Diabolical Mastermind

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
The Trope Codifier in his natural habitat.
"He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city."

The criminal version of the Evil Overlord. Standing out from the terrorists, smugglers, murderers, gangsters, evil dictators and other petty criminals is the Diabolical Mastermind. Generally found sitting in an expensive leather chair with one hand idly tapping a Trap Door button and the other stroking his pet cat, the diabolical mastermind is always at the top of whatever criminal food chain the hero—usually a spy—ends up climbing. He differs from the Evil Overlord in that he (usually) has no territory or political power of his own, although his criminal resources sometimes rival those of a developed nation.

Because of this, he (and it is almost always a he) is generally protected by dozens of Mooks and sometimes The Dragon. As such, he is very rarely made to pay for his crimes.

The diabolical mastermind's motto is that you have to spend money to make money. As such, he may spend countless millions—or billions—of dollars building a super orbital Death Ray operated from a secret volcano base, only to then hold the world's Governments to ransom for... er... millions—or billions—of dollars. Since money is no object, the best way to ask the world for this ransom is to take over every TV channel or network in the world.

Not that the diabolical mastermind is not always motivated by money. He may lust for power, land, priceless art or something else. But his tactics are invariably complicated and technologically impressive.

Typically, the diabolical mastermind holds no political affiliation, nor does he follow anyone else's orders. As far as he is concerned, his is the only opinion that matters and everyone else will follow his lead. He fights for no cause except his own. Any affiliations with political parties or rebel fighters are purely for the purposes of hiding his connections with crimes or having others do his dirty work. This is not to say he has no political views or agenda, just that they are either kept seperate from- or are one in the same as- his own personal ambitions.

Of course, the diabolical mastermind isn't upset about getting his hands dirty if needed, although if he manages to capture the hero, he inevitably makes the mistake of pulling The Blofeld Ploy or favouring a Death Trap rather than just shooting the guy in the head. He is often a Bad Boss and his henchmen fear those ominous words: "You Have Failed Me... for the last time..."

Quite frequently is The Faceless and a Badass Normal. One who becomes more powerful may take on the role of an Evil Overlord.

Examples of Diabolical Mastermind include:

Anime and Manga

  • Makoto Shishio from Rurouni Kenshin seems to be a combination between a Diabolical Mastermind and a Badass.
  • Arguably, Gendou Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion is an example.
    • Less arguably is Keel Lorenz, Gendo's boss and Number One of SEELE.
  • Subverted in Mobile Suit Gundam 00. We all thought the true Diabolical Mastermind was Alejandro Corner... but it was his Enigmatic Minion, Ribbons Almack.
  • Crocodile from One Piece. He's even based off Mafia-type gangsters, and he leads a secret criminal orgaization that out to overtrhow a whole kingdom. What sets him apart from other masterminds, is that Crocodile has superpowers.
  • Izaya from Durarara!! manipulates people and supernatural beings just because he can, and it's fun. He is an information broker who has a hand in basically everything that happens in Ikebukuro, and is arguably the most dangerous out of a cast of very dangerous people.
  • Dynamis in Mahou Sensei Negima absolute loves the idea of being one of these. And he's damn good at it.
  • In contrast to his predecessor, Muruta Azrael, who operated publicly as a legitimate (if still exceedingly evil) politician and lobbyist, Lord Djibril of Gundam Seed Destiny prefers to operate as the terrorist version of this. He rarely leaves his hidden lair, from which he pulls the strings on Blue Cosmos, the Atlantic Federation, and eventually the Earth Sphere Alliance. Comes complete with Right-Hand-Cat, A Glass of Chianti, and no moral compass.

Comic Books

  • Lex Luthor, prime antagonist of Superman in comics, TV and film, is a classic diabolical mastermind with the variation of often having a legitimate multi-billion dollar company as a front for his less than legal operations.
  • The Octopus, archfoe of Will Eisener's much-acclaimed The Spirit, is a classic example. Debuting in the 1940's, he anticipated both Dr. Claw and Blofeld in that his face was never seen—even on those occasions when he confronted the Spirit in person, his face was always in shadow, his most distinctive feature being his purple gloves with three yellow lines down the back. Initially a crime-boss, the modern-day reboot by Darwyn Cooke recreates him as the leader of a terrorist group—the Octagon.
  • The Kingpin in the Marvel Universe occasionally lurches into this archetype, particularly in the Spider-Man animated series.
  • The Red Skull is a major one of these.
  • Magneto has shades of this in Classic Villain mode.
  • Roberto Rastapopolous from The Adventures of Tintin occasionally gets high-tech enough to deserve this description.
  • Sam and Max Freelance Police had reoccurring nemesis Mack Salmon, who thanks to Sam and Max has a fish in a glass bowl for a head, for some reason.
  • Mr. V, aka "Faceless" from the early Martian Manhunter comics was a fat guy in a horrible costume and mask. He was also the head of international crime syndicate Vulture, and vexed the Manhunter for years with one scheme and scientific gizmo after another. Even his inevitable defeats didn't stop him, because whenever he was captured and unmasked it was always revealed that it was just another one of his henchmen under the mask and that the real Mr. V had gotten away again. As this blog notes Mr. V is this trope, boiled down to its most simplistic and archetypal. "Faceless was the embodiment of crime, without any character depth or motivation beyond the desire to successfully commit crime and to put down those who would prevent crime."
  • Wallenquist in Sin City is The Don who is thwarted quite a bit but remains untouchable by the heroes. In fact, none of the heroes so far, have even met him face-to-face. The Roark family almost qualifies. They're still in power but a few of them are dead at this point.
  • In Runaways, Alex's parents, Catherine and Geoffrey Wilder are this, controlling most of the LA underworld through fear and intimidation. They have agents within the LAPD, execute anyone who commits a crime without asking their permission first, and have successfully kept most superheroes and supervillains out of the city. The Pride as a whole might actually count, but since Geoffrey is The Big Bad, and the one who handles affairs in LA directly, he and Catherine are the clearest examples (the rest being a collection of Mad Scientists, Evil Sorcerers, time-travellers, Mutants, and Human Aliens who have their own areas of responsibility in The Syndicate). Bonus points for being Badass Normals to boot.
    • In subsequent chapters, 1985!Geoffrey shows himself to be an example as well. Having just been pulled into the future he forms The New Pride, while successfully manipulating a superhero group and the Runaways into doing exactly what he wants them to, ultimately killing one of them before being returned to the past.
  • Iron Man's Arch Enemy The Mandarin is a classic example, with a Yellow Peril twist.


  • Ernst Stavro Blofeld, nemesis of James Bond and leader of supercrime organisation SPECTRE, is probably the most obvious example. Employees of SPECTRE, even famous ones such as Dr. No, probably shouldn't count, since they are subservient to Blofeld, but they do otherwise have most of the necessary qualifications and certainly act as such in the context of their SPECTRE missions.
    • Most villains from the Bond movies are diabolical masterminds. The average Bond villain is usually at least a millionaire and anything from a large gang to a small private army of Mooks at his command, and often has significant political and especially criminal connections despite having their own agenda:
      • Goldfinger is a big time international gold smuggler and a millionaire entrepreneur, with ties to the Reds.
      • Kananga from Live and Let Die is an island dictator and drug lord Mister Big.
      • Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me is a billionaire shipping magnate with an underwater base who steals nuclear submarines.
      • Hugo Drax in Moonraker is a billionaire industrialist with his own secret space station who makes shuttles for NASA.
      • The Big Bad Duumvirate in Octopussy are an Ax Crazy Russian general, and an Afghan smuggler and prince living in India, respectively.
      • Max Zorin is yet another billionaire industrialist, as well as a rogue KGB agent and the product of Nazi genetic engineering.
      • The Big Bad Duumvirate in The Living Daylights are once again a corrupt Soviet general and a criminal, this time a KGB chieftain and a crooked arms dealer respectively, who plan to have Bond murder the former's KGB superior to cover up their ring of embezzlement, drug running and diamond smuggling.
      • Franz Sanchez is a big time drug lord with "an invisible empire from Chile to Alaska" and the local dictator in his pocket.
      • GoldenEye has Janus, who is the head of a big time arms dealing syndicate that has got its hands on a Kill Sat.
      • Media magnate Eliot Carver from Tomorrow Never Dies, who uses money from his media empire to create tomorrow's headlines.
      • Renard from The World Is Not Enough is a notorious international terrorist, while Elektra King was an oil heiress, until she killed her father for revenge and to get rid of the "heiress" part.
      • Die Another Day has Gustave Graves, a millionaire jeweler who secretly trades in conflict diamonds, passing them off as Peruvian. He's actually corrupt North Korean colonel General Moon.
      • The various members of Quantum, from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, count where SPECTRE agents do not, as they seem to be an organization of equals. Aside from phony green activist Dominic Greene their leadership includes a former Russian minister turned billionaire mine owner; a former Mossad agent turned telecom bigwig; and an adviser to the British Prime Minister.
  • Doctor Evil from the Austin Powers movies is a parody of diabolical masterminds in general and Blofeld in particular.
  • Sr August de Wynter in the 1998 film version of The Avengers.
  • Clarence Boddicker in RoboCop.
  • Gru, the Villain Protagonist of Despicable Me.
  • Megamind's titular character falls somewhere between a low-budget version of a Diabolical Mastermind (with a small number of flying robot minions, a series of secret lairs and endless, albeit simple, schemes to stop Metroman once and for all) and the Mad Scientist (which is far more prevalent).
  • Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.
  • Lord Blackwood and Professor Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes.
  • Dr. Arless Loveless in Wild Wild West.
  • Lex Luthor in the original Superman movie. The character's Mad Scientist aspects were dropped, and the Diabolical Mastermind parts played up for everything they were worth.


  • Professor James Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes is one of the earliest examples of this trope.
  • The title character of the Fu Manchu novels is also an early example.
  • Doctor Impossible in Soon I Will Be Invincible is an example and Deconstruction of this.
  • Artemis Fowl sees himself as such in the first book.
  • Other early examples are John Devil (from the eponymous novel) and Colonel Bozzo from The Black Coats. Incidentally, both of these villains were created by the same man: Paul Feval.
  • "Gentleman" Johnny Marcone of The Dresden Files is probably one of the most benign versions of this, as his mastery of Chicago's underworld has actually reduced the bloodshed and chaos of criminal activity in the Windy City. That has actually been his intended goal for many years now, ever since a young girl was accidentally gunned down by hitmen aiming for him. This hasn't stopped him from turning a pretty good profit, however.
  • Granta Omega of Jedi Quest is a Diabolical Mastermind to his father, Xanatos' Corrupt Corporate Executive.

Live Action TV

  • The Avengers faced dozens—possibly hundreds—of these during their adventures. In fact, the series created the term: Mrs Peel's last words to Steed were: "Always keep your bowler on in times of stress, and a watchful eye open for diabolical masterminds."
  • Some of the more Genre Savvy Gou'ald System Lords fit this to a T on Stargate SG-1. Particularly the big three that SG-1 faced off against; (in escalating order of how well they fit) Apophis, Anubis, and Magnificent Bastard Ba'al.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look had a recurring sketch about one of these, and his frustrations with certain aspects of the job. Such as a contractor's requirement that a secret revolving wall have a clearly visible sign on it saying "Warning: Wall may rotate", and his henchmen responding to the instruction "Let's hope he meets with an unfortunate accident" by hoping that the man in question met with an accident.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Our Man Bashir" most of the crew's transporter beam patterns are accidentally put in a holosuite portraying characters in Dr. Bashir's 1960s spy program. Captain Sisko plays a mad supervillain planning to flood the world called "Dr. Noah".
  • Dr. Miguelito Loveless in The Wild Wild West.
  • Earth-2 Lionel Luthor in Season 10 of Smallville. By fusing LuthorCorp and the Metropolis underworld he's become the most powerful man on Earth-2, and is one step short of becoming the Corrupt Corporate Executive version of The Emperor. A vicious Social Darwinist, he values power and control not so much for their sake, but as proof that he, by virtue of his position, is the greatest survivor on Earth-2. Having an evil Superman at your beck and call can help with that.
  • Jim Moriarty, the BBC series Sherlock's interpretation of the literary character, is a "consulting criminal", which winds up being a cross between Diabolical Mastermind and Psycho for Hire. Moriarty is portrayed as rivaling Sherlock in terms of intelligence; but where Sherlock stimulates himself by solving crimes and mysteries, Moriarty plans perfect crimes (mostly for other people to actually commit) for the same kind of rush. The money and (incidental) power are just pleasant bonuses for him.


Video Games

  • The Flash game "Mastermind World Conqueror" has game mechanics and cutscenes all mastermind-style, in stylish red and black (much like mastermind morality). Play it here. The character himself in the game and the flash series is more a Dr. Evil-like parody who often gets into petty grudges and arguments with his underlings, whom he's way too eager to kill off.
  • The game Evil Genius is basically a Diabolical Mastermind simulation, where you select one of three evil supergenius characters and build up a globe-spanning criminal empire, dealing with any spies or secret agents sent to take you out or disrupt your operation.
  • Giovanni from Pokémon Red and Blue. He was only The Faceless on the Gym Leader page in the manual and in parts of the Pokémon anime prior to the release of Pokémon: The First Movie, though.
  • City of Villains features an entire character class devoted to this trope, appropriately named the "Mastermind." Your primary ability is summoning henchmen, be they a robotic army of doom, waves of the undead, heartless mercenaries, armed thugs, or ninjas. Of course, since you can always summon more, you're expected to let them die in your name—and one support power called "Detonate" specifically is described as giving your minion an explosive device, then while he's trying to set it up, you blow the device and the minion sky high. Also true to the trope, you have the least hit points of any class in the game—but any damage you take can be funneled through your minions in certain situations.
    • The parent game, City of Heroes, actually has its share of these as well- almost every group of NPC villains has at least one of these at the top, as well as a few Diabolical Masterminds-in-training among the lieutenants.
  • Mr X of Streets of Rage manages to take over the city. Pity he didn't arm his mooks with any of the guns there... He got a nice one for himself though.
  • In Jade Empire, we have Kai Lan the Serpent, who is the local figurehead of The Syndicate in the Imperial Capital Arena. It eventually turns out he's not as high-ranked as you're initially led to believe, as he seems to have superiors of some sort (who only contact you if you kill him in the arena).
    • Another example is Gao the Greater, another high-ranking member of the same syndicate.
  • Edwin VanCleef in World of Warcraft was the mastermind behind the criminal organisation the Defias that has its tentacles everywhere. He was otherwise unusual for the role in being a Well-Intentioned Extremist whose Authority Equals Asskicking.
    • In the Cataclysm expansion his daughter Vanessa does daddy proud by murdering his enemies and setting Sentinel Hill ablaze, all while hiding her true identity until the final reveal.
  • The Illusive Man of Mass Effect is this for a sci-fi setting. He's a Well-Intentioned Extremist who believes that Humanity Is Superior and sees aliens as tools at best and enemies at worst. While he does claim that his actions are solely for the benefit of humanity and will handwave any Moral Event Horizons of Cerberus as "rogue cells", in his opinion Cerberus is Humanity and it seems that he only does so if said Moral Event Horizons lead to colossal failures.

Western Animation

  • Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget was another fine diabolical mastermind.
  • Valmont in Jackie Chan Adventures.
  • Subversion: The Monarch, would-be superfoe of Doctor Thaddeus Venture and The Venture Brothers, spent his trust fund becoming a diabolical mastermind purely so that he could be a diabolical mastermind. He has no desires beyond killing Doctor Venture, despite the fact that Venture couldn't care less about him.
  • Hank Scorpio, from The Simpsons, is another parody; he's a textbook diabolical mastermind, except that he's a really nice guy and good boss. One of the most popular one-shot characters in The Simpsons.
  • Disney's Kim Possible is positively lousy with Diabolical Masterminds. Except that none of them are actually any good at it.
  • Number One, leader of F.E.A.R., in Birdman.
  • Lawrence Limburger from the original Biker Mice From Mars series. Voiced by W Morgan Sheppard.
  • Slade, Brother Blood, and the Brain on Teen Titans all qualify. Slade does serve as The Dragon for Trigon at one point, but that's purely out of personal gain rather than loyalty - his only affiliation is ever himself.
    • Slade also manages not to belittle himself on the villain food chain by serving as Dragon, considering who he's working for.
  • Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz from Phineas and Ferb. Although it could be argued that he is half Diabolical Mastermind and half Absent-Minded Professor.
  • Mr. Big in Word Girl, considering this is a children's edu-tainment show, don't expect him to get away with his evil acts.
  • Stewie from Family Guy, especially in the early years. It kinda petered out for a while & got replaced with a Transparent Closet schtick, but they've been trying to bring it back recently.
  • The Great Mouse Detective: Professor Ratigan's Villain Song explicitly points out that he is "the world's greatest criminal mind".
  • Taurus Bulba from Darkwing Duck.
  • Dark Kat from Swat Kats.
  • Dr. Zin in Jonny Quest TOS.
  • Gorilla Grodd in the Justice League cartoon, especially the JLU where he founded the Legion of Doom and charged each member 20 percent of the profits from their crimes. Lex Luthor became one after losing his Corrupt Corporate Executive and Mad Scientist guises, eventually taking control of the Legion from Grodd.
  • Transformers Beast Wars Megatron is a prime example. Unlike other Megatrons, this one didn't have any political power among his faction. (The Council considered him a dangerous rogue.) He's described as brilliant for his cleverly crafted strategies he uses to thwart the Maximals throughout the show. He has a handful of lackeys, (half of them traitorous, and the other half stupidly loyal) and he takes the time to incorporate their plans against him to further his agenda without them knowing.

Web Original

  • In The Gamers Alliance, Vesuvius Matheson is the wealthy head of the far-reaching Matheson Crime Family which owns the city of Matheson and has his minions infiltrating or bribing many government officials in Maar Sul. He hatches elaborate schemes to strengthen his power base, even going so far as to fund the Proninist invasion of Maar Sul.
  • Doctor Steel. Though he's not so much evil as he is mad...
    • Very mad. Very, very mad.
  • There are several in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, but the ones to really worry about are Lord Doom (who wants to take over the world in order to save humanity from itself), Doctor Simian (a super-intelligent chimpanzee who wants to overthrow humanity and put apes in their rightful place as rulers of the Earth), and The Emperor, leader of TAROT (who wants to control the world through economics).
    • And it is entirely possible that The Emperor has already succeeded in doing just that.

Web Comics

  • Daedalus from Sluggy Freelance is a light parody of the concept, or else is trying too hard to cleave to it: he has all the trappings, such as the always-shadowed face, but usually manages to spoil the mystique.
  • Mr. Sin from Sam and Fuzzy.
  • The aptly named Mastermind from The FAN appears to be this, though not much is known about him at the moment. He does seem to be the head of a powerful corporation that has it's own army and several MIB in it's employment, and he only appeared so far as a black distorted silhouette with a magenta colored eye on a green monitor, among a lot of static.