Monday, February 9, 2015

Yes, But What's My Motivation?

What makes an interesting villain?

What makes an interesting hero?

Who says there's any difference?

Okay, before I go too far with this, I'm going to throw a few answers to my own questions your way. You might not agree with my answers, but they are mine.

What makes an interesting villain? Simple. Motivation, background, purpose, emotional commitment.

What makes an interesting hero?

See above.

Is there any difference between them?

Yes. They suffer from different philosophies.

Here's a rule I always try to remember when I'm writing: No one ever thinks of themselves as the bad guys. There is ALWAYS a reason for what they do.

Sometimes their reasoning is horribly, irreparably flawed, but they are still reasons.

Peter Parker let a street thug go by unchallenged and as a result of his negligence, his Uncle Ben died at the hands of the very criminal he let escape. As a result (and because he got chomped on by a radioactive spider) he became Spider-Man.

Johann Schmidt was a nobody chosen by Adolf Hitler himself to become an example of everything that the Third reich stood for. he was trained by Hitler, given power by Hitler and served Hitler faithfully until such time as Hitler died and then he decided it was time to create a Fourth Reich. Somewhere along the way he put on a grotesque red skull mask and took on the codename Red Skull. he served and chose to become the very epitome of what Hitler wanted. Why did he make that choice? Because Hitler took a chance on him and he believed that Hitler was right.

Steve Rogers failed out again and again in his efforts to join the Army and fight the Nazis. He was physically inferior and never had a chance until a doctor came along and gave him a formula that brought him to the very pinnacle of human physical perfection. But it wasn't just his size that made him a candidate. It was his devotion the his beliefs, his desire to stand up for the little guy and protect everyone who need protecting. Somewhere along the way he got into a red white and blue costume, and took on the name Captain America.

Three men with heartfelt convictions.

Some would say that Johann Schmidt was on the wrong side, but let's break down his motivations for a moment. In the comics he was chosen by Hitler because he was an absolute nobody. Hitler wanted to prove to his advisors and generals that he could make a perfect soldier. He started at the very bottom of the proverbial barrel and he worked hard to make his test subject the perfect example of the Nazi philosophies.

For Schmidt, the choice was easy. A man he believed in, whom he thought would be the savior of his people (a people who at that time were suffering from extreme financial depression and a broken morale to be kind) chose him and gave him what no one else had ever given him, a chance. He believed in the cause, he believed in the man who had picked him out of all possible candidates. He was trained and made to believe that he could not fail. Given that chance he did everything he could to prove his worth.

Look past the political agendas and what you have, to a very real extent,. is a slightly different take on the story of Captain America. The red Skull was given a chance to prove himself and set out not to fail.

In his eyes he has succeeded.

That doesn't make him right in the eyes of the world, but it certainly makes him right in his own world.

WAAAAY back when I was starting out I got one of the nicest compliments ever from one of my editors. I was asked to write the story of the number one bad guy in the Mage: The Ascension setting We're talking the Judas who let the good guys fall into ruin and let the bad guys take over.

He was with the good guys. He was one of them.

I had to make a solid reason for him to betray the trust that and built between a group of different minded people with one goal.

My editor was a bit annoyed because in his estimation I had made him too sympathetic. As far as I was concerned that meant I'd done my job. I made him believable and explained why, exactly, he had destroyed the one real hope for success that the mages had.

His reasons were just in his eyes. He tried to save them and in the process damned them all, himself included.

Without a decent motivation a hero is just a person fighting for what might be the right side. Without a decent motivation a villain is just a selfish little so and so.

That does not, by the way, mean that the motivations have to be good ones on either side.

Okay, Bruce Wayne's folks were killed in front of his eyes and that was a bad day,. Instead of getting therapy, he trained himself to be the sharpest criminologist on the planet and simultaneously trained his body to be as close to a perfect weapon as possible. Now, with his literally billions dollars, he spends all of his time beating the bejesus out crooks from the penny ante all the way up to sociopaths, psychopaths and criminal masterminds when he isn't dealing out justing to the heads of different criminal organizations.

On the one hand: Dude, hire some more cops! On the other hand, man needs to see a shrink. He's also done a pretty good job of cleaning up at least a few of the streets in Gotham City.

Makes for a  good motivation.  We know the Batman is gonna get some butt kicking done.

The penguin: Nobody gave him any respect. he decided to earn the respect he deserve even if he had to kill everyone who got in his way.

The Scarecrow: He's afraid of everything. So when in doubt study the roots of you fears and conquer them. Or barring success along those lines, make everyone else as afraid as you are.

Man-Bat. Mad scientist tries to use natural sonar to enable the blind to see. Unfortunately, his success is tied into the natural sonar of bats and he got a few other traits mixed in in the bargain.

The Joker: yep. he's just F-cking crazy! He's so freaking bonkers he can't even clearly remember much of his past before Batman's actions led to his being disfigured for life.

The motivations are a dime a dozen. What makes them unique is what makes them human. Batman might be the good guy, but he still dresses up as a bat and beats the crap out of people. He just does it for all the right reasons.

Victor von Doom decided he didn't like the way his family was treated by the rulers of Latervia and aimed to make their lot in life a little better. To do this he used his incredible intellect to make up gadgets that helped his family con a few royals out of their money. Instead of doing time he was granted a chance to go to college in the United States fro his troubles. He was doing just fine, in disown estimation, until another science major messed within equations and caused an explosion that scarred him or life.

Not one to let a few minor setbacks stop him, Victor went on to study the mystic arts after the college expelled him or practicing unsafe science. Rather than limiting himself to one or the other, Victor became adept at science and sorcery alike.

Then, because the government back home killed his mother, he decided to go home and take over the country. To his way of thinking, he was avenging the unjust death of his mother and he was overthrowing the miserable bastards who killed her in the first place.  His success was astonishing and he still rules Latveria today. In his spare time he contemplates taking over the rest of the world and getting revenge on Reed Richards, the man who messed with his paperwork back in the day.

Despite being the monarch of his own country, Victor von Doom answers to Dr. Doom instead of "Your Majesty."

And now, a few facts to consider. He DOES have a revenge fetish, but how much different is his motivation than Batman's? I'll do you one better. In a lot of ways he's ore successful than the Dark Knight.

The crime rate in his country is nonexistent. The patents he owns keep him and his small country in fairly decent shape financially. (Bruce Wayne starts off a billionaire. Doom Is self made.) There are a few dissidents, but aren't there at least as many in the United States? His people are fed, mostly healthy, sometimes happy and safe to walk the streets after midnight. That puts them one ahead of most of the folks living in New Jersey. Most of his spare time is spent trying to find a way to bring his mother back from the dead. No luck so far, but he's determined as and we have seen remarkably little seems to stop  him once he sets his mind to a task.

Sometimes he gets a little too big for his britches, but most of the time he just sits on his throne and makes new death rays. We all have hobbies.

To his way of thinking, Dr. Doom is decidedly the hero of his story and pretty damned successful to boot.

It's all a matter of perspective.

Keep Smiling,

James A. Moore


  1. Awesome breakdown of the villain icons of Marvel!
    ~wanders off to rethink everything I ever read about Dr. Doom~

  2. From someone who just spent an hour watching Super Hero Squad with a couple enthusiastic four-year-olds...this post is perfect! Even my boys can tell me what the villains want and once they figure that out they love to hate the bad guys.

  3. And that is exactly as it should be. If the villains don't want anything other than to take over the world, they fall flat quickly. Same with heroes who only ever want to save it.