Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Best Villains

I love villains. A lot. They're probably one of my favorite things about comics. But it's not easy to make a good villain. There are lots of different types of villains, of course. But to me, the best villains are the ones that didn't start out that way. They're the ones who began as heroic.

Take a look at some of the most chilling villains in the modern DC Rogue's Gallery. Sinestro, The Red Hood, Zoom -- all the way up to Superboy Prime. These were characters that began their lives in some way heroic, and then turned.

It's a tricky proposition, though. For this sort of villain to work the reader has to feel some sense of connection to the character. We saw Jason Todd and Superboy Prime as heroes -- albeit briefly -- before they turned to villainy.

This doesn't always work, of course. If the connection that readers form to a character while they are a hero is too strong, then they won't accept that particular character as a villain. Hal Jordan is the prime example of this. It's as if the collective consciousness of the DCU -- that "intelligent DCU" that Grant Morrison likes to talk about -- just wouldn't accept Hal as a villain.

But it will accept someone like Jason Toddd and Superboy Prime. Their spans as heroes were brief and remembered only by a scattered few. Thus they can be twisted into monsters -- but monsters whose motivations we can understand.

As good a villain as he is, we just can't wrap our minds around why the Joker does what he does. But we can understand betrayal. We can understand the pain of having something we love ripped from us. And if you can understand a villain, then that adds a entirely new layer to the story. You can see yourself in their place. And that sort of connection is what makes stories come alive.


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