Heroes are defined by their villains

December 8th, 2007 by Brian Leave a reply »

Ever since my recent Heroes conversation with my friends, I’ve been feeling quite Joseph Campbell/Carl Jung-ish.

  1. In James Patterson’s Maximum Ride, the mysterious whitecoats and labs are cool. They add intrigue and mystery to Max and her flock. Where the series really develops, though, is when specific whitecoats rise to fight them. The high action and, frankly, one of the reasons the series is successful, revolves around the conflict with the Erasers. But if the Erasers remained faceless/nameless, they’d just be Stormtroopers. Ari, on the other hand, builds a connection for you, makes you almost sympathetic for a villain, and makes Max’s choices all the more catching. Her virtue blossoms around Ari the villain.
  2. In Superman comics and movies, Superman does amazing things (almost super things). He races missiles, lifts helicopters, and even turns back time (and returns from the dead). But Supes is at his best when fighting Luthor. Luthor, epitome of brains and conniving, always pushes Superman to his limits, sometimes even forcing Superman to choose who to save. Sure, you’ll have your alien/experimental threat that is basically a test of super power levels, but Luthor has staying power. The original Action Comics portray Superman as kindof, well, a jerk. (I’m thinking of one instance where the secretary won’t let Superman see the mayor…so he busts down the door.) Superman needs chances to vent his superness. If not, he’s just a bully.
  3. Do you remember Odysseus shooting the suitors through the throat or do you remember Circe and the Cyclops? (If you’re Devin, you answer, “Yes.” to both.) The mega-villains are memorable. How about Hercules? When I say ‘Hercules’, do you think ‘Hydra’ and the gods standing in his way or do you think ‘cleaning uber-stables’? What makes The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan stand out is Percy’s reactions to Ares, Zeus, and Medusa and his choice to not stoop to their level.
  4. Villains are not always the exact obvious opposite, like Luthor and Superman. Moriarty is just as smart as Sherlock Holmes. That’s what makes him deadly and helps us to sympathize with what would have become just another pretentious violin playing detective. What was the most memorable Sherlock Holmes scene? Yeah, you’ve got the hound, but true fans can remember the sword duel atop the waterfalls.
  5. The original Mario Bros. was pipes with crabs and turtles. But want it Super? You’ve got castles and a fire-breathing dragon/dinosaur/gecko. Bowser made it personal by kidnapping the princess, as well as other taunts that grow throughout the series of games.
  6. But it’s not just the villains. Heroes are always joined by foils, like Robin is to Batman or Horatio is to Hamlet. In one of the first fiction epics, Gilgamesh is joined by Enkidu the Wild Man. Humbaba the Tree Giant is a great villain, mainly because Enkidu and Gilgamesh have to team up to win. The villain demonstrates the connection between the super team.
  7. By fighting darkness, the hero stands out. Han Solo is awesome, and would overshadow Luke as the hero, if not for Darth Vader. Such a cool villain makes the hero even cooler just by being around. If not for Vader, Luke would still be hanging around Tashi Station looking for power converters. Ben Kenobi and Yoda train Luke not for a confrontation with the Emperor but for Vader. Vader can only be beat by love. The Emperor can be beat by elevator shafts.

In conclusion, I am stoked for Volume 3 of Heroes.


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