Oh those crazy, zany villains? Where would we writers – and viewers and readers – be without ‘em?
by Marc Alan Fishman
I hope you all grew a bit too fat because of your gluttonous Thanksgiving feasts, fractured your hips whilst storming the gates of big box retailers on Black Friday (because you reallyneeded that 65” 3D flat screen with cappuccino maker at 80% off), and have since settled back into the doldrums of another bleak and cold winter. Yes, that’s right. I hope for your depression. Your pain. Your sadness. Why you ask? Because, Mr. Bond… everyone loves a villain.
Villains are more fun to write, are they not? Villains can do what we can’t. Say what we won’t. Fight dirty, and then laugh all the way to the loony bin. Villains can cheat. They can lie. And they love to steal. They vex our heroes, and force them to define themselves. In much of the fiction we nerds adore… it’s the villains that truly make our heroes. But what then, makes the villain great?
The keystone to all great villains starts with motivation. Without a driving purpose, a villain (or really almost any character) is a waste of space on the page / screen / what-have-you. At their cores, some nefarious ne’er-do-wells are ultimately about nothing more than pure chaos. Veritable forces of nature – think Doomsday and his ilk – tend to enjoy the decimation of the universe. Otherthinkier sinners may have less base-instinct for kabooms, as much as a need to simply horde money, power, women, et al. Arch-nemeses existence ultimately centers around a singular entity through which their evil deeds all align towards. As we’ve seen in several instances, without his Dark Knight to motivate him, the Joker (perhaps the quintessential arch-nemesis if ever there were one) is rendered useless. Scratch that. Minus the bat, Puddin’ is merely banal. At the end of the day, it’s those underlying conjectures that are needed to add the gravity to real villainy.
Motivation aside, the quality villains come well-equipped. Be it with metallic tentacles, an Infinity Gauntlet, or just an amazing intellect, good villains trump their heroes’ arsenal at almost every turn. The ideology of solid story-telling is to create that all-too-important anti-climax, that moment where you truly ask yourself “How in the world can they win?” The best villains though, are more than means to an end. When faced with opposition, the best villains do the unexpected, be it with with sheer force in numbers, an opportune slight-of-hand, or a nasty reveal. Recall Lord Vader pulling the trigger on Alderaan. Or perhaps Ozymandias, what with his “Oops, I already enacted the evil plan… like 30 minutes ago, dudes.”