Skip to main content


September 25, 2013

Villains and Anti-Villains and Anti-Heroes, Oh My!


The difference between a hero and an anti-hero is best defined, as most things in life are, by the differences between Superman and Batman. Superman battles otherworldly beings intent on Earth’s destruction and tries to cause them as little injury as possible. He’s not happy about his job, but he does it for the good of others. At night, he goes home to his loving wife and relaxes, happy to take up the role of Clark Kent. Batman spends his evenings using ancient martial arts techniques to cause as much pain possible to the poor and mentally ill. During the day, he sulks in his cave and contemplates crushing The Joker’s windpipe. He seems to forget that he is responsible for the creation of the Joker…and Two-Face…and just about every poor soul in his rogues gallery. Worse still, his treatment of the common goon is nothing short of sadistic. Imagine the mind of a generic henchman: “Ever since Wayne Enterprise moved all their funding into the weapons department, it’s been hard to pay the bills…and with the baby on the way, and Sarah’s diabetes medicine… Wait, what’s that….? Oh no! It’s the Bat! Ahhhh!!!! [200-some-odd pounds of muscle and fury just landed on his head] Ahh!!! Please no! Not my arm! AHH!!! Where did my arm go!! What is that in my eye?!! Is that a razor blade in my eye?!!! Please Stop!!! Help!!! HEEELLLLPPPPP!!!!!”

Okay, I went on there a while --- have to restrain myself from carrying on about Gotham’s Defender. Back to the point of this post. Anti-villains. Like anti-heroes, they reverse the rules. Unlike regular villains, who do bad things for bad reasons, they do good deeds for bad reasons. Think Lex Luthor, philanthropist, respected businessman, lover of children and animals. Using his wealth and intellect, he is able to create wondrous inventions that improve the lives of people worldwide. Little do the people know that his affection and charity are part of a ploy to enslave humanity, take control of the world’s armies, and destroy that pesky Superman once and for all. Or look at V from V for Vendetta, who often shifts between both “anti” roles. The masked man gallantly rescues the lovely Evey Hammond, takes her into his home, raises her like a daughter, and even reads her bedtime stories. This is the earliest stage of a complex plan, which later leads to him locking her in a dungeon torturing her to a degree of madness, and training her to become a ruthless killer to assist him in crushing his enemies. Not cool.

Alright, I really need to move away from comics. Time to get serious. “Breaking Bad.” I could write a scholarly article for each scene in that show. That will probably become a hip topic soon; I should get on that before it’s too late. Sticking (somewhat) to the topic at hand, Gus is a sublime anti-villain. His crowning moment involves warning a DEA agent of an impending attack (which he orchestrated) so that the agent will be wounded, but survive. This sets off a war between Mexican cartels and the DEA, allowing Gus to take control of the entire southwest meth trade. To top it off, he provides the wounded mans fellow officers with personally delivered free meals, just to show Walter that he is an untouchable, magnificent scumbag. Walt and Hank straddle the line between anti-hero and anti-villain, often serving in both roles at the same time. Rather than break it down and risk spoilers, I’ll just say that the two pour affection on their family and friends, only so that they may blind them to their own obsessions for power and control.

Perhaps I should actually mention books, seeing as this is a site for… well, books. Jack, the angelic choirboy/bloodthirsty tribal king, of LORD OF THE FLIES is an adorable little monster. He provides food and shelter for the other children; even the young’uns too weak to work survive their own. How sweet. Unfortunately his kind acts are part of an --- ultimately successful --- effort to take over the island and form a barbaric society devoted to his desires. The eminently detestable Tywin Lannister, the heartless patriarch of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE (a.k.a. Game of Thrones),is a truly remarkable bastard. A family man through-and-through, he will do anything for his children, and literally rebuilds a kingdom to keep them safe. The reveal that he is doing this to ensure “his” family legacy makes his fate all the more satisfying.

So maybe this didn’t make any sense. Anti-villains are hard to nail down as they generally display the attributes of heroes, villains, anti-heroes, and anti-villains simultaneously. Once you recognize them though, you will hate them all the more for it, and their sweet, sweet downfall will leave you happily feasting on their broken dreams.