The Art of Evil and the Moment of Defeat

The best villains defeat themselves.

Perhaps this is because they can’t stand to leave something as important as their downfall to someone they despise so much. More likely it has something to do with hubris or the nature of justice. But if a great villain is our goal, and it is, then we better figure out why this is and how to make it happen.

Villains hit their moment of defeat when some aspect of their impact, generally their modus operandi but not always, comes into direct conflict with their goals. This conflict results in their being unable to bring their best game against the hero and paves the way to their defeat. This resolution to the villain’s arc makes the most sense if you consider that the best villains typically serve as a voice for the audience’s doubts about the hero’s approach to heroism – the best way to win over opponents is to show them how their ideas will not produce the result you want. It also serves to make villains more relatable, as people who have run in to similar contradictions will understand where they are coming from.

This probably makes it sound like the hero’s part in the story is inconsequential. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most unhealthy ways of life don’t just break down on their own, they break down when put under stress. The more powerful the perverse way of living the greater the stress needed to break it down and when a hero confronts a villain he provides the stress that reveals the shortcomings in the villain’s way of life. This is why the ascendency and apotheosis of your villain is so important for this section of the story, the more powerful the villain has become the harder the hero’s task becomes and the more we admire their perseverance and ideals and the greater the crash when the villain comes falling down.

We have ten (well, really nine) examples to look at. Review them here and here if you need to then let’s get started!

Yzma’s downfall comes when Krunk can’t bring himself to commit murder. While the two have a great working relationship ultimately Krunk isn’t the right tool for what Yzma wants to accomplish. Maybe she could have found a new minion with enough time but she wasn’t patient enough for that – methods kept her from meeting her goals.

The problem with Slade Wilson is that he can only secure his legacy through other people but he sees his legacy entirely in selfish terms. He wants a successor but not just any successor, he wants to mold someone into his own image and his downfall comes because no one he tries to induce into taking up the mantle wants to squeeze into the mold. The more he pushes the more pushback comes until his protégé abandons him entirely and everything comes undone.

For Maleficent, who wants to be seen as a peer of the realm and acknowledged as a being of dignity and refinement, turning into a dragon was probably the worst decision she could have made. In order to carry out the full measure of the petty revenge that was supposed to assure Maleficent her due respect she transforms into the very monster others have always seen her as and winds up dead.

To a creature like Bill Cipher, who seeks a new place to wreak havoc, the people of Gravity Falls are irrelevant. But he needs the Pines family to crack the door open and let him claim that power. But his apathy to humans leaves him ignorant of his opposition and makes it ludicrously simple for the Pines to trick him to his downfall. His hunger for power makes him ignorant of the very things he would need to secure it.

To Louis Renault life is an oyster and he’d like nothing more than to keep the status quo and enjoy the benefits that come with his position and the company he keeps. Problem is, the status quo rests in the hands of the Nazis and their puppet government in Vichy. When Rick runs afoul of the Nazis the little pleasures Renault enjoys are threatened one by one. The straw that breaks the camel’s back is when Rick, the closest thing Louis has to a friend, kills Major Strausser, someone Louis doesn’t like. In this moment any semblance of the old status quo is lost and Louis has to find a new way. Louis is a rare example of the villain who’s defining moment comes in defeat. Although he could have taken all he’d lost out on Rick he chooses to try and change himself instead. Rick becomes a patriot and Louis follows suit, marking the beginning of a beautiful friendship and one of the most quoted lines in cinema history. As Louis proves, defeat isn’t the end of the story for some villains.

Bridget O’Shaughnessy just wanted the power and security a little (okay, a lot) of money could bring her. The problem with getting what you want through emotional manipulation is that sooner or later some of the emotions you’re using to manipulate are going to be real. Bridget traps herself in her own schemes and has the misfortune of doing so with a man of integrity – probably the only kind of person who could have carried her scheme to completion and the only kind of person who would prioritize resolving the outstanding damage she’d done over taking the offered relationship. Bridget could have gotten her money any number of ways, it was her choice to involve Sam Spade in the process that ultimately dooms her.

Involving the wrong people is a classic villain error and no one overcommits to it to the degree Dio does. Early on he acknowledges Johnathan Joestar as the greatest obstacle to his eternal life there is. Dio ultimately chooses to steal Johnathan’s body as part of his gambit to outlive the sinking ship Johnathan traps him on. But even though he lives another hundred years in the end his connection to the Joestar line causes a fraction of his Stand powers to proliferate through Johnathan’s bloodline and ultimately brings Joseph Joestar and Jotaro Kujo down on his head. Dio could never have lived forever without Johnathan Joestar’s body but ultimately it was because of Johnathan’s body that he would face defeat.

For Vader, defeat isn’t when Luke cuts his hand off it’s when he realizes that the Emperor and all the physical and political power he’s been using to try and prove himself – to his mentor and to his son – aren’t enough to get him to change his mind or his mindset. When it becomes clear that the Emperor is going to kill his son Vader is undone. The choice to kill the Emperor follows fairly naturally for a man who’s lived by the sword for as long as Vader and, in rejecting his corrupt methods, Vader is redeemed, if only for a moment.

Legato Bluesummers. The contradiction of this character is probably the most readily apparent. His desire to get Vash to repudiate the value of human life is fulfilled when he forces Vash to kill him. Unfortunately, while Legato’s victory is powerful, horrific and hauntingly memorable it’s a single success against a lifetime of principle. Yes, Vash is deeply hurt by the contradiction Legato forced him to but he has friends who understand his principles and who are willing to help him pull himself together and reaffirm him. Without Legato there to keep Vash dwelling on his failure it’s only a matter of time before the hard won influence Legato has over Vash is entirely lost. At the same time, if Legato was around to keep a knee in Vash’s back then he wouldn’t have that influence in the first place.

Now Klaus Wolfenbach hasn’t been defeated once and for all. It’s instructive, then, to note that his setbacks so far all stem from incomplete information and actions that make sense for a man of his means and desires. He’s trying to safeguard Europa – and possibly the legacy of the last two Heterodynes – through his raw brilliance and political power but he’s not omniscient so naturally he’s going to have shortcomings. But ultimately his massive power hasn’t really posed a direct threat to the continent or the legend of the Heterodyne boys. Outside of possible hounding their only living Heterodyne to her death, verdict’s still out on that one.

Villains represent a lot in a story but I feel their most important role is as a voice for the audience’s dark side. As such, they both need to be portrayed as human beings with real, understandable if not relatable motivations and we have to see how their methods don’t serve those goals as part of our understanding why the hero is a person worth understanding and emulating. Otherwise a hero is just a moralistic tool, not a tool for character growth. And we should want character growth from our stories – particularly those about good and evil – for everyone, the characters and ourselves.

Next week we’ll look at two ways to build villains, sure to help you whether you just want to iron out an idea in your head or fill in an evil shaped hole in a story mostly written. See you then!

The Art of Evil – Ascendancy and Apotheosis

Last week we talked about a villain’s impact and the week before we talked about a villain’s motives, this week it’s time to start talking about how the two intersect. The hardest part about a villain is finding a defining moment and getting that to sync up with the villain’s modus operandi while bringing the full force of their villainous presence to the scene and doing it all while playing to the villain’s motives and purposes in the story.

This week we’re primarily going to be drawing from the top half of our villain’s list, which you can find here, because these villains are the best. The biggest reason they’re the best is because they hit these moments the best.

Stories typically have three acts (for a bunch of reasons I won’t go into here) and in those acts the main characters go through various kinds of development. In a hero vs. villain story the villain is a main character and they also go through a development of sorts, a development I think of as ascendancy, apotheosis and defeat. Not all three of these steps in development need to be a defining moment but, at the same time, if you don’t define your villain in one of them, but rather on some side tangent, your villain is probably not the right one for your story, as their methods or goals are actually drawing them away from your story, not towards it and that’s not good for your narrative.

This week we’re just going to look at ascendency and apotheosis, the parts of your villain’s arc where said villain is established as something the hero must deal with. This is what makes the villain a danger to the hero and those the hero cares for. It sets the stakes of the conflict and tells us how much the hero will need to overcome in order to secure victory. Without a solid implementation of these first two acts a villain will be very limited in what he can accomplish in the third.

Ascendancy begins the moment your villain’s threat to the heroes is established. As soon as someone feels threatened by the villain you’re building that villain in the audience’s mind and preparing them for the later stages of the narrative. Not many villains have a defining moment here, in fact the only one on the list is Maleficent, who’s cursing of Aurora is pretty definitive for her character. But all the top villains have clear moments of ascendancy.

Bridget’s casual manipulation of Sam’s partner, Miles, via guile and sex appeal establishes her as a smooth operator. Dio’s beating his rival bloody in a fist fight is both a clear declaration of war and a moment that establishes the streetwise brat as cunning and ruthless long before he acquires any kind of supernatural powers. That moment when Vader picks through dead rebel troopers and strangles their captain to death? That’s the beginning of an ascendancy so pronounced you can still buy Halloween costumes of the man even though he hasn’t been in a theatrical film in eleven years. (A cameo of his helmet in Episode Seven doesn’t count.) Legato’s first meeting with Vash is chilling less for what happens and more for how Vash reacts – we never see Vash show anything like dread up until that point. Klaus’ almost casual outmaneuvering of Dr. Beetle, in spite of the latter’s obvious genius and on hand firepower, are a testament to the Baron’s insight and guts.

While it’s rarely the defining moment of a villains career, ascendancy is the foundation of that career. Villains can get away without a clear moment of apotheosis or defeat but if they aren’t properly established they will fall flat the first time your story needs them to step up and do their job. Establish your villain as a threat, whether to the hero’s life, reputation or happiness, so that when it’s time for the hero to actually clash with them your audience will buy in to the stakes.

Apotheosis comes the moment your villain reaches maximum threat potential and starts going after the hero for reals. It’s also when most villains have their defining moment and, oddly enough, also the only one of the these three acts in the villain’s story that can be safely done away with. Typically apotheosis is somewhere between the middles of the second and third acts, coming just before the hero gets a huge setback and leading into the final confrontation. Before apotheosis the villain is typically following some goal that affects the hero somehow but doesn’t relate to the hero directly. After apotheosis the villain is directly concerned with the hero and the dangers their heroics pose to the villain’s ends.

A perfect example of apotheosis is Darth Vader’s defining moment – “I am your father.”

Up until that point Vader was working against the Rebel Alliance, sure, but it wasn’t like there was a personal vendetta with Luke. Testing the Death Star, running down rebellion bases and taking part in the occasional starfighter battle certainly cause Luke problems but that was basically collateral, not the real point of Vader’s actions. Not until Vader understood who Luke was did his real desire come into focus – joining together and ruling the galaxy as father and son. And, let’s be real, based on Vader’s behavior up until that point ruling things isn’t really something he was really interested in. He wanted his son to see him as a father.

What’s a little tyranny and genocide compared to that?

Dio’s defining moment is also his moment of apotheosis. In case you’ve forgotten it goes like this:

That never gets old.

While Dio had been fighting his surviving enemies for a little bit up until that point he clearly hadn’t been taking it seriously. It’s at this exact moment that Dio stops taking the measure of his enemies and starts to pick them off. So how is this the intersection between his motive and his impact? That’s a little more abstract.

What Dio ultimately wants is just to live forever and as an immortal vampire, untouched by time, his body is frozen at the age the stone mask turned him into a creature of the night. (Yes, a stone mask. No time to explain here, move along.) What’s interesting about The World is that it basically inverts things and freezes everything else in time and leaves Dio to move on alone. In a much more literal sense it puts him beyond time. The World makes Dio immortal twice.

Legato’s apotheosis can be easy to miss as it’s also the moment of his death. Unlike Dio and Vader, who have fairly lengthy periods of apotheosis, Legato is almost entirely ascendancy. He directs the Gung Ho Guns against Vash, killing the ones he spares as a way to mock him, all the while cutting an incredibly bloody swath through the rest of the planet, his contempt and sadism a weapon against the stain that is humanity, until just seeing him sends chills down your spine. When he confronts Vash directly it seems like they’re going to fight normally. Then Legato bows under the gun and Vash kills him.

That wouldn’t look at all like a crowning achievement if you didn’t understand that the only goal to penetrate Legato’s nihilism was to force Vash to betray his principles and take a human life. Fortunately that much was made abundantly clear beforehand and when Legato slumps over, dead, we know he’s marked Vash forever.

Bridget is a perfect example of a villain who doesn’t need a moment of apotheosis. She runs a lot of schemes and double crosses but none of them brings her into direct conflict with Sam. While it’s hard to say for sure, most villains without apotheosis seem to be in stories like The Maltese Falcon where heroes only achieve moral victories and no one walks away really happy. If anyone can think of a story where that’s not the case please let me know. This might be a function of the way apotheosis sets the stage for direct conflict between hero and villain – indirect conflicts where hero and villain are at odds over peripheral matters are much more likely to turn out a wash.

Klaus has at least three moments of apotheosis because he goes through multiple villainous arcs (as do Vader and Dio, really) but his most memorable one is when he kills Lars trying to capture Agatha. There’s a kind of kinship between Klaus and Lars, a fact the Baron himself alludes to, but not even that, combined with the fact that he doesn’t know of anything wrong the troubadours Agatha’s traveling with has done, stops him from cutting a swath through them to get at Agatha. A few of them may die and their livelihood get wrecked, but Agatha is a threat to the peace and safety of Europa and Klaus Wolfenbach is sworn to protect that. No matter what the cost.

While villains can hit apotheosis anywhere in your story it’s important not to let it happen too soon because a villain at the peak of their powers should be an unstoppable menace that pushes heroes to the very edge of defeat. The life of a hero can’t be easy or everyone would be one – and we know that’s not the case. A villain who hits apotheosis early either has to step back from the story, which can actually undercut their impact (see Kefka), or can get taken out too soon and leave your story aimless.

Come back next week and we’ll defeat ten villains at once, then see where that leaves us.

The Art of Evil – The Silence and the Horror

After defeating over twenty enemies, including an orangutan, a man with two left hands and a hyper intelligent infant, making it to Egypt and finally locating their nemesis the Stardust Crusaders found themselves locked in a frantic battle with Dio Brando, running through the streets of Cairo at night and hoping to last until sunrise would come and end the wretched vampire for good. Hoping to buy time Noriaki Kakyoin deployed a trap intended to keep Dio from moving. A split second later, dazed and confused, Kakyoin lay in the wreckage of a window, his trap destroyed and his life bleeding out.

Initially the moment made as little sense to the audience as it did to Kakyoin himself. Bu then we saw things from Dio’s perspective and, for the first time, heard Dio invoke his own power by name – The World – and time stopped.

Welcome back to The Art of Evil. We’re talking about villains and we’re doing it using these guys and these guys. Today we’re talking about the most misunderstood part of villains – their impact. Let me explain.

The best characters have a defining moment and villains are no exception. For Dio Brando there’s no doubt it was when he first stopped time. “Za Warudo” is probably his definitive catchphrase (give or take “road roller da”).  He was always a flamboyant villain given to dramatic posturing, as all JoJo villains are, but The World and it’s ability to stop time wiped all other characteristics from most people’s memories. He’s not so much a vampire, immortal or vindictive rival in most people’s minds. He’s just the villain who could stop time (and occasionally drop a road roller on people.)

By the same token, Yzma is a villain defined entirely by how she uses (and is foiled by) her minion, Krunk. Let’s face it – Krunk is never going to pull the right lever. But Yzma can’t actually succeed in her plans without him. Even if she came up with some plan she could do on her own Kuzko would never take her seriously and the audience probably wouldn’t either. She wouldn’t be such a fun, bumbling villain with a different MO.

Legato Bluesummers is terror in white. He shows no remorse when he’s cracking people’s minds open and forcing them to kill themselves. There’s a sequence where he forces a man to rip his own heart out – off screen, thankfully – which will never-the-less haunt you for months. But beyond all that there’s an apathy about the man, a failure to acknowledge his fellow man as in any way worthy of his attention, that instantly paints him as a bad guy before he ever does anything remotely evil. And his background music is perdition on a six string.

Darth Vader is possibly the best example of a villain who has all three factors combined. Like Dio, he has a defining moment of mastery, when his power over the hero is at it’s apogee – “No, Luke. I am your father.”

He has a clear modus operandi in the way he simply walks through battlefields and takes what he wants. Vader never flinches in combat until the moment of his ultimate defeat. He’s only denied victory once before that, and that pretty much by chance due to a good shot in the Death Star trench run. He doesn’t need help from minions and he never flinches even in the presence of Chewbacca, the greatest physical powerhouse in the Star Wars franchise.

And anyone who tells you Darth Vader doesn’t have presence is lying. He was voiced by James Earl Jones for crying out loud. That’s a presence and a half all on it’s own. With the costume design and excellent physical performance tied in he’s got enough stage presence for four normal villains put together.

These three things apply to villains who aren’t direct physical threats as well. Consider Louis Renault. His presence is slick, polished and charming. He manipulates the local bureaucracy and political powers to get sex, money and comfort. His definitive moment is when he turns his back on his old attitude and stands up to the people he used to look to as provider of his comfort and easy life and Rick proclaims, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Any villain with a strong modus operandi and a striking presence are well on their way to fulfilling the first two purposes of villains – inciting conflict and opposing heroes. But it’s very easy to lapse into the habit of thinking that’s all you need.

Don’t get me wrong, you can get good villains out of characters who are all MO and presence, like the Borg from Star Trek or Agent Smith from The Matrix. But great villains need a great defining moment, as well. And normally, defining moments don’t rest on how the character fights against the heroes or how cool the villain can look, they tend to rest on the villain’s motives or thoughts at the moment. (Dio is an exception because he’s that cool.)

Think about Vader or Louis – Vader claims Luke as a son because his goal is influence over his son. Louis rebels against the Nazis because the peace of mind he values so much is clearly not going to last under their rule. It’s this added layer of depth that lets these villains create such a lasting impact. They have motives that drive them, motives we understand, and it hits us hard when we catch a glimpse of them and realize we might be closer to these people than we’re comfortable with.

Many people think of villains strictly in terms of how they oppose heroes or how cool they look. But frankly, most all of the ways a villain can do that have been done before, and in recent memory. That’s why this post is kind of short compared to others – those aspects of impact are the parts that’re frequently gotten right in villainous portrayals. Probably because they’re easier to understand. But getting a great defining moment requires you to go a level deeper, dig into what makes your villain tick and how the audience will click with them.

That deeper level, the level of motivation that can be understood and related to, adds a lot to the character. But the most important part of these two factors, motivation and impact, is how they intersect. Tune in next week as we look at that point, and why it’s the most important moment in your villain’s career.

The Art of Evil – Anything You Want

So why take the road of villainy?

Well at first glance that’s a stupid question, because it really can be for anything a character wants. But, while specifics will vary from case to case, there are three broad categories of villainous motivation and each brings with it natural hang-ups that can drive conflict with heroes. It’s important to nail down these motives ahead of time, both because it will help you work out the plot of your story and because knowing a villain’s motivation helps you line up their resistance to the high road with your audience’s, which is an important part of villain building.

As usual we’ll be using our ten case studies (here and here) as examples so if you haven’t looked at those yet or you just need a refresher there you go.

The most common villainous motivation is Power. For the purposes of the discussion we’re having from here on out that term refers to the ability to cause physical or, if you prefer, material changes in the world. Blowing something up, killing a person or even more neutral things like spaceflight or cheap, clean energy are examples of power. Another way to think of power as a motivation is the ability to control circumstances.

Yzma, Bill Cypher, Louis Renault and Brigid O’Shaughnessy all seek to control the world around them to some extent, whether by obtaining and keeping high office as with Yzma and Louis, plain getting rich and buying off those around her as with Brigid, or just making it into the world as we know it to wreak havoc as Bill tried to do.

Of course the biggest power villain on the list is Klaus, who hammers every problem in his empire with his iron fist. It’s not that Klaus doesn’t recognize subtlety, he just only uses it when he has to. Most of the time Klaus just tells people what he wants to happen and they make it happen. If they can’t, Klaus builds something that will make it happen. Maintaining this status quo is very important to Klaus, in fact it seems to be the most important thing in his life, and while that’s not always admirable it is understandable.

Power villains cause conflict when the circumstances they want don’t match those of the hero, when the cost of pursuing those circumstances hurts the hero or the costs just become outright reprehensible. While there may be other ways to solve a villain’s problems, power often seems like the safest or most certain route, which is why they tend to ignore more heroic options.

In contrast to power, Influence is a motivation that has nothing to do with circumstance and everything to do with perception. A villain seeking influence cares most about how people will see the world and, usually, the villain in relation to it. Consider Maleficent, for example. She didn’t want anything more than to be recognized as being of equal importance to her peers in the fairy realm. The circumstances of Aurora’s parents aren’t important to her, neither is ensuring her own position, which she no doubt views as perfectly secure. She just wants her due respect.

Darth Vader is also a villain seeking influence. He has as much physical and political power as a person could ever want. But in A New Hope he can’t get his teacher to acknowledge him. In the following two films, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Vader is trying to get his son to change sides and work with him. Vader is not spending his power on mastery over his circumstances, he’s using it to try and change the way others look at him.

The last example is an outlier in that Legato Bluesummers wasn’t particularly trying to change the way Vash looked at him. Rather, Legato’s main concern was with Vash’s philosophy. Legato hated the human race and reveled in causing it misery and he apparently couldn’t coexist in a world with a man who treasured humanity. His entire purpose in life and death is to force Vash to abandoned his world view. Legato wanted influence over Vash’s mind but in regards to general outlook, rather than specifics.

Influence villains basically only clash with heroes when they have to apply some kind of coercion to make people share their views or their views are somehow directly harmful to others. They typically try and change other people’s minds because the alternative would be to make deep, difficult changes to themselves and they’d rather not indulge in the introspection or emotional pain that entails.

Finally, the lure of Immortality is the main driving force for many villains, although it’s probably the rarest. While rarely the first priority for most villains the idea of legacy, a kind of immortality, is certainly in the minds of many. But there are those villains that are driven purely by the desire to live forever.

Whether it’s immortality through longevity or legacy, most villains who seek immortality run in to trouble when their means to immortality is inherently unethical or has unexpected consequences.

Dio likes the power being a vampire gets him, bit mostly because it gives him the chance to live forever. Likewise, he comes into conflict with most of his opposition because he must kill to stay alive. It’s unlikely that Joseph and Jotaro would ever have fought Dio if he hadn’t stolen the body of their ancestor but Dio could never have survived to the modern era if he hadn’t. Thus, as Joseph said, their conflict was essentially inevitable.

Slade Wilson is an example of a villain motivated by legacy as a form of immortality. He wants Robin to take over his position as an underworld kingpin, even if he has to twist Robin’s mind to do it. Later, when Robin turns him down, Slade finds another potential successor and finally goes whole hog and makes a deal with a pseudo devil to, you guessed it, live forever.

And Klaus, while not driven primarily by immortality, still wants a stable succession to what he’s built and for people to maintain positive images of his friends, the Heterodynes.

For the villain who wants immortality, the fear of death or concern for the things they’ve built override all other concerns, and so they simply have no regard for the harm their actions cause. This is probably the hardest argument for straying from the path of righteousness to swallow for most people. So, like Slade or Dio, we tend to find immortality villains warped when we first find them but only driven to the point of villainy when they get some fleeting glimpse of potential immortality. Klaus is the other possible approach – portraying a character who doesn’t fully see the consequences of his pursuit of immortality and thus doesn’t realize they are more harmful than the perceived evils he is putting off.

What you may have already gathered is that there is nothing inherently evil about what motivates great villains. That’s to be expected, since villains are supposed to be represent the audience in some way so they have to be motivated by things the audience can understand. Consider a man who robs banks. If he does it just for the sake of having money few people will relate. But if it’s for the purposes of buying off loan sharks, a kind of power, that’s something most people will understand. Same for someone needing money to make a good impression, which is influence, or someone trying to finance a computer that will store their mind after their body dies.

Sadly, many villains today are shown as driven entirely by immediate goals – money for the sake of money, hatred for the sake of hatred. Rather than having clear, understandable goals they’re driven by monomania or barely comprehensible philosophies. This is not the way to great villains.

What I think happens frequently is that a villain’s methods are confused with their goals. We need to talk more about villainous goals but first we need to dive into a villain’s impact, a catch-all term for their presence, their memorable actions and their important lines. That seems to be where many villains focus – which makes sense since that is what’s memorable about them. Then we’ll step back and look at the synthesis of desire and impact and how it makes villains great. See you next week.

The Art of Evil – For What Purpose?

We’ve looked at ten definitive villains (see here and here) so now it’s time to start looking at the principles underlying good villains. But before we plunge into the characters themselves we need to ask what the point of a villain is in terms of narrative, that is to say, when a writer sets out to write a villain what roles in the story is a villain supposed to play?

Every story needs different things, of course, but it’s also important to know what circumstances bring out the most in your tools. Likewise, villains are a very flexible archetype but there are some things they have to do in order to count as villains – if they don’t you may need to start thinking of your character as more of an antihero or perhaps just a morally gray actor. While none of these criteria are terribly groundbreaking without them the effectiveness of most villains will be seriously undercut and even the best written story will suffer some.

Villains are the inciting force. 

Heroes almost never start out as heroes. While stories may open with their heroic course already set, and we learn about their motives over the course of the story, remember that at some point that hero probably wasn’t dedicated to setting wrongs right. And when you dig back to the reason those heroes took up the mantel you will always find the villain(s) in one way or another.

The good fairies wouldn’t have taken up their heroic roles if Maleficent hadn’t cursed Princes Aurora. The Pines family wouldn’t have come face to face with the supernatural if Bill Cypher hadn’t reached out to them first. Kuzko definitely wouldn’t have turned into a llama if not for Yzma.

Villains set the hero on their course for the story, if not in life, and as such do a lot to set the tone of the story and, in some ways, the tone of the hero involved (except when the villain is a deliberate reversal of the hero, as with Legato). Make sure your villain can set the tone of the conflict quickly.

Villains are the source of greatest opposition. 

While Bill Cypher shares screen time with several other villains in Gravity Falls he’s clearly the most dangerous of them. The JoJo mythos has many villains aside from Dio but none of them ever fight four seasoned Stand users, and to members of the Joestar lineage, all at once. With the exception of the Pillar Men, all the other major villains tie back to Dio in some way or another. And Darth Vader, although beholden to the Emperor, is still the most forceful presence on the screen throughout the classic Star Wars films.

We’re going to look at menace and power in villains more in the future but for now, the point is your story’s villain is the one who causes the heroes the most trouble. Say you have a story about a cop fighting a mobster, in which said cop spends more time infighting with other cops than actual mobsters. That’s a muddled story because the villain isn’t clear. Is it the mobster or the other cops? Get it clear in your head. Make it clear to your audience (although not necessarily your characters). And, as much as possible, downplay the other side of the conflict so that your villain can shine.

Or whatever it is villains do when the audience is enjoying them.

Villains speak on behalf of the audience. 

Yes, really. The thing about most heroes is that, in addition to being more capable than most people, they have to face more struggles, work harder and hold themselves to higher standards than the average Joe. Most people look at characters with principles like Vash’s and as themselves why bother?

Heroes are generally something to aspire to. But if aspiring to them was all it took then the world would be a much better place. The truth is, most people don’t live like heroes because it’s hard. To be a hero is to serve others and maintain principles, to give up what we want for a greater good that we may never see. And generally it’s a thankless task. Narratively, villains tend to embody many of the reasons a person would choose not to be a hero.

Look at Louis or Klaus. One just wants to get some enjoyment out of life, maybe a benefit or two from his career as a police officer. The other is driven by half-forgotten friendships, family ties and a sense of responsibility. These are understandable motives when they drive people to live out great principles but they’re also very understandable motives when they drive people to abandon principles.

Of all the villains we’re studying none embodies this more than Legato Bluesummers. It’s true that there are thankfully very few people in the world who will embrace Legato’s nihilism, sadism and murderous tendencies but those characteristics are not what makes him relatable. It’s his role in questioning Vash’s idealism. Vash will not kill. Legato pushes him to do so but he does it by offering situations where we can feel that yes, killing a person here would probably be justified. When he asks Vash whether letting a man live is a greater evil than killing him, because a dead villain can’t cause any further evil while a living one almost certainly will, we understand because that’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves from the very beginning.

Villains have a tendency to become more popular than their heroes and, if I had to point to a single reason for that, it would be the fact that villains are closer to everyday audiences than heroes. When a villain fails sometimes it’s because of poor presentation, sometimes it’s because of poor storytelling, but most often what really pushes it over the edge is a villain who fights for the most unrelatable of reasons. Part of what brings the audience to the hero’s point of view is watching him overcome your villain’s objections to his or her philosophy. But if your audience wouldn’t fight a hero for the reasons your villain would then the effect is lost and your villain is much more likely to fail.

You do still get to have your villain fight in whatever insane way you want, that’s part of the fun. It’s the motives and the arguments that have to be understandable. So how do we make the jump from the narrative’s needs to the character’s portrayal? Well, tune in next week when we talk about what drives villains.

The Art of Evil – Ten Villains to Know and Loathe (Part Two)

For the overview of what’s going on here and the first four villains on the list check out this post.

6 – Captain Louis Renault (Casablanca

Louis is a villain. Let’s make that clear from the get go. He extorts money from businesses, abuses his power to carry on affairs with desperate women and shows no loyalty to anyone. He even conspires to see his prisoners murdered. He stands in the way of the heroic Victor Lazlo and frequently backs the greater villain, Major Strausser. His heart is his  least vulnerable spot.

Yes, he is a villain redeemed. Even he can take only so much and finally breaks down and throws in his lot with Rick, Ilsa and Victor. But he was never, even for a second, a good person before.

Louis displays the full breadth of what can be accomplished with a good villain. What he does isn’t good but it is understandable. He’s over a barrel with the Nazis and with everyone else in town is getting theirs, why should Captain Renault be any different? We also understand why, when it comes down to the wire, he makes a break to the other side. He’s had enough of seeing his friends on eggshells. He doesn’t want to be looked down on anymore. And maybe it feels better to be a good guy than a bad guy, too. A lot of stories have tried to replicate Louis’ character arc in the decades since Casablanca. What few of them understood was that his greatness as a sympathetic character is partly defined by his gleeful and almost entirely unrepentant villainy.

5 – Brigid O’Shaughnessy (The Maltese Falcon

The greatest strategist on this list is also the original femme fatale. (Bet you weren’t expecting that.) This classic villain takes Sam Spade and his partner on a wild ride from beginning to end, ruthlessly manipulating the detectives, cutting down enemies and dodging blame like a nonstick pan decades before Teflon would be invented.

O’Shaughnessy might be a surprising pick given how thoroughly all the characters in this story were outwitted – the prize they were fighting over was worthless, after all. She also doesn’t seem like much of an opposing force. After all, she actually wants Sam to get the Falcon for her, so they’re not working at odds… or so it would seem. But since she is the murderer of Sam’s partner, and that’s something he has to clear up as a matter of principle, they are at cross purposes, even if Sam doesn’t know it.

Brigid is a study in understated villainy. While nothing she does seems bad on the surface once the full depths of her character is understood, the degree with which she’s ruthlessly manipulated people for her own goals and the lack of feeling she shows when those she exploits die speak powerfully to how twisted she’s become in her pursuit of the Falcon. She’s a cold woman and has a well deserved spot on this list.

4 – Dio Brando (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

He murders a dog. He does it by tying up the animal and tossing it in a garbage incinerator to burn to death when the trash is disposed of. The sound of the poor creature kicking against the door as it burns will haunt you for life.

Not convinced of his villainy yet? He also poisoned his foster father, who had raised him with care and love. He tried to steal the Joestar (yes, really) family fortune from his foster brother and willingly became a vampire to facilitate his ambitions. He stole the body of Jonathan Joestar after killing him and, after a hundred years at the bottom of the ocean he returned with the power of Stand to threaten the Joestars once more. It would ultimately take three generations of the Joestar lineage to bring an end to Dio, a man of unfathomable talent, charisma and ambition but very little notion of human kindness or decency.

Much of Dio’s impact lies in his presentation. From his arrogant boasting to his clever manipulations, Dio is always the spitting image of someone we have known and hated, whether for good reason or not. That very mundane kind of loathing, combined with his incredible power and generations spanning threat, combine to make him a very unsettling kind of evil. Dio is the kind of villain we all hope to eventually get away from.

He’s also the reminder that we never really will. The sheer scope of Dio’s life and impact on the world is staggering. Although it would take a hundred years and the efforts the six heroes known as the Stardust Crusaders to end Dio for good the results of his actions echoed through every chapter of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, a comic that has run for nearly thirty years. While presentation earned him a spot on this list the sheer scope of his villainy is enough to push him to fourth place.

3 – Darth Vader (Star Wars Episodes IV, V, IV

In 1977 Darth Vader walked through an airlock, over the bodies of his enemies and into cinema legend as one of the most recognizable villains to ever grace the silver screen. He projected menace and power, crushed his enemies and nearly pulled a hero from the path of righteousness. His silhouette alone is instantly recognizable. To bring him to life required the towering presence of a bodybuilder, with a stunt double to fill in for his lightsaber battles, two separate costume designers, one to build his suit and another to craft his skull like helmet, the boneshaking bass voice of James Earl Jones and a sound design team to add in the uncanny rasping of his breath. Any character portrayed in film is a mix of multiple contributors but Vader combined the parts so thoroughly, made each piece so much a part of the identity, that to remove one would be to destroy the character in his entirety. Like a chimera or Frankenstein’s creature, Vader is many parts stitched together into a single whole. His very existence is somewhat monstrous.

Yes, I’ve said that all before. That doesn’t make it any less true now.

But Vader is also an example of something else – he is a villain redeemed. In spite of his unsettling presence, no matter the depths of the evil we see him endorse, he’s also a villain who is redeemed. From the human perspective redemption is not about atonement, which is a thing we cannot do, but about repentance. Many people have protested that simply saving the life of his son should not be enough to turn Darth Vader from the path of damnation because it couldn’t make up for all the wrongs he’d done.

He let Alderaan blow up. In one of the few things the prequels did to increase the impact of the original trilogy, he murdered children. (You may now commence the hate.) Let’s face facts – it wouldn’t matter what Vader did it wouldn’t make up for the wrong he’d done.

Vader’s moment of redemption come’s when he repents of his evil, demonstrates that by throwing off the evil that bound him (literally) and seeking forgiveness from the only person he could before he died – his son, Luke. In this character arc Darth Vader shows the tragedy of a true villain. For all his evil he never got close to peace or happiness. His moment of rede

2 – Legato Bluesummers (Trigun

On the planet of Gunsmoke the descendants of a failed human colony fleet eek out a meager existence, doing their best to keep failing technology running while outlaws run rampant and threaten the peace. One of the greatest outlaws – supposedly – is Vash the Stampede, a gunslinger of superhuman abilities and endless bloodlust.

Or not. Vash is actually a goofball who would rather eat pancakes than shoot his gun and bends over backwards to keep everyone, even his enemies, alive to see another day. He loves life, his own and others, and he wants everyone to get all they can out of it.

Legato Bluesummers is his exact opposite.

As the commander of the Gung Ho Guns and the chief minion to Vash’s sociopathic brother Millions Knives (yes, really) Legato has only one purpose in life: To show Vash that his philosophy is worthless.

Where Vash tries to lift people up and inspire them to perfect themselves, Legato’s first attack is carried out by a man who was bought a slave and spent most of his life training to become a killing machine for the sole purpose of fighting Vash. Where Vash delights in times of peace for the people around him, Legato uses his powers to control them into forced suicides, reveling in the horror they feel as they realize they can no longer control themselves.

Did I not mention the Gung Ho Guns all have superhuman powers? They kind of need them to fight Vash. Even the names of Legato’s subordinates are on point – Monev the Gale, Dominique the Cyclops, E.G. Mine, Rai-Dei the Blade, Leonof the Puppetmaster, Gray the Ninelives, Hoppered the Gauntlet, Zazie the Beast, Caine the Longshot, Midvalley the Hornfreak and Chapel the Evergreen.

But they all answer to Legato, and it’s no wonder given that he can take over their body pretty much any time he wants. Ultimately, not even Vash can beat Legato’s powers. Vash is immune to control, sure, but he has friends who aren’t. And Legato doesn’t need to kill Vash, he just needs to prove that Vash’s Vash’s commitment to not killing is untenable. So he asks Vash who should die.

And as Vash’s finger squeezes the trigger, Legato smiles. When he dies, he’s won.

Legato Bluesummers is the villain at his most horrifying. By standing against everything that’s good in a hero he calls those values into question and by breaking the hero he reminds us that nothing is certain, even those things most worthwhile.

Legato is also the villain at his most necessary. Because when Vash slowly pieces himself back together, collects himself and asks if it’s still worthwhile to stand by his values he decides it is. And that makes the story all the stronger. It’s what makes Legato Bluesummers such a valuable villain to understand. And it’s what makes him the strongest villain on this list, perhaps one of the best ever written.

So why is he number two? Well, my friends, that’s because we need to talk about…

Baron Klaus Wolfenbach (Girl Genius)

When Bill and Barry Heterodyne traveled the length and breadth of Europe, saving towns, defeating monsters, discovering SCIENCE! and generally making the continent a better place, Klaus Wolfenbach was right beside them. When they united the continent and Bill got married Klaus went off to parts unknown. Three years later he returned with his son on his back to find his two best friends missing, his castle in ruins and all the old feuds raging once again.

That was when he decided, in his own words, “No more negotiations, no more second chances. We did it my way – and it worked.”

Now Klaus Wolfenbach, lord of Castle Wolfenbach, keeper of the Pax Transylvania, rules all of Europe from the mountains of Romania to the walls of Paris. He expects local rulers to keep public works in order, does his best to keep taxes fair and generally tries not to intervene in local politics unless there’s another childish spat brewing. There’s no room for heroes in the Wolfenbach Empire, the Baron’s troops have a handle on things – and Klaus has put all the monsters to work anyways, thankyouverymuch.

The Corbettites keep the trains running through the wastelands and most people can live halfway comfortably without ever having to leave their city-states. The exceptional can catch the eye of the Baron or a local Spark and turn their genius to science, so long as they leave certain kinds of research to the Baron. Life goes smoothly in the Wolfenbach Empire. It’d be nice if Klaus could enjoy it.

The strangest thing about Klaus is that the whole iron-booted overlord schtick doesn’t sit well with him. He doesn’t want to babysit petulant children like the local lords and ladies, he doesn’t enjoy power half as much as his research, he hasn’t seen his wife in years. But…

There are the Heterodynes. No one’s sure what’s happened to them and Klaus sure seems to miss his friends and he takes their legacy pretty seriously, to the point where he lets people write or perform any kind of nonsense about their adventures they want, no matter how bad he looks in the story (so long as it’s funny). And there’s the Other, the mysterious being who waged war with all Europe for two years before vanishing into the mists of history along with the Heterodyne brothers. Perhaps most of all there’s the sense of responsibility. He just can’t seem to step away and leave Europe to ruin itself.

If that means he has to hunt possible Heterodyne heirs over hill and stream to make sure they stay out of trouble, seize any artifacts of the Other and incarcerate everyone related to them, carve his way through the Other’s brainwashed servants, imprint his own personality on his son to keep him from the Other’s influence and ultimately lock an entire town outside the flow of time

Well, these are the compromises one must make.

Nothing demonstrates Klaus’s potential for villainy than his treatment of his son, Gilgamesh. You see, Klaus is a good father. Maybe even a great one. He makes time for his son, teaches him the ropes of life, both as the ruler of a large nation and as a scientist. When Gil goes out and wins his first great battle Klaus drags himself out of his hospital bed, ignoring his doctor’s orders, and watches it happen. As Gil emerges victorious he returns to bed, considering the pain and potential long term consequences of his actions a small price to pay for witnessing his son’s success. He’s a tough but fair and, in many ways, doting father.

That doesn’t keep him from driving a wedge between Gil and his romantic interests and later engaging in preemptive brainwashing to keep Gil from being influenced by the Other.

Klaus is riddled with contradictions like this. He takes in the Heterodyne’s minions, the Jaegers, because in the past they were feared across the continent. And he owes the Heterodynes, so he’ll look after what’s theirs. He then turns the Jaegers into his own personal storm troops and makes their reputation even worse. He keeps the peace with an iron heel that breeds even more unrest than existed in the past. He approaches every problem with an attitude and desires that are understandable, even normal. But his methods and the outcomes are frequently horrific.

Klaus is the everyman’s villain. Not because he’s normal – in fact, he’s a spark, a mad genius with an intellectual capacity beyond the merely mortal. He comes from a long line of sparks and holds a hereditary title. He’s charismatic, more than a little lucky, dresses great and has the respect of pretty much every other monster out there. But people can have all those things and never amount to anything. What drives him to villainy – friendship, idealism, family – those are things we all understand.

It makes his villainy all the more relatable, disappointing and, sometimes, inspiring. We’d all like to know or be someone like Klaus. It’s very easy to say we wouldn’t go as far as he would but, as the man himself reminds us, actually making good on that promise can be very hard.

The best part about Klaus is that his story isn’t finished. That’s the biggest reason he’s a wildcard on this list, we don’t know the full breadth of his plans, motives and circumstances yet. Until we do he could be anything – a villain, redeemed or otherwise, an antihero or even a hero in his own right, if a very dark one. Until we know for sure he has to be a bit of an enigma to us, and for this reason he’s not officially ranked on this list. Although with all I’ve said, how could he be anything but the best?

The Art of Evil – Ten Villains to Know and Loath (Part One)

Modern fiction has a problem with villains.

Well, maybe not. It could just be that the majority of any kind of popular undertaking is lousy but over time the good stuff becomes timeless and the bad stuff is forgotten, giving the impression that things were better in the past when, in fact, they were no different. But right now modern pop culture seems to have a problem presenting compelling villains. And so, for the next month or two, we’re going to go down the rabbit hole and talk about the other half of a great good vs. evil story.

And this is about good versus evil, or at least normal versus evil. The Art of Evil is not about protagonist and antagonist, it’s explicitly about the second half of a hero and villain equation. Right off the bat this makes the lessons here not applicable everywhere, although some of them have relevance in any story.

Before we start let me stress that what we’re going to be talking are not necessarily things I’ve mastered, or even done well. Part of the reason for writing this is to give me a strong driving reason to dive into the nature of villains in an attempt to uplift my own craft. Hopefully we’ll be making the journey to a better understanding of villains together.

And a second preface is… well the rest of this post. When trying to do something it helps to examine great examples of that thing being done in the past. So The Art of Evil is going to draw heavily on a set of ten villains to serve as those examples. If you want to familiarize yourself with them, or you just want to know what I think some of the greatest villains in fiction are, here’s a list. Don’t feel like you have to go out and watch or read all the source material for these folks – there should be more than one example for everything I want to talk about here so hopefully if you’re not familiar with the villainous context of one character you’ll be able to fill in the blanks with another example. Without further ado, feel free to boo the villains!

Honorable Mentions

Elsa (Frozen

Let me say right of the bat that Elsa is not actually presented as a villain in Frozen. But I think she was meant to be one for a large portion of the film’s development. She fills many of the plot purposes of a traditional villain: A threat to the peace and safety of a large number of people, the primary obstacle for the heroine to overcome and an attitude of callous indifference to how her actions affect others.

Don’t believe that last part? Listen to the song “Let it Go” hard and ask yourself whether the lyrics really sound like something a person worried about hurting others would say. Yes, it’s a kind of teenage rebellion anthem but teenage rebels can be villains as easily as heroes and when they lean that way it’s usually because they’re willing to turn away and slam the door in the face of people who need their help (or sympathy, at the very least). Add to that the fact that the fairy tale character she’s based on, the Snow Queen, was a villain and the case for her being a villain at some point in the creative process looks pretty compelling to me.

Of course, she’s not presented as a full fledged villain in the final product, which is sad because the villain redeemed is a great story line in and of itself and might even have made the story of Frozen more poignant. It certainly would have been better than the somewhat slapdash conclusion we actually got.

Kefka (Final Fantasy Three/Six

Don’t ask about the numbering. Final Fantasy is a weird franchise.

Kefka is the only video game villain explicitly called out on this list (although see The Don’t Knows) and he’s a good example of why video game writing can be good but, due to the needs of the medium, frequently isn’t great.

Our crazy clown is introduced in the opening sequence of the game and he is a thorn in the side for the entirety of the first two acts. He manipulates one hero, runs another out of his ancestral home, schemes against another to ensure she’s proclaimed a traitor and the poisons the water supply of an entire city.

The most interesting thing about Kefka, however, is that he’s laughably weak compared to the heroes and is, in fact, fairly easily run off by them in their early encounters (unless you’re just bad at the game). He’s a fairly unimportant advisor to a powerful military empire – at first. But at the end of the first act, after wiping out the city of Doma, Kefka begins a horrifying ascent to power, political and otherwise, through a series of ruthless manipulations, betrayals, murders and one genocide. By the end of act two he has betrayed his emperor and destroyed the world.

Then, at the beginning of the third act players are left in the ruined world to fend for themselves and Kefka ignores them entirely so they can explore and see how things have changed, destroying all sense of pacing and tension. The heroes have no direct interactions with Kefka again until the very end of the game. It robs him of much of his power and threat. While Kefka is supposedly still a being of power great enough to wipe humanity out in a matter of days the players don’t get to experience that to nearly the extent they got to experience his twisted and heartless ambition in the first two acts.

Of course, this makes the game more fun to play which, let’s face it, is more important than raw story quality for a game. Thus, my assertion that the needs of the medium frequently hold good writing back from being truly great.

Grand Admiral Thrawn (Star Wars novels by Timothy Zahn) 

With blue skin, a taste for art and a touch of compassion, Thrawn was everything the Emperor and Darth Vader were not. Thrawn was a more cultured and insightful villain, frequently interested in his heroes as people as well as pawns, and a deep and more dangerous force of evil for it.

The primary danger from Thrawn was how well he knew his enemies (and fittingly his downfall came from how little he understood his allies). As a tactician he was without peer in the Empire and he once nearly wiped out the Outbound Flight project, colony group with nearly twenty Jedi on board, in spite of having no Force users of his own to draw on. When the old Star Wars continuity was cleared away by Disney one of the first things fans hoped to see again was their favorite blue skinned Admiral. Fortunately the House of Mouse knew a good thing when they saw it and word on the street is he’ll be back with his own novel in 2017, written by the only man who can do Thrawn right.

That said, Thrawn wasn’t a perfect villain. Although he was a great schemer the way Zahn writes is not always fair. Thrawn, in particular, relies on an understanding born from art to predict his opponents moves in ways that no real person could do. While Zahn typically writes “fair” strategies relying on information available to readers and inferences they could draw themselves some of the leaps of logic Thrawn makes are either not quite fair or rely on an understanding of “alien psychology” that exists only in the author’s head. Hardly a deal breaker, but just enough of a drawback to keep him from edging out other master tacticians on the list like Slade or O’Shaughnessy.

The Don’t Knows – The Joker (Batman), Apocalypse and Dr. Doom (Marvel Comics), Sephiroth (Final Fantasy Seven) and many others not on this list 

The villains listed above (and many more) are villains generally acknowledged as “good” but who’s stories I personally haven’t read/watched/don’t understand well enough to use for the purposes of this project. Or to consider definitive villains for that matter.

Anyone from Actual History 

Real history is complex and makes it difficult to really cast people as villains and, even then, these people rarely fit the needs of a fictional villain well.

Yes, Mr. Small-Moustache-Goose-Stepper is an exception. He is still not on the list. Consider Godwin’s Law in effect for the purposes of this project.

And now…

Ten Villains to Know and Loath

10 – Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove

This lady is a testament to the importance of good HR policy for villains. While she’s not incredibly tough and stern in her own right she does have the remarkably competent Krunk in her corner of the ring. Together the two of them pose a serious threat to Kuzko’s throne where as separate neither one would be truly credible, Krunk for obvious reasons and Yzma because, for all her ambition and very real magical powers, she’s never going to be likable enough to succeed in the ways she really wants.

Yzma and Krunk also embody perfect executions of comical villains. While many comical villains are written as bumblers or otherwise incompetent, thus undercutting their ability to creditably stand in the way of protagonists, Yzma and Krunk have plans that should work but don’t because of their stark contrast in personalities and priorities. By playing these differences for laughs, Yzma’s inability to usurp Kuzko never quite undercuts her threat while still being quite funny. There aren’t many great comedic villains out there and Yzma of one of the best.

9 – Slade Wilson/Deathstroke (Teen Titans

While I don’t know much about the Teen Titans as portrayed in DC Comics I have watched this TV series and Slade is pretty much the perfect villain given it’s tone and target audience. Slade can outthink and outfight the Titans while never giving the impression that he’s overly worried about the outcome. His visual design is sleek and mysterious, adding to his general air of inscrutability. But the capstone on his unpredictability is his single-minded focus on his own legacy. Such an atypical goal made him hard to predict and wrapped another layer of mystery around a man who was already a cipher.

Driven to the point of clashing head on with beings from beyond the walls of the universe, Slade would ultimately pass the doors of death in pursuit of his vision of the future. While it was never clear if he was driven by pride, ideals or something else Slade Wilson never backed down from a fight, regardless of whether it was with Batman’s own protégé, an alien of cosmic power or a cyborg genius. Most strikingly, he did it all without raising his voice, ranting or otherwise breaking with an image of consummate professionalism. Truly an impressive achievement.

8 – Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty

The heavyweights are starting to weigh in. There are few villains in the history of animation that do simple menace as well as Maleficent. From her sickly green color pallet to her eerie entrances and exits to the cold indifference with which she proclaims a death sentence on a newborn child, Maleficent is one of the most hostile figures ever to grace the silver screen. That in and of itself is an accomplishment warranting her place on this list. But when added together with her final apotheosis and battle against the hero and her rival fairies Maleficent becomes a beautiful example of the villain as a spectacle as well.

7 – Bill Cipher (Gravity Falls

There’s a moment, just after he’s introduced, when Bill Cipher snaps his fingers and all the teeth in the mouth of a nearby deer fly out of its mouth. Bill laughs.

A few moments later time reverses and it’s like nothing ever happened. Later, while possessing a human member of the cast, he slams “his” own hand in a drawer because he finds the sensation of pain hilarious. While Bill is obviously powerful, given the many supernatural feats he accomplishes in the first few minutes of our meeting him, it is his incredibly skewed perspective, free of empathy or any notion of human morality, that marks him as truly villainous. He manages to be threatening in spite of just being a triangle with an eye and a top hat and he does it all by setting priorities that will clearly hurt not just the Pines family but anyone who comes into contact with him.

Like Ysma, he’s funny and entertaining in his sociopathy but he’s also an order of magnitude beyond anything the fearless Pines twins will be able to outfight or outwit which makes him all the better as an opposing force.

Tune In Next Time…

Wow, we’ve only covered the first four and we’re already over two thousand words. Guess we’ll have to wrap this up next week! Come back next Friday for more examination of evil’s greatest masterpieces. Hope to see you then!