Adam over at Write Thoughts commented on my blog about “traditional” vs “Flawed” heroes, and he got me thinking about one of the more traditional relationships in stories that are dwindling these days (but still out there).
Do stories need good villains? What makes a good villain? This is something I’m actually pondering as I start thinking about other projects (a post which you’ll all see on Saturday).
The first thing I thought of, however, was the relationship that heroes and villains have in stories. I think there are a lot of stories in which the relationship becomes a plot in itself, and that inspired this post. So let’s talk about a few of the more historic relationships:
Batman and The Joker: Batman is a hero who’s seemingly one bad day away from crossing the line, and The Joker seems to be the man who wants to push him over the edge. One of the things that makes Batman so compelling to me is his refusal to kill, especially in regard to Joker. What fascinates me most in this regard is that by being the man Batman refuses to kill, The Joker then becomes Batman’s very salvation.
I’ve been open about how I’m not a fan of DC, but the character I’ve always had the most interest in is Batman, and his relationship with The Joker is probably the most compelling aspect of the character. This was never more relevant than in The Killing Joke. It’s way darker than I would have liked, but it still shows that endless battle. This relationship is about temptation to me. I honestly think The Joker wants Batman to kill him, if only to show that every man could be brought below his morals.
Superman and Lex Luthor: I’m neither trying to go exclusively DC or comics for that matter, but this relationship is the absolute best example of this very phenomena. They are polar opposites. One has the power to do whatever he wants and doesn’t for the sake of who he wants to be and the people he cares about. The other has no physical power, yet still does whatever he wants because he doesn’t care about anyone. It’s just too perfect to leave out. I’ve had a lot of talks with friends about Smallville. Say what you want about the series as a whole, but I stand behind the first three seasons because that relationship and Lex’s progression into villainy was outstanding. Again, I’m not saying it was a great show for all its seasons, but if you want to study a relationship plot, watch that one.
In terms of comics, this is the most used technique. Xavier and Magneto. Wolverine and Sabertooth. Spider Man and the Green Goblin (or pretty much any of his villains). In terms of this relationship, comics are fish in a barrel.
Yes, I could mention a certain boy who lived, but I’ve seen a lot of people talk about him lately, and I want to give others a different point of view.
Abraham Setrakian and The Master: Before it was a TV show, the Strain was fascinating trilogy that took a horribly overdone idea and found a twist that I could get behind. This relationship is particularly fascinating because Setrakian is the obsessed killer in this. The Master is the aloof over powerful being. You could call it an inversion of Superman and Lex Luthor, and add a desire to kill, and you wouldn’t be far off. This relationship, however, brings a particular point to my argument.
In today’s world of literature, there aren’t many hero-villain relationships that are nearly as co-dependent as those found in comics. Like I said above, it’s fish in a barrel in comic books, but I have 312 books loaded on Goodreads (which is still much lower than the actual number of books I’ve read) and I had trouble finding examples in literature. Where are the man vs man conflicts? There are some subplots (Perrin vs Slayer comes to mind). But in high fantasy, the plots are larger than life.
I think this observation presents an opportunity for a creative author to bring a comic mainstay into literature. I’m not saying this plot device doesn’t exist at all in literature, but it’s not common in science fiction or fantasy. The plucky hero is always facing something larger than life. If you disagree, feel free to comment below.
One explanation to this might be the scope of the story. Comics can handle that sort of plot because they’re serial by nature. The fans can tune in next week (TV) or month (comics) and see that battle. But I find that odd because those conflicts can (and for me they do) get old. As fascinating as Batman V Joker is for me, I’m just annoyed by now. But imagine a conflict between characters who are complimentary in nature and symbiotic by design? I find that idea fascinating.
Thanks for reading,