Let Villains Be Villains

A hero is only as good as their villain. What happened to the days of maniacal laughter?

In any medium of storytelling, a hero is only as good as their villain. The villain is supposed to provide conflict and mirror the hero, creating a relationship that will end in either or both of their destruction. To make a good heroic character, you must establish physical and emotional traits, motivation, and background. For the villain, the same goes. Or does it?

Today there is a large trend for villains to have a redemption arc, which I believe has been put into maximum overdrive by Zuko from Avatar the Last Airbender. He is a great character, no doubt about it, but it seems to have contributed to the idea that villains who are pure evil with not a lot of redeeming traits, are one dimensional and therefore not good or compelling. We have come a long way from moustachioed villains tying up damsels on train tracks, but great villains don’t necessarily have to have to start off dark in order to be good villains.

 

Pure Evil as a trope has been around since stories were first told. It helps us root for the hero, and see the sinister villain get their comeuppance in a very satisfying way. There are different forms of villains, but Pure Evil ones have some traits in common, including a backstory that doesn’t matter in the long run, simple motivations, reveling in their villainy, arrogant confidence, and the climactic breakdown. They aren’t held down by morals or a tragic past, they just enjoy being evil, and will stop at nothing to get what they want. You can probably think of hundreds of villains who fall into this mold, and I guarantee that at least one of your favorite villains fits the trope of Pure Evil.

A favorite villain of mine is Bill Cipher from Gravity Falls. Judging by appearances, he looks like a silly, glowing, one-eyed Dorito. A very weird character, as his idea of gifts are a pile of deer teeth and a head that’s always screaming as it rapidly decays. But actually, he is a chaos loving dream demon that won’t stop until the entire universe is his personal playground. He is weird and funny, but also incredibly dangerous and quite evil for a Disney show villain, which makes him quite a compelling and fascinating character. When was the last time you heard lines from a kid show like, “I’ve got some children I need to make into corpses!” No joke, that was an actual line that he said. On a Disney show.

 

Pure evil is not indicative of something being less complex. Handled right, it’s as effective as any heel-face turn or redemption arc. If anything, the pendulum has swung the other way, with redemption arcs given left and right, even to those who don’t really deserve them. It might look like a complex character study, but done ineffectively, it’s a rather tired cliche by this point. So revel in your evil, indulge in an earth shattering laugh, and enjoy the villains who love being evil.

Featured Image Via Kirsten Colligan/Glasgow Guardian