Dennis O’Neil: Villainy and Profit
Time was, three-four decades past, that I wrote some fiction with environmental themes. There was a short prose story with no real villains; what the characters were contending with was an ecosphere that was completely decayed. Then there were the comic books. These, being heroic fantasy, sort of, did have villains – a genre requirement – but I don’t remember much about them and I will, thank you, spare myself the discomfort of rereading old work. It’s pretty safe to say, though, that these bad guys did what they had to do, serve the needs of the plot in narratives that focused on what they did, the polluting bastards, and very little on why they did it.
What to you want in a 22-page comic book, War and Peace?
If I were to do those stories today, I might, just might, try to peep into the villains’s motives. Something like this:
Our antagonist is wealthy beyond the needs of a hundred lifetimes, but he is not satisfied. He wants more…no, in a way, he needs more. He has been indoctrinated in the belief that men are judged only by profit. He does not question this, any more than he questions the air he breathes. Nor does he question the kind of society he strives for but, if it happens, it will be a world ruled by a plutocracy: the creators, the movers and shakers, the worthy at the top, and the moochers and lazy and incompetent, the rest, in some grey region doing what the worthy have given them to do – grumbling and grousing, to be sure, but doing their jobs because they must.
His philosophy, his religion, his family – all assure him that his is the correct zeitgeist and those who believe otherwise are pathetic and ignorant.
But he is starting to hear, sometimes from those in his employ, that his world is beginning to crumble. The damage he and his brethren have done to the planet has become manifest. He scoffs: lies! The deterioration continues: his companions tell him that the upheavals have perfectly normal explanations, that the whole thing is not man made and will soon correct itself. Just be patient. Oh, sure, the scientists are busy doom saying, some of them, but at the end of the day, what do the scientists know, really know? And aren’t most of them fuzzy-minded fools who suck at the public teat? No, no need to listen to the scientists.
Eventually, he must admit that, yes, something is wrong. But that science – he doesn’t understand it and so he feels that this lack of understanding means he is exempt from doing anything about the problems. What can he do but what he’s always done, make a profit.
That’s the villain. As for the story itself…I wonder what kind of ending it might have.