirring rendition of Flash’s greatest moments made him a popular figure and eventually earned him the job of museum curator. Meanwhile, Abigail “Ma” Hunkel — the woman who put a cooking pot on her head and called herself the Red Tornado back in the Golden Age — was brought back in the pages of JSA in the early 2000s and given the job of caretaker for the group’s Manhattan museum/headquarters. And a lot of people forget Booster Gold started out as a disgraced ex-football player working the night shift in a 25th-century museum, a building that just happened to have the items he needed to travel back in time and become a superhero in the 20th century. You’d think that time machines put on display in a museum would at least have their batteries removed, but I guess whoever didn’t think of that also thought hiring the guy with a gambling problem to guard time machines was a good idea.
12. Death trap/secret hideout contractor
Okay, if I’m being totally honest I really can’t think of any specific examples of people performing this kind of job in the comics. But if you think about it, somebody must be making some serious coin building lairs/death traps/torture devices/murderous mazes for the more flamboyant super-villains out there. First, it’s hard to imagine someone like the Joker wearing coveralls and a painter’s cap and whistling a happy tune while hammering together pieces of his latest death trap. Second, while henchmen have their uses, it’s hard to imagine there are enough ethically challenged and certified carpenters and bricklayers for every criminal mastermind in need of quality workmanship. Third, it’s hard to imagine someone like Arcade — an assassin who kills his prey with the help of murderous obstacle courses and funhouses — having the time or wherewithal to put together one of his massive “Murderworlds” all by himself. And, let’s be honest, the sanity. Come to think, his homicidal tendencies go a long way to explain why death trap contractors never seem to hang around long enough to build up a clientele…