I recently saw the newest James Bond film, Skyfall, and during my enjoyment watching Bond kick-ass and taking names, I couldn’t help but ponder where on Earth do these bad guys find these henchmen?
How exactly does a person become a henchman? What inspires a person to commit themselves to violence for a villain, a villain whose plans usually have extremely low success rates?
I believe we can all agree that henchmen tend to be low-life, mercenary, gun-for-hire types, but still what draws them to such an unpromising career field? Surely, it can’t be the health plan. Most henchmen will presumably die on the job, yet they deliver their services with such an unrelenting conviction to their cause. Look at the Bond villains through the years. Each one has an organized plan to divide and conquer, with a side vendetta to kill James Bond in the process. Even though each one fails, time after time, a new villain arises with a plethora of guns-for-hire to throw at Bond. Yet, each time Bond fights a henchman they fight him with such purpose. Purpose, as if, they truly believe they will be the one to defeat Bond, or perhaps it’s their way of fighting for a promotion. I’m not quite sure, but the henchman’s sense of duty is captivating none the less.
Although, I have to give props to the villains who hire such men/women for the job; the villains have a unique ability to have their workers believing in their desired cause of action. Now such belief may be fear induced, but is still highly effective. For example, Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has ruled the Foot Clan with an iron fist for decades and despite the usual low success rate against his rivals, he still has willing henchman lining up, suiting up and fighting the TMNT.
Granted, Shredder does hire mostly troubled teenagers with the promise of escape and a certain brotherhood they can’t obtain in the real world. His control and training of reckless teenagers is, nonetheless, impressive. He’s able to systematically recruit and train drones of teenagers to fight mutated turtles, who just happen to be trained in the martial arts. Really think about that. Shredder is able to convince young kids to fight highly trained mutated turtles. He simply invites them into the Foot Clan hideout, offers them a carton of cigarettes and sells them on this new promising line of work where they can learn how to fight like a ninja, all for the purpose of destroying mutated reptiles. Somehow, someway Shredder is able to rile up enough support for his cause to eliminate the TMNT and his fellow Foot Clan members are more than willing to oblige.
It’s not quite manipulation that villains use to inspire their henchman, but they are somehow able to instill a unique sense of unity among their troops with a dose of unfiltered inspiration to outperform each other. In a way, a henchman is like a child fighting for their parents’ attention. Look at Cobra, in an ongoing never-ending battle with G.I. Joe, Cobra Commander is able to control a unified, highly organized terrorist organization with specialized sectors of expertise, each solider and combatant has the same goal: destroy G.I. Joe. Yet, each solider and Cobra specialist (i.e., Destro, Zartan, Storm Shadow) serves Cobra Commander with devoted loyalty. After each encounter with their leader, they look at him with admiration, thus the kid-to-parent like enthusiasm to harvest their attention. Cobra henchmen aspire to be the Cobra Commander’s right-hand man, in essence his favorite son, it is within this realm that Cobra Commander rallies and inspires his troops to help him obtain his goal of global domination.
There’s also the Megatron approach to keeping your loyal comrades in check. Megatron lead his Decepticons through fear. He is the strongest and enforces his will over his comrades-anyone who challenges him would ultimately die. Course his loyal sidekick, Starscream, helps keep his reign of fear in order, but none the less the Megatron’s system of fear-implemented loyalty is a useful tool in keeping henchmen motivated and loyal. The same tactics have been used by Mr. Sinister, Lex Luthor, and numerous Batman villains.
Perhaps the most notorious of Batman villains who used fear as their main form of recruitment and supplier of loyalty is The Joker. I never quite understood how anyone, even a low-life criminal, would align themselves with a homicidal maniac, but then again the use of fear and recruiting mentality unstable lunatics is a useful tactic implied by The Joker. His men are loyal because The Joker presents a plan and a level of stability they didn’t have prior to their enlistment. He presents them with a purpose they didn’t exactly have before, but unlike Cobra and the mercs who fight James Bond, these henchmen are not fighting to gain favor, but rather to stay alive because a failure doesn’t just mean job termination, but also an untimely death.
So, what truly inspires a decent criminal, a marksman, a person with the unique skill set to kill to become a henchman? Is it a sense of brotherhood? The sense you and your brothers-in-arms are fighting for the same goal? Or is it the simple ideal of serving a criminal mastermind just to stay alive and out of jail (or an asylum)? There’s no five-star lodging for a henchman, no unique catering at the workplace, and no health benefits, but still it’s a job market that is constantly being filled and filled with men and women who dedicate themselves to the job. Perhaps, I’ll never understand why anyone wants to be a henchman, but I will have to give a toast to the men and women who are continuing becoming statistics of failure. A toast to the men and women who share an unbreakable will and an un-dying passion towards their job, a passion I could only hope to duplicate. Here’s to all the un-sung mercenaries who make our beloved heroes’ jobs a nuisance and keep our hated villains relevant.
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