Forum > Webcomic & Art discussion > The importance of evil villains
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One week ago, 9:27 PM #61
GMan003
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I think you guys are oversimplifying Sauron. Even ignoring the later texts, just from The Lord of the Rings, you get a pretty solid sense of him.

Above all things, he desires power, to rule over others. And he accomplishes this with the temptation of power - "be my lieutenant, and you shall have your own fiefdom; be my general and you shall command an army to go forth and conquer; use my ring and you shall have power unimaginable". Even Sauron's soldiers are tempted with the promise of loot and slaves of their own, the fruits of his conquest (he commands not only orcs, but also men). But (and this is kind of the fucking theme of the story), power corrupts, and Sauron's power corrupts deliberately. He crafted the rings to dominate the lords of Middle-Earth, he turned Saruman into a pawn, he tries to turn the free peoples of the world against each other. And he is undone because he is unable to conceive that someone would reject power - he is himself deceived into thinking Aragorn possesses the One Ring and is using it to lead an army against him, which could only end with Aragorn in thrall and Sauron once more upon an invincible throne.

All of that comes from just the core books. Honestly the Silmarillion doesn't really add anything new to Sauron's character - you get backstory, you learn he was once the right hand of a greater evil, you see him do the same sort of things in Numenor, but he never has an arc. He wants to rule as much as he can, from his first appearance to his last.

It's a motivation that needs no explanation. Everyone knows someone who grabs at power, from the tyrants of history (and the headlines) to that co-worker who's always first to put his name up for every promotion, that PTA mom who makes up rules just so she can enforce them, that forum mod who goes on petty vendettas (not here, fortunately, but I think every other forum I've been on has done that at least once). Hell, who among you doesn't one day want to run a comics company or animation team? Who doesn't want to see their name in the credits with a "Lead" or "Executive" in front of their title? Humans, in general, want power - Sauron may not technically be a human, but he's plenty human enough, and so we have trouble accepting neither his motivation nor his means.

Sauron is not merely a Big Bad Evil Guy. He's a specific sort of big, a specific sort of bad, and a very specific sort of evil - and if he seems generic, it's only because Tolkien has so many pale imitators. Sauron's not a particularly complex villain, but he's not one-note, and that purity of character fits the role he needs to play in the story. It's a story about how seeking power results only in harm, so of course the villain needs to be not just a power-seeker, but one who exploits, who relies on power-seeking in others.
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One week ago, 9:52 PM #62
MK_Wizard

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I can't judge Sauron's origin because I haven't read the book. However, I always got the impression that the true main antagonist was Saruman. Sauron was the unseen boss, but a lot of the actually string pulling was from Saruman. I don't know if he qualifies as truly evil, but he definitely made bad decision after bad decision and a lot of motives were far from noble. He wanted to join Sauron and had no qualms about harming innocents if it meant that he would survive and maybe even gain power. Saruman was definitely fleshed out as an opportunist and a sociopath.
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One week ago, 10:00 PM #63
GMan003
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So I think a lot of the argument seems to be mistaking sympathy and empathy.

A good villain is understandable. You can comprehend feeling like they feel, you can comprehend wanting what they want and doing what they do. You don't have to agree with it but it has to be something you can empathize with. A villain who's villainous because they want revenge, or fame. Or even someone who wants something good, justice or peace or prosperity, and go too far in pursuit of it.

(I am going to except "alien villains with deliberately alien motives" from this, because those stories are deliberately and loudly breaking this rule. A runaway AI trying to turn the universe into paperclips is deliberately an unempathetic villain.)

The villains that fail are those who you cannot empathize with. "The power company was cruel to my mom so I'm going to summon a meteor to destroy the planet" is kind of a shitty motive, no matter how cool he looked or how much that music slapped. "They're crazy" is similarly unempathetic - since 99% of the time, it's just a crutch to avoid having to actually write a coherent villain. It's the body filler of plot - villain not making sense? Oh, they were DRIVEN MAD by their TORTUROUS PAST.

The well-written crazy villains still have motives we can grasp. The Joker in The Dark Knight wanted to show everyone how thin civilization is, how chaos underlies everything. His backstory is deliberately vague and contradictory but you get a sense that he's been hurt by society, he's been hurt by rules and systems and wants to tear them down. You don't agree with him, you don't sympathize with him, but... who hasn't been hurt by some arbitrary rule, who hasn't been hurt by the system? "Oh I know you were only parked for an hour but the DST switchover meant you were logged as parked for over two hours so you got towed anyways, pay us $200".

You don't like what he does. You don't want him to win. But you understand why he would want to do it.
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One week ago, 10:01 PM #64
ShaRose49

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MK_Wizard:When I say evil villains, I mean villains who really are just bad people who make no effort to even try to be good, they don't appreciate the people who work with them, they care for no one but themselves and have evil qualities like sadism, greed and such.

While I do appreciate villains with a sympathetic side, I do think the evil villain still is important in story telling. For one thing, this villain shows you how not to act, but also, when a person uses cruelty as a means of self medicating their past trauma, they merit being held accountable not sympathy. How many abusers and criminals played the "bad past" card to gain sympathy only go on to be repeat offenders? I think it's important to show kids that some people in here and now, don't merit our sympathy.

What do you all think? Is the evil villain still important or just an outdated concept?


While I may enjoy and appreciate a sympathetic villain, I enjoy the truly evil ones too, especially when they’re evil in a cartoonishly exaggerated way. It’s just fun and provides a clear contrast between the hero and the antagonist. Most of my villains are at least a bit sympathetic, since I don’t believe that anyone is ALL bad (though maybe some are almost idk) but a couple of my villains are not sympathetic at all, just total douchebags, because...I guess they’ve become so calloused over the years, and were never taught that people have any value. These are harder to write, but provide an excellent contrast to an earnest, youthfully innocent hero. It’s very powerful TBH.

So yeah, I agree that it can be important depending on what kind of story you want to tell. If it’s one that’s more realistic and very down-to-earth, you might wanna avoid making very many characters completely evil. But if you’re telling more of a metaphoric, kinda mythological story I think a truly horrible villain with no virtue whatsoever can really add to it.
One week ago, 10:34 PM #65
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Talking of empathy, I tried sharing Bojack Horseman (the final season just wrapped up!) with a friend recently and he could not get into it, 'cause he had absolutely no empathy for the titular character. Bojack is a very uh, villainous kind of hero. He has a heinous personality, does a lot of really nasty things, makes enemies for stupid reasons, ruins most of his friendships, etc etc. And every time he makes a positive change in his life, he backslides. You're supposed to feel for him with him while understanding that his actions are unforgivable - we're shown his inner struggles, his trauma, his failed attempts at redemption, all of it - while being shown the irreversible damage he's inflicted on the people around him. It's damn good writing. But for this one Dudefriend, it just wasn't happening. I had to stop trying to share my favorite show 'cause hearing him say "I hate him so much" every five minutes was making me upset XD

Dudefriend also hates Armin from Attack on Titan because he's "too whiny," which also raised my hackles because I love Armin. Friend is a textbook example of a Type A personality who suffers no fools, and that impacts his taste in the media he consumes. But, hey! People are allowed to pick and choose their own shows for their own reasons... I guess. Melodramatic sigh 8-[ I will never enjoy a Quentin Tarantino movie

I think the difference between a character like Bojack and a sympathetic villain is that the villain doesn't want to be good, whereas poor Bojack keeps trying to be good and gets it wrong every time. Meanwhile, in my eyes, super-simple True Evil Villain isn't anything like a real person because there just isn't enough there

I disagree with MK on this point - I don't think there's any lesson to be learned from True Evil Villain. Watching the True Evil Villain get walloped, punished and defeated by the heroes can be gratuitously satisfying, but it doesn't teach us all that much. But there's a lot to be learned from the Sympathetic Villain, in all of their complexity and humanity.
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One week ago, 10:35 PM #66
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GMan003:I think you guys are oversimplifying Sauron. Even ignoring the later texts, just from The Lord of the Rings, you get a pretty solid sense of him.

Above all things, he desires power, to rule over others. And he accomplishes this with the temptation of power - "be my lieutenant, and you shall have your own fiefdom; be my general and you shall command an army to go forth and conquer; use my ring and you shall have power unimaginable". Even Sauron's soldiers are tempted with the promise of loot and slaves of their own, the fruits of his conquest (he commands not only orcs, but also men). But (and this is kind of the fucking theme of the story), power corrupts, and Sauron's power corrupts deliberately. He crafted the rings to dominate the lords of Middle-Earth, he turned Saruman into a pawn, he tries to turn the free peoples of the world against each other. And he is undone because he is unable to conceive that someone would reject power - he is himself deceived into thinking Aragorn possesses the One Ring and is using it to lead an army against him, which could only end with Aragorn in thrall and Sauron once more upon an invincible throne.

All of that comes from just the core books. Honestly the Silmarillion doesn't really add anything new to Sauron's character - you get backstory, you learn he was once the right hand of a greater evil, you see him do the same sort of things in Numenor, but he never has an arc. He wants to rule as much as he can, from his first appearance to his last.

It's a motivation that needs no explanation. Everyone knows someone who grabs at power, from the tyrants of history (and the headlines) to that co-worker who's always first to put his name up for every promotion, that PTA mom who makes up rules just so she can enforce them, that forum mod who goes on petty vendettas (not here, fortunately, but I think every other forum I've been on has done that at least once). Hell, who among you doesn't one day want to run a comics company or animation team? Who doesn't want to see their name in the credits with a "Lead" or "Executive" in front of their title? Humans, in general, want power - Sauron may not technically be a human, but he's plenty human enough, and so we have trouble accepting neither his motivation nor his means.

Sauron is not merely a Big Bad Evil Guy. He's a specific sort of big, a specific sort of bad, and a very specific sort of evil - and if he seems generic, it's only because Tolkien has so many pale imitators. Sauron's not a particularly complex villain, but he's not one-note, and that purity of character fits the role he needs to play in the story. It's a story about how seeking power results only in harm, so of course the villain needs to be not just a power-seeker, but one who exploits, who relies on power-seeking in others.


Sauron's a great catalyst to the events of Lord of the Rings, but I'm not seeing him as a developed human being.

I would say Sauron's influence is undeniable. Frodo and his friends are constantly hunted by orcs, demons, and servants who follow Sauron. A huge part of the physical conflict is just evading Sauron's minions at every twist and turn, but never about meeting Sauron himself. Now that makes sense because Sauron meeting the heroes once would probably end the story immediately. But the story is clearly not about Sauron and never will be.

Lord of the Rings is about temptation and that's why I brought up the Ring as the main antagonist. Not falling to temptation with the Ring is Frodo's greatest conflict, and having to deal with everybody hunting him or betraying him for power is ultimately the greatest part about Lord of the Rings' drama. It's why Frodo separated from the main group--because the Ring could destroy the whole group as shown with Boromir wanting to take the Ring for his country. It's why Gollum is such a great character--he's what Frodo would become if he fell for the Ring.

Back on the topic of Sauron, comparing him to his own minions shows that Sauron just really isn't that interesting. You bring up how we all know someone who craves power, however, very few of those people are in the seat at the top of an entire civilization like Sauron. Sauron's minions however are all individuals who have their own interests specific interests, which makes them a tad more relatable and developed--partially because we actually meet and deal with them on several occasions, so we physically see and get to know them. The orcs live for their country and for their own vices, Saruman is the guy who's actively trying to become the world power, that one guy I forgot the name of who was telling that king I forgot the name of how to lead his country is a bootlicker--and the king being weak-willed and falling for it is also tragic.

This isn't even going into people like Gollum who just wants to live with what he loves or Boromir who had good intentions but ultimately fell for temptation. Literally, Sauron is one of the least interesting characters in the book. He doesn't grow, change, or even speak much in the 1000+ word trilogy and we rarely see him to form an opinion of him beyond, "He's the powerful bad guy who started all of this drama and I hate him because of it."

I could be misremembering because it was years since I read Lord of the Rings and there was a lot of text to cover in the span of a few weeks. I only remember the one thing I actually liked about Sauron was how the heroes are totally tricking him throughout the entire story and it's hilarious how he falls for all of it.
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One week ago, 11:07 PM #67
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My impression of Sauron was that it wasn't so much a character as a amalgamated spirit fed by the worldly desires of all the races. A god or an idol created by its worshipers. The possessor of the ring can become Sauron or imbued with that spirit of power and control where things are taken, not shared or freely given. Gollum hid in a cave with the ring as means of control, just like Smaug with his treasure hoard. The more characters became aware of the ring and what they could get out of it, the more widespread the Sauron spirit became as a zeitgeist in the land. (anyway, just my impression, not a scholarly approach to the literature)

Also, I wanna say there's a difference between antagonists and villains. For example Javert in Les Mis was an antagonist, not an evil villain. Although this article suggests he was an anti-villain, like a reverse anti-hero:

https://ladygeekgirl.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/antagonists-vs-villains-vs-anti-villains/

MK:some medias do give young boys and girls bad messages and I can't be the only one who has seen that. Also, cases of people getting let off easy happens a lot in real life and in fiction.


Please give examples of these bad messages and villains getting let off easy.
6 days ago, 12:07 AM #68
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I know that in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy eventually fell for Spike who was a pretty heinous person. Sure, maybe he softened a little, but he treated people badly and he treated Buffy bad too. I think that's a bad message for girls because in the real world, if a guy can't treat you right from the start, he won't treat you better later. That's a terrible lie in the media.
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6 days ago, 12:20 AM #69
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people are capable of changing for the better.
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6 days ago, 12:32 AM #70
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They are, but it happens with a lot of work and therapy sessions. Plus, even after that, gaining trust back is a work in progress. In my experience (as someone who had a bad boyfriend), they don't change unless they want to and they usually don't. I gave chance after chance, had conversation after conversation and I even tried changing myself to make him improve. Nothing worked. He stayed the way he was.

I do like to believe that he did change into a better person and learned from his mistakes, but I realise now that I'm not the woman he was going to change for. And even other people (most of which are family) who have been there and done that confirm their stories were like mine. One even endured physical abuse for someone they met thinking it would get better. Another put up with chronic cheating. They would try to be patient and constantly forgive, but nothing would get better. If someone can't treat you right from the start without needing told, it means they aren't good for you.

Don't get me wrong. I agree people can change, but they change for themselves not for you. It needs to be that way and until they do change, you can't sit there accepting abuse because it will mess you up. And I am not just speaking from my own personal experience. Anyone who has been there and done that can confirm this. The person has to accept that what they are doing is wrong and usually, while their victims do forgive them and make peace, they usually don't want to stay in touch.

In short, romanticising abuse as just being a phase in a relationship is a bad message to everyone. There is no great reward for enduring it. Only pain and trauma.
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6 days ago, 12:40 AM #71
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Can you please stop trying to speak for abuse victims
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6 days ago, 12:46 AM #72
MK_Wizard

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I was just explaining the point on why we shouldn't romanticise abuse and how the situation happens realistically.
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6 days ago, 12:53 AM #73
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We already live in the Mirror Universe, even the most obtuse of deniers can see by now there IS such thing as absolute, unrepentant, mustache-twirling evil... so any arguments of "lack of realism" are more invalid than the antivaxxer's manifesto.

Having said this. Since I already live in a crapsack world, the only use I have right now for evil villains is seeing them die in as many, horrible, and self-inflicted ways as possible. There's a reason I don't do noir or otherwise misery tourism. I want my fiction uplifting or at least cool enough.
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6 days ago, 1:10 AM #74
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Yes, it is important to have villains that are just evil for the sake of being evil, or truly evil without room to grow. I think there is importance in using it to teach children the differences between right and wrong before they have the capabilities to understand nuance, I think there is great use for it in comedy or simpler, less dramatic stories, and I think there is a certain catharsis to be had in using it in writing as a form of therapy for someone who may have been abused.

However, I don't think it's really a concept that can be applied to reality. In reality, even the worst of the worst people are still human... and it is vital that we recognize that, or else we can not see it in ourselves or those around us. Labeling a real person as a monster or as evil causes a sort of separation that not only removes any chance for them to grow, it also causes a distinction; an "us" and a "them". If you believe that some people just ARE Evil, then all of a sudden you dont see bits and pieces of it around you.

In reality, people change for better or worse. A bad person can get better and grow.
I would know, I was one.
I was raised to be a very bad person and I bought into it for years. It let me feel like I had control over things.
I since then have learned, grown and changed, and I deeply regret the harm I've caused. I don't expect the people I hurt to forgive me, but I also don't think what I did should be held against who I am now.

Granted, I do think we need to learn when to cut people off. Someone needing help does not mean that YOU can help them. It is not your job to save people, but you also aren't allowed to say that some people are just Like That.
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6 days ago, 1:23 AM #75
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im not romanticizing abuse because when a person genuinely feels remorse for their actions and work to treat people better, it's not abuse. it's not abuse if there's no abuse going on.

please do not assume that i condone abusive relationships. please do not try to enlighten me on what abusive relationships are like, because i know.

real abusers who have no intention of improving themselves are usually narcissistic and lie about improving just to placate the victim. i know this. ive heard it a thousand times.

most of the time, your past actions should not and do not define who you are today if you've made strides to put that behind you.

yes, rape, pedophilia, murder, all these atrocities hinge upon the perpetrator being unable to recognize others as humans. to ruin a life or to take one is unforgivable.

being a mean person or saying something bad and then taking the time to correct that and be better is not abusive.
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6 days ago, 1:25 AM #76
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I always thought Sauron wanted power because of the desire to control. That's the impression I got when reading the simarillion anyway. Which is a very human motivation.
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6 days ago, 1:31 AM #77
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I'm back from getting some comic work done and I gotta say, I love how there's just two completely different conversations happening here now.

Whatever kind of villain Sauron was, he fit within LotR's storytelling, and that's what matters.

MK, I think you need to take a step back and reflect a bit, because you're getting heated at people disagreeing with you on something that I think is a little more personal than fictional villain characters.
6 days ago, 1:36 AM #78
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I didn't say otherwise, Kelty. I was just trying to make a discussion on the earlier point. It's all friendly banter.

Anyway, another evil villain situation I have seen is when the villain is insane. How much of it can we blame on their insanity and how much of it can we blame on their own choices? One interesting villain who raises this question is Carnage. Even before he became a super powered, Cletus Kasady was crazy and always had violent tendencies even as a child. Yes, he did endure abuse and torment, but his humbling experience didn't make him better and he only got worse as he got older. He killed up to 11 people before he became Carnage.

Does a character like Carnage qualify as being pure evil even though he is mentally unwell? As Carnage is now, I specifically call him evil all the way, but what about other characters who fall under his trope?

EDIT: I'm not getting heated anymore. I'm done with that. I just want to discuss the topic of truly evil villains more and add to the mix of it.
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6 days ago, 1:50 AM #79
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now that i'm all caught up idk what part of this stayed friendly banter but i guess i'll jump in anyway

"insanity"/mental illness makes existing temptations stronger, it doesn't make the choices for the person... unless they have like, a split personality, or something. their motivations could be things like "_____ is irritating therefore i must kill it", and their mental state is what causes or escalates those thoughts, but they still acted on it which is always their own choice
and if they somehow have literally no control over themselves? (by an extreme or fictional mental illness to the same level as having their mind controlled) then still, their responsibility is to seek help and limit the damage they cause

that's why i don't find "insanity" an interesting or remotely complex problem, or even a motivation at all. a good villain can be insane or mentally ill of course! but if you want anything more than a cartoon villain, insanity isn't gonna be their motivation or full explanation, nor should that part of them raise any "moral gray" questions imo

this conversation is confusing and spilled all over the place so excuse me if that's irrelevant im just typin
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6 days ago, 1:54 AM #80
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fiction is fiction. it's not real. these characters have no depth beyond what's written for them because they aren't real. their world does not operate like ours because it isn't real. comic villains dont get put in jail for the rest of their life, they escape capture in ridiculous ways because if it were at all realistic, it wouldnt sell. comic villains get redemption arcs because that does sell. fiction is written in such a way because people want to be entertained by fantasy. their universe gives them a free pass because it is required to.

you brought real life abuse into the conversation. the actions and behaviors of real people are being brought up as a topic of discussion.

Charles Manson is a bastard who went to prison and died there, because Charles Manson isn't a super villain with an arch nemesis.
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