CS Sealey

Sydney-based sub-editor, writer and author

Villains

Part two of my favourite heroes and villains endeavour. Find part one here. As before, these have been listed in no particular order and are only true to my headspace in 2014.

DISCLAIMER: There will be plot-related spoilers referring to the characters I have chosen.

Pe Ell—The Heritage of Shannara series

Death frightened most people, but not Pe Ell.

The first time I read The Heritage of Shannara was also the first time I read a book (or part of a book) from an antagonist’s point of view. This was an unexpected but pleasant surprise because I loved reading the thoughts of the assassin who was planning how to kill one of the other main characters.

It’s great to read a thoroughly developed antagonist with his own thoughts and feelings, motives, doubts and fears. The best part about him was that, at the end, he decides he doesn’t actually want to kill his target. Pe Ell wasn’t a stereotypical bad guy who desires only chaos and misfortune, and I think a really good antagonist needs to be developed like this, otherwise they’ll just be boring and predictable.

The Joker—Batman

‘I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you… stranger.’

Very dangerous and a complete and total nutter. Unpredictable, cunning, ruthless and wild, the Joker is Batman’s greatest nemesis. Though the Joker has many origins stories, the most common in the canon is that he falls into a tank of chemical waste, which causes him to lose his mind. This accident also turns his hair green, his skin bleached-white and his lips an unnatural red. This is the Joker we see portrayed by Jack Nicholson. The origins of Heath Ledger’s Joker, however, is a complete mystery.

Why do I like the Joker so much? He isn’t your usual ‘I want to take over the world and look down upon you from my throne made of cash’ sort of bad guy. He also doesn’t concoct stupidly complicated traps to capture or torture Batman, like a villain from the Bond universe might do. In fact, he’s arguably not interested in killing Batman at all. He simply enjoys the thrill of the chase, the challenge and the mayhem.

Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov—Crime and Punishment

‘I ought to be crucified, crucified on a cross, not pitied!’

A criminal not entirely by his own choice, Raskolnikov spirals down into physical and mental illness after committing a double murder. While he tries to dodge the law, he is racked by his own guilt to such an extent that the investigating officer takes pity on Raskolnikov when he eventually turns himself in.

The inner workings of this particular criminal mind was done excruciatingly well and has helped me write my own antagonists. Raskolnikov had a well-rounded reason for murdering his first victim and I wanted him to do it and get away with it. That is the hallmark of a successfully crafted character, villain or no—getting the audience on their side.

The Shadow—A Wizard of Earthsea

Light and darkness met, and joined, and were one.

While not actually being much of a character, the Shadow first appears when main character Ged is naughtily looking through an advanced book of magic in his master’s collection. He wants to impress a girl he’s just met and so chooses a spell that turns out to be too powerful for him to control. It goes terribly wrong and the Shadow is born.

Despite being banished for a short time by his master, it becomes evident later on that this strange entity is linked to Ged in a way he doesn’t initially understand. No other wizard can tackle this terrible beast except Ged himself because, as we discover later, the Shadow is a part of him. This character makes you look within yourself and think about your darker side and how best to tackle it. The decision for Ged to leave the safety of Roke takes great courage, knowing full well what lies out there somewhere… waiting for him.

God—The Bible

‘…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.’

Not Satan? Surprise!

Two stories from The Bible have scarred me for life. Luckily, I encountered these stories at a mature age, so I haven’t developed any kind of psychotic tendencies. I shudder to think what a child-me would have dreamt about after reading these stories. I probably would have wet my bed night after night and mummy dearest would not have been impressed.

The story of Moses, particularly the part about the plagues, and the Binding of Isaac are the two stories in question. Surely, there are plenty more with similar themes running through them, but these are the two I am most familiar with. If you’re not up to scratch with your Bible tales, read those two, then come back to me and tell me God is good.

What disturbs me the most is that these stories have been used to demonstrate God’s love. Well, excuse me for failing to see the lovey-dovey part in all this. He punishes and kills civilians when the ruler himself is to blame, then he almost makes a father kill his own son because he wants to know how loyal Abraham is towards him!

The point of adding God on this list is not because I’m an atheist (though I proudly am), it’s because the character of God is so conflicting. Millions love him while just as many either despise or fear him. From a certain point of view (thank you, Obi-wan), acts of goodness, love and mercy can look like cruelty. That is why I think God is a villain and such a good one that a lot of you don’t even realise it. Just have a think on that.

Kira/Light Yagami—Death Note

‘If we catch Kira, he is evil. If he wins and rules the world, then he is justice.’

The thing I like most about this animated series (I haven’t read the manga) is the fact that, at first, Light is a perfectly normal Japanese teenager. He has strong morals, a fierce intelligence and the goal of becoming a detective, like his father. However, when a dangerous weapon falls into his possession, the power he has over others turns him steadily into a serial killer.

By means of his book of death, he starts out by killing dangerous criminals who the police are unable to apprehend. Then he moves on to criminals who escaped justice. Eventually, the police realise something is going on and Light becomes a suspect. Suddenly, anybody who finds out Light’s secret suddenly goes on his list. He justifies his crimes as keeping himself safe to continue his killings for the greater good. But is he right?

Sephiroth—Final Fantasy VII universe

‘I will… never be a memory!’

Basically, Sephiroth finds out he was a science experiment and everything he thought he knew about himself was a lie. Already a powerful warrior and formidable opponent, he goes about punishing those who were responsible for experimenting on him. ‘This sounds like a hero to me,’ you may mutter. And that’s probably why I like him. He does sound a bit like a hero, that is until he starts punishing innocent people as well.

After discovering his true identity, he endeavours to kill everybody, and I mean everybody! The only thing I don’t like about Sephiroth is the fact that his sword is stupidly long and he manages to die in the stereotypical bad guy way—taunting the hero while not realising that the hero is planning his next move. Next minute, squelch. Idiot. Still, he does seem to keep coming back in sequels, so maybe he’ll learn not to do that next time.

The Phantom—The Phantom of the Opera

‘Raise up your hand to the level of your eyes!’

The Phantom was a misshapen child who broke free of a circus and went to live in the bowels of an opera house in Paris. He became an architect, inventor, musician, composer and tutor and would have been famous for it had it not been for his deformity. Society shunned him and so he hated the world, until a grieving child—Christine—was brought to his opera house. From then on, he made it his life’s goal to train Christine to sing and used his knowledge to write, design and compose an opera in which she would star.

Living in the dark for years in seclusion did nothing to improve his opinion of the outside world and the people in it, so when the members of the opera house turned against him, he reacted in the only way he knew how, through violence and cunning. His character is so well developed that you pity him and understand how he feels and why he does what he does. Also who couldn’t love a mysterious guy in a cape who lives by an underground lake, plays music to you while you sleep, writes melodies for you by the light of numerous candelabra and has a shrine of you in his bedroom topped with a life-size model of you in a wedding dress…? He also gets the best songs in the musical.

Other notable villainous characters

  • Darth Vader—Star Wars series
  • Saren—Mass Effect series
  • Heathcliffe—Wuthering Heights
  • Mr Hyde—The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
  • Long John Silver—Treasure Island
  • Hannibal Lector—The Silence of the Lambs
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