For the record, I have very high standards for villains. I separate them into three categories. The least awesome villain is the one who fails to scare me. Laugh maniacally and do what you want, but I just can’ take you seriously. The one example that comes to mind is Mojo Jojo. You don’t scare me dude.
The second level of villainy is the person who is evil just for the sake of being evil. He or she has little motive other than to be bad. These usually appear in story lines that have a black and white separation of good and evil. These kinds of stories are usually unappealing to me. I have seen villains that fit into this category even though there is a little bit of grey area in the story. The best example of this is Seymour from Final Fantasy X. There are not enough words to describe how much I hate that guy. What really made me mad was that he kept coming back after I killed him. You’d have to understand the way the world in that game works to really get that. His overall goal was to destroy everything. He looked at the world and saw suffering, pain and death. If he destroyed the world and killed everyone in it, the people of the world would be at peace. How long did my characters spend wondering if Seymour was right? None, because that’s a messed up view of the world. There was a little grey, but not enough to make me happy.
Then we have the number one, best level of villainy. Here is where we find Loki, Sephiroth, Androids 17 and 18, and Darth Vader. If you focus on a single act, they’re pretty evil. All of these villains have taken their share of lives. There is no doubt of their viciousness. They are bad, and, yet, there is an understanding of how they became they way they are. Loki, whose birth parents were enemies of Asgard. Raised by Odin, king of Asgard, he always held dreams of ruling the kingdom. He seems to blame the world for his misfortune, claiming the reason Odin does not want him on the throne is because of what he is.
The other villains I listed are similar. Sephiroth fought for the government until he discovered the truth of their experiments and his origin of birth. Androids 17 and 18, originally delinquent teenagers, were kidnapped by a mad scientists who turned them into androids and programmed them for destruction. Darth Vader, formally known in his story line as Anakin Skywalker, found his road to villainy in his exceptional power and growing distrust of how the government was run.
This is all from memory, so forgive me if I’ve gotten a few things wrong. The point still stands that these are villains that we can understand. As you dive into their back stories, you come to understand why they are the way they are. That does not make up for their terrible actions, but it does make it hard to hate them. In fact, I can’t help but love them. They are like a super powerful, injured puppy. I just want to hold them and tell them everything will be okay.
I’ve often thought that my love of villains may have true roots in the bullies of my youth. Even when the bullying was at its worst, I didn’t blame my peers. I saw them as they played with their friends. I saw them be good, kind people. Despite their ability for kindness, they’re actions towards me were often villainous. Adults told me many things about these bullies. One statement I often heard was that they were trying to cover up their insecurities. Maybe the truth was that I had a trait or quality they wanted. Maybe life at home was tough and I made a good target. Like Loki, whose desires a crown he can’t have and then seeks to take over humans, a race of people too weak to resist his powers (see The Avengers).
Villains certainly have a ‘bad boy’ quality that can be very attractive. At the same time, I wonder if my love for villains is born out of how I understood childhood bullies. They were good people who made some bad decisions. Regardless of their motivations, I think we can all agree that bullying is wrong. So, why did they make these bad decisions? What was their goal? What did they want from me? On some level, these villains give me an answer. I like them, because I know that, behind their evil actions, there was once a good heart. Maybe that heart can be brought forth again if only someone would reach out in understanding to them.
…or maybe I there’s simply something about a maniacal laugh and smile that turns me on. Who knows.