Have you ever wondered why teams of heroes are always so much more successful than teams of villains? It’s not because of power differentials, or better strategy. It’s all about psychology: while heroes band together for a common goal, every super-villain knows that their alliances are temporary at best. At the most opportune moment, any member of the Legion of Doom will turn on the others for their personal fortune and glory.
For the Meta Madhouse: Tournament of Terror, we knew that our competitors would have to work together, train together, and ultimately turn on one another. And while that last part comes pretty naturally for the likes of these evil-doers, we turned to four A-list villains with the pedigrees to keep these miscreants from killing one another before game day. True to form, each of our bracket leaders accomplished this heady task with their own personal flair. As we cast our vote to chose the finalist from among these fearful four, let’s take a look back to the days when the locker rooms were filled with tourney hopefuls, and just how their leaders accomplished the difficult challenge of keeping them all in check.
The Joker may be the biggest name in villainy, but he’s not exactly the first person who comes to mind for a leadership position. When he’s not working alone, the Clown Prince of Crime’s posse is composed of devotees who aren’t in this for the money, but for the senseless, relentless chaos. Despite its name, however, many of the villains in the Joker Maniacs bracket would be more at home in Blackgate than Arkham. So how did the big Mr. J keep a lid on this particular crew? With the biggest tool on his psychological belt: anti-establishment. When he’s not tormenting Batman, The Joker can inspire others to see the flaws in an ordered society which refuses to question itself. It’s the quality which made him such a captivating figure in 2008’s The Dark Knight, and 2019’s Joker. But Joker’s biggest leadership role was probably 2007’s Salvation Run, where he successfully rallied half the world’s cosmically exiled Super-Villains into joining him in a revolt against Luthor’s rule. With The Joker, it’s not about a common ideal, but a common hatred. By uniting his Maniacs in hate against the other brackets, Joker provided distraction against his team sabotaging one another until the matches were underway.
Darkseid’s leadership style is simple, brutal, and effective: abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Though he usually relegates training to Granny Goodness, Granny herself was one of the entrants in his own bracket this year -- meaning that the task fell to Darkseid himself to whip his recruits into shape, just as he had done with Granny long ago. Though the Anti-Life equation which would unlock unquestioning obedience from all evades his grasp, he still exercises its most basic building blocks with ruthless efficiency: pain, despair, and hopelessness. Darkseid has spent billions of years practicing these techniques on a people who have long forgotten even the smallest spark of hope or happiness on the people of Apokolips that there is nothing left in their empty, pitiable lives but a single truth: Darkseid Is. The Darkseid Invaders may be world conquerors, but even the proudest of warriors can be stripped of what makes them stand tall through the unremitting gaze of the God of Evil.
Lex Luthor is a schmoozer. Since his reinvention from mad scientist to high power businessman, he’s been all in on the art of the deal. He’s also a man with deep pockets, who always does his homework: meaning that not only does he have the means to find out exactly what it is you want most, but also the means to deliver it. The recent “Year of the Villain” storyline in the pages of Justice League proved just that, as he dispatched drones across the world recruiting the fealty of the most disparate group of villains imaginable, by presenting each with an irrefusable offer tailor-made specifically for them. He’s also the leader with the most experience when it comes to herding villains with a wide array of backgrounds and motivations. After all, it was Lex himself who stood front and center in the chairman’s position of the original Legion of Doom, commanding the attention and respect of the worst and darkest that Super-Villainy had to offer in the 1970s. If their frequent prison breakouts prove anything, it’s that punitive measures may not be the most effective on the Super-Villain crowd. Luthor knows it’s best to offer the carrot before the stick.
Barbara Ann Minerva has the least experience of our Meta Madhouse coaches this year when it comes to leading a team… but not exactly none. During the “Forever Evil” event where the world’s villains laid claim to the Earth as the Justice League was locked away by the Crime Syndicate of America, Cheetah led a group of animal-themed villains she dubbed “The Menagerie” to take on the likes of A.R.G.U.S. It was fitting, then, that The Cheetah Beasts were formed as a largely animal themed bracket, playing to this feline felon’s strengths. Cheetah’s leadership style is all about appealing to the basest animalistic instincts of the people below her. Just as Minerva gave into the Cheetah within, Cheetah inspires her beastly compatriots to discard their own humanity and become the animal. She does not incite, or threaten, or cajole: she merely exposes the id, showing these animals they only are just that. And when it comes to self-indulgence, Cheetah is always the pack leader.