I’ve always liked the bad guys. In the 80s it was Roddy Piper over Hulk Hogan. Cobra Commander over Duke. Mumm-Ra over Lion-O. And then in the 90s, my wrestling fandom got to enjoy bad guys like Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, and The Mountie (he always gets his man). Later it was the nWo and Degeneration X. And of course, I still huge love of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. And who didn’t love Amanda Woodward and Michael Mancini on Melrose Place?
So was it just me? Was I just that weird kid who always thought the bad guys were more cool, more relatable, and simply more interesting, than the good guys? Obviously not. Darth Vader, Jason, The Borg, and Hannibal Lecter have all cemented their place in popular culture.
So what is it that makes the bad guys so much more interesting than the good guys?
I think it comes down to one of two things:
1. Boring good guys
Let’s face it: A protagonist who is too perfect, with no flaws or weakness is boring. The eighties version of Hulk Hogan would not work today. His matches were all the same. He was the indestructible good guy. The same could be said for most 80s cartoons. The good guys always did the right thing; the bad guys were always defeated. And the bad guys were barely ever a real threat. The fact that Megatron was such a cowardly weakling made it hard to believe he could kill Optimus Prime with his bare hands in the movie, even for the fourth grade version of me.
Anyhow, it’s just so much more difficult to root for the good guy when you know he has no real challenge.
2. The villain is driving the story
This is perhaps a larger problem than a boring protagonist because it’s not as easy to fix. This involves the heart of your story and it’s all about who is driving the plot. I think when I look back at some of my favorite bad guys, this is what really made them more interesting. Cobra Commander had a scheme. It was up to the G.I. Joe team to stop him.
And that’s a big problem in a lot of fiction. The protagonist needs to make things happen and not just react to things as they happen. When the villain is the one driving the plot, it runs the risk of telling the reader that the story is actually his story and not the protagonist’s.
So what’s your take away? Make sure your Superman has Kryptonite and he’s actively seeking out a quest and not just reacting to Lex Luthor’s.
Who are some of your favorite villains? What made them great? Leave a comment and let us know!