23 August 2012

Are Villains Better Than Heroes?

There are times when villains are much more fun than heroes. J.R. Ewing of Dallas is much more interesting than his good brother, Bobby. Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter Dexter of Dynasty had a much more fun life than her rival, Krystle Carrington.

And who doesn't root for Alan Rickman over Kevin Costner in 1991's Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves? Robin is wooden and boring in this movie. Rickman, however, seems like great fun!

And then it becomes tempting to turn these villains into heroes or, if not heroes, not really villains any longer.

My two favorite former villains are Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Magneto from Marvel's X-Men.

Not sure? Would you pick Xavier or Magneto from X-Men First Class? Spike or Angelus?

To me, that answer is obvious.

I think the key to creating a memorable villain is, as with all good characters, a sense of who they are.

Magneto didn't suddenly decide that humans were worthless. He saw his family destroyed in the Holocaust and then humans attacked him merely because he was a mutant. He has good reason to hate others and to impose his will on a society that doesn't understand him. His methods over the years--including his slide into mutant terrorism--left a great deal to be desired.

But such was the power of his character that he's now become a sort of mutant mentor and is more often allied with Xavier's students than not. In some alternate timelines, he's a hero.

Spike, in his first appearance, was a completely unredeemable villain. He loved being a vampire, he had no remorse for his human victims, and he had no intention whatsoever of being a good guy. But we loved him anyway because he was witty and he was fascinating to watch on-screen. His love for Drusilla took precedence over all. He didn't want to destroy the world, he only wanted Dru to be happy and he'd do whatever that took for her.

Over the years, that ability to love transformed Spike from villain to hero. Well, with a few bumps here and there.

Jennifer Crusie, when she talks about antagonists, says that no one gets up and says "I'm going to be an asshole today." No, these villains likely have very good reasons for what they do and that depth is what makes the hero's triumph at the end all the better.

I have a special fondness for two of the villains I've written. One is Lansing from Phoenix Rising. He was inspired by Magneto as he has a disdain for the human race and thinks they need to be controlled or destroyed to protect his own. But the means he uses to accomplish this is what turns him into a villain. But he's not completely dark.

The other is a villain in an unpublished paranormal story who I like to call the Gil Grissom vampire. He's a 100-year-old vampire who's lost his humanity but not his need to explore science, especially on how to reverse vampirism. So he sees the world as test subjects, not people. He's absent-mindedly evil.

I have this desire to write him as the hero in the third book of the trilogy but that will take some doing.

I consider it a challenge. :)

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