Tweet of the Day: Game Changer: What Society Can Learn From the Economics Of Video Games
The heroes just cornered the bad guy, assaulted his lair, or fought him over the exploding volcano. With his dying breath he says, “There is another!”
Indeed, the guy the heroes spent so much time fighting just happens to be a lackey for the real villain, The Man Behind the Man.
This trope is a good way to keep the story going. If the heroes defeated the main bad guy, they can pack up and go home. But if a bigger, more sinister presence lingers on the horizon that means that the work is not done. The thing that pops to mind regarding this trope is the relationship between the henchman (also known as The Dragon). If the henchman is so capable, why is he not the leader? Does he follow out of ideological/religious conviction? Personal loyalty? Fear? Is the henchman happy with opportunities of his position? Or is he a member of a larger organization, like a crime family or gang, and is simply moving up the ranks? Answering these questions right will lead to some credibility to the relationship. After all, if the henchman is competent enough to stand up to the heroes, then he might as well be the leader, if he is not, then why does the leader keep him around.
The trope often set up as a minor plot twist. But making it a major plot twist tends to come off as an obvious sequel hook or cheating by the author if not properly foreshadowed. A uncommon take on the plot twist is to have the real villain be The Man in Front of the Man. The actual leader has a stand in to deflect attention from himself the same way the henchman is the public face of the villains plans. A more cunning tactic is to play a Keyser Söze, a completely fictional character that serves as a distraction for the heroes. If the villain can pull this off convincingly he can then hide in plain sight.
Either way this trope keeps the heroes and the readers on their toes.