The last of these posts is for xparrot
, who wants me to talk about villains and why I like them.
My first impulse was to write a justification, as though liking villains is something that you need to apologize for - when in fact I think it's a near-universal human reaction. Villains are fun to watch and read about. Which is why you find most of the really good villains in popular entertainment and not so many of them in high-brow literature, I guess, because high-brow literature often thinks it doesn't need to be fun. And another thing about villains: there aren't very many of them in real life. The word itself implies fiction, and when we call a real-life person a villain it's either humorous or a failure to describe the reality of the situation.
Other than that, though, what's villain really? Wikipedia suggests "evil", "bad guy", "antagonist", and "devoted to wickedness and crime". I don't have much use for "evil" as a label except in some truly horrible cases where sensible description isn't possible. And as wiki also points out, not all villains are antagonists and not all antagonists are villains. "Devoted to wickedness and crime" is a great description, though, because it's so ridiculous it's perfect. I mean, have you ever met a person who is devoted to wickedness and crime? I know or have known a number of people who have committed crimes (and so, I think, does everyone else, although the severity of the crimes may vary), and I've met my share of awful people as well, but none of them were DEVOTED to it (thankfully, I guess). But villains? Yep, villains - that is: fictional characters who truly deserve this label - do indeed devote their life to the pursuit of wickedness (even though they may of course not think of it as wickedness), and if they're really good villains, they do so with relish and style. It's that devotion that makes villains fun, the same way a hero's devotion to some good cause makes them inspiring. In real life, except for a few terrible fanatics, most people do bad things because they're lazy or ignorant, because they don't question what they're told, or because they don't know how else to get what they want or express their frustrations. Villains, though, like heroes, have a higher purpose, a true goal, an all-consuming passion - something larger than life. I think the true wish-fullfilment potential of villains lies not only in the fact that they can step over the line, it's that they have the criminal energy to do so over and over again. Even when they're not particularly good at what they do, they keep doing it, enthusiastically.
I guess that what I'm saying is: I prefer my villains camp. But if they aren't camp, then I like them sympathetic. For me, a sympathetic villian is a villain whose motives are relatable, if bad - a character that makes you think "on a bad day, under the same circumstances, maybe I'd be just as bad."
I'd say that I also really love redeemable villains, except I'm not sure what exactly we mean by "redeemable". Does it mean that they're sympathetic enough that we're willing to forgive them entirely? Does it mean that they have a chance of making up for the evil they've done by doing good? Is it the severity of a crime that makes a villain irredeemable, or is it their inability to change? Still, leaving aside the questionable terminology, I'm a sucker for redemption, like 99% of fandom. I like both a bad guy who embarks on guilt-ridden atonement and a bad guy who changes sides out of pragmatic reasons or because they just happen to like the good guys more.
Here are some villains I've loved: Mr Freeze:
as a kid, I once saw that Batman movie in which Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Mr Freeze. I don't remember if I actually cried, but I thought Mr Freeze was an extremely sad character. His wife is dead! He's frozen! His only choice in life is supervillainy. Or something. No, Arnold Schwarzenegger can't actually act. I know. I was a kid, okay? I'm listing him here because that's the first time I can remember liking a villain. Spike (Buffy)
: Spike is a borderline case because he becomes an anti-hero around season 5, but Spike is awesome from the moment when he arrives in Sunnydale as a chaotic crazy punk vampire. The funny thing about Spike is that he's a villain motivated mainly by love - he loves Dru, he loves his unlife, and he loves what he's doing entirely too much to let the world be destroyed. The other reason I love Spike is because he's such a rebel (until S7). Buffy herself is a bit of a rebel especially in the first couple of seasons, but she increasingly becomes a straight-forward heroine, and Spike brings some much needed anarchy and disrespect during S4-6. Alex Krycek (X-Files)
: Krycek, like Spike, is a recurring villain who keeps changing allegiances as it suits him and has great chemistry with the protagonist. His motives are mysterious, his skills are many, and you know it's gonna be a good episode as soon as his name shows up in the credits. He's a traitor and a double agent and still you can't shake the feeling that he's just one face-heel-turn away from turning out to be a good guy after all. Lex Luthor (DC animated universe)
: There are many great things about animated Luthor - he's there from the first episode of Superman:TAS to the last episode of JLU, so the two series are as much his story as they are the story of Superman and the Justice League. Like Spike, he actually ends up as a good guy, but only after losing all his money, getting cancer from kryptonite, embarking on a career as a crazy spandex-wearing supervillain, going to jail, blackmailing his way out of jail, embarking on a political career, going crazy, going to jail again, escaping from jail (still crazy), accidentally causing the apocalypse (still crazy) and finally throwing himself into a giant powersource to become a god (no longer crazy, but too enlightened to be evil). Seriously, this guy has all the good luck AND all the bad luck. Nikola Tesla (Sanctuary)
: He's Nikola Tesla! But he's also a vampire. He's clever, snarky, way too arrogant for his own good, he has rubbish megalomaniac plans and half of the time he actually ends up helping the heroes (because he used to be best friends with the protagonist) or needing to be rescued by them. Also he's Nikola Tesla.The Shade (DC comics)
: Originally, the Shade was just your average cackling comic book villain who bothered Golden Age Flash and teamed up with the Society of Evil or some such nonsense, but in the Nineties, the "Starman" series re-invented the Shade as a stylish gentleman villain with a strange fondness for heroes who becomes a mentor and sometime ally to the new Starman. It's revealed that the Shade is actually more than a hundred years old and began life as the Victorian Richard Swift (which explains why his supervillain costume is a Victorian outfit complete with top hat!) and became a supervillain after some of his friends performed a spell that grafted "shadow matter" onto his soul. His power is that he controls shadows which manifest physically (similar to Green Lantern but cooler looking) and can travel through the Shadowlands, plus he is immortal and thus quite knowledgeable. He's a criminal, but mostly for fun, because really the Shade lives outside normal human society. He'd be an anti-hero except for the fact that he actively cultivates a villainous persona. Aside from this interesting backstory, the Shade is extremely camp, unfailingly polite, honorable (especially where his nemesis the Flash is concerned), stylish as hell and more than a little sad. The Master
: The Master comes in several flavours (as Time Lords do) so there's a degree of versatility to him that he shares with all my favourite villains - he can be fun and tragic, polite and gleefully evil, extremely cool and extremely rubbish. Delgado, Ainley and Shalka, my favourites, exemplify my three favourite types of villain: gentleman, camp and redeemed. Crowley (Supernatural)
: played by Mark Sheppard, so he's automatically awesome. Crowley is every bit as witty and charming as a demon should be. The first time we meet him, he actually helps the Winchesters against Lucifer (he's pulling a Spike because he likes the world the way it is and doesn't want Lucifer's post-apocalyptic empire), later on he seizes the oppportunity and becomes King of Hell, after which he unfortunately becomes rather nastily evil...
All of these characters have things in common, but one is especially striking: they're men. There are some female characters I could have added: Catwoman, Mystique or Cylon Six for example. Cylon Six is really more an anti-hero, though and so are the iterations of Catwoman and Mystique that I like. There may soon be a female addition to the list, though, because at some point during S2 (well, Pressure Point, to be precise) I've begun to like Blake's 7's Servalan rather a lot and she undeniably fits in here :)