For some reason there are bad guys that we just absolutely love. Darth Vader. Vegeta. The Joker. And when you think about it, that’s kind of weird. Why is it that we love these guys and all their badassery? Why is it awesome when Vegeta blows up a stadium or when Vader stalks around in his black cape choking out commanding officers? We argue about who made the best Joker (personally I still love the cartoon version voiced by Mark Hamill. That’s right. Luke Skywalker is the voice actor for the Joker and does a damn fine job of it too, I might add) and bitch about how the kid playing Anakin Skywalker in the last two Star Wars movies to come out was a pansy (he WAS).
There are the bad guys we love and then there’s that phrase, “Bad guys you love to hate.” I’m not really sure about that last one because I can’t really think of any bad guys I enjoyed hating, unless that phrase refers to bad guys that you simply can’t wait to see die a horrible death because they deserve it. But what is it that separates out those bad guys from the ones we love? Is it like the difference between two dogs – like an ugly dog that’s just plain mean and bites everyone and that kickass black Doberman pinscher that stands there eyeballing you, letting you know it could totally mess you up but won’t until it either decides it wants to or its master says so.
I have a black dragon in one of my books that I love. He’s not nice. He’s literally destroyed entire civilizations. He steps on people. He eats people. He burns them alive and submits them to torture. I had a piece of work involving him get critiqued. The piece was basically picked apart (rightfully so), but everyone said that they loved my dragon. And that was excellent. As long as everyone loved him, I didn’t care how shredded the rest of the work was. They loved my baddest bad guy. Kick ass.
But again, it all comes back down to just why the heck do we get so excited over certain bad guys? Vegeta, for those of you who don’t know, comes from an anime called Dragon Ball Z. He is not a nice person. He’s killed millions, has actually destroyed a planet (probably more than one in his lifetime), tried to destroy the Earth, and yes, blew up a stadium full of people after he sort of shifted back to the dark side (he was good for a while, though I use that term loosely). And yet I think he has more fans than Goku, the actual protagonist who’s a little bit like Superman. I even have the royal crest of Vegeta’s house tattooed on my shoulder.
It seems to have something to do with just how badass these guys are, and there really isn’t a better word I can come up with to describe it. But how is their badassness any different from, say, Hitler’s? Everyone listed here has killed a horrifying number of people. Maybe because these guys do the dirty work themselves? Maybe it’s because they do it in style. Vader in his black getup. Vegeta in all his power. One could argue that the Joker is straight up insane, but I would differ with that stance. He simply has no qualms with killing others and happens to enjoy doing so with flare. The fact remains that pretty much all these bad guys (and others) are stone cold killers, but when they walk on the screen or the pages of a book, we sit up and think, “F*ck yeah!”
I don’t mean to ruin any of your bad boy enjoyment. Far from it. I will love Vegeta until the day I die and Vader will always be cool (movies I, II, and III not included). Perhaps it’s because without the chaos, we wouldn’t have a good story. And because it’s fiction, it’s okay to revel in said chaos. You can’t do that sort of thing here in the real world. It poses interesting philosophical questions. Perhaps it’s reading or watching that lure of the dark that gets us interested. Performing epic feats of chaos and not giving a crap about the consequences. At the end of the Green Lantern movie, plenty of people got all giddy when Sinestro put on that yellow ring because it meant future epicness.
But not all bad guys get this kind of reaction, even if they are wholly fictional. Maybe the epic part is what makes a difference. Nazis will always suck. Serial killers aren’t likely to ever get any love (though some do come close like Hannibal Lecter or Gretchen Lowell). Maybe it’s the further out in left field the bad guys are the easier it is to get into them. The others hit too close to home.
I don’t think we’ll ever understand it. It certainly won’t stop us from crafting characters that kill, rape, and pillage. And it won’t stop us from being totally pleased to learn that people love our bad guys. After all, I know we sure as hell do.
Oh Vegeta....you crazy, evil bastard you.