Corresponding video on YouTube:
If you read many superhero comics today many feature it’s super-heroes spending 20 pages fighting other superheroes. In this gray area one hero will spend an entire issue fighting another hero to stand for their ideologies and personal beliefs. With “good” guys fighting other “good” guys one has to wonder: What happened to the Super-Villain in American Comics?
Thanks to the gray area, most of today’s superhero comics are downright confusing. “Good” guys fight each other. “Bad” guys fight for good. “Good” Guys sometimes go bad. There is no clear sense of right or wrong and no clear line of demarcation between good and evil. That makes a comic universe like Marvel or DC’s a pretty confusing place to be in and impossible for the new reader to access.
From what I’ve seen from many modern creators they spend almost all of their time focusing on their heroes. They give them a great costume, amazing powers and a fantastic origin. However, while they focus all their effort on developing their protagonist, they don’t spend as much time and energy on developing their antagonist or building a rogues gallery. And because they don’t take the time to develop their bad guys oftentimes their comic falls apart before the first word of the first story is written.
Superhero comic creators and writers need to understand that villains are just as important as the hero in a comic book story paradigm. And if the villain doesn’t get as much character development as the hero does the entire story collapses. When the bad guy has no real motivation to take on the good guy or they have a faulty motivation to challenge the hero the story just doesn’t work. Because many writers just don’t know how to write a strong villain, they cover up their lack of craft by having to have two heroes fight each other.
Why are villains important to the comic book paradigm? Because villains create conflict. And conflict is what drives a story to its conclusion. In some cases the villains’ conflict is what creates the inciting incident, the event that starts the story and introduces the main character and the obstacles they face in achieving their goal.
From a story perspective villains make the reader ask questions. What is their master plan? Why do they think it’ll work this time? Why are they trying to take over the world? Why are they targeting the hero? Why do they hate the hero? Why do they want to make them pay? And how will the hero overcome the obstacles the bad guy throws in front of them?
And most importantly they make the reader ask why should we CARE? If the antagonist can’t establish a great conflict from the first few pages then there’s no incentive for the reader to have the motivation to continue reading the comic or even finish the storyline. The hero may get people to BUY a comic but it’s the villain who SELLS comics. If they can’t make us EXCITED about the obstacles they throw in the heroes’ way then there’s no incentive for the reader to keep buying a comic series.
Villains also create contrast. A well-crafted heel is often the polar opposite of the hero. They represent a twisted mirror image of the heroes’ ideologies and approaches to life. They show us what could possibly happen if the hero made that “wrong” choice instead of that “right” choice to do the right thing.
Villains also form relationships with the hero. The contrast between heroes and villains often forms many of the core relationships that drive the story in a comic series. As they fight to stand for their ideologies and approaches to life in their struggles for and against Truth and Justice it often leads to leads to great chemistry being built between the hero and the villain. This usually creates the “heat” in a feud or series of feuds which keeps readers coming back to read more of the heroes’ adventures.
It’s this “heat” in these feuds that lead to the formation of an archenemy or a rogues gallery. As these feuds intensify they build a characters’ popularity.
One of the biggest mistakes comic creators make is making their bad guys one-dimensional. They spend so much time focusing on making the hero great, that the villain is usually seen as a one-dimensional punching bag they use to showcase how powerful the hero is. But bad guys need character development and backstory too. While most creators want people to identify with the hero and their struggles people also need to identify and relate to villains’ struggle too. People need to like the bad guy just as much as they like the good guy. It may sound crazy, but some people like bad guys. And they like them because they can do the things they want to do but can’t. Watching them break all the rules allow them a form of catharsis.
When I start writing a story these days for the Isis series I usually start writing my outline with the villain first. Why? Because the bad guy is the one who drives the conflict. Their motivation to get what they want usually gives Isis the major obstacle she has to overcome in the story.
Sometimes I use the villains in the Isis series to establish the story. In stories like Isis: The Ultimate Fight I’ll use a villain like Nemesis to create the inciting incident and their goal is what creates the obstacles that’ll get in Isis’ way as she fights to stand for what she believes in.
In other cases I’ll use the villain’s relationship with Isis to establish the story in their feud. In Isis: The Beauty Myth, it was Raheema Sanders an atheist, became jealous of Isis when she learned she was a goddess. Things got downright personal as the two women fought to stand for their beliefs and core values. This relationship was further developed in Isis: Wrath of the Cybergoddess as Raheema sought to use science to prove that she could attain the same power as a god escalating the feud between the two women. And at the end of both stories, readers saw what defined Isis as a hero as she overcame the challenge of the Cybergoddess.
In most cases I do whatever I can to make the bad guys just as likeable and relatable as Isis herself. The way I see it, readers need to love the hate the bad guy just as much as they love rooting the good guy. I make every effort for people to see the humanity in the bad guy and understand how they’re feeling so the reader can connect with them in the same way they connect with Isis. I want readers to have the most objective picture of the story and come to a conclusion why the bad guy lost and why the hero won at the end of the story.
The way I see it a good rogues gallery is filled with memorable bad guys with strong personal motivations for disliking or even hating the hero. It’s these motivations that keep people coming back to buy more comics and read more stories. The cornerstone to a good comic or fantasy/Sci-fi story are the bad guys and I urge aspiring writers to focus developing them first. Because without the bad guy to focus on the heroes’ weaknesses, we’ll never see how truly strong they are as a character.