Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Villains You Like

This is probably going to be a popular answer, but my favorite kind of villain is the one you can identify with. One you sympathize with. One you maybe even sort of agree with.

To me, one of the most dangerous and compelling villains is one who could be a hero, if only his/her methods or motivations were slightly different. In some cases, the line between hero and villain can be quite blurry. Exploring where a character tips from hero to villain can lead to fascinating discoveries about characters.

A recent example of this type of villain is Magnito in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. Xavier and Magnito were friends and shared a lot of the same hopes for mutants. They got along; they'd been through a lot of plot together. But not only did they have different ideas of achieving their goals and what kind of losses were acceptable, they had different outcomes in mind as well, with one wanting peace and equality, and the other wanting to replace humanity with mutants.

In spite of their similarities, and the likability of both characters, one turns out to be a villain.

That said, the absolute evil variety can be interesting when they have a personality. (Think Angelus from BUFFY.) Or absolute evil with one redeeming quality. (The Mayor with Faith from BUFFY. Now that I think of it, that show had some fab villains.) Absolute evil is scary. It's looming. It's dark. There's no reasoning with it. You never know what it's going to do next. WATCH OUT IT'S GOING TO GET YOU!

But the villain you kind of like . . . Well, what does that say about you?

That's what I find interesting.


  1. I think even an absolute evil villain has to work with a certain amount of logic, motivations that make sense for that character. It's frustrating to see when a writer misses that point, because those absolute evil characters can be some of the best!

    And I have to agree about Magneto. Even in the comics, he's always been such an interesting character--not merely a villain or hero, but a great character.

  2. Harris's Hannibal Lecter is one of the most interesting villain-types for me. I forget who made the point, but she said that if you met at a party you'd want him to like you. He has so many traits of sophistication, and then supported by dark humor and malice, that he leaves an impression people would seek after even if it wasn't going to save their lives.

  3. Agreed on all accounts, Bill! And John, Hannibal is an excellent example!

  4. Ooh, this is a tough one! I recently read a book where the villain admitted to being evil for evil's sake, and it was hard not to roll my eyes at that. So I was all set out to say that evil villains out to take over the world are super boring.

    But then your point about personality resonated with me, too. For example, in Mean Girls, I thought Regina George was way more interesting than Cady because she wasn't afraid to use her power to get what she wanted. Plus, she was so confident and self-assured she got away with all the terrible things she did. And Artemis Fowl should probably count as a villain too, since he basically kidnaps Holly for ransom. But he's so brilliant that we can't wait to see what he's got up his sleeves.

    So I guess irredeemably evil villains can be fascinating if they have traits that we admire (intelligence, power, charm, etc.), even if we don't agree with their morals or motivations. Hm. Thanks for the insights, Jodi!

  5. Linda, those are wonderful examples. Sometimes the villains ARE more compelling than the heroes. That's always fascinating.

  6. Does Severus Snape count? Honestly, I think he's the true hero of the Potter series, but through most of it he was a major antagonist. Absolutely fascinating character -- unlike Voldemort, a not-so-interesting "absolute evil" villain.

  7. I LOVE villains who are, or want, the same thing as the good guys. When it's well done, it makes you question your OWN values because you can reason with both of them. *happy sigh* Oh man, I love me some bad boys. :)

  8. Deeble, I think Snape TOTALLY counts. He may not be a *villain*, but he's definitely Harry's *antagonist*. And you're right, he is fascinating and compelling. No one (well, I haven't looked and I don't want to, but probably very few people) writes slash fic about Voldy. But Snape! Legions of followers.

    Emily! Yes, that is *awesome*. I love when they make us question ourselves.