Many people ask me, “Professor Metal, why do you call yourself a Villain? I thought no one is the villain of their own story.” I get this more often than you might imagine, in fact. More often than not, people do not understand my explanation. As such, I will attempt to explain herein.
People often misunderstand “bad guys”. It is just a thing they do. They assume we are all out for world domination or, barring that, just want to watch the world burn. Sometimes you see a villain in some medium that is just misunderstood, but otherwise a good person who has been forced into doing bad things by circumstance or accident. My favorite example of this is Mr. Freeze from the Batman mythos. He is a man who does bad things because he wants to do research to help his nearly-dead wife, and that sort of thing takes resources, both monetary and otherwise. He does not commit crimes or other evil acts out of a desire to do so, but because he has no means within the legal economy to perform this research.
Before you get ideas in your head about this sort of thing, I am not one of these types of villains. But they do exist, and are hardly worthy of the title. I am a Villain because without people like me, society could not advance.
I know that may seem a bold claim, but the fact of the matter is that we look to villains both as a contrast to that which is good and as a way to identify the darkness within ourselves.
Without the contrast of the villain, would we even know what good looks like? If everyone was good, would that property even mean anything? I think that you cannot have heroes without villains. You see this played out in our stories fairly regularly; a hero must have something which society contrasts him against. As it is quite popular these days, we shall examine this from the perspective of comic books and related media.
Take a look at Batman. He goes out to fight crime, and suddenly all of these villains that people had not even conceived of before start popping up. The Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, all villains that your normal run-of-the-mill law enforcement officer is not even remotely equipped to deal with. Why do they not start appearing in Gotham City in such force and numbers until after the appearance of the Batman? It is because, dear reader, there was nothing that needed that strong of a criminal response. There was nothing for them to contrast against, no need for their power. Villains cannot truly thrive in an atmosphere devoid of Heroes.
This is not to say, mind you, that villains cannot exist without contrast. But they cannot achieve their full potential without them. Which brings us to our second point: Villains help the common man by allowing them to identify the darkness within them and in the world around them, and to see the extent to which it can go if left unchecked.
Life is not, as you likely well know, all sunshine and roses. There are vile and horrifying things in the world. These things are not always easy to understand. In attempting to do so, we can see the vile and horrifying things we could also be. The young person who grows up seeing these things can easily find themselves going down such a path. Or they can see the effects of this on the world around them and choose a better path.
Being a Villain means being the person people look to as an example of what not to be or do. It means being willing to make horrible choices for what you perceive to be the best of reasons. Sometimes that vision can become clouded. But, to quote the wise Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks, in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity.”