Like the Joker in The Dark Knight and Darth Vader in Star Wars, a compelling, multidimensional villain creates great protagonists. Why is this, and how can a deep villain make your book better?
The villain, in many cases, is the most interesting character in a book or film. For example, more people waited in anticipation of every Darth Vader scene in the Original Trilogy of Star Wars than for Luke Skywalker or even Yoda. On the other hand, The Joker stole the show in The Dark Knight, heralded as not only the best villain of all time, but one of the best characters of all time in the grand-daddy of all superhero movies. Why is that?
The Joker forces Bruce Wayne, Batman, to make decisions that sometimes go against his values and character. That’s what makes him so incredible, because if he incites Batman enough, Batman could at last murder him. This would mean the Jokes wins. He shoves Batman into the ever-decreasing, thin grey area between hero and vigilante. And by the end of the movie, he successfully pulls a move that pressures The Caped Crusader into hiding. And that is the genius. A fantastic villain forces an already great protagonist to make a sacrifice that leaves audiences stunned and amazed. In short, through the Joker, Batman shined as an even better hero.
On the other hand, Darth Vader is also up there in the Top 3 villains of all time. Why? While the Joker’s main strength was his insanity, cunning, and disregard for good, Lord Vader’s is his intimidating demeanor and ruthlessness. But at the same time, you can see he used to be a good person, such as the moment he says to the Emperor, “But he’s just a boy. Obi-Wan can no longer help him now.” This was the precise moment Vader began to fall, the sliver of light left in his soul shining forth. He couldn’t kill his only son. Throughout the trilogy, Luke Skywalker is thrust onto a new journey, a journey he is not prepared for. Nevertheless, he joins the Rebellion because of Leia’s message. He eventually is led to Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. When this happens, Luke challenges Vader, showing he has no fear and bolstering his status as the protagonist. Though Vader disarms him (literally) this makes the audience back Luke in his journey all the more.
It’s why the new Star Wars movies are nowhere near as good as the Originals. The villain, Kylo Ren, is not imposing at all (great character, but NOT a good villain). He is bested by Rey, a girl who had never used the Force or even picked up a lightsaber in her life. Then, in The Last Jedi, she stands toe-to-toe with him. This makes Kylo totally unformidable and reduces the interest, especially because Rey is literally perfect at everything, and has not really faced any problems that could sharpen her character so she could shine. It’s a grand example of a terribly-written conflict, be it both “hero” and “villain.”
From these two simple examples, we see villains, when done right, make the heroes realistic and memorable. In my book The Shadowverse, which is still unreleased, the main villain, Titan (an alien warlord from a parallel universe), and the main hero, Sonovan Lung (a 1000-year-old Japanese samurai), have the most intriguing of relationships. It is a sort of “respectful hatred” between them. Sonovan Lung had killed Titan 500 years prior (there will be a prequel for his origin), but when Titan is resurrected, he takes everything from Sonovan and exiles him, destined to wander the cosmos. By the end of the story, though, Titan compels Sonovan to make the ultimate sacrifice, which not only makes him a great villain (you’ll see – spoilers!) but makes Sonovan a great hero, putting him and his allies into a tough spot where their wills are tested.
To that end, you can see how a compelling villain creates compelling heroes. From Joker to Titan, villains are the key to an exciting, well-articulated story. I hope this helps any future or current authors. Thanks for taking the time to read!
P.S. If you want to know more about my first e-Book, or take part in a blog tour I will eventually set up, message me! Have a great day!