The Darkest Reflections

The best sort of hero/villain throw downs are those in which the villain, using his power, abilities, origin, personality, or some combination of the four, provides a direct contrast to the hero. He is the hero gone wrong, the hero who is sent off the deep end.

Andrew Mcqueen
We have always done the same kind of work. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am a shadowy reflection of you. But it would have taken only a nudge to make you the same as me, to push you out of the light.

-Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

 

The hero won't be spending all his or her time at odds with other members of their supporting cast. Heroes need their villains because one side helps define the other. The best sort of hero/villain throw downs are those in which the villain, using his power, abilities, origin, personality, or some combination of the four, provides a direct contrast to the hero. He is the hero gone wrong, the hero who is sent off the deep end.

 

*Comics legend Peter David states that it's the same as the heroes and their arch-enemies. More often than not, they both work at the outer edges of the law. In the old days, the main way to tell the good guys from the bad guys was that the former would refrain from delivering the coup de grace. With the likes of the Punisher and Red Hood (Jason Todd), that line of demarcation has been erased. When the good guys throw punches with the bad guys, like as not, they're trying to put down their opposite numbers.

 

Recalling on internal conflict, the hero has to not only battle external forces but the darkness within himself. If man vs. himself is done properly, the villain in some measure, reflects aspects of the hero that the hero would rather not address. In working to defeat the enemy, the hero is battling his own darkest impulses.

 

A prime example of the contrast is Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect which puts the Hulk in a literal battle against a future version of himself called the Maestro who ruled a distant future with an iron fist. Peter David and George Perez took readers on a psychological trip in the second half of the book when the Maestro tried to bring the Hulk over to his way of thinking. What made the conflict so daunting for the Hulk was that he knew the potential of becoming the Maestro was deep within him. 

*David says not every villain needs to be an exact reflection of the hero. But he shouldn't be interchangeable with someone else's opponent, either. Both in terms of power and personality level, he should tie in thematically with the hero so that he is unique to the hero he opposes.

 

Take Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom for instance. Both are extraordinary scientific minds and explorers who seriously botched their endeavors which had taken different directions. Richards brought Ben Grimm, Susan Storm, and her brother Johnny on a space expedition that exposed them to cosmic rays thus spawning the Fantastic Four. However, Reed ignored Ben's cautions about sufficient shielding to keep the cosmic rays out of their craft. Victor Von Doom was conducting an experiment to communicate with a another dimension. But for his troubles, the experiment went sideways and it blew up, leaving him disfigured. Of all the twisted aspects of Doctor Doom is that he blames Richards for the miscalculations of his experiment.

 

In writing battles of good vs. evil, we should think how the villain is a contrast to the hero.

 

Happy Creations! 

 

*Writing for Comics & Graphic Novels with Peter David pg. 86

8 Comments

Martyleo

Your point is interesting. Isn’t that Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde is all about?

Mar-01 at 21:34

1910orange

This is actually a frequently used trope in the comic book industry, but when executed well, can make for a very, very compelling story.

Here are a few I can already think of:
Aang Vs Ozai
Batman Vs Joker
Batman Vs Superman (injustice universe)
Green lantern Vs Sinestro

However, this should not be the only narrative relationship between protags and antags in a story that is in a writer’s repertoire.

On the other side of the world, we have

Goku Vs vegeta
Naruto Vs sasuke (when sasuke is the antag)

Mar-01 at 22:04

Imjustdru

It is. Other forms of media has covered the troupe of a villain being a dark reflection of the hero like the first Indiana Jones flick. Taking another look at Jekyll & Hyde, the main character does have to the conflict from within and on the outside.

Mar-01 at 23:07

Betsy2021

I think the discussion of heroes and villains is a topic worthy of discussion. I hate when humanity dehumanizes part of its people in any way. And as you point out if we have villains we have heroes. But there is a fine line between a hero and villain and sometimes it is a matter of perspective. An American service-member who endured horrors and now lives with PTSD is hailed as a hero, but may be a villain to someone who lost a loved one in battles waged by that servicemember. And in this, we are both hero and villain.
I have the extra challenge of loving fantasy but trying to avoid hero/villain dialogue. I like the more modern push of humanizing the villains, and giving heroes a dark side but I still find that only a certain percentage of the population thinks about this as much as you or I may.
I try not to use heroes and villains in my words to describe people in real life. My not using the word heroes when referring to servicemembers rubs some wrong people the wrong way. But I have been to Afghanistan, and I also know people who have done things that they do want to be called a hero for. They did what was necessary, but it isn’t always as clear as right and wrong.
I have a lot of respect for a lot of people, particularly service members, first responders, teachers, social workers, civil servants, and much to many people’s dismay – politicians. There are jobs with less glamour but few that require enduring as much hate mail and attempts to discredit as the politicians endure.
As someone who often feels stuck and invisible, I have a lot more time to consider things like this and replay events of the past. I am quite confident that I know myself and my own flaws and darkness. I cannot say that I have mastered them all, but as much as a person can perhaps living the way I am. I have been terrified in the past that others would see me as a villain, and I have walked the path of the villain in a way. But I realized that I am whatever people choose to see. While it is not my responsibility, it can still stop my forward progress and has.

Mar-07 at 18:23

Whiffler

Personally, I can easily make my villain the opposite of my hero, or have my hero’s strengths accentuated into a catastrophic weakness. I find it difficult to come up with a logical backstory.

How did the villain become the villain? What made him that way? Why does he crave greed and power to the point that he makes life miserable for all of society?

Why does he still think he’s the good guy?

Mar-10 at 18:30

1910orange

That modern push isn’t so modern in eastern storytelling, by the way.

In many Japanese stories, the antagonists may be morally good or neutral but took the path that opposes the protagonist. That’s it.

Examples of this includes:

  1. Deer and the cauldron
  2. Gundam
  3. Legend of the condor heroes
  4. To a certain extent, romance of the three kingdoms

Western storytelling is influenced by Manichean philosophy. Prior to Christianity, the heroes, well, they aren’t so morally upright too. Take the Iliad for instance.

Many fantasy stories are inspired by Tolkien, and Tolkien’s narratives are somewhat Manichean too.

Mar-11 at 14:47

1910orange

I write slice of life. There is no villain or antagonist.

Mar-11 at 14:48

1910orange

The proper definition of a hero:

Mar-12 at 03:43
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