Support Your Local Villain

by LC Champlin

We love the hero and hate the villain. That’s just how stories work. Right? But if it wasn’t for that the despised villain, who’s usually more of an antagonist than a master of evil, that hero would have no darkness to shine his light against. So let’s take a minute to appreciate the most overlooked character in fiction: the antagonist.

While many people assume the hero is the most important, they don’t stop to consider why he is a hero. Oh, you say, he’s a hero because he’s brave and self-sacrificing, or because he has special powers he uses to save the world. I’ll give you those. But why does he have to be a hero in the first place? If there’s no danger to be faced, he can’t be brave. If there’s no choice to be made, he can’t be self-sacrificing. And if there’s not some super-powered villain bent on taking over the world, or maybe just holding it hostage for a million dollars, there’s nothing for the hero to use his powers on. Though I suppose Superman could use his super strength to build roads, or his laser eyes to do some welding. But he really shines when there’s a villain to face. The stronger the villain is, the stronger the hero has to be.

Think about it: If it wasn’t for Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and their Empire, Luke would never have become a Jedi. He’d still be a nerf herder on Tatooine. You might argue that Luke would have been fine being a desert scrounger. Ah, but think of all the good he can do being a Jedi! So in a way, the antagonism of Darth Vader and his henchman brought good in the world by forcing Luke to grow up.

We agree we need an antagonist. But not all villains / antagonists are created equal. Some are truly memorable – and I go back to my example of Darth Vader. Others, not so much. I don’t have to point out the meh Star Wars villains.

What makes a good antagonist? Is it having more than their fair share of evil? Is it cruelty? Well, those can help. They raise the ante, meaning a villain isn’t just content to wipe out a village, but will instead take out an entire planet. What makes a villain memorable and powerful is that it we have to like him to a certain degree. Like the villain? Okay, so maybe like isn’t the best word. “Identify” and “sympathize” with might be better. We may even admire certain of their traits, such as their ambition, motivation, and style.

Let’s go back to Vader. First off, he just looks cool. Don’t deny it. He’s also intimidating, but without having to be freak-out crazy and evil all the time. I mean, he doesn’t have heads on pikes around his ship when he gets off. No, he has his henchmen lined up instead. Even before he Force chokes people, you know you shouldn’t mess with him.

As we get deeper into the story, we begin to relate to him more. He’s had to fight his way through many difficulties in life. He took the route he thought would give him power and success. Those are things we want, and haven’t we all done something wrong to get them? He suffered a lot, and I mean a lot. We understand that pain and trauma of any kind can warp a person. We wonder what we would do if we were in his situation.

Motivation is another key factor in whether a villain makes the Hall of Fame. If they just want to cause havoc, that’s one thing. Even that, if done well, can be fascinating. Take Joker for example. But others actually have good intentions. The Empire wanted to bring the Pax Romana to the galaxy. Ra’s al Ghul and Poison Ivy want to save the world from humanity. But of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

There’s another thing that seals the deal when we’re talking about truly great villains. It’s their capacity for good. Darth Vader really did care about his son – SPOILER! – Luke. He wanted Luke to join the Empire as a father and son team. In the end, he fought for Luke. It’s these “pet the cat” moments that show us some spark of humanity that really make us like the villains as characters, even if we don’t agree with what they do.

What about you? What are some of your favorite villains, and why do you like them? I have way too many favorites to name. They usually are my favorite characters, and it shows in my books.

About the author: LC Champlin
Writer, traveler, adventurer, prepper. Lover of all things Geek and Dark. INTJ. I write fiction because the characters in my head have too much attitude to stay in my skull, I want to see the world through different eyes, and I want to live life through different souls.

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