Supervillains fascinate me. I enjoy their variety and their machinations. Their monologuing thrills me. I love their origins and their motivations. I am particularly fascinated by those supervillains so dedicated to a theme that it actually interferes with their success, baddies like the Riddler whose compulsions force him to lure heroes to his every crime or like the Calendar Man who stick to a theme no matter the cost.
There are other kinds of compulsions beyond just theme though. Another type of villain is so busy trying to do evil things that they fail to realize what they’ve really accomplished. The perfect example of this overachiever is James Bond’s archnemesis, Ernst Stravro Blofeld.
Blofeld is Number One, the leader of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). As the anagram so neatly outlines, SPECTRE is dedicated to the destabilization of world powers so that its members may assume control of the planet. Whether they are doing something relatively low level like breaking codes or something epically dangerous like seizing atomic devices, they are a truly ruthless bunch.
If Blofeld’s name sounds unfamiliar, you certainly know his type. Blofeld is the origin of the aloof master planner. The image of Blofeld sitting in his chair, scheming away while petting the white Persian cat in his lap has become an archetype of villainy.
Blofeld is so away from direct action that it’s really not until his third movie appearance in You Only Live Twice (1967) that he even meets Bond in person. It’s not this dramatic encounter that fascinates me though. Rather it is Blofeld’s scheme, a plot so outrageous that the supervillain has missed his opportunity to do far more.
From inside his fake volcano base– he’s a trendsetter in supervillain real estate too—Blofeld has hatched his most ambitious plan yet. His goal is to set the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics against each by secretly capturing the spacecraft in their emerging space race. Yes, you read that correctly. Blofeld plans to steal spaceships while they are in space.
To do this, he has a special craft constructed, one that opens at the nose cone to swallow other space capsules whole (the scenes where the mystery ship grabs an American space module are masterfully shot in terms of suspense and well worth a Google clip view).
Now, sinister intentions aside, this is a particularly impressive accomplishment in engineering. SPECTRE has essentially become the third power in space. What is even more amazing is that the mystery vehicle is capable of returning to the volcano base from which it launched, landing in an upright position.
To summarize, in the 1960s world of James Bond, SPECTRE can send and retrieve a multi-use vehicle at will without the financial backing or space tracking resources of a superpower nation. In essence, SPECTRE has become the preeminent aerospace engineering firm on the planet.
In this fictitious 1967, Blofeld led his organization to something that has only recently been achieved in real life. If not for his global power ambitions, Blofeld could have become the richest and most powerful man on the planet, offering up his services to any nation.
Perhaps his natural desire for secrecy would drive Blofeld to not assume a public face. Perhaps he does not wish to be a corporate leader six decades ahead of his time. That’s fine.
Imagine what the same technology could do for a clandestine organization threatening the world. Instead of taking capsules down, what could SPECTRE have put up there? Spy satellites, atomic bombs, or even death rays? Blofeld lost by thinking too big.