Art: POISON by Peter Mihaichuk
by Jonathan Maberry and Janice Gable Bashman
A hero is often defined by his enemies. A person who fights a vampire the size and approximate strength of, say, Tickle-Me Elmo, is not likely to be rated among the greatest champions of all time. When St. George fought a fire-breathing dragon--that one made the record books. For stories to have real pop--be they mythic, Biblical, or fictional--there has to be a Big Bad, and the bigger and badder the evil the more profound the struggle. It's what makes a character into a hero. Beowulf fought Grendel and got serious points; but when he fought Grendel's much more powerful mother, he became a much greater hero. That he later died while fighting a dragon (which also died) gives his life story a real "Wow!' factor.
In more modern heroic stories there is often a bigger power gap between hero and villain. Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader, Clarice Starling facing-down Hannibal Lecter, and Indiana Jones against the entire Nazi army are examples. Wits, resourcefulness, pluck, luck, and maybe some useful personal knowledge are common among the modern hero. Even when the hero is immensely tough--Spider-Man, for example--the villains tend to be an order of magnitude tougher, like the Rhino or the Hulk.
A person who believes they are empowered by God (or whoever is driving their particular belief system) can make a formidable hero. They can also be villains, depending on the point of view. During the Inquisition the Church was ostensibly the "hero' in a protracted battle against supernatural evil; however in retrospect we can see that the Inquisition's actions were a campaign of corruption resulting in a slaughter of innocent people.
The burden on the hero who faces the supernatural is first to determine if the enemy is actually unnatural. Not an easy thing. A large part of the hero's challenge, then, is studying the creature, devising a series of tests to establish its nature, determining which weapons will work against it, and then actually killing the thing. For this reason the smallest portion of virtually any monster story involves actually killing the monster.
Most of it is the hunt.
VILLAINS--NATURAL AND UNNATURAL
Villains are the bad guy. Whether human, monstrous, alien, spiritual or other, the villain is the person or being whose aim is to do some kind of harm. Real world villains range from vicious dictators like President Robert Mugabe who has been accused of a laundry list of human rights violations to a snatch-and-grab thief who robs a convenience store.
Some villains are reluctant, and many are villains only from the perspective of political or ethical ideology. This is the case in every war ever fought.
Some villains fill that role briefly--perhaps a momentary lapse in which they succumb to greed or lust or one of those other pesky Seven Sins. Some are opportunists who see something and grab at it. The 2008 financial collapse was filled with bad guys of that kind.
Some villains, on the other hand, revel in it. Villainy is their choice. They groove on the negative energy released from their actions. This, sadly, is a pretty large category that includes child molesters, rapists, mass murderers, corrupters of youth, and many others.
Movies perhaps more so than novels-- are often structured to present the villain as the most interesting characters. Filmmaker John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, The Fog) agrees and shared his views with us: "The villains always have the best parts. Darth Vader had the best part in Star Wars, The Wicked Witch had the best part in The Wizard of Oz, everybody loves villains. And these guys are just actors in makeup, but we all love them. They have a power to them. They're strong. Everybody knows about them. So they become incredibly familiar. It's hard to get people riled up and scared by them anymore because they're so familiar to us. For Halloween we dress up as scary characters, but we love them, we enjoy them and celebrate them. That's what movie storytelling's all about."
So"why the great love affair with the bad guys? "The reason we bond so much with the movie villain," says Carpenter, "is that we secretly want that kind of freedom, to be able to break all the rules. especially when we're young. That's what we long to do, we want to break the rules. That's the appeal of horror films in general. Especially when they're on the edge. We go in there and we want a thrill. We want to get out of normal society. But as you get older, and become more responsible it becomes less fun."
Robert Gregory Browne, an AMPAS Nicholl Award-winning screenwriter and the author of Down Among the Dead Men, shares this insight into bad guys. "I think the key to any villain in fiction is to make him human. He may do evil things, but he's still a human being and he reacts to the world in a very human way, although with a complete lack of impulse control. My character of Vincent, in Whisper in the Dark, for example, feels that he has been wronged. That after he has worked so hard to make a name for himself, creating his "art,' some impostor has come along and stolen his thunder by, more or less, taking credit for his work. At least that's the way Vincent sees it. He sees the impostor as a plagiarist--and a bad one at that. So he's very human in his reaction, although he goes about getting revenge for this insult in ways that most of us wouldn't think of. Or maybe we'd think of, but wouldn't act on."
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