On Monday I talked about the different sorts of heroes, and what I thought made a good one. Today, I will go to the other side of the coin and discuss villains.
The most obvious thing about villains is the oft recounted piece of advice that no villain ever sees himself as the villain. This is true and almost a cliche unto itself, but it amazes me how often it is ignored. A good villain might see himself as a revolutionary, willing to break a few eggs for the cause. Or a hard nosed pragmatist who isn't going to let silly little things like morals get in his way. But still, they see themselves as...if not the good guy at least as not the villain either. People in real life are really, really good at finding justifications for their actions, fictional villains should be too. Lex Luthor for instance, at least in his more modern incarnations, thinks he is just taking extreme measures to protect the Earth from an unstoppable alien who everyone around him seems to blindly trust. In his own mind, he is the good guy, its just that no one realizes that.
The one possible exception to this I can see is a villain like The Joker. But even he, depending on which version of him we are talking about, thinks he is doing the world a favor in a way. Making them see how silly and artificial their morality is and how much better it would be to just go crazy.
Beyond that, I think a cood villain needs to be charismatic. He or she is doing awful things, they need something to make the audience like them. Though I enjoy most Marvel movies, far too many of them fall down on this point. Far too many of them fall into the trap of the villain just standing around looking menacing while occasionally snarling an order at an underling. Ronan from the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, Malekith from the second Thor movie (a complete waste of a perfectly good Christopher Eccleston, BTW), The Red Skull in the first Captain America film, etc. They really didn't do much and as a result came across as Boring Evil (which I think should be an official D&D alignment, but I digress). On the other hand, look at the villains they made that DIDN'T do that. Loki is a favorite character from the movies and it's almost entirely because the writers (and the actor) gave him this little thing called a personality. Sure, he tried to conquer the world and unleashed a horde of aliens upon it, destroying most of NYC in the process. But you can't help but like the guy because he's so damned charming.
Another good trait for a villain is that they are a dark mirror of the hero. Look at Professor Moriarity in nearly any version of Sherlock Holmes you care to name. He is really Holmes' equal in intellect, just turned to a different purpose. When one watches or reads a story with the two of them you know (or at least, I like to think I know) that if their lives had gone just a little bit different, they could have swapped places.
In the end, a villain makes the story as much as a hero. In fact, I would almost call them more important than the hero. Look at James Bond for instance. Bond is kind of a Mary Sue if you think about it. No flaws, all the women love him and all the men envy him. Blah blah blah. But his villains tend to hit all the right notes. This is why when I was a kid, I never wanted to be James Bond. I wanted to be a Bond Villain.
It is good to have goals, after all.