Literature Survey-What do you want in a villain?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Autobot X, Jun 4, 2007.

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  1. Autobot X

    Autobot X Too broke for 3P and MP.

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    I'm working on a project that I intend to publish in the near future, and would like some input. It has been said that a hero is only as good as his villain (where would Luke be without Vader? etc.).

    The villain in my story is convinced that his people and his kingdom are destined to return to supremacy after a 1000-year exile. At this point, he has only showed up in the story once, and the only traits I have shown him to have are that he is very tall, and has very dark eyes, obviously both physical traits.

    I know that the story will not work if my villain does not portray some or even all of these traits:

    1. Something that hasn't been done to death, over and over again :) horse: ); i.e., "all powerful."

    2. Is believable.

    3. Is downright scary.

    4. Is endearing to readers (Gollum was just fun to watch).

    Some examples of "good" villains:

    Beast Era Megatron (obsessed with domination to the point of altering time and committing planet-wide genocide)
    Gollum (obsessed with the Precious)
    Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader (obsessed with power)
    Emperor Palpatine (obsessed with power/domination)
    Agent Smith (The Matrix) (Obsessed with eradicating Neo)
    Randall Flagg (Stephen King's The Stand) (Obsessed with doing things his way, recreating the world the way he wanted it)
    Captain Barbosa (Pirates of the Caribbean) (Obsessed with ending the curse on him and his crew)
    Voldemort (Harry Potter) (Obsessed with domination, vengeance on Harry)

    I'm sure you could add many more.

    Examples of "bad" villians:

    Darth Maul (no characterization)
    Count Dooku (no real characterization here, either)
    G1 Megatron (just what did he do, anyway?)
    G1 Galvatron (how many times can you say "Decepticons, retreat!"?)
    The Crimson King (Stephen King's Dark Tower series) ("EEEEEEEEEEEE!" 'Nuff said)
    Any old school James Bond villain
    Many Disney villains


    One thing that makes a good, convincing villain is his/her belief that he/she is right, and is entitled to that which he/she seeks.

    Any help you can give would be highly appreciated.
     
  2. onesock

    onesock Banned

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    Did you just say the old school James Bond villains sucked?!

    Wrong.
     
  3. thoughtcrime

    thoughtcrime Well-Known Member

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    G1 Shockwave (from the comics) - The fact he believed logic says command was his right makes him creepy and adds depth. His near religious conviction made him interesting.

    Cobra Commander (from the comics) - I liken him to Anakin/Vader: He was once a regular schmoe trying to do the right thing, only to have the system fail him at every turn. And both lost their wives.

    Good traits for a villian are obsession, as you mentioned, guilt, manipulative ability, and especially a complete and utter lack of regard for the lives of others. I'd also suggest researching the behavior of various real life villians such as Ken Lay, any politician, historical figures, etc.
     
  4. Foster

    Foster Super Mod

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  5. misterd

    misterd Well-Known Member

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    In literature? I like believability. Characters that have more shades than black, are convinced that their actions are good.

    On of my favorites is the Phantom of the Opera. Again I refer to the book, not the films, which often make him a sympathetic character. The character is, to the end, a bastard. He does what he does out of a twisted sense of morality, justifies his misfortunes to visit misfortune on others, and has no trouble killing relative innocents. However, he genuinely loves Christine. That is not enough to redeem him, and the love tends to be expressed in twisted ways, but does allow him to commit one selfless act in the end.

    I think your use of BW Megs is a good one. Here was a character convinced that what he was doing was right - freeing his people from oppression. Same with Beast Machines Megs and Tankor - they believed that harmony of slavery and servitude was preferable to the chaos arising from individuality and freedom. A villain with similar ideas was have been Jasmine from the 4th season of Angel, which put the heroes in the role of fighting against world peace in order to restore free will (whether everyone else wanted it or not).

    Moving away from classic literature, there are the quintessential comic book villains, Joker, Luthor and Doom.

    Joker acts out a personal philosophy - the world is cruel and random, and thus nothing matters, there is no right and wrong. So it is "good" for him to do what he wants, whatever it may be. It is not a moral code as we might recognize it, but there is at least an internal consistency.

    Luthor and Doom are the ultimate egomaniacs, but expressed a little differently. Luthor (at least the modern version), believes people are to be used. He is laissez faire capitalism taken to the extreme. He plays the game better than anyone else, and so he is entitled to special privileges. Others fail because of their own inherent weaknesses, so he must be better than they are. He becomes especially frustrated when people refuse to recognize his greatness or thank him for the millions of jobs he created or technologies that have improved their lives. Instead they thank a man who continues to squander his power getting cats out of trees.

    Doom is similar to Luthor but he believes his greatness is a birthright. While Luthor believes his talent and work makes him better than others, Doom believes it is inherent, and can't abide being shown up by "inferiors." Doom truly does believe he has been wronged by Richards, and likely thinks that the world would be better off under his rule. Heck, his own people love him, don't they? Doom also doesn't seek the acclaim of others like Luthor does. He doesn't need their external validation, so he would never pull some of the stunts that Lex has, designed simply to win approval or embarass his nemeses. No, if the world doesn't want Doom's rule, he will force it on them anyway, and if he has a nemesis (Richards, bah!) his only concern is to crush him in a battle of intellect/will. An audience isn't required.


    One more thing:

    I was watching a seminar on BookTV this weekend inwhich they discussed the common traits of best-selling books in different areas. The sole common trait they found in all villains was a lack of empathy - an inability to feel the pain of others.
     
  6. Team Jetfire

    Team Jetfire Pop-POP!

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    I like my villians crazy.

    Barbosa was a fine example of a great villian.
     
  7. Autobot X

    Autobot X Too broke for 3P and MP.

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    One other villain I thought of: Ben from LOST. He committed the atrocity of killing his father and the rest of the Dharma people, and is also an unrelenting liar. When Jack beat his ass in the season finale, I was just like "Holy sweet mother of my dog! Saweeeet!"

    Someone on the Allspark Forums mentioned committing an atrocity (such as Beast Machines Megatron wiping out Cybertron, or Smeagol strangling his best friend to get the Ring) to demonstrate just how far a villain is willing to go to accomplish his agenda.

    Right on, right on. Thanks a bunch, guys.

    I'd like to hear more if anyone else would like to contribute.
     
  8. Codimus Prime

    Codimus Prime Missouri Toy Hunter

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    The Star Wars villains you listed as "bad" ... Darth Maul and Count Dooku have a lot of life in other forms (besides the Star Wars Prequels).

    There is a whole book about Darth Maul that gives a bit of back story. There was also a Star Tales comic book where he was cloned or resurrected and Star Wars Visionaries where he was brought back to life (reattached).

    Count Dooku also had life in The Clone Wars cartoons (where he trains a cyborg General Grievous) and in the Labyrinth of Evil (where he forces a Pre-Cyborg Grievous to crash and become a cyborg).

    I realize this is for an assignment, but I thought my input was needed.

    My good villains would be:
    Darth Vader
    The Emperor (Prequel Trilogy)
    G1 Starscream (a villains villain b/c he was always trying to get the most for himself while "serving" Megatron)
    Saruman / Sauron (LOTR)
    Verbal Kent (Usual Suspects)
    Scar (Lion King)
    Jafar (Alladin)
    Man (Bambi)

    Bad Villains:
    Emperor (Original Trilogy)
    Dr. Evil (although he's supposed to be bad)
    Rasputin (Hellboy)

    Sorry my bad villains were shortlisted... couldn't think of any good ones off the top of my head.
     
  9. Dirge121

    Dirge121 Eat the chikums

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    The Daleks, obsessed with domination of the entire universe, and the complete destruction/enslavement of anything that is not a Dalek.

    Once created an entirely new species, then wiped them out because things werent working.
     
  10. smkspy

    smkspy is one nice fucking kitty

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    Ditto, Old school Bond villians were the best. Now current Bond villians leave something to be desired.
     
  11. Kickback

    Kickback Proud father Administrator Super Mod News Staff

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    I disagree with some of your "good" villians.

    For example - you said you want a villian who doesn't have the same things as other villians that have been done to death. Look at your "good" list ... all of them are domination/venegance, more or less obsessed with something for themselves (greed).

    On your "bad" list, I disagree with Galvatron. He had a ton of potential, especially with the insanity thing going on. He was seriously insane, and if they would have shown his inner battles (perhaps the Galvatron vs Megatron minds) and really displayed how much power he had (he destroyed PLANETS by himself), he could have really shined.

    I think a fun read would be a hero who doesn't realize that in the end, they're the villian.
     
  12. Eric

    Eric Per sempre marciamo.

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    Agreed. Everyone knows the old school Bond villains were BADASS. Hell, I can name some of my favs right off the bat (including the henchmen):

    Ernest Stavro Blofield
    Auric Goldfinger
    Teehee Johnson (he had a wicked sweet metal arm)
    Jaws (perhaps my favorite of all Bond henchmen)
    Alec Trevelyan/Agent 006
    General Ourumov
    Xenia Onatopp
     
  13. Single Elegant Machine

    Single Elegant Machine Purity and order.

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    That isn't really true. Dooku has quite a lot of characterization, they just didn't use him to his full potential in the movies.

    My favorite villains (consequently my favorite characters) are always the scheming, manipulative types that either weasel or strongarm their way into a position of absolute power. The dictator/evil overlord archetype if you will; the ones in charge, the guys running the show, the baddies with the overwhelming legions of mindless troops. This sort of villain provides our protagonists with the greatest challenge, seeing as to how our heroes are nothing more than outlaws and insurgents fighting uphill battles day after day, struggling to maintain their very lives. These characters also tend to have a deep-rooted desire to establish order and stability by whatever means necessary.

    These are the villains that are what you might at first define as "pure evil", but not necessarily of the one-dimensional variety. Their primary motivation is the acquisition of power, and that single-minded devotion to that desire works for them rather than against them. As they apparently lack your standard human conscience, they are less identifiable as tangible people. Yet they are not mindless beasts, they are still recognizable as intelligent individuals within the context of the story, interacting with the other characters at the same level as any human being. As such, the villain will often maintain potentially thought-provoking but ultimately superficial rationalizations to justify his heinous actions (to himself and others) is icing on the cake. This makes the villain complex and simple at the same time.

    Anakin Skywalker's fall from grace is explicitly presented to us. We know of his weaknesses, his tendency for attachment, his inability to accept change. Anakin is feeble, conflicted, and concerned with love ones. Even as Vader, he retains the same problems. His hardships hit home with us at times, and that's exactly what I don't want in a villain. Vader is incomplete, a half-villain. He's not even a true villain; he better suits the designation of fallen hero. Thankfully, these character flaws ultimately led to a stronger individual taking advantage of Anakin's shortcomings. That character, of course, was Palpatine; the primary antagonist, the grand architect of all the major plot elements in Star Wars.

    Palpatine fits the model I presented perfectly. An unrivaled puppet master, a political genius, and ultimately a cruel and iron fisted despot. He is "pure evil" as it were. When boiled down to his core, Palpatine is characterized by unremitting lust for "unlimited power". And seeing as to how he's "pure evil", he doesn't possess any soft spots, alternative passions, or quirks beyond overconfidence. He is the perfect adversary.

    You might think he's pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. His duplicitous nature makes it hard to take anything about him at face value. Every action he makes, every word he utters, every piece of information about him has to be reevaluated with utmost scrutiny. His lack of any other name besides simply 'Palpatine' is embodies this notion. It's not entirely clear as to whether or not the Palpatine persona truly exists, or was simply an artificial cover devised by Sidious to provide himself with a platform onto which he could enter mainstream galactic politics. Surprisingly enough, even his duels are rife with obscurity.

    Now, Palpatine isn't all just evil for evil's sake. In Revenge of the Sith, he states his intention to establish order in a chaotic galaxy. His political texts supposedly reveal several of his beliefs on the nature of power, something he later goes on to write about in a far more detailed fashion as he merges politics with Sith doctrine for his Dark Side Compendium. In the aptly titled The Weakness of Inferiors, he promotes rule of the strong and the submission of the weak and ignorant. The weak and inferior, being what they are, require the guidance of a 'strong' individual such as Palpatine to watch over and guide their every move. He deems those that cannot touch the Force inferior beings, and planned to eventually replace the Galactic Empire with a universe spanning magocracy ruled through his dark side power alone, with subordinate Dark Jedi serving as direct extensions of his power and a populace of "inferiors" acting as mere energy reserves for Palpatine and his dark side elite to leech off of. Sounds like a utopia to me.

    While Palpatine can substantiate his evil with any argument he so chooses, that doesn't change the fact that he murdered trillions of people, oppressed thousands of star systems with his tyranny, and enslaved countless alien species. And what of his supposed ideologies? His justifications for these crimes are derived from purely selfish concerns and elitist agendas. For all of his genius and political prowess, his primary motivation was the attainment of immortality and virtual godhood; eternal domination over everything. Above all, he doesn't care for anyone or anything but himself. Others exist as pieces on a chess board (or in this case a dejarik board), simple tools utilized to set his plans in motion. That's what makes him a villain.

    Beast Era Megatron is similar. Again, a manipulative, power hungry, and machiavellian character. He fits the bill. When we first see him in Beast Wars, he appears to want nothing more than conquest and power. Now as we move on to the end of the second season, we see that Megatron may be acting out of what he perceives as injustice concerning the treatment of Predacons by the Maximals (or the Maximal Imperium according to IDW) as second-class citizens. Such corruption may very well have been true, and since Megatron was monologuing his grievances, we know it isn't a simple cover story to rally the troops. Then again, Megatron isn't exactly humble about it, stating that Cyberton is his to rule. While I'm sure these problems had a major influence on what he set out to do, his innate ambition is his primary motivating factor. Like Palpatine, the quest for power defines who he is at his core.

    Once he loses the Beast Wars, he supposedly undergoes a major growth. He begins to see individuality itself as being directly responsible for all disorder and strife. Thus, both Maximal and Predacon alike are now essentially equal in his eyes. The two factions have cultivated conflict for eons, carrying on the legacy of the age old war between Autobot and Decepticon despite a peace accord that is unstable at best.
    And so Megatron began his campaign to erase individuality, eventually fulfilling his dream of conquering Cybertron. He became a dictator, taking his tyranny to the utmost degree, and we all know his grand vision culminated with his attempt at godhood.

    Megatron's philosophy in Beast Machines was particularly well developed and intriguing, presented in contrast to Primal's own ideology in such a way as to plant the seeds of confusion, but not cultivate them. Megatron's viewpoint makes sense, his arguments are seemingly sound, but no one can truly sympathize with the desire to relinquish free will. Ironically, not even Megatron himself can. Something that wasn't made especially clear in the show but was developed by Skir in the short story "Singularity Ablyss" is Megatron's hypocrisy. In the story, Megatron is confronted with the option of returning to the AllSpark. He is near convinced to do so by an ethereal vision of Rhinox, but ultimately resists integration to preserve the very thing he wants to eradicate: free will. His free will to be exact. This only proves that at the end of the day, despite all of his philosophical rhetoric, Megatron's only real goal is absolute power. As Primal said in "Seeds of the Future", the only real ideal Megatron serves is megalomania. He is the portrait of the "complex yet simple" idea I expressed earlier on.


    Ok, I think those are enough examples. These types of characters can elicit both fascination and hatred in the audience. On one hand, audience members see someone who is detestable through and through, and thus develop nothing but disdain for the character. Contrarily, people could become enthralled with the character's unreserved deviousness and see the character for what it is supposed to be, a villain, and quite an effective one to boot. The more inquisitive of the bunch could opt to research the character more, studying his/her actions and drawing their own conclusions about the nature of this villain. Sort of like how people dislike being spoonfed a plot, I don't particularly enjoy being spoonfed a villain who seems to be "complete", having everything about him/her spelled out for me like I'm some kind of idiot. We can use our brains to fill in the blanks, thank you very much. A character of the nature I just described allows us to use our intelligence for once.

    I've always been of the opinion that if the prime antagonist belongs in the "hate to love" camp, he's doing his job well. After all, we don't want the audience sympathizing with the intended antagonist now do we? We want them to root for who they are supposed to be rooting for. Even if the bad guy's motivation seems reasonable, it must be ultimately flawed, either inherently or by virtue of the character simply being "evil".



    Or maybe I can put it this way: the more despicable, the better.

    I agree. Galvatron had a lot of potential, and was unique among TF baddies. Not my favorite type of villain, but still an amusing one nonetheless.
     
  14. Ops_was_a_truck

    Ops_was_a_truck JOOOLIE ANDREWWWWWS!!!!!!

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    I keep thinking back to the three general themes of fiction literature when trying to put together my response: Man vs. Man, Man vs. himself, Man vs. Nature. Honestly, most of the "villains" I like, if you categorize them loosely as antagonists, aren't tangible characters.

    For example, I love the despondency in The Road Warrior. So far as I see, nature - a postapocalyptic wasteland - is the largest driving villain in that entire film. Although there's a palpable villain (he's a pretty 2D, muscley baddy), the best motivator for animosity, anger and general feelings of villainy come from the land around the characters - everyone must fight for survival in the wasteland. They must, y'know, fight against nature.

    Similarly, I like the general foreboding of Africa in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, for similar reasons. The general feeling of nature not wanting you here, trying to eliminate or destroy you, the protagonist, is so wild in that book. It makes pinning down a palpable baddy very hard in that story - Kurtz hasn't done anything bad, so far as the narrative's concerned. Neither has Marlow. Neither have the Africans. They're all just suffering the effects of a mutual "villain" or antagonist - the African continent surrounding them and it's natural horrors.

    I dunno if those help or not. I like the "Man vs. Nature" stories a lot.
     
  15. Scantron

    Scantron Well-Known Member

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    The main thing I always look to see in a villain is logical consistency. Do their actions and plans make sense given the character's motivations and history (without requiring a retcon/info-dump)? Does their motivation make sense when viewed in light of their personality and backstory? Assuming the story isn't a parody or comedy (and the villain is sane), does their motivation make some kind of objective logical sense? This doesn't necessarily mean I have to agree with the villain's motivation and logic, just so long as the character is consistent and makes sense.

    Villains who are "insane" don't get off the hook with me for this requirement either. "Insane" is a broad term that can cover a lot of disorders. For me, the best "insane" villains are those whose mental disorder is clearly defined and who act in accordance with the symptoms of said condition. While their motivations and objectives may not be logical to "sane" individuals, those plans should make sense for an individual with that particular disorder. In this sense, I think Batman's rogues gallery is a good example of insane villains done right. With the notable exception of Joker (who just has "catch-all insanity" that seems to vary by writer), most of them have clearly defined disorders and act appropriately.

    Other than logically inconsistent characters, I also dislike "sympathetic" villains who are "designed" to gain empathy from the reader/viewer. The best example I can of for this in recent memory is Sandman from Spider-Man 3, where he had the saccarine "sick child" cliche tacked on as an easy way to make him "sympathetic" to the viewer. This also happens in situations where a perfectly decent villain is retconned to have some Tragic Life Event designed to make readers/viewers feel bad for them. The way I gain empathy for a villain is to see them presented as a consistent, rounded character. I might begin the story disliking a villain because of their motivations or actions, but if their character is crafted well enough and they feel like a real person, I'll empathize with them regardless of my disagreement with their motivations and goals.

    "Good" Villains
    - BW/BM Megatron
    - G1 Galvatron (comics) - Up until Time Wars, at least, the character was fairly consistent and had defined motivations and goals. Then, he just inexplicably snapped because Furman needed to wrap up a bunch of dangling plot threads.
    - Hannibal Lecter - Ignoring "Hannibal Rising" (aside - while the author should always know a villain's backstory, it doesn't always need to be spelled out to the reader), one of the most menacing villains in literature.
    - Ras Al Ghul (DCAU, Batman Begins)
    - Lex Luthor - The DCAU and CoIE-to-IC continuity versions.
    - Dr Doom (comics)

    "Bad" Villains
    - G1 Galvatron (cartoon) - Falls into the "conveniently ill-defined mental disorder" category, IMO. While I agree with those saying he had potential, the problem is that every character in all of literature has potential...what's important is whether that potential is utilized.
    - Venom (comics) - Wildly inconsistent character, motivations, goals and that "conveniently ill-defined mental disorder" thing again. Probably a symptom of too many writers.
    - Doomsday (comics)
    - SW villains (movies) - I didn't think any of them were given enough characterization and there was too much of the "corrupted by the Dark Side" excuse, rather than providing actual motivations and reasons for them being evil. The only one did get characterization (Vader) ended up with a lot of the aforementioned tacked on Tragic Life Events fake sympathy.
     
  16. Blunticon

    Blunticon The Oddjob

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    I mean how in the hell...You need to watch some old movies man, youll see some great villian in old movies. Check out some 80's villians.
     
  17. Katamari Prime

    Katamari Prime Hassan Chop! TFW2005 Supporter

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    Good List:
    Evil-from Time Bandits"I would have started with lasers, 8:00, day 1":thumb 
    Sadako/Samara-from Ringu and Ring
    Christine-from "Christine"
    Judge Doom- From "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"
    The Thing- Both versions of the movie
    Tomie-Manga and Movies
    Char Aznable-MSG and Char Counterattack
     
  18. Fairlady_Z

    Fairlady_Z Official Voice of Flareup

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    A good villain never sees himself as evil. In his mind he is the hero of the story and the hero is the villian. He uses the hero's greatest weaknesses against him. Great villains can be complex and have shades of gray. But they can also be more simple, just plain despicable in their every deed and just always one step ahead of the hero. Usually the differance lies in whether your villain has a sense of honor or not. Check out the difference between the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne in the new BBC Robin Hood series for two equally excellent, but very different kinds of villians. Ultimately the villian is someone we should love to hate.
     
  19. ArmadaJetfire

    ArmadaJetfire <b><font color=blue>I voted for Super_Megatron and

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    You want a good villian? Have then just do what they intend and not explain why they are doing what they are doing. He wants to kill the hero? Shoot him dead, dont explain, "Well when i was a child my father hit me and then in school......"
     
  20. Random Autobot

    Random Autobot Soviet Kanukistani

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    I'm going to go ahead and cut to the chase here. You want the perfect idea of what a true villain should be? Go and read "Richard III" by William Shakespeare.
     
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