Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Villain As Hero?

If I have to hear one more BS statement about how "Villains always think they're the good guy," I think I'm going to hit someone.

This is a lie. Because it assumes way too much about what happens inside of the villain's head.

Let's face it, every real world vile sumbitch has not, does not, and never has consider "good" or "bad" in their equations. They considered what was good for them. You can always say that they're the hero of their own story, but never, ever say that they think that they're the good guy. 


Because "I'm the hero" is the sort of narcissism you can see in ... anyone selfish enough to pull off villainous deeds. Because each bad guy must start with the premise that "I need to do X to Y because my needs are more important than Ys."

Evil thinks that it is the center of the universe. Of course it's the hero. But the only good they see is their own. 

Let's take the Devil...

Work with me here, I've got a punchline...

Traditionally (no, not Lucifer's non-Christian heresy) Satan literally thinks he knows better than God-- even though it is impossible. Satan sees humans as so beneath angels it's ridiculous. 

"Oh, but Satan was the good guy of Paradise Lost." No, he was the protagonist. There's a difference. So was Dexter in the Jeff Lindsay books. But at the end of the day, Satan would rather reign in Hell, because serving is beneath him. Because "he knows better."

Notice, I am being very picky in my word choice. I'm talking about people who are villains, not necessarily antagonists. I've done this blog before, I'm not doing that again

Villains are evil. To think that they believe themselves as "the good guy" is idiotic. Hell, in most versions of the Joker I've ever seen, he will out and out boast that he's evil and just having so much fun.

Pick a serial killer. Jeffery Dahmer is my usual example. He had a perfectly healthy middle class background growing up .... killed his first victim when he was a teenager. Grew up to be a rapist sodomite and cannibal murderer. Ted Bundy, another psychopath, was a total narcissist who even blamed his victims -- who he strangled to death as he raped them.

Villains don't care about good or bad. Just what they want. They might add some self-justification from time to time ... but that's only for the highly reflective jerks.

And yes, this is not to say that villains are Johnny one note all the time. Perhaps one of the better bits from Man of La Mancha is where we find a caravan of thugs singing to a bird "with the gentility of truly brutal men."

Don't believe me? Hitler was a vegetarian who painted roses. Eichmann -- despite every filmed attempt to make him look sinister -- was the most boring bureaucrat ever tried for mass murder, who out and out said "Every time I thought about what I was doing, it made me ill. So I just didn't think about it."

... If you ever want to know what goes through the mind of a low level minion, Eichmann's your guy. The answer being "Very little."

Of course, when writing, do try to give your villain as much background as you give your hero. You don't necessarily need it, but we need to get a sense of the character.

Heck, use some of my own bad guys lately. It's possibly the least amount of background I've given a villain.

Hell Spawn featured a possessed serial killer -- most of the time, everyone interacted with the demon. But the ultimate reveal is that the demon and the host were in sync, and that tells you everything you need to know about that psycho. 

Death Cult had a truly political animal. It's amazing how much power for its own sake can go.

Infernal Affairs ... well, let's just say that the villain monologue does help.

City of Shadows, Crusader and Deus Vult actually did a fairly good job with their villains.

And yes, they are unremitting evil, AND they think they're the hero of their own little worlds. Heh heh heh.


  1. I tend to focus on the morality of actions rather than the morality of characters in my fiction. In practical terms knowing why a murder was committed can help identify the murderer, but it doesn't matter to the victim--he's still dead no matter what motivated the killer. Aside from self-defense (in the sense of "He's going to shoot me right now", not "He could become a threat to me in the future") it's wrong for one individual to kill another.

    Criminals are not punished for being bad people, they are punished for doing bad things. Whether or not a particular person is a bad person is impossible for us to judge--only God can do that. (And while an author might be considered the "god" of the story, I don't write from a divine POV). Whether or not a particular person committed a particular act, on the other hand, is a matter of objective fact.

    This is not to say that I believe that all people are basically good, or even believe themselves to be basically good, but that I don't think it's a worthwhile digression in a fictional work.

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head with one word... "selfish".

    The difference is the motive. Why are they doing what they do? Is it for others, or for themselves?

    We all know that motives matter. The exact same action, done for two different reasons, is seen entirely differently. That's because we know that motives are a reflection of character. That when push comes to shove, people with different motives are going to deal with adversity very differently. Some people will wrestle with their inner demons - others will embrace them.


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