If you’ve been checking around the blog recently, you might have guessed that I’ve got Infamous: Second Son on the brain. (The posts on which will come this Monday and Thursday, so look forward to my joy/despair.) And with good reason; I may not be one for comics, but I’ve always loved the idea of superheroes. And by extension, I’ve always loved the potential that they hold. Powers beyond the mortal man! A persona that’s larger than life! HnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngCOSTUMES! There’s a lot to love, so there’s an obvious reason why they’re so popular today.
But if The Avengers -- and the internet at large -- is any indication, it’s that people love villains as well. Maybe more. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki made a huge splash in the first Thor movie, much to its (and his) credit; his presence helped make that movie what it was, and you could say the same pretty damn easily about The Dark World. Loki’s popular, but I’d bet that he’s not the only one who’s enjoyed his fair share of popularity. Nor will he be the last.
And I find that more than a little interesting, if we’re being honest. Along with Loki’s horns. That seems like an accident waiting to happen -- if it hasn’t already. On the other hand, they ARE curved upward, so, you know. S'all good.
It always strikes me as fascinating. You would think that in most cases, people would automatically shun and revile the villain. It’s human nature, and a part of human decency; the good guys are doing good things, so we should support them. The bad guys are doing bad things, so we should scorn them. That’s how it should be, but in the end it’s not always -- or ever -- that simple. It’s not always best or even required to agree with a villain, but we have to appreciate their presence in a story. They are (bad pun incoming) a necessary evil.
In all fairness, though, there’s a saying that I’ve picked up on in recent years. Something along the lines of “a villain is convinced that he’s the hero of the story.” Not in those exact words, obviously, but the point still stands; the villain thinks that what he/she does is best, or right -- taking on the task that no one else will, because nobody can do it better. That’s a fair point, in a lot of cases; I’m pretty sure that by this point in the Superman canon, Lex Luthor has every reason to do half of the things he does. Love him or hate him, his rivalry with the big blue Boy Scout has some merit to it; since it’s hoped that Man of Steel 2 will tackle the destruction of Metropolis, I’m that’d be the perfect issue for Lex to rally behind as a means to passive-aggressively attack a living god.
Setting aside rigid definitions and concepts of good and evil, when you get down to it a villain is still just a character in a story. He/she is someone that adds plenty of tools into the box. And they’re tools in their own right -- meaning you can use them to counteract the hero by way of some foil work, or just give them a presence of their own. That’s where the charisma comes in, I’d bet; the villains can do whatever they want in an attempt to charm the crap out of us. Raw displays of terrifying power; intelligence linked to deadly resolve; smugness that lets them swagger and joke from one end of town to the next. In some cases, even the best heroes can’t compete with the tools in their boxes.
But going back to what I said earlier, maybe there’s another reason why villains can be so lovable. The assumption was that people would align with the heroes because of their basic decency. Conversely, people are just as likely to look at villains, see what they have to say, and think “Crap. That’s actually a good point.” They could be a way to indulge -- to harmlessly see what it would be like to cut loose from the social norms and standards, and try to make a world up to their standards. (Or destroy it outright, but let’s not get into semantics.) It’s kind of a lower form of vicarious living -- not exactly a way to live out secret wishes and fantasies, but still something you can’t help but want to observe. If you’ve ever thought to yourself “What would happen if ___________?” then there’s a chance that a good villain can provide.
You can probably guess where my allegiances lie, but then again, this post isn’t about me. It’s about the question at hand, and if anyone out there is willing to provide some insights sprung straight from their pulsing, springy brains. That question is: do villains have a distinct edge over heroes? And as a corollary, how can they get so popular -- even at the expense of the story’s heroes?
The fate of the world is in your hands. Ready? Set? Defend the earth! I mean…comment!
And look forward to those Infamous posts. There is…much to discuss.