In my review of the comic above I talked about how I saw Skeletor and why he made such a fun villain. Basically, he was unrepentantly evil, knew it, and based himself on that. The thing is I do love a good villain. (Not as much as my RU boss, mind you.) A good villain may be fun to watch in his or her own right, but the main purpose is to give the hero or heroes a challenge, to help them improve as characters.
There is this sad trend I’ve been noticing lately, though. Writers talking about how they love to torture the hero and write for the villain. This is doing it wrong.
The latest example of getting wrong comes from an interview with Geoff Johns, one of the hero torturers, discussing his plans for Ocean Master as part of the “Throne of Atlantis” storyline. Now I don’t really follow Aquaman, and it’s not because of some mistake by the Super Friends cartoon. Filmation also made an Aquaman cartoon and they made much better use of him. I just never had any exposure outside of the cartoons and that lame episode of Smallville (sorry for repeating myself) he appeared in. Still, it’s a good anchor for my comments.
But writer Geoff Johns will be putting a modern-day spin on that war in “Throne of Atlantis,” the crossover storyline that starts next month in Justice League and Aquaman. Johns, who’s writing both titles, told Newsarama that he wanted to explore the “gray areas” behind the battles and political maneuvering of war.
Plus, this time around, the kingdom is the mysterious underwater world of Atlantis, the deities are complex costumed superheroes of the Justice League, and the half-brothers — Ocean Master and Aquaman — are not clearly representing good and evil.
In fact, that latter point is an important one for fans of Johns’ writing. With Ocean Master, the writer promises to explore the sides of the character that are not necessarily villainous, comparing Ocean Master to other character considered both heroes and villains — like Sinestro and Black Adam. But he also said the character is not like “any other villain I’ve tackled.”
Let’s start with Sinestro and Black Adam, shall we? Black Adam originally…dies in his first appearance, but that didn’t stop the Shredder did it? 🙂 Anyway, Theo Adam was given the powers of Shazam deities back in ancient Egypt but began using them as well as his own magic immorally. So they were taken away. Later re-tellings had Adam responsible for Billy and Mary Batson’s parents’ murder so he could keep the powers all to himself. It’s only in recent years that Black Adam became DC’s answer to Doctor Doom, someone who may have good intentions but is still drawn by his own quest for power.
Sinestro was the same way, a former Green Lantern who sought power, even if (and I’m not sure when this was added to his character) it was a harder stance against criminal, becoming the GL version of Dirty Harry, if not Sledge Hammer. Sure the Guardians have become power mad rule mongers themselves, but I think it was under Johns that they went over the edge.
Nrama: Well, I know that the Ocean Master, Arthur’s half brother, plays a big role in the story. What’s the relationship we’ll see explored between the two of them in this story? Can you describe his role?
Johns: Orm isn’t going to be an outright villain. He’s actually a pretty complicated character, much like Sinestro or Black Adam or Captain Cold.
And who decided Captain Cold needed to be “complicated”? He’s a crook who uses a freeze ray. How complicated does he need to be? Same with Black Adam. He couldn’t just have the power go to his head? Sinestro you can make a case for. He was a good “cop” and mentor to many Green Lanterns, including Hal Jordan. Then he became too ruthless for even the Guardians. There MAY be something to explore there.
Orm wants the throne of Atlantis because he feels he deserves it more than his brother. There, done. Let’s get donuts.
I absolutely love villains, as you know. And so looking at Ocean Master and taking a step back, and saying, OK, what kind of person is this? He’s someone who actually cares very much for his brother. He doesn’t understand his brother at all. And he cares for him, because he’s his brother.
Folks, I know the “New 52” is a new continuity. I don’t care. Ocean Master has been shown to HATE his half-brother and is often jealous of him and his abilities. He wants the throne. Why isn’t that enough? There’s still plenty of fleshing out, character motivation, and growth for the hero to make out of that. What’s wrong with heroes being heroes and villains being villains? At least one of you just said “because that’s not how the real world works”. Again I must bring up…
THESE ARE PEOPLE WHO LIVE UNDER THE OCEAN IN A WORLD WHERE PEOPLE IN
TIGHTS SILLY FORM-FITTING ARMOR FLY AROUND AND PUNCH EACH OTHER!
Comic books, like most other fiction, is escapist entertainment, something only music and video games seem to not have a problem with. I’m not saying it has to be as goofy as the Silver Age, since my time in comics was sort of a transition between that and the next age (started reading in 1979) but what’s wrong with having a villain who is just a villain? Go back to that Origin of Skeletor review.
A good villain presents a challenge for the hero to overcome. When a writer says they have fun torturing the hero, maybe they should just be writing a story where the villain win and the heroes don’t exist. Sounds like it would be a lot more fun for them. Not for me. Seeing heroes triumph over evil instead of a stalemate or dealing with losing a love one in some horrible manner for no good reason is what I read escapist fiction for. I know that’s not how the real world works. I live in the real world. Unless I’m reading a historic piece (and I’ve seen that screwed up by not acknowledging the time period properly) I don’t want my fiction to be in the real world, just a believable world.
There just comes a point where loving the villain loses that escapist feeling. Let evil be evil so we can see its butt kicked. I want to cheer on the hero. Remember when we had and developed those?