VILLAIN…who did you think of? For me, a few come to mind when I hear that word: Sméagol, Mad Hatter, and Kingpin. I, like most, can readily rattle off the names of some of my favorite villains just as easily as I can the names of some of my favorite superheroes. We cheer on our favorite villains and, depending on whom they are fighting, we hope they rise victorious. We are as encapsulated by the love for our favorite villains as we are for our heroes. We all know why we love heroes, but why do we love the villains so much?! What is it about them that draw us to appreciate and enjoy them?
I originally thought that we enjoy seeing our favorite villains because they are quickly followed by our favorite superheroes. But what about villains like Sméagol, who is not a “supervillain” and the story of Lord of the Rings does not have a superhero? Ok….so that thought of our superhero following does not always apply. Why then? What does it take to make a good villain? It is obvious, from my example of Sméagol, that it does not necessarily take a superhero. So what, then?
I posted this question to a group of nerds to see what their thoughts were. Who better to turn to than a bunch of nerds who are entrenched in the world of Heroes and Villains? Their responses were overwhelming and shed some good light on the obscurities of my question.
The first and most agreed upon response was that a good villain(s) is someone or something that challenges the weaknesses of the protagonist. This is not a new concept or anything that we have not heard before. However, it is also probably something we have never said out loud. We want to see a villain that will push the protagonist(s) to change their strategy and rise above what the villain is challenging. Continuing with my Sméagol example, he does this to both Frodo and Samwise. He attacked Frodo’s greatest strength, which was Sam. Which by so doing forced Samwise to overcome his greatest fear of rejection by someone that he loved and/or respected.
The next response that I received is that a villain must be likable and/or relatable. From a likable standpoint, it needs to be someone who is entertaining. The Joker is one such example. He is funny, he is dark, and he is the train wreck from which we cannot look away. We love to see what the Joker is going to do next, even though we do not necessarily agree with it. As for relatable, Kingpin (Wilson Fisk) would be one such example. Maybe we cannot relate to the level of power he has, however, I think we all wish we could have such power. His rise to, killing Don Rigoletto, and accompanying wealth and power is something that many of us want. Whether or not we would do the same types of criminal actions is irrelevant. He has power and money, which is what many of us desire. It is desired relatability, but still relatable nonetheless.
Back to my original question, why do we love villains so much? We love them because they challenge the very ideals of the heroes that we admire. They force others to rise above and be even better. They push the boundaries of what is acceptable, all in an effort to make the hero, the protagonist, even better. They are also enjoyable to watch/read and have something to which we can relate. While we do not desire to be like them (…hopefully), we can connect with them on some level. Huh….does that sound like someone else? Maybe that is because, at its core, Villains have the exact same motivating drivers as Heroes. We look for the exact same features in our Villains as we do our Heroes. We love our Villains for the exact same reasons we love our heroes. The difference is the Villains chose the “Dark Side” rather than the “Light Side”.