Monday, February 27, 2017

Friendly Neighborhood Debate: Best Villains Ever?

Recently, a friend of mine, also with a silly little blog, wrote a post about the Definitive Top 10 Fictional Villains of Pretty Much Everything (in my Opinion). You can go over to Wordpress and read from the Waiting in Suspencer blog right now if you choose. I don't usually do this, but here is my rebuttal, because quite frankly, I enjoy a good debate and comparisons of fictional characters is enjoyable.

The Rules:
  • One villain only from any one franchise. For example, even though He-man and the Masters of the Universe has several villains to choose from, you have to pick only one from that franchise.
  • Anti-Heroes don't count. In the words of the Suspencer, "If you're going to be bad, be bad". So, none of this Catwoman, Venom, Man with No Name flipfloppy bullshit.
  • Villains are pulled from all fictional mediums, right? So, film, comics, literature, they all count as long as it's fictional. So, Hitler, even though he pops up in all mediums and even things like Castle Wolfenstein and Danger 5 where he barely resembles actual historic Hitler, doesn't count. That would be too easy.
Alternative Facts
Starting from the bottom, without further ado, here is my rebuttal to the Top Ten Fictional Villains of Pretty Much Everything. I'll start at the bottom with number 10.

TEN: Darth Vader

Anakin "Darth Vader" Skywalker, the man Hooper X once called the "Blackest Brother in the Galaxy", starts off the list on the bottom. I agree with my friend here. If Disney decides to uncannonize the prequels and redo them, Vader may rise through the list. But as it stands now, knowing it didn't take much aside from jealous love to turn him to the Dark Side makes him kind of pathetic. Vader may border on the Anti-Hero, which, according to the rules, puts him out of contention anyway.

There are some problems with Vader's evilness that I still don't understand. He is a towering presence, "more machine than man" with telekinetic abilities. Why are Imperial generals so quick to dismiss him? True they get force-choked into submission, but seriously, at the time of A New Hope, he surely has the reputation as the dude in charge that you don't fuck with. All that time of being terrifying and your subordinates still don't respect and fear you?

Also, technically, he isn't even the real main antagonist in the entire story. Palpatine, Darth Sidious, is the driving force behind all the evil in the universe, supposedly. He is a master manipulator and is able to turn and control one of the most force sensitive people in the universe, and use him as a weapon. We'll get to characters like Palpatine later though. For now, being subservient gets Vader moved to the  back of the bus.


Yes, that is a transgendered clown looking dude with crab pincers for hands. And yes, it is a villain from the cartoon the Powerpuff Girls. Shut up, and let me explain. This particular villain is really the only character the Powerpuff Girls actually fear. He is called "so sinister, so evil, so scary, so horribly vile that even the utterance of his name strikes fear in the hearts of men". Not bad for a red skinned dude in a tutu and heels. He is some kind of demon, perhaps THE demon. Negative feelings, like those that give Vader the power of the Dark Side, also empower Him, like the Hulk, more negative feelings mean stronger powers. He can possess children's toys and speak through them, which is all sorts of horror movie creepy. Also telekinetic. Also can raise people from the dead. Also controls monsters.

This particular villain is so out of place on this show. It's a cartoon made for kids starring 3 super powered child heroes. The other villains are a green monkey with a giant brain, a pink fuzzy big foot thief, and a stuck-up rich girl princess. The Lord of Darkness kind of stands apart from the usual suspects on this show. It would be like if Vader suddenly turned up on an episode of My Little Pony.

The reason HIM is on this list is because he is truly terrifying in an otherwise silly kids show. Maya Angelou once said people forget what you say, but never forget how you make them feel. And that is why HIM is scary. Laura Duca from the HuffPost wrote that Him is "the most terrifying villain to ever take a bath on the small screen", so bad that we forget he is probably the "first plausible transgendered character" on television.

MW Bychowski explained HIM being so terrifying because of this inability to sort him out into a normative category. She writes, "Terror as well as wonder can be created by making bodies illegible to our frameworks of understanding". The dragqueen makes for a wonderful visual of terror.

EIGHT: Cruella De Vil

I know, at first this doesn't appear to be that terrible of an evil villain. But just like HIM, let me explain. Firstly, the character is not just the Disney portrayed witch with a demented fur fetish who looks like Skeletor's mom. She's originally from the book by Dodie Smith, and like all Disney properties, she's way way worse. She is an heiress to a modest family fortune, treats people as beneath her, and kidnaps puppies in order to skin them and make a coat. She needs the puppy fur, you see, because if they get older, dog hair becomes too coarse to make comfy coats. Also, she has a Siamese cat that she detests, but keeps it because it's valuable. But every time the cat has kittens, the litter gets drowned... so they aren't that valuable, I guess.

She makes the list for living up to her namesake. Cruelty for the sake of beauty and vanity makes her pretty much a garbage person. The fact that she is willing to destroy life not only for the sake of her own material desires, but also because those lives are inconvenient makes her a monster. Up until now our villains take lives for specific reasons, this woman does it for seemingly no reason at all except convenience.

SEVEN: Ernst Stavro Blofeld

From the mind of Ian Flemming comes a character who became a trope. As far as evil dudes go, Blofeld is pretty much your average super villain. He is the head of a worldwide criminal/terrorist organization which has its fingers in racketeering, espionage, grand theft, blackmail, murder, and of course world domination. The arch villain mastermind look, the middle aged, bald white dude with facial scars, and a pet white cat has become the defacto supervillain, used in Inspector Gadget, Austin Powers, and Pok√©mon, among others.

SIX: Bill Sikes

The bottom half of this list is rounded out by Charles Dickens's character from the wonderful world of the London underground in mid 1800s. Oliver Twist, the protagonist of the novel of the same name, is an orphan who gets introduced to and mixed up in the grimy criminal underground of London by Fagin. Fagin is a nasty dude who trains homeless boys as pickpockets, and he is pretty despicable. But Bill Sikes is a monster that even Fagin fears.

On the list this high purely for his savagery, Bill Sikes's story goes like this: presumably he was once one of Fagin's pickpockets, but now a grown man, he's become a burglar, breaking and entering. The man is described as a rough, barbaric man, aggressive and violent. He is the epitome of domestic abuse. He beats his girlfriend Nancy to death after believing she snitched on him. In the end, he hangs himself trying to escape from an angry mob.

While not sounding like a villain that should surpass Vader, or HIM, or even Cruella De Vil, the capacity for this man to murder, in the way that Dickens describes, tops even the cat drowner. He is an uncontrollable, amoral force of brutality. Sikes is the prototype for every muscle bound monster full of rage. He is an unremorseful, angry, unpredictable son of a bitch. And that is why he's up so high.Sikes is the realistic Jekyl and Hyde, only there is no Dr. Jekyl.

FIVE: Kurtz

I think, as a species, one of the most terrifying things is the thought of madness. And Kurtz, from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, embodies madness. The story, in a nutshell, is about an ivory trader settled in the heart of the Congo, in Africa. The man suffers from delusions of grandeur, convinces the local population to deify him, worship him. Madness overtakes him.

Kurtz embodies Imperialism, and all the white burden atrocities associated with Colonialism. He is Columbus. He is the Triangle Trade. The partitioning of India, Apartheid, the Trail of Tears, he is all these things. He is the prototype for every villain who blurs the lines of sanity in order to fulfill ambition. Anyone who feels entitled to build success on the backs of other "inferior brutes".

Insanity, I think, is part of every good dark villainous character. The idea that a person can be betrayed by their own mind is frightening, and the best villains seem to be the ones that are no longer playing with a full deck of cards. Madness is a central theme in R Scott Bakker's novels. Sanity is debated in Alice in Wonderland. The best villains in A Song of Ice and Fire fall into madness. The Joker, the best villain in the comic book medium, is built around the idea of insanity. Kurts is a great exercise in mental fragility and what that can mean to a society.

FOUR: Hannibal Lector
Speaking of crazy people... Hannibal Lector comes in a number four. Fear is a major theme to my list, and Hannibal is one scary guy. Hannibal has been called the King of Hollywood Psychopaths. Samuel Leistedt, a forensic psychiatrist, lists "high intelligence, a vain cat-like demeanor, a prestigious career, a calm always in control attitude, and an unrealistic exceptional skill at killing people" as traits, a list of traits probably not found amongst your normal, average psychopath. In fact, Leistedt doesn't believe this sort of "elite psychopath" can truly exist and actually be a real psychopath in the clinical sense. This is probably why, in Red Dragon, they make it very clear he doesn't fit any known psychological profile.

Hannibal is a cannibal. The name rhymes. It's cute. William Arens wrote that charges of cannibalism by one society to another is a way to discredit the other society as inferior and set up a perception of cultural inferiority. Mythogical folklore also establishes cannibalism as taboo, often changing the cannibal into an actual monster, like the Algonquian wendigo, or the Arabic ghoul. In Germanic mythology, witches are said to eat people as well. Basically, in most cultures, eating another human being is probably the worst thing you can do.

Hannibal is something out of a true nightmare. He is highly intelligent, a psychiatrist and surgeon with an eidetic memory. He speaks 7 languages. Also he murders without hesitation, especially when he feels someone has been rude to him, or if they have poor manners. This is what makes him terrifying. He is smarter than you, quicker than you, stronger than you, and cares nothing for societal norms like "no killing", or "don't eat people". And he hides in plain sight, a sophisticated gentleman in a trustworthy white collar profession.

Hannibal has been the blueprint for every "elite psychopath" character created since. His traits have even leaked into newer portrayals of older characters like DC's Joker.


In my friend's original post on his own blog, he cited this character from a movie based on Shakespeare's Othello. This made no sense to me. If the character of Hugo from O is based on Iago from Othello, and the list is the best villains from all mediums, why not pick the source? A play is a fictional medium, so it isn't off limits. Anyway, Iago has become an archetype for villainy. Much like the other people on the list, he is so good at being evil, his traits get copied by everyone. Hugo from O is Iago, just in a different adaptation.

In case you aren't familiar, Iago is a masterful manipulator. During the play, he becomes angry when he doesn't get promoted by his boss, Othello. Othello promotes another dude, Cassio, instead. So, Iago decides to ruin everyone's lives. Not only does he get Cassio demoted, but then he makes it seem like Cassio and Othello's wife are having an affair, which leads to Othello killing her. Then Iago murders his accomplice, and the girl that reveals his plot. He does go to prison, but Othello commits suicide.

The Iago character, the trustworthy aide, the right hand man who turns into the treacherous unsuspected mastermind antagonist can be found everywhere in fiction. Every surprise double cross, every double agent, every seemingly humble friend hiding a vicious knife is a shade of Iago.

TWO: Professor James Moriarty
Probably the greatest of all the villains ever in fiction, Professor James Moriarty has become Sherlock Holmes's greatest and final foil. He is called the Napoleon of Crime. Like Iago, Moriarty is a master manipulator. But unlike Iago, he never actually commits any crimes. Moriarty is the head of an intricate crime ring, whose plots, designs, and leadership create sinister crimes. Moriarty is genius level smart, keeping himself from ever being implicated in his own schemes. Holmes states he is aloof from "general suspicion, so immune from criticism, so admirable in his management and self effacement" that even by being accused, says Holmes, he would sue and win and ruin your life legally.

If you took Iago, a malicious, conniving, backstabbing character beyond suspicion, and turn him from a jealous revenge schemer into a cold, calculating mob boss you would have Moriarty. Arthur Conan Doyle perfected the Iago archetype, and the only point of this creation was to kill off Sherlock Holmes. Moriarty influenced every white suited mobster criminal ever in fiction.

ONE: Sauron

Mythology and theology associated with it intrigue me. Which is why Star Wars appeals to me, as it is the mythology of the hero. JRR Tolkien created his own universe, complete with languages, mythologies and cultures. This creates a kind of depth that fantasy never had before. Sauron may seem like an obvious number one cop-out, but I can't think of another more well-rounded villain with this much depth, or influence.

Sauron is the primary antagonist of the Lord of the Rings. However, he never actually shows up in the novels, he is only a spirit in the form of a giant eye of fire atop a tower. The Eye of Sauron seems to have limited Omniscience, and is tied to the One Ring of Power.

The mythology of Middle Earth includes a parable for the existence of Evil, and Sauron plays a role. The Eru, the god-like being who creates everything, created the Ainur to help him with creation. One of the Ainur, called Melkor, turns bad and enters creation to corrupt it. Other Ainur also enter creation and become Valar (gods) and Maiar (wizards) in order to protect creation. One of these Maiar is known as Sauron. Melkor corrupts Sauron and makes him his Right Hand. Together they capture, torture and corrupt a band of elves, creating the first orcs.

So, there we have it. Definite parallels to Judeo-Christian mythos. The fallen archangel becomes the dark lord, creates demons and corrupts the innocent. Sauron actually seems to have influenced most of the other villains on this list, and some of the ones not on the list that maybe ought to be. For example:

Darth Vader. Corrupted by another greater evil. The Dark Lord of the Dark Lord, Vader carries out his master's bidding, much like Sauron carried out Melkor's bidding, until Melkor was cast out into the abyss.

Voldemort. Not only is Voldemort the Dark Lord that corrupts the wizarding world by championing the Dark Arts, but he imbues pieces of his soul into artifacts. The One Ring sure does sound like a horcrux to me. Also, Voldemort spends most of his time in those Harry Potter books trying to piece himself back together after having being incorporeal for decades.

Sauron has become the defacto archetype of the distant impending darkness. There are too many fanstasy/sci-fi stories that revolve around protagonists trying to keep antagonists from reintroducing some unfathomable ancient evil.

Sauron is the ultimate scheming, manipulating, behind the scenes planner. He is a giant eye ball on fire, and yet he can orchestrate the war to end the world.

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