Thinking about That Which Redeems also left me thinking about The Minds of Monsters, a recent interlude in The Wotch. Like Sluggy, the Wotch has both wacky hijinks and epic storylines. This little story arc in particular had at least one ‘monster’ that reminded me of a similar character from That Which Redeems.
The conflict – especially internal – between dark and light is something I’ve been grooving on quite a bit of late. In any great tale of good and evil, well-designed villains can make or break the story. It is the reason I was so enthused about The Sundering. It is the reason I enjoyed Night Watch, a intriguing movie I saw the other day. It is the reason why I suddenly have much more appreciation for one of the characters recently discussed in Dominic Deegan. It is similarly one of the reasons why I’ve been completely unimpressed with the evil empire in GPF.
It isn’t that a villain has to be conflicted in order to be interesting. Maniacal dictators can work well, especially in the right setting. There can certainly be a bad guy who really is just out to gain power. Or to get revenge. Or to kill stuff just because he can.
But any villain you want readers to be interested in needs to be tuned beyond the surface alone. That is why so many conflicted characters are so engaging – instant conflict equals instant interest. And even for the characters that are fully evil, it becomes a lot harder to simply hate them if we have a glimpse of understanding for why they do the things they do.
It can be funny to just have a hate-on for a foe, sure. But with a villain that I can understand and even empathize with… well, it is a lot easier to get drawn into the story. Even if you know that, irregardless, the bad guy will lose in the end… there may be a tiny part, deep inside, hoping it doesn’t turn out that way.
The Minds of Monsters does a good job of giving some of those insights, and covers its share of villains – from the ones we can feel free to hate, to the ones we are rooting for deep inside. With all the silliness that goes on in The Wotch, it can be easy to overlook the more serious elements going on in the background. But they are definitely there, and definitely done well.
To get the pedantry out of the way: I hope you’re using “irregar’less” ironically.
You’re right that a “complicated” villain is more interesting – and allows for better characterisation – than a onedimensional one. The same is true for heroes. The flawed hero – who may or may not overcome his flaws – is an old staple.
If I thought hard about I might be able to come up with better examples. But for the time being the only “irredeamably” bad character I can think of (webcomicwise) is Clifford Mayers from Funny Farm”. And even he has some backstory to give as a hint of his motivations (absent father, manipulative mother), it just doesn’t make him likeable. Pete and Weston, on the other hand, are so mired in double-, triple-, &c crosses, that it’s hard not to suspect them of being less than wholly evil.
Yes, yes I… was.
I suppose a comic that would be a good example would be Gaming Guardians, which has its share of pure evil villains (Gorgon), its heroes turned villains (The Unprodigal), and its villains turned heroes (Ultima.)
I guess I can’t think of too many comics I read that do a poor job with their bad guys, though some are stronger in that aspect than others; but I suppose that’s also because the ones with boring villains are likely ones for me to stop reading.