Sunday, June 10, 2012

My Villainous Fantasies, Part 4: Villains I Want the Good Guy to Fight

Like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, my villains trilogy now has four parts.  And some notes on the Don Giovanni problem...

Sarcastic mathematician v. Tyrannosaurus rex: it doesn't take Freud to figure out why I think this is cool .

So I realized I was missing one essential villain category: villains I want my hero to fight.

This might be partially because the original question as a I phrased it to Roger was "What villains do you want to be?," not "What villains do you like?"

The original reason I asked that question after the "heroes question" - "What hero would you like to be?" - is that I was curious about Roger and I thought the hero question was running into the same problem that I think of as the "Don Giovanni problem."

The "Don Giovanni problem" is a problem related to determining whether or not people actually like or are interested in different topics, stories, etc.; it got its name from my experience trying to determine if people were fibbing when they said that they like opera.

If you ask someone if they like opera, some will say "yes," but a huge percentage of those who say "yes, I like opera," when asked "Which ones?" will respond with "Oh, Don Giovanni is my favorite."

If you say you like Don Giovanni you are either very, very into opera or know just enough where you know you're supposed to like Don Giovanni.  In other words, either you are lying and don't really like opera, or you're far more into opera than I am.

I like opera, but I'm not some high brow connoisseur.  I like the light operas in particular, especially silly ones like Così fan tutte and Die Fledermaus and fairy tale operas like La Cenerentola and Hansel und Gretel.  I do like darker operas - Faust and Carmen are two of my favorites - but when I really think of the ones that I love to watch multiple times, the comic operas and the fairy tales really stand out.

So, I devised a method to out posers: rather than asking which operas are people's favorites I now ask which operas they hate.

Opera is like any other type of story; not all are good, and some down right suck.  If a person doesn't dislike any opera, I know they're fibbing because there are some terrible operas out there.  I'll even take "This particular production sucked because..." as evidence that someone really likes opera simply because there are many great operas that have been totally ruined by awful stage production.

Des McAnuff.  Handled stage production for Faust at the Met.  Somebody needs to drop a chandelier on this guy's head.
Back to heroes and villains.

I realized that it's easy to say what heroes we like because we know we're supposed to like them.  It's okay to like a hero and there are some heroes that are so culturally ubiquitous that we know we have to like that hero.

Thus, what heroes we like aren't very telling.  But what villains we like?  I think that's very telling indeed, as long as someone is honest about it.

Another layer to the question is, however, is what villains do we want our hero to fight?  That's totally different from cool villains or the villains we want to be.

Honorable Mentions

[Danger!  Spoilers lurking about!!!]

The monstrous reptile created by weird science (e.g. Jurassic Park, Godzilla) are great ones for heroes to fight.  Much like the whale in Moby Dick, they're unstoppable forces of nature.  However, unlike the whale in Moby Dick, they will chase you down to eat you and they're man's own fault.  Furthermore, they're a great example of what makes for a great fight: the villainous giant reptile is a genuine, immediate danger to the hero.

Nasty serial killers are awesome for my heroes to hunt (e.g. Tooth Fairy from the book Red Dragon, the serial killer in Se7en, Scorpio from Dirty Harry etc.)  They're clever or at least devious.  It takes science, psychology and detective work to catch them.  Also, those stories have some of the heroes that I have fantasized being the most: Special Agent Graham, Detective Somerset and Inspector Callahan (Dirty Harry.)  If I had read those books and seen those movies instead of the science fiction I largely consumed growing up, I think I might have tried to follow a different career path.

The devil, Satan or other devil-like characters are awesome villains for my hero.  Part of this is that they are actually evil and you know they're irredeemable.  If they were redeemed, then they'd have to get a new job, wouldn't they?

Some cool devil characters I love my heroes to fight include:

Darkness, from the 1985 movie Legend.
The Devil (Lucifer) from the movie End of Days
Mephistopheles in "Faust."  The Mephistopheles above is Samuel Ramey,  an opera singer who had played the devil  in so many operas he has a compilation CD called A Date with the Devil.  Really good "intro to great, approachable opera" CD.
Grendel and Grendel's mother from Beowulf (circa 9th century epic poem) are fascinating ones for me. It was never clear to me in the poem if Grendel and his mom are genuine monsters or just an outcast, weird, cannibalistic family.  It wouldn't surprise me if Grendel was the exaggerated re-telling of a hunt for a serial killer living in the woods.

Aliens are also an excellent villain for heroes to fight.  What could be nobler than saving the entire human race and its home?

The Winners

Zombies [Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead (both original 1978 film and 2004 remake), Sean of the Dead, 28 Days Later, and on and on and on...]

If you like to shoot, you probably know that you can buy zombie targets and zombie novelty bullets made by Hornaday, a legitimate ammunition manufacturer.  You don't want to know how many people I know have bought zombie bullets.  Also: yes, card 3 is a zombie Osama bin Laden.
Zombies are a top one for me because (1) I, like a lot of people have apocalypse fantasies, (2) it would be kind of fun to try and build an anti-zombie fortress and go survivalist, (3) zombies genuinely scare me.  They're in my top 5 nightmare characters, and might show up in my nightmares more often than any other mythological being.  I can't tell you how often I've had a dream where everyone at school or work turns into a zombie and starts chasing me!

I have friends who are ready for a zombie attack...
In the Matheson novel "I Am Legend," the "vampires" are more similar to what we think of as "zombies" now.
Not all zombie literature is created equal.  And even Stephen King fails sometimes.  Cell is a truly terrible book - prescient, but poorly written.

Hitler and/or Nazis (everything from Raiders of the Lost Arc to Captain America: The First Avenger to The King's Speech to 1945...)

Hitler and Nazis probably shouldn't count as villains I want my heroes to fight simply because they're not really imaginary.  There really were Nazis.  It blows my mind away that happened, but there really were Nazis and people - normal, nice German people, the close ancestors of people I've worked beside - looked at Hitler and what he was saying and thought "Hey, that's a good idea."

Seriously, what made people look at this creepy little weirdo and think "Hey!  That freaky little midget with an inferiority complex?  That dude should totally be in charge of a country!"  That Germany was a democracy at the time freaks me out even more.  
But Hitler and Nazis (as well as other genocidal political movements) make for some stunning enemies because they really were evil.  Actual, living evil.

(Kurt Vonnegut had some interesting opinions on how WW2 fractured the American mind.  America fought pure evil and won.  That's pretty bizarre and damaging to a national psyche.  I'm glad we won, of course, but I agree that it shorted out a psychological fuse at the national level.)

Regardless, this is about fighting Nazis and why that makes for an awesome movie.

This is Eisenhower.  As far as I know, there is no movie about Eisenhower.  I'd be interested in seeing one, though.  Anyways, genuinely handed Hitler his ass, which is why I'm posting a pic of him.
I actually read this back when I was a teenager and a rabid Democrat.  Seriously, I thought Republicans were toned-down Nazis.  Now I'm an independent.  Obviously, Newt Gingrich used his Manchurian Candidate-type mind rays on me via this book.  Which is actually pretty good.
What makes Nazis awesome villains is that they're:

- Actually evil
- Badass technological geniuses (they were - pretty tragic, but they were.  If you're like "Uh, huh..." come through the looking glass and learn more about Operation Paperclip here at the BBC and here at the National Archives.  Evil is often smart.)
- Actually dress evil, which should have made them easy to identify as "the bad guys"

"I have a skull on my hat, but naw, I'm totally a good guy..."  Nazis were, imho, pretty easy to ID as genuinely unpleasant.

Pazuzu (The Exorcist, book and film)

Some people call in a loved one to kill a spider.  Not me - I catch them and let them go outside.  But if I saw Pazuzu?  Immediate call to the Vatican screaming "STEP ON THAT F***!"  Scariest, most awful villain of all time.  I want my hero to fight it because I don't even want to be in the same hemisphere as it.
First, The Exorcist is a great book.  Somewhat philosophical, it and the sequel Legion explore a lot of the ideas that I ask about a great deal.  Where do we come from?  What is spirituality?  And so on.

That being said, Pazuzu is the freakiest evil I can think of.  A demon who loves to play mind games?  Gaslights and makes everyone around you believe that you're insane when, in fact, it's slowly consuming your soul?  Basically a child molesting demon creation that actually infests the child?  That is the worst idea in the world.

Pazuzu is one of those rare villains where I don't want to fight it.  I'll be... somewhere else.  Someone else can take on Pazuzu.  I'll happily shoot a zombie myself or hunt a dinosaur.  Even fight the Nazis, really.

But Pazuzu?  Pazuzu isn't what I'd want to fight - but it's the #1 evil I'd like my hero to fight.


  1. Don't get zombies AT ALL.
    And Nazis have become cliched to me - maybe because people throw the term around so loosely.

  2. What's there to "get" about zombies? All of society turns into mindless monsters.

    You didn't check out "Operation Paperclip" at ALL. It's a real thing; I thought you'd like it. Here's the BBC story again:

    Nazis make for cool villains because they're real, extremely technologically and Nazism is genuinely evil.


    Yes, there IS an Eisenhower bio-pic. Robert Duvall, Lee Remick, J.D. Cannon as "Beetle" Smith, Dana Andrews as George C. Marshall (THE architect of US victory, and far too private and cerebral to be a good subject for fiction or hagiography) . . . .

    Many honorable men sided with Hitler early on (like Rommel) because Hitler advanced the their parochial interests (in Rommel's case, the Heer, in von Bruan's case, rocketry). As the button and the bumper sticker say, 'Cthulhu 2012: Don't Settle for the Lesser Evil."

    I think the dinosaurs were the heroines/protagonists in Jurrasic Park.

    Are zombies villans or are they plot devices?

    You always want to see the special villans (such as The Deaf Man, Khan, Moriarty, Wo Fat, Blofeld, Luther, Sinistro, Dr. Doom, the Joker or the Green Goblin, to name some), without thinking that they are special because you don't see them that often.

    1. Thanks for the head's up on the Eisenhower pic, which seems to be based on a book that can be bought used on Amazon for 1 cent:

      The question then becomes, have you seen it and is it good?

      I actually know very little about WW2 history. This summer was supposed to be "econ summer," where I learned about econ, but I've been sidetracked by Rome (shortish story: was let loose in a books store, a bunch of books were on super sale, find myself with a collection of Cicero's speeches called "In Defense of the Republic." It's a big book of great arguments - how could I turn it down?) I also got "Wealth of Nations," which was also on supersale. Will probably review both here.

      Aren't villains plot devices? Zombies count as villains if Moby Dick counts as a villain. If Moby Dick is not a villain, then zombies aren't, either.

      Khan's a great villain. Have not read the original Sherlock Holmes, but LOVE Moriarty in the old Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes and in the new Sherlock Holmes movie. Luther never appealed (I don't know why), but I only know him from the movies. The Joker is awesome.

      So do you see the dinosaurs as the Frankenstein-type antihero? In the book, they're even smarter than in the movie, particularly velociraptors.

      Your mention of Cthulhu reminds me I have never read a Lovecraft. :-( Maybe that will be my fall spooky - always get in the mood for the spooky and supernatural in the fall.

  4. Maybe it's the "are there really zombies" stuff going on now, involving apparently real cannibalism.
    I guess I think mindless creatures are boring.

    I DO like Nazis as comedic butt, such as Mel Brooks has done more than once. "Springtime for Hitler" is a lovely song.

  5. People are what now? "Are there really zombies"? Do you mean this: That's what came up when I searched "are there really zombies" in Google News.

    LOVE The Producers, both the old film and the new film. I haven't seen the stage version. LSD was great in the old one but Will Ferrell as Liebkind was perfect!