Comic Talk, Tips and Tricks

What makes a good Villain?
smkinoshita at 9:23AM, Nov. 24, 2011
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Considering that Skull Girl won “Best Bad Gal” in the 2011 Drunk Duck Awards, and considering I find that the most hilarious irony and a baffling win, I'd like to talk about what makes a good fictional villain.
The general rule for villain success is “cool”, but that's a pretty vaguely defined attribute. I think that the short answer is a good villain has to be a good character first and foremost.
In more detail, I'd like to discuss the critical attributes that I think apply specifically for a successful villain.  In no particular order, we have:

Charisma

I think most villains live and die by their charisma.  If Skully's win is any indication, you have to charm the reader somehow.  The villain must have some attributes that would make them good company if they weren't trying to kill you (and in some cases, even if they are trying to kill you).  Good manners, a sense of humour, being a gracious host or providing some profound outlook on life.  (I'm assuming in Skull Girl's case it's because more people would rather hang around Harley Quinn than The Joker.  Not that I based Skully off Harley, but it's a similar dynamic)

Why it's villain-specific:  Villains live and die by this attribute!  If nobody cares about the villain, the character is disposable.  It's the only thing keeping the Joker alive, because even the tiniest amount of applied reason would see him dead long ago.  In contrast… Batman doesn't have much in this category (he gets by on badassery)

Theme

Villains need some sort of theme – it's what sets the generic villains apart from the memorable ones.  It doesn't have to be totally unique, just something that sets the villain apart from all the other characters in the story.  Batman's most successful villains embody this trope, but the villain doesn't have to wear the theme as much as incorporate it into their actions.  David Zanatos from Gargoyles for example was always about business, which made him cold and calculating but also that every action had to have a practical reason for it.  He'd never do something bad for the heck of it (unlike Demona who was nuts).

Why it's villain-specific:  It's what separates the villains from the faceless thugs.

Aberration

By “aberration” I mean “they go against the grain” somehow.  Something about the character goes against what one would expect.  It can be a noble trait, a particularly heinous trait, an obsession but it has to be in personality, not ability.

Why it's villain-specific:  if the character didn't have some sort of aberration then the character wouldn't be a villain.  While any criminal is aberrant towards society, a villain has to be aberrant in a way that's more unique to be memorable.

Confidence/Badassery

The villain must be fearless and ruthless in some sort of category.  They don't have to be a fighter.  They don't even have to be skilled.  They just have to do something that shows such determination that you suspect that they're at least a little crazy.  I think any villain who lacks the ability to be badass in some way isn't really a villain. 

Why it's villain-specific:  If you're not a threat, you're not a villain – you're comedic relief.

I think these are the 4 main elements to a successful, memorable villain.  I'm not saying that all villains have to have these traits, but I think it's what turns the character from “The bad guy in movie X” to “The Bad Guy”.  When was the last time The Joker was referred to as “The bad guy in that Batman movie?” except when he's considered the ONLY bad guy Batman ever had?  Who calls “Darth Vader” the “Bad guy in Star Wars”?
last edited on Nov. 24, 2011 9:27AM
kyupol at 6:42PM, Nov. 24, 2011
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a good villain?
Simple equation:
Psychopathic behavior + High IQ = “good” villain.  :)



glib and superficial charm


grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self


need for stimulation


pathological lying


cunning and manipulativeness


lack of remorse or guilt


shallow


affect


(superficial emotional responsiveness)


callousness and lack of empathy


parasitic lifestyle


poor behavioral controls


sexual promiscuity


early behavior problems


lack of realistic long-term goals


impulsivity


irresponsibility


failure to accept responsibility for own actions


many short-term marital relationships


juvenile delinquency


revocation of conditional release


criminal versatility



Read more: Hare Psychopathy Checklist - define, person, people, used, personality, score, traits, Definition, Purpose http://www.minddisorders.com/Flu-Inv/Hare-Psychopathy-Checklist.html#ixzz1egIHV03T
NOW UPDATING!!!
El Cid at 4:25PM, Nov. 25, 2011
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I'm assuming these recommendations are comic-specific?
 
Those are all good suggestions, but there is no absolute correct recipe for cooking up a good villain, in any form of fiction. The villain usually is a charismatic figure, but not always. Remember Emperor Commodus from Gladiator? He was about as charismatic as a tapeworm, but he made for an excellent villain.
 
One thing I think works really well in comics is when the villain and the hero are complete opposites of each other. Like with Batman and the Joker, the Joker is pretty much everything Batman is not, which is what makes their interplay so interesting. I think it's actually more interesting if you have a really superstrong “badass” superhero, that the villain be somebody who lacks those attributes (think Superman vs. Lex Luthor). So aside from setting out a list of villainous qualities, one other way to come up with an effective villain is to think about the dynamics of how he's going to match up against your hero, and what kind of conflict you're looking for in your comic.
Hawk at 2:52PM, Nov. 26, 2011
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I found that I don't much enjoy villains that are evil for evil's sake, or that revel in their evilness, knowing fully that they are wrong.  Instead, I prefer villains that are justified in their own mind, and you can understand what motivates them.  Not that purposely evil characters can't be fun, they're just better reserved for less-serious stuff like cartoons.
 
I like the villains who are carefully created, so that when you learn about the experiences they've been through and their motivations, you start to wonder if you would be the same way when put in their situation.
last edited on Nov. 30, 2011 9:20AM
ozoneocean at 8:18PM, Nov. 26, 2011
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What makes the worst villains then? :)
            
I like Hawk's example- no villains are villains from their own perspectives, only from that of the hero… Although, the audience should really share the hero's perspective, or the whole hero/villain dynamic you've created won't matter to anyone.
                
So I think that's the key thing- to make a villain, what you really need is a hero that you support, then anyone who oopses them becomes a villain, even if it's just their mother who grounds them for coming home late or something trivial like that :)
But the thing here is a good villain, isn't it…?
              
But then smkinoshita's Skull girl isn't a “villain” anyway, is she? She's a hero. She plays the role of a villain, but that's not what she is at all. If you were really going to have a “villain” as your main character then they can't be the one the audience identifies with. I can think of many films that do that well- there was a good made for TV one about Ted Bundy, numerous ones about Hitler, and Alec Baldwin in Miami Blues. Those villains are the main characters and they're replant.
                     
SO a “good” villain shouldn't have the audience behind them. Almost having the audience behind them is great, and being able to understand or sympathise with them is good too, but you should always come back to condemning them ultimately, because that's what a villain is: someone who you (not just the hero) are meant to oppose.
 
last edited on Nov. 26, 2011 8:19PM
Air Raid Robertson at 6:07PM, Nov. 27, 2011
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I think it's safe to say that the best antagonists are the people who are able to put the protagonist in the position that they'd least like to be in.
 
An arresting and captivating villain is able to push the hero's boundaries. They force the hero to go into parts of themselves that are dangerous. Occasionally, a great villain forces the hero to compromise themselves in the name of a lesser evil.
 
A good number of villains of this type are really just inverted versions of the hero. Professor Moriarty could've conceivably been the most celebrated man in London, but something made him become the Napoleon of crime. Iago may have risen to the heights of his station, but his petty jealousy of Othello turned him down another path.
 
That sort of thing can be found in a lot of the great “good guy vs. bad guy” works of art throughout history.
last edited on Nov. 27, 2011 6:15PM
Genejoke at 3:52AM, Nov. 28, 2011
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So much depends on the story, a good villain is someone you love to hate but is either interesting in their own right or their actions are interesting.  Look at the walking dead TV series, in the first series you had Merl, a bad racist OTT redneck and bad ass, he was so heavy handed it was clumsy. He was bad for the sake of being bad.  He was a bad villain, nothing interesting about him, he's just there to cause a problem.  In season 2 you have Shane as a sort of bad guy, or at least headed that way.  He decisions make sense, he has a story and feelings,  he's a complex and emotional character and as a result he is captivating to watch.
In X-men, the comics…
Apocalypse is an ancient evil mutant who wants to eradicate humans so mutants can take their place….
Magneto is a mutant who sees the murtant race as the next evolutionary step and will do whatever he can to ensure they take their place as successors to humanity….
both similar but magnetos back story and  humanity make him far more interesting.  As el cid mentioned he is the flip side of the hero(es) yet much closer to them than a big metal monster like apocalypse.
A large or faceless threat is all well and good until the resolution where is becomes clear that they are little more than an obstacle and offer litte in the way of dramatic conflict.
Genejoke at 3:55AM, Nov. 28, 2011
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kyupol wrote:
a good villain?
Simple equation:
Psychopathic behavior + High IQ = “good” villain.  :)

 


glib and superficial charm

grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self

need for stimulation

pathological lying

cunning and manipulativeness

lack of remorse or guilt

shallow


affect


(superficial emotional responsiveness)

callousness and lack of empathy

parasitic lifestyle

poor behavioral controls

sexual promiscuity

early behavior problems

lack of realistic long-term goals

impulsivity

irresponsibility

failure to accept responsibility for own actions

many short-term marital relationships

juvenile delinquency

revocation of conditional release

criminal versatility


Read more: Hare Psychopathy Checklist - define, person, people, used, personality, score, traits, Definition, Purpose http://www.minddisorders.com/Flu-Inv/Hare-Psychopathy-Checklist.html#ixzz1egIHV03T
 
That has some good points but only really covers one type of villain, the psychopath.  It's good to cover that and know the ins and outs of the condition, but villains or antagonists are not restricted to just being psychopaths.
ozoneocean at 4:17AM, Nov. 28, 2011
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joined: 1-2-2004
Yup, villains should only rarely be psychopaths because psychopaths have only 2 dimensions and only 1 point of interest:
1. They seem normal and nice.
2. They're actually mean and really horrible.
3. The contrast is the interesting part.
 
So yeah, psychos are done well in some films and stories, but they're a bit simplistic as villains.
 
NickyCreeden at 2:02AM, Nov. 29, 2011
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posts: 1
joined: 11-29-2011
 
Hi…
A good supervillan is a supervillan that wants to destroy not only the world for himself but the hero
a supervillan that is purly evil and will exploit to the lowest levels to do it
and the hero has to fear running into him
thats why I would have to say sephiroth
I mean look at it
1) no humor/ emotion
2) an actuall challenge to the hero (in AC you could see cloud go “oh shit!”)
3) and will do anything to destroy cloud and the world for himself.  
 

 
Thanks & Regards
Nicky reeden

________________________
iPhone Cases 
 
last edited on Nov. 29, 2011 2:05AM
smkinoshita at 10:16AM, Dec. 1, 2011
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Err…  knew I should have specified instead of using “good”, heh.  Maybe a better title would be “Quality” villain, eh?

@El_Cid:  When I said “Live and die”, it was directed at recurring villains and I meant it literally.  When it comes to “let's kill off a villain”, the ones most likely to get the axe are the ones without personality.  Movie villains are in a separate category since often they're killed at the climax.  Even then, very charismatic villains will be resurrected for the sequel if required.
Very much agree that contrast does make a high-quality villain.  It fits under the ‘theme’ category – for Batman every memorable character has a distinct theme. 

@Hawk:  Agreed again – only the most unimaginative hacks write a villain who's evil for evil's sake in a serious situation.  The only exception to the rule is when a serious story has a villain who's so over-the-top it's played for dark comedy, and even then it takes a lot of skill in terms of delivery to make it work.

@OzoneOcean:  I know, that's why Skull Girl's nomination and subsequent win for “Best Bad Guy/Gal” is ironic and hilarious.  It's the reason why I posted this in the first place.  I wanted to find out what people's opinion of a good (as in high quality) villain was in order to perhaps shed some light as to why Skully won.  I purposely designed Skull Girl to be really horrible at being evil, that's where a lot of the humour comes from.  I took a lot of inspiration from the villains of the cartoons I watched as a kid, who were all really horrible at succeeding at any evil and whose biggest victories would be name-calling at best.  (Please note that the one “evil” thing Skully does really well is name calling).  My initial list was created based on the common traits I saw in recurring villains.  Skully maybe fits the bill for “charisma” and “theme”, maybe “aberration” because she's a sweet good girl trying to be a villainess… but really, Skully is only a villain on her résumé.  And on that note, it should be said that Super Temps doesn't have any true villains at all right now.

@Air Raid Robertson:  Excellent points!  That fits a lot of really fantastic villains.  I think any villain who can't make the hero face their worst fears loses a lot of ‘villain cred’.  It's actually a requirement for any worthwhile antagonist, don't you think?

@Genejoke:  That's true, the setting is important.  Speaking of Apocalypse, another critical point for quality villains is that they need limits.  Setting limits prevents the “evil for evil's sake” kind of character and is one of the elements that separates Magneto (who used to be a typical evil-for-evil's sake character, BTW) from gay robot gorillas.  You make me revise “Charisma” into “Compelling”, because maybe it's not so much that the villain is charismatic as it is that there's something that makes the audience like the villain as a character.  It can be a sense of humour, a sense of style, or a tragic element where one can't blame the villain for acting that way.

@NickyCreeden:   Sephiroth an over-rated joke.  He's only known because he's in Final Fantasy.  We've already gone over the points of what makes a good villain, and he qualifies for none of them.  He's a “boring psycho”.
last edited on Dec. 1, 2011 10:17AM
patrickdevine at 6:42PM, Dec. 4, 2011
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smkinoshita, That's a pretty good list and it does give me a lot to think about. All in all, it's a pretty heavy topic and the answer to “what makes a good villain?” is nearly as complex as “what makes a good story?”
I think it really comes down to what sort of villain you're trying to write– psychopathic crazies, cold and calculating masterminds, evil aristocrats, sympathetic villains or whatever all have their place in fiction. Like what's been mentioned a couple times already is any good villain should be in a good position to antagonize the hero. Also, this is really just my personal taste, but I like to see the bad guy win–at least in the short run. Basically to demonstrate that the villain is a legitimate threat and there are real consequences to the hero losing.

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