Marc Alan Fishman: Roguish Charm
Happy Saturday, ComicMixers. 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 really needed 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. Other thinkier 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.”
In pro-wrestling nothing is more beloved by smart-marks than a great heel turn. When Hulk Hogan sprayed that nWo logo onto the freshly beaten chest of the Macho Man Randy Savage, the crowd erupted. Children cried. Old men high-fived. After a decade of flag waving and vitamin eating, Hogan got to blame the fans and give out more than a few nut-shots. Great bookers (thems be the writers behind the scenes, dontcha know) understand that nothing puts their baby-face over harder than finally being able to topple the hated heel. Nothing makes that heel more hated than doing everything possible to be hated. Much could be translated into the rest of the fictional worlds we dilly-dally around in.
I started out this li’l column declaring that everyone loves a villain. I say it because without opposition, there’d be no reason for heroes. In the real world we seek to create villains to justify our actions. Not to be too political here, but let’s be honest: not too long ago, a very powerful man accused another powerful man of having doomsday devices in his secret lair. And like all good heroes, we put on our special capes and super suits, and all but salted the earth where that villain camped out in an effort to keep our loved ones safe. And while many would second guess the call to arms without real evidence… we all just knew that the villain was always up to something. I mean, crap, a while back, the guy had beef with our guy’s father! At the end of the day, these are the stories we need to tell ourselves to go to sleep feeling safe. In this world, real villainy is less a singular physical being as much as a collection of prejudices, ignorance, and abstracts.
Lucky for us, in the end, the villains always lose. Luckier still, the best villains we know will remain forever in fiction. As the poet Linnell said… “I don’t want the world. Just your half.”
SUNDAY: John Ostrander
MONDAY: Mindy Newell