In Q & A, a weekly feature of Fantastic Fangirls, we ask our staff to tackle a simple question — then open the floor to comments.
Who is your favorite antagonist?
The villains I am drawn to are the ones who truly believe to the depths of their souls that not only are they right — they are good. They believe they are, in fact, heroes. The monstrous acts they commit are necessary evils, but they remain untainted themselves. Only, of course they don’t.
In comics, my favorite noble antagonist is Magneto. He is something of a tragic figure, engendering sympathy in characters and readers alike; he is Charles Xavier’s closest friend, his other half, perhaps; and he is eloquent, intelligent, an idealist. His vision is not that different from Xavier’s, from the X-Men’s. That is what makes him a good antagonist. They agree on the goals. It is only in the methods that they differ. Magneto brings balance to the story — without his example, the X-Men may be tempted to become him. Like when Luke Skywalker throws down his lightsaber rather than take Darth Vader’s place at the Emperor’s side; Vader’s example of what not to become is what saves Luke from following his path. Magneto has the same role.
And of course, I like Magneto best in those moments where he realizes, like Vader does, he is the villain after all.
I’m interested in the dualities of all my favorite characters. If someone is “good,” what do they have to overcome to be that way? What would it take to make them turn? In the case of an “evil” character, I wonder where they draw their lines. How do they justify, to themselves, what they are doing? Are there actions that they wouldn’t take? If I can’t begin to answer these questions about characters — whether they are presented as heroes or villains — I’m probably not very interested in them.
It’s kind of a no-brainer, then, that my favorite comic book villain is Two-Face. I first met the character through his odd, fraught interactions with Detective Renee Montoya in Gotham Central. Then I encountered him as the young, ambitious district attorney Harvey Dent in The Long Halloween, which follows his gradual, horrifying descent into villain-y. Since then, I’ve read numerous comics about Two-Face, as well as seeing the excellent version of his story in Batman: The Animated Series and of course Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal in The Dark Knight (a film I have been known to refer to as The Harvey Dent Story). In every incarnation, Two-Face embodies the delicate balance between good and evil that drives my favorite stories.
I don’t like villains. My favorite comic book stories have conflicts that are internal, or interpersonal, or rooted in outside circumstances that do not stem from the actions of one individual or group. I’m not interested in people who do bad things, who actively and purposefully hurt others (whatever the motive or intentions might be). There are villains I find truly terrifying — primarily the sociopathic ones like the Joker and Bullseye — and villains I find somewhat sympathetic — victims like Magneto — but a villain is never the factor that compels me to read a story.
That said, there is one circumstance under which I do enjoy antagonists: when they exist, intentionally or unintentionally, to be comic relief. I love Batroc the Leaper’s exaggerated accent and costume. I love MODOK’s giant head. I love the fact that the Armadillo even exists. But perhaps the most fun villain of all, when used for that purpose, is the one and only Victor von Doom. From the mask to the pompous dialogue to the omnipresent chalice, Dr. Doom is an inherently hilarious character, whatever his genuine villainies. His various bickering team ups with Iron Man over the years have been pure genius, as was his storied argument with Luke Cage, but what really seals the deal, for me, is his infamous encounter with Squirrel Girl:
That is what a villain should be.
I think a good antagonist does more than merely oppose the heroes. A good antagonist, in my view, is “there but for the grace of god go I.” An antagonist worthy of the name forces the protagonist to give a good hard look at who they are, what they stand for. There are a lot of great antagonists out there. But for my money, nothing beats an antagonist who was once a hero.
I like the idea of Wanda Maximoff as a villain more than I liked the execution. Honestly, I thought the ending to Avengers: Disassembled was rushed. Dr. Strange swooping in was . . . a little deus ex machina for my taste, and I have trouble believing that those parties present would let Magneto just walk away. But the idea. The idea of it fires my imagination.
All the Avengers’ sins and failings — all the consequences, all the inevitable consequences of the Avengers’ actions that are routinely dismissed in favor of telling the next story — come home to roost. All the character plotlines dropped, all the therapy bills not accrued because, well, the bad guy was defeated and that means everything is fine now, just peachy. Wanda as the embodiment of that failure, those consequences — as an antagonist, she grabs me. It bothers me somewhat that her vengeance is portrayed as insanity. I don’t know — it seems to me that rage is one of many appropriate responses to a life with the Avengers.