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Author Topic: What makes a good villain?  (Read 10295 times)

sake-bento

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What makes a good villain?
« on: February 12, 2010, 04:00:54 pm »
What, in your opinion, makes a good villain? Who are your favorites, and why? In this case, I'm thinking more of genuine "bad guys" (or at least perceived bad guys) rather than just an antagonist or rival. I know some people prefer for the villain to have a backstory, a reason for being evil, and even a sympathetic past. What about being evil merely for the sake of evil itself (like Heath Ledger's Joker)?

mikey

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2010, 06:14:34 pm »
I think it depends on which type of work they are in.

In an entertainment piece (classic James Bond, older Batman), it's best if the villains are "flat". A bit of motivation, but you should never feel for them, perhaps they can have this "baddie" coolness to them, but not more.

In a drama (like the newest Batman), it' logical that the villain is a bit "diluted", his motivations are explained (even if the explanation is randomness), and it makes the piece more realistic. This also means that the good guy is a bit of a bad guy as well - the lines are more blurry.

So I'd say the more the work tends to be dramatic, the more ambiguous the villain nature of the antagonist can be. The black-and-white villains are best suited for entertaining or comedy pieces. So when you ask which villain is best, you're actually asking which genre one prefers.

As for me, I don't particularly like dramas discussing moral values, so my kinds of villains are the light & flat ones - The (old) Joker, K.A.R.R. (the evil twin car of K.I.T.T.), Dr. Claw (the bad guy who always gets away), and Goldfinger.

Hime

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2010, 06:27:23 pm »
I like the type of a villain that is evil for a reason. The question of how one becomes evil has always intrigued me and I like being able to relate to the characters. However, this should not be overdone: sometimes the character's history is presented in such a sympathetic fashion that it becomes less of a reason and more of a justification, which often annoys me. So the mean guy's inner world should be opened to an extent where the audience can understand them but is not convinced that they are doing the right thing.

Prime examples for villains of my preference would be
Spoiler for Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Kai:
the main culprit Miyo Takano
from Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni or Humbert Humbert from Nabokov's Lolita. I enjoyed their stories unfold quite a bit.
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Enerccio

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2010, 09:39:48 pm »
I wouldn't call H. H. a villain nor antagonist~

lordcloudx

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2010, 04:37:23 am »
I like villains who have character and some kind of rationale behind their actions. It could be anything from some degree of insanity to a specific turning point in the villain's experience. A good example would be Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII. All hell breaks loose when he discovers certain secrets about himself inside Hojo's underground laboratory in Nibelheim.

It could also be some form of mental conditioning since birth, or at a very young age over which the villain had no control; forcing him to make antagonistic decisions when a certain set of variables coincide (Cross Channel best explains this rather insane line of reasoning). Keith Anyan from the anime series of Toward The Terra best exemplifies this model.

This is one of my early and still continuing fascinations with the anime/manga approach to storytelling. Unlike in early Silver Age Batman and Superman where the villain is just the paper-doll bad guy who wants to "RUUULE THE WOOORRLD," while the hero just wants to "SAAAAVE THE WOOORRLD," there's always something behind the villain's actions which, while not necessarily agreeable to the rational individual, would make some sense if you saw things through the villain's perspective; taking into account his personal experience and twisted perspective of things.

The relationship between Batman and the Joker in contemporary DC universe continuity has always intrigued me (including the non-canon movies and comics like Dark Knight Returns). This relationship is a good example of using a foil in literature. I'd like to point out that the Joker does have a good reason behind his actions - he's quite simply insane. What better reason is there? ;D
« Last Edit: February 13, 2010, 04:48:20 am by lordcloudx »

mikey

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2010, 07:51:12 am »
I'd like to point out that the Joker does have a good reason behind his actions - he's quite simply insane. What better reason is there?
This is a cool reason, and a simple one, not much else needed. But I often struggle to fear such people. The Joker's actions are pretty much random, or driven by some very simple algorithm (wants to see people suffer), so they are not specifically targeted against anyone in particular. That makes him more in the league of a natural disaster, a loose tiger, or a random shooter. I do fear the situation, but not the man (the way I would fear a stalker).

There has to be at least a bit of method in the madness to make something frightening, because if it doesn't attack some core values on purpose, it's not really scary. Otherwise I don't know how people would be able to fear him, or even consider him a villain, especially if clinical insanity is the true explanation. Maybe I'm trying to say that an actual madman isn't a villain.

lordcloudx

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2010, 12:13:58 pm »
mikey: Regarding the Joker (contemporary joker) as a villain; I think his insanity is driven by a mania of sorts towards funny things. It's his twisted sense of humor that drives his actions. He finds cruel, and most often criminal acts to be funny which is what leads him to do the things he does.

I'd agree that he's like some kind of a loose cannon and there's really no way to predict his actions, and in fact, I'd say this is what makes him both scary and effective as a villain.

I wouldn't call H. H. a villain nor antagonist~

I'm not scolding you, E, but try to keep the guidelines in mind when posting next time. One-liners, especially ones with cryptic messages, are not entirely prohibited but are strongly discouraged in this forum.  In your post, for example, You could have added why you thought H. H. is not a vilain nor an antagonist even if the message seems obvious to you, Hime and anyone else who has read the book.

sake-bento

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2010, 04:47:18 pm »
I'm definitely in the league of people who dislikes villains who just pop up and are evil for no particular reason, but the backstory/reason means a lot to me, too. In the series Blassreiter, one of the most "evil" antagonists has a sob story where she watches someone else's horse get shot, and that's why she hates the world and everyone in it. And even now, if I did see a flashback where some kid watched his/her parents get murdered, I'd feel a little stale ("Oh. The old 'DEAD PARENTS' history."). What makes a convincing history to twist a person around so much that their ideals match our standard of evil?

mikey

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2010, 05:30:07 pm »
Hmmm, what you said about the whole "not the dead-parents story again" made me think, what if for that particular story dead parents are the perfect backstory, but people find it boring, because it's been such an overused plot device in the past. Should a writer make up something else just because people these days find it to be a stereotype? It's interesting because it shows in a way, that the perception of the backstory (or any plot device) is to no small degree dependent on previous experiences. So even if people make a suggestion what backstory would be suitable, the actual impact will depend on many factors - meaning "what makes a good villain" isn't only a question of portraying the character in the story, but also a question about what the audience is used to, and what would feel interesting and new to them.

As for a backstory, I'm struggling to think of anything else than the formulaic normal person who has some sort of a trauma (childhood, death of a loved one, betrayal, etc.) that causes him to lose respect for a certain value or life's aspect (human life, politness, friendship, love). Maybe instead of a trauma that changes everything, it would be interesting to see something gradual - the two would start up as friends, and by the end of the story, be mortal enemies. I don't see this all too often, but maybe that's because of the type media I like to watch/read/enjoy. In someone else's environment, gradual "villainification" could be commonplace.

MoonlightBomber

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #9 on: February 13, 2010, 08:47:19 pm »
In serious works, villains' motivations are usually fleshed out, which separate them from the usual "evil for evil's sake" villains. Some of my personal favorite reasons are the following:

1. There might be villains who just want to end their immortal yet painful lives (see Luc in Suikoden III).
2. There might be villains who have the same goal as the heroes, but have absolutely different methods in achieving them, leading to frequent clashes.
3. Nihilism stemming from either despair or something that brought an irreversible pain to the villain.

Vatina

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2010, 11:07:08 am »
I am another one who likes to "get to know" the villain. It's interesting to get to know why they do all those things, be it in a good or bad way.

I can think of one "pure evil" villain that I love though - the evil program in Virtuosity is awesome. He is evil simply because he was programmed to be, and thus there is no trace of good in him at all. Just watching him go crazy, not afraid of anything around him, is entertaining :P The hero on the other hand, is terribly boring...

Quote
Should a writer make up something else just because people these days find it to be a stereotype? It's interesting because it shows in a way, that the perception of the backstory (or any plot device) is to no small degree dependent on previous experiences. So even if people make a suggestion what backstory would be suitable, the actual impact will depend on many factors - meaning "what makes a good villain" isn't only a question of portraying the character in the story, but also a question about what the audience is used to, and what would feel interesting and new to them.

This is interesting - and very true, I think. Some people will find the villain's reasons boring and unimaginative if they have seen it too many times before, so the writer can be forced to be extra creative in this fashion. It works both ways though - the "dead parents" part can be used both for villains and heroes after all. Motivations are harder to come by, because even though they "work", people are getting tired of seeing them :P

lordcloudx

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #11 on: February 15, 2010, 03:06:40 pm »
This is interesting - and very true, I think. Some people will find the villain's reasons boring and unimaginative if they have seen it too many times before, so the writer can be forced to be extra creative in this fashion. It works both ways though - the "dead parents" part can be used both for villains and heroes after all. Motivations are harder to come by, because even though they "work", people are getting tired of seeing them :P

On the other hand, I think it's also a challenge on the part of the writer - taking an overused theme, using cliches and stereotypical characters and still managing to make the story entertaining, unique and/or engaging for the reader/viewer. I think it's all in the execution. Gurren Lagann comes to mind as a prime example of using a plot, theme, and characters that have been considered as cliche since the early to mid-nineties and still managing to be an entertaining and somewhat uplifting anime.

Regarding villains, Gurren Lagann's villain was purported as the ultimate bad guy in the first half of the series, but the story takes a different twist after the time-skip.
« Last Edit: February 15, 2010, 03:08:12 pm by lordcloudx »

number473

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2010, 10:27:57 am »
Certainly, the level of development necessary to the villain corresponds to the amount of the protagonist. You would usually see a story have plastic heros and villains, or at the other end of the spectrum you get all (or at least the important) characters being well-rounded.
It is interesting to not that the villain will usually be seen to be acting on what he thinks is good, or what he thinks is the right thing to do. Of course, he may also have a totally insane idea of what the "right" or "good" thing is. I like a story where there is a reasonably sane antagonist with clear goals that are in opposition to the protagonist's. Regardless of how evil he is portrayed as being.

Meems

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #13 on: February 21, 2010, 03:55:27 pm »
I like villains who don't think of themselves as villains. While it's not the only way to write a bad guy by any means - or even the only interesting way - it interests me because I think most people won't do something they genuinely believe is wrong unless there is a very compelling reason for them to do so. I'm interested in the way a character's morality would have to be formed for them to do things that we would consider wrong and believe them to be right.

lvuer

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Re: What makes a good villain?
« Reply #14 on: April 26, 2010, 08:23:36 am »
(My first post here, hahaha... Ahem...)

For me, a good villain is the one who...
1. Have a motive/back story on why he must become evil. Perhaps he knows what he did/do is wrong and evil, and yet he must do it after all... Some people are perhaps pure evil, but not born evil (except this character isn't a human being).
2. Have a definite goal. Someone do something because he want something. Why one must become evil because he's simply want to be ... evil? That's funny. He must have desired something, that's why he become evil in the first place.

Also, different goals than usual "conquer the world" or simply "destroy all life" is definitely a must. It's boring to see a "cool" bad guy only later revealed that his goal is a plain "I want to conquer this world".

 

anything