As Libya is on the verge of shrugging off the chains of the most comic-book of the villainous Middle Eastern dictators, I thought it would be fun to look at some slightly more fictional varieties of Gaddafi et al. With his elite guard of female killers and penchant for a fancy costume and ranting speeches, I reckon he’d fit in nicely amongst this lot.
Ming The Merciless
Lord of the planet Mongo, and brutal ruler of an empire of loosely conglomerated planet states, which he keeps under control with wily divide and rule tactics. Although he has access to a huge harem filled with every colour and shape of concubine a despot could wish for, he still has an eye for the Earth chicks. Typical bloody alien, can’t leave our women alone. Like most good fictional dictators, he takes great pleasure in his job, frequently loosing off an evil cackle as he sentences Flash Gordon to yet another battle to the death against the Rock-Beast of Stonia.
Downfall: Most famously in the exquisitely camp Mike Hodges movie, speared through the chest by the spike on the front of his already pretty phallic War Rocket Ajax. A very Freudian episode. However, his disappearance into a fog of green energy and reappearance to pick up his Imperial signet ring leads me to suspect we’ve not seen the last of Ming quite yet. I tend to ignore all imitators that don’t rock the flowing robes, heavy eyeshadow and Fu Manchu moustache.
Another guy that really gets a kick out of his work, gurning and cackling as he unleashes bolts of force power at his foes. George Lucus has stated that Palpatine was based pretty strongly on Ming The Merciless, and the robes and evil plots do seem to bear this out. However, Palatine very definitely has the edge when it comes to firepower. Having not just one but two Death Stars shows that Palpatine is a despot with balls (even if they do have a tendency to explode).
Downfall: Despots always have to watch those closest to them, and Palpatine is no exception. He’s flung down a bottomless shaft by his right-hand man. Not, for once, in an attempted coup, but in a belated show of conscience after watching his only son suffer at his master’s hands. Palpatine’s still cackling as he goes, though. That guy knows how to squeeze a good time out of any situation.
Doom’s just such a great name for a despotic villain. Victor Von D, sorcerer, polymath, eternal foe of the Fantastic Four. He rules the principality of Latveria, which like many real world dictators he keeps in a backwards, poverty-stricken state. Latveria is Mittel-Europe as seen through the Mighty Marvel lens – girls in dirdls, blokes in breeches, sleepy little villages, looming castles on hilltops. It’s his safe haven where he can plot, plan and experiment, driven by his hatred of super-scientist Reed Richards. Masked to hide a hideously scarred face (although some interpretations of the story have Doom being so vain that a shaving nick would plunge him into despair), armoured AND robed, Doom is the master of over-compensation.
Downfall: This is Marvel we’re talking about. No-one ever really dies.
Macchiavelli’s got nothing on the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. He rules from the shadows, depending on a dense network of spies and informants to get the information he needs to guide his labyrinthine plots. Unlike the other gentlemen on this list, Vetinari isn’t so much a despot as a benevolent dictator, a pragmatist whose one goal is to keep his city running smoothly. However, you could also say that in the subtle reintroduction of a proper police force, postal service and a free press he is moving Ankh-Morpork slowly, gradually forwards. Not too quickly, though. The city is run very firmly on the political framework of “One Man, One Vote” – Vetinari being the One Man in question.
Downfall: He’s survived numerous assassination attempts. He’s been deposed any number of times. He stays in power quite simply because the people of Ankh-Morpork understand that life without him would be ever so slightly worse than it is with him in charge. If any despot, real or fictional, understood the political landscape in the way that Vetinari does, then they would remain unchallenged, and in control.