A hero is only as good as their enemy.
One of the criticisms levelled at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is its lack of decent villains. We’re yet to see how Thanos will turn out, but over the previous decade of movies that have been released, seemingly only two spring to mind as having been praised. Loki, of course, and, most recently, Kilmonger. It’s not difficult to work out why: they’re not entirely villains.
Kilmonger has a goal similar to his enemy the Black Panther, he just has a more extreme way of going about it. Loki is driven by the lies fed to him since childhood, and the truth of what he is. These characters have history. It makes them sympathetic. That’s what makes them interesting, that’s what makes them compelling.
A villain has to be compelling, or else they’re just a cardboard cut-out there for one purpose and one only – to give the hero something to fight toward. Someone to defeat, or kill. A good villain, much like a good hero, is at their most intriguing when they can be better classified as anti-heroes. A villain needs something to gain as much as the hero, or else, as I said, they’re just there. There’s nothing to fear from them.
In my own writing, I adhere to anti-heroes. When you write books about gangsters and drug-dealers, they’re all villains already. So when your heroes fall under these labels, what can your villains be?
Well, in An Eye For An Eye, the villain is a young guy who made a mistake. An accident whereby he blinds the daughter of the local kingpin in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne with a dart, then goes on the run. He’s our villain. Our heroes are a bouncer and an enforcer, two men with their own history of bad deeds. Our young man on the run, he’s been blessed with a dangerous family, the obstacles that stand in the way of the bouncer and the enforcer.
In my book Fatboy, the hero Joey is a young bartender with a bad temper. So bad, in fact, his girlfriend has left their trailer home and taken their young son with her. Joey’s not a good man. He’s an angry borderline alcoholic with a penchant for violence. At the bar where he works drinks a local businessman, a real racist piece of work with a mattress stuffed full of cash. If Joey can get that money, maybe he can get back his family, too.
When you write in noir, there’s a very thin line between your heroes and your villains. Isn’t that far more interesting than a bad guy with little other motive than some paper-thin drive to get rich or take over the world?
So, if we’re not writing anti-heroes, what are our villains to be?
Compelling, of course. Learn the lessons of Loki and Kilmonger. They need histories, drives, they need to be people.
They need to be the heroes of their own stories.
© 2018, Paul Heatley. All rights reserved.