“I wasn’t begging for my life. I was offering you yours.” –Sylar, Heroes
I was researching villains this past weekend (I love my job), which somehow led to me re-watching the first season of Heroes, when in turn led to me searching for Sylar music videos on youtube, which finally led to me googling Zachary Quinto photo shoots.
Heroes and villains, believe it or not, comprised a part of my undergraduate thesis. The first part of the book I wrote and designed broke down classic archetypes into colors on a wheel, and inserted HERO and VILLAIN as the white and black on the model. The next section of the book was done in grayscale, as an examination of where most heroes and villains in pop culture fell on the spectrum. It shouldn’t be surprising that some of the most popular characters existed not at the extremes, but in the gray middle, the realm of the “Anti” hero or “Anti” villain.”
As a culture, we seem to enjoy our heroes with an inner demon, and our villains with a moral code.
And when I look at some of MY favorite characters right now, that holds true. Up there with Sylar and Elle from Heroes, I have Dexter, the Doctor from Doctor Who, Klaus from The Vampire Diaries, the Darkling from Shadow and Bone, Lex from Smallville, Magneto and Mystique from X-Men, Valentine, Sebastian, and Jace from The Mortal Instruments, Voldemort from Harry Potter, Leck from Graceling.
In the villains (except perhaps the last two), we see the character’s evolution TOWARD villainy. We see them at a time when they are not evil, and that glimpse into their formation humanizes them. In the heroes, we see their dark passengers, that thing they fight in a struggle to be good.
It makes me think that it’s the struggle we respond to, the inner war. When we experience a character who exists at an extreme, be it extreme good or extreme evil, we can’t fully care because we can’t fully relate. We can’t see ourselves in them, in their position. But when we see powerful people, heroes and villains, fighting battles with themselves, we can relate. Everyone reading this is fighting at least one battle.
I did notice one interesting/concerning thing.
When polling the internet, and looking at my own answers, I noticed a MARKED ABSENCE of female characters. It’s not there WEREN’T epically awesome female heroines and villains, it’s that they almost always existed at those white and black extremes of heroism and villainy, rather than lurking in the gray “anti” realm.
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty), Mrs. Coulter (His Dark Materials), and Dolores Umbridge (HP) are pretty nasty, while Buffy, Sydney Bristow (Alias), Fire, and Tessa (Infernal Devices) are all flawed, but clearly heroines. I wanted to find more female leads with inner demons, characters shaped by complicated pasts, powerful women transforming, evolving from the mundane into the good, or the good into evil.
Can you think of some???
Also, I’d love your contributions to the greater list of FAVORITE HERO/VILLAIN. I’m always so curious to know who people are rooting for, and who they love to hate.