Nature's fury is a sight to behold: earthquakes, volcanoes, and landslides can wipe out thousands of people in a single blow. If you're an aspiring supervillain, though, there's some good news. You can harness these forces for yourself. Here's how!
Image credit: NASA
Intimidation Factor: Few things terrorize the helpless masses quite as much as the very earth trembling beneath their feet. Excellent for triggering heart attacks, but the main focus is going to be damage to buildings and infrastructure. Substantial collateral damage possible in areas with weak building codes or corrupt construction practices.
Susceptibility To Control: Formerly the domain of tectonic boundaries with few intraplate hiccups, thanks to the rise of injection wells, anywhere can be earthquake country. Just pump fluid into the bedrock, redistributing stress, then sit back, relax, and wait for the disaster. The exact location, timing, and magnitude of the earthquakes are impossible to control or predict, so this works best for generalized terror, not specific targets.
Hero's Capacity To Thwart: This hazard is immune to hero prevention, but a dedicated do-gooder can initiate a community education campaign on personal preparedness techniques. If overused, an ongoing earthquake terror campaign could inspire local government to cough up the cash for an early-warning system, giving them scant seconds of warning to lock down critical infrastructure and brace for shaking.
Bonus! A villain seeking to terrorize a population hardened against minor shaking will need to super-size the disaster by triggering earthquakes on established active faults. Access inSAR data to identify locked faults, and target deep detonations to boost stress over critical limits and trigger a major earthquake. A well-established supervillain looking to take on an entire region may consider setting up a daisy-chain of detonations along a subduction fault arc, timed to match seismic velocities for maximum impact.
Doom Rating: Ideal for generalized terror campaigns with no clear timelines or targets, or overbooked supervillains content to set up an unstable situation then work on other projects while awaiting the quakes. Useful, but not for the specifically-vindictive supervillain.
Image credit: Washington State Department of Transportation
Intimidation Factor: What landslides lack in elegance, they make up for in shear localized efficiency. Once you send a landslide roaring down a mountain, not only will anything and everything be destroyed, but the scar of the Earth marking your destruction will last long after your last lair is blown and your infamy fades into history. Slow-moving earthflows are even less intimidating, yet their inexorable creep across the land will inevitably shove homes off foundations and disrupt infrastructure.
Susceptibility To Control: Landslides require land, a slope, and gravity. The potential for a landslide at a specific location can be increased by conveniently-oriented rock jointing or weak sliding surfaces, excessive weathering destroying rock integrity, devegetation, increased water, and off-balance mass distribution with undercut toes and top-heavy heads. One a piece of land reaches critical instability and the Factor of Safety drops below one, it is predisposed towards failure. Set it up and wait for rain, or trigger it yourself with a targeted detonation.
Hero's Capacity To Thwart: Preventing a landslide requires anticipation and cooperation, so only highly organized, observant heroes will pose a threat to your success. The relatively low mitigation budget for landslides means that government do-gooders are unlikely to notice, muchless ruin, your plans.
Bonus! Landslides are the perfect disaster to super-size. Once landslides cross a volume threshold of approximately one million cubic meters, not only are they effectively impossible to prevent, but they also run out disproportionally faster and farther than their smaller kin.
Doom Rating: Ugly but effective. Good starter-disaster for supervillains terrorizing at a municipal level. Not a good choice for flatland villains.
Image credit: Cyrus Read/USGS
Intimidation Factor: While the volcanic lair is a classic, an eruption will bump up your credibility from ordinary villain to stylish supervillain. The eruption style all comes down to geochemistry: effusive, silica-poor mafic eruptions will slowly-but-steadily consume all in its path, while violent silica-rich felsic eruptions will fling lava bombs into the air and reach out with boiling clouds of ash and debris in deadly pyroclastic flows.
Susceptibility To Control: Volcanoes only grow along plate tectonic boundaries or at hot spots, so you'll need to move to them. While most eruptions are limited to local impact, eruptions with a high degree of magma fractionation can inject prolific quantities of ash into the atmosphere. Along with wreaking havoc on air traffic, ash in the upper atmosphere can send the entire planet into a years-long cold spell. To harness an eruption, we recommend a supervillain install a state-of-the-art monitoring system to step up threats when it looks like an eruption is imminent, taking credit when the volcano blows. Alternately, try triggering an eruption when and where you want it. Lava domes act as plugs allowing volatiles to slowly escape, so blowing the top off removes that safety valve and triggers an eruption. Similarly, draining a boiling crater lake cuts off another form of slow energy release, increasing the chances of a major blow-up.
Hero's Capacity To Thwart: No hero will be able to prevent an eruption, although a fireproof and foolhardy one could desperately try to divert a lava flow by spraying water. This has a slim margin of success, so try not to have engulfing a particular target with molten rock as the linchpin for your evil plan.
Bonus! Good synergy with landslides if you can pull it off. The heat of eruption can rapidly melt picturesque snow, streaming downhill in muddy, watery lahars of pyroclastic debris.
Doom Rating: Sexy but smelly. Best for the stylish villain with a silhouette suitable to pose against glowing lava in the dark of night and unfazed by trailing a sulphurous reek in your wake. Be prepared to rebuild roads constantly.
Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Intimidation Factor: Storms are visually impressive and catastrophically destructive. As some insurance policies only cover certain types of storm damage, your victims will spend years in court arguing if their home was destroyed by rotating or linear winds.
Susceptibility To Control: Works best in regions with predictable temperature gradients and easy access to humid air.
Hero's Capacity To Thwart: A sensible monitoring system and evacuation strategy can all but eliminate deaths and injuries, but nothing will save their homes.
Bonus! The weather office will create understated, all-capital weather reports describing your efforts perfect for your portfolio, sharing on social media to raise your villainous credibility, and sending home for your parents to proudly post on the fridge door.
Doom Rating: Ideal for villains with a constant supply of hot air.
Image credit: M. Ahmetvaleev/JPL PIA16828
Intimidation Factor: Perfect for clearing the entire planet of nearly all species, and starting over to repopulate from your carefully-stored seedbank. Depending on the characteristics of your chosen asteroid or comet and where exactly it hits the planet, along with a picturesque crater ideal for your next lair, secondary effects could include atmospheric vaporization, massive tsunami, planet-shaking earthquakes, and global fire storms.
Susceptibility To Control: Head out to the Oort cloud for your pick of rocks and ice, then knock it on to a collision course. Requires substantial advanced planning to set in motion, and patience to await its arrival.
Hero's Capacity To Thwart: Growing societal pressure is slowly increasing awareness for the need to perform all-sky surveys for near-Earth objects and potential impactors; right now the planet is virtually blind and powerless. Your odds of successfully sneaking an asteroid or comet onto a collision course without being noticed until far too late for diversion plans are fantastic, especially as no commercial or government diversion technique currently exists.
Doom Rating: Only for the well-funded space-villain, this is the ultimate in unmistakable, visually-impressive, large-scale villainy.
Image credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO
Intimidation Factor: Coax a massive coronal ejection on the sun to send a storm of charged particles at the Earth. Once they hit, they'll trigger a powerful geomagnetic storm that will set the sky dancing in beautiful, ethereal aurora while knocking power grids offline. While the planetary magnetic field will shelter living creatures from any ill effects, the impact on vulnerable power stations and infrastructure will drop civilization back to pre-electrical status. The cost and time required to bring power back online is difficult to predict, with forecasts ranging from years to decades.
Susceptibility To Control: Sufficiently nasty solar flares are a relatively regular naturally-occurring feature on the sun, so the real trick is to harness solar dynamics to point the eruption at a relatively-tiny Earth.
Hero's Capacity To Thwart: Ongoing continuous monitoring from solar observatories mean the world will know what you've done almost instantaneously, but the few days between triggering the flare and the charged particles hitting the Earth is woefully insufficient to upgrade and harden infrastructure. However, the cost of retrofitting key critical systems is infinitesimal compared to the cost of disaster if anyone ever gets motivated, so avoid threats or bombastic bragging until the deed is done.
Doom Rating: An essential tool for the precision supervillain looking to disrupt civilization without being directly responsible for messy deaths. Set a satellite to record the beauty of flickering aurora followed by the abrupt extinction of city lights for your highlight reel. Pair with a steampunk wardrobe to set the style of your post-electricity new world.
This is merely an introduction to disaster-based villainy. Many more disasters await being harness by the scientifically-skilled to wreak vengeance upon the blissfully unprepared. Contributions welcome for the next volume of this guide to ultimate villainy.