This one time at Writer's Camp…
Where Have All The Villains Gone?
I was responding to something that my computer did to me this morning (stupid cheating AI doesn’t know that I know he’s cheating so I won’t slaughter him in Stronghold Legends…) when it occurred to me that I only enjoy certain types of villains. And believe me, stupid, crushing everything mad “I’m the villain!” characters piss me off every single time.
Where has the subtlety gone? Where is the creativity? Why are villains so cut-and-dry nowadays? I’m not asking for more layers than a wedding cake here, but even a one-dimensional villain could use a second side. Like the evil villain who wants world domination but loves his cat (or something)? I like that villain, because part of me thinks “Hey, I want to rule the world” or “Hey, I like cats” or both. But if a villain is simply “I’m evil because I’m crazy and like to blow sh*t up” then part of me wonders “uh, why?”. I don’t particularly care for the villain who is doing it because he has to. I want the villain who is doing it because he wants to.
There is a difference. I’ll give you three examples of villains I like and villains I don’t like.
The Mayor (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 3): the Mayor is my favorite villain. He was crazy, smart, driven, ambitious, had morals (he was completely and thoroughly annoyed when people didn’t use manners) and looked at Faith as a daughter figure, even if part of him was using her to kill/distract Buffy. You knew that he was a bad guy who wanted to (*spoiler alert*) Ascend to demonhood, but he worked for over one hundred years to get to that point. In the meantime, he proved that he was more than just a jerk, when he tells the tale of his long-dead wife cursing his immortality while she withered away with age (of course, his pleasant rejoinder soon afterwards made you giggle because hell, he was insane) or his careful cultivation of the town (again, he wanted everyone there to be his food when he Ascended, but at least he was a little more polite about it that simply trying to garner some sympathy votes or something worse). He was, and forever shall be, the greatest villain Joss Whedon ever created.
Susan Shackleford (Monster Hunter International, Monster Hunter Vendetta, etc… by Larry Corriea): this may seem odd, but a master vampire (think Dracula but Southern, and not some wuss vampire like Mister Sparkly Pants) who has the brains, ambition and subtlety to accomplish her goals is someone that you want to read about and mourn the day when she finally gets staked. While she primarily wants to reunite her family, she also knows that it is not entirely possible and uses the hero of the novel, Owen Pitt, to her advantage without showing all her cards. Of course she loses (sorta), but she has everything going for her that makes a villain fun and enjoyable (as much as a villain can be enjoyable). Sure, she’s not the primary villain in any of the first three books of the series, but she’s there, and you simply know that she is the most dangerous game around.
Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness (The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher): Mab is, to me, the best villain anyone can come up with. She is cold, heartless, remorseless, driven, smart, cunning, devious, slightly insane and one not to double-cross. It makes her interactions with Harry Dresden that much more interesting as you watch her try to collect on her debt from the young wizard (he owes her his servitude as the Winter Court’s Knight, eventually) as she both strives to force him to pay his debt as well as help him to stay alive. My issues with the most recent book in the Dresden Files series aside, Mab is simply too awesome of a villain to not mention. She has both the seduction and murderous intent to make even the most puritan of men (and women, I don’t think she discriminates) quail for and because of her. Even the hero of the series fears her intent, and constantly thinks he can outsmart her. It’s why I don’;t enjoy him as a hero, but love Mab as a villain.
Loki (The Avengers): Look, I understand that a good villain needs to have goals. But when you’re simply black and white evil, you lose some of the oddness that goes into your character. Loki was insane, simple as that. But he also wanted to rule the world. But he was insane. And…. yeah, that’s it. He randomly lets people live to assist him while killing many others, exhibits a certain degree of cunning to rid The Avengers of certain elements, but goes about his final battle in a completely opposite way that was his nature. Loki, from what I remember of Norse mythology, was a cunning trickster who also happened to be the bringer of Ragnarok. He was not the brute force guy of the group (that would have been Odin and Thor), yet he constantly seems to be trying to out-brute the biggest brutes of them all in the movie. Bad form on his part, and made him a completely pathetic villain you felt sorry for (and not much more).
Glory (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5): It seems that with Joss Whedon, it’s either a major hit or a major miss in the villain category. Glory was a goddess, pretty much a symbol for the end times that was going on in season 5. With the arrival of Dawn (Buffy’s “sister) suddenly in the story arc, Glory was there to harvest Dawn and bring about the end of the world. But Glory was crazy, too crazy for any sort of subtlety and cleverness. Instead, she relied on her craziness and her brute strength which, while interesting, made her a rather dull villain. The more I watched this villainess run around, the less I liked her and respected her. It was a dull, one-sided affair.
Darth Vader (Star Wars – Episode Three: Revenge of the Sith): Yes, he looked like a badass. He spoke as though his voice was coming from the bottom of Hell. His breathing sent chills down your spine. And his utter lack of compassion made him more fearful. Now, I’m not talking about the original series Vader, who looked, acted, appeared and basically made the entire series enjoyable. I’m talking about the Christian Hayden whiny, pathetic, “Ooh look at me I’m an emo villain!” Vader from the last movie of the new series. He was a joke. He wanted to save Amidala, help Palpatine control the galaxy and be a Jedi still, despite that everything he did went against the very code he swore to protect and uphold. Yeah, part of that was the fault of Obi-Wan Kenobi, but Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader made every single wrong choice he could. He did not have any presence on the screen, he could not invoke any pity or sympathy for his plight(s), and nobody really gave two cents worth of a rat’s ass for his “development”. Seriously, did anybody else think “he’s alive!” when he broke free of the straps on the gurney bed? I had a complete Frankenstein moment that almost made me giggle.
So yeah, I like me a good villain, Unfortunately, they are few and far between these days.