The Art of Evil – Bad to the Bone

It’s great to have the examples of how to do a thing and know the general theory of how a thing works but how do you go about making the rubber meet the road? How do you go about building the really great villain your story needs? Or do you just want to build a baddie and then tell a story about the problems he causes? Am I going to say anything in this post that’s not a question? Do you really care one way or another?

This week we’re going to look at two approaches to the question of villainy, building a villain to meet the needs of a scenario you already have in mind and figuring out what kind of story best suits a villain you already have in mind.

Making a villain to fit a preexisting scenario is, in my opinion, the more difficult of the two tasks. Assuming you have a hero and scenario in mind you already know what the villain needs to accomplish, and perhaps even how he plans to accomplish it. What you really need to do is ask yourself is, first, what would motivate the villain to do these things that would bring conflict with the hero.

Remember that this conflict shouldn’t be directly with the hero at first, you’re trying to build the villain up in the minds of the audience and that means he needs to be effective and powerful for the first act of the story, if he’s directly confronting the hero and the hero survives then you’re probably undercutting his image – unless, of course, conflict comes in a fairly nonviolent form, such as in a regulated sport or the like. Then let the villain squash the hero as much as you like, it’s an effective way of building him up. But remember that whatever the villain is doing, the difficulties he causes for the hero aren’t intentional at first. The villain probably doesn’t see the hero as a true threat until apotheosis.

So what you really need to do is find something important to the hero and then have the villain bulldoze it. Darth Vader contributed to the murder of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, for example. It had nothing to do with Luke, Vader just needed the Death Star plans, but it was the spark the set Luke on a collision course with him.

Second, the villain should probably be a destructive force. You have a world that exists without a villain and that means the only thing left for that villain to do is disrupt the status quo in some way. While you could conceivably create villains who are entirely constructive in nature doing that when you have a story that needs a villain is likely to leave you with an overstuffed story, full of things about your world or your villain that go unexplored as the old ideas of the story and the new ideas of your villain fight for space. Better not to force it.

Once you have a villain with a motivation and a good idea of how they’re going to wreck the status quo make a list of the things in your story that would get in the villain’s way and have him smash through them in order of least important to most. You now have the outline of your first two acts and the third will naturally be how your hero stepped up and finally stopped him.

If you have a villain but no idea what to do with him, focus on how he got his motivation. Dio Brando was a terrible man but he also came from a dirt poor family with an abusive father. The constant striving for the next meal, to evade the next beating, warped him incredibly. He couldn’t understand Jonathan Joestar’s healthy family or the way JoJo relates to wealth. Dio’s greed and laser focus on having enough to survive is exactly what sparks his conflict with Jonathan.

Try and figure out the kinds of people your villain would naturally come in conflict with as a result of their desires, pick whatever is most interesting to you, then start sketching a history and a conflict between that person and your villain. Again, try not to make it too personal at first, so your villain can naturally grow to apotheosis, then, in the end, let your hero expose the contradictions inherent in your villain.

The villain without a story is the best suited to be a villain who builds, the kind of villain who will entirely change the world in unhealthy ways simply by hardwiring his warped perspective into everything he touches. Louis Renault and Klaus Wolfenbach are perfect examples – each runs his personal fiefdom in accordance with his own principles. Sometimes they even contributed positive things to their personal spheres. But ultimately they leave little room for other people in those spheres, forcing them to sneak through back alleys and fight tooth and nail against authority to accomplish what they hope to do. A perfect source of conflict.

In all of this I stress once again – know why your villain is doing what he’s doing. Most people can think of something evil a villain could do or an intimidating look for them to sport. But humanize the villain and you’ll make people take a serious look at themselves. That’s how memorable villains are made.

Come back on Friday and we’ll look at one last aspect of villain building before we wrap up this little jaunt through the art of villainous writing and move on to something a little more… heroic.

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.