What Makes A Perfect Villain?

This is just a handful of words to spew out in the ‘Create Your Own Villain’ generator! Everyone loves a great villain; someone who poses a strong physical threat… or can spread unrest through words alone… or is genuinely funny and enjoyable to read or watch. Villains have much more of a free role when it comes to story-telling too; they’re the ones upsetting the status quo, whether it’s for personal gain, malicious revenge, or simply because they love chaos. Whereas a hero is shaped by their decisions and actions when fighting a threat, a villain can revel in causing that threat; regardless of if they see it as evil, righteous, or something in between.

And that character motive is such an interesting point. Do villains truly realise they’re being villainous? Maybe they see the hero as the true antagonist? Maybe they see the world as a better place with drastic change? Maybe they were betrayed by someone and resort to villainous means to exact their own justice? There are so many ways to develop an interesting villain, and flesh them out with sympathetic backstories or alternative viewpoints.

Over the years, story-telling has changed, and some would argue the archetypal villain is in fact, dying out. These days, it can be viewed as much more intriguing to blur the lines between good and evil into a greyish middle-ground of morally ambiguous characters. It’s been expertly done in TV by the likes of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and the Sopranos, but also in graphic novels, or more specifically, manga. Death Note’s Light Yagami makes such an intriguing anti-hero – cleansing the world of murderers, thieves, rapists and other degenerates… lowering crime rate as he goes… while single-handedly becoming the world’s biggest mass murderer in the process. Is he making the world a safer place? Possibly. Is he making it a better place? That’s up to the reader.

This is a tactic often adopted by Disney, too. And it’s a topic brought brilliantly to my attention by renowned video essayist and delightful YouTuber ‘Lindsay Ellis’; who analyses the decline in prominent Disney villains, particularly in recent additions such as Frozen, and even portraying the villain in a sympathetic light in Maleficent, as well as in the live action re-make of Beauty and The Beast. I won’t tread on Ellis’ toes too much – hers is a great video for you to check out (there’s a link at the end of this blog) but it’s interesting to see how social economics have perhaps changed modern pop culture’s villains from ‘downright baddies’ to ‘morally ambiguous’ and ‘misunderstood’.

One of the best graphic novel villains I encountered in a long time was in the independent release ‘The Beauty’, in the form of a sociopathic hitman who approached his victims under a pretence of admiration and flattery, before performing vile acts of mutilation on their vulnerable, beautiful bodies. He had charm, he had wit, and there was a sense of intrigue to his masked exterior. His dialogue was scripted impeccably to portray his lackadaisical approach to violence and murder, as well as disregard for his own accomplices. Essentially, barring an sympathetic backstory or intriguing alternative viewpoint, he had a complete set of elements that create a perfect villain – the mysterious appearance and costume, the constant presence of threat, the engaging dialogue, and occasionally, a sadistic sense of humour.

We played around with a lot of villain possibilities in the early days of Aeronautica, but in the end, the plot itself and the hierarchy between the races helped shape one of our chief ‘baddies’. Even in this early stage of the plot, Lord Ziathar establishes his chilling reputation and maverick tactics when enforcing Angel law. It’s always enjoyable writing dialogue for a villain; especially one so opinionated and kooky! It’s something I’m hoping to touch on deeper in the following issue, and I certainly hope our villain’s belated arrival in Issue 1 has whetted the appetite for more. Let Disney and Game of Thrones do their thing with moral ambiguity; we’re here to bring you the definition of EVIL.