Just like there are different levels of extreme when it comes to roller coasters and fast food, there are different levels of badness in each and every villain out there. It’s a spectrum of evilness, from the most terrifying of fiends who menaces the safety of the whole world, to the least frightening of nuisances whose worst threats could cause only mild irritation. For villains, their evil ranking determines their reputations.
- Nothing but a pest: some villains are downright incompetent. They talk big, all about world domination and becoming the supreme ruler, but don’t actually have any solid ability to back that up. Their schemes are overcomplicated, their research is inaccurate at best, and they spend more time stoking their egos than fighting the good guys. The best that villains like these can manage is maybe a bruise or two for the heroes, mild frustration from any victims they manage to capture, and a massive waste of time and resources for the good side. These villains are best suited for comedy relief and really shouldn’t quit their day jobs.
- Moderately annoying: these villains are only slightly more capable than the pests. Their plans aren’t usually so complicated, and they focus a lot more on fighting their nemeses. They often manage to capture/trap the good guys, and sometimes take hostages too, and can often threaten some pretty serious injuries. However, their traps always have obvious weaknesses and none of the threatened injuries actually take place, resulting in the thwarting of their plans and ultimate failure, each and every time. These villains are a little more versatile. They’re great for humour, but every once in a while can add some suspense when they manage to capture a prisoner.
- Worth consideration: these baddies are pretty good at what they do. They come up with plausible schemes, make good traps that don’t fail, and actually pose a threat to society. They either win a few fights against the hero or come darn close to it, and they’ve probably wounded a good guy or two. These baddies seriously plan to take over the world and have all the resources, intelligence, and skill to do so if there’s no one to stop them. However, despite their many evil strengths, these villains still have those few fatal flaws that make them inevitably fall to the hero in the end. Even so, these are the villains you want to take seriously.
- Only safe when dead: some villains go above and beyond all their comrades, and they’re the ones who pose the biggest threat to all of mankind. They have the evil schemes, the doomsday devices, the foolproof traps, the blackmail, the hostages, the defences, and the brains. They’ve hurt a lot of people–and killed at least a few. They routinely beat the good guys because their strength is growing every day. These are the villains who can’t be stopped, and will destroy the world as we know it if no one can find their weaknesses and somehow defeat them. These villains are the baddest of the bad, the most evil in the spectrum, and the very mention of their names can send shivers down your spine.
There are obviously different intensities of villainy and, just like the swan boat ride vs. the three-loop, two-corkscrew, 300ft rollercoaster at an amusement park, one is deemed more suitable for kids while the other is aimed more towards adults. Kids get the comedic pests while the adults get the terrifying demons.
That’s probably because of the implied threat involved with each degree of villainy. With the comedic pests, they threaten to do things like shut down the local candy factory or embarrass the mayor while he’s giving a speech. The implied threat is that no one will be hurt. Bad things will happen, but they won’t involve injury or grief and will only be mildly upsetting. With the terrifying demons, however, they threaten much worse things, like merciless torture or cold-blooded murder. The implied threat is that they will destroy anything and anyone in their paths, and will cause much sorrow and anguish. The bad things that happen due to these villains are things that can’t possibly be ignored or fixed–they’re long-lasting punishments.
People don’t want to expose their kids to the sadness and pain that comes with the hardcore villains, so they introduce them to bad guys who aren’t scary and don’t hurt anyone. They don’t mention death or killing because these topics are considered too extreme for young kids, who don’t need to be troubled by such dark subjects. I can understand the rationale behind this decision, but I can’t say that I agree.
Unless the villain is made wimpy for the sake of comedy and the humour is presented well, then having a villain who poses no real threat in children’s stories really drives me crazy.
I guess it’s because I was the kind of kid who didn’t care if a parade was ruined or a festival of happiness was threatened because of a pesky villain’s minor disruptions. I cared if good, innocent people were being threatened. I cared if the heroes were going to be safe or not, and if they were going to be able to win the fight. I wanted to experience suspense, fear, and action, not laughter because the incompetent villain just thwarted his own plan.
When I was a kid, I wanted to feel sadness when the villain beat the hero. I wanted to sit on the edge of my seat, scared that somebody I liked was going to get hurt. And I much preferred villains who threatened to seriously hurt or kill someone, because to me, it made the story a hundred times better. It got me more involved and made me really care.
So now, when I look at some of the villains in stories directed towards children, I find it painful how anti-evil they are. I don’t think our kids need to be sheltered from how bad some people in the world can be. I think they should be shown a fuller extent of what a villain can do, or at least given the opportunity, because how else are they going to see and understand what a hero is truly made of?
Do you think kids’ villains should be limited to minor pests and nuisances?
May your villains always be worthy opponents and uphold their evil reputations.