I always root for the bad guys. Watching movies, reading comic books or what have you, the set-up always seem the same: Some kind of boring good guy squares off against an interesting villain. I know you’re supposed to want the good guy to win and cheer when he one-ups the villain, but that’s not how I play. I like bad guys. I want them to win.
I understand the bad guy is supposed to be immediately likeable, or at least interesting. I get that this is a storytelling trick, to get you to pay attention and be caught off guard when his villainy is revealed. He may not be around for longer than an episode or an issue or whatever, so he has to grab your attention immediately. You have to be able to see him and say, “Wow, that’s a guy that’s going places!” The storyteller, of course, wants you to also come to the realization that those are places you don’t want him to go, but I don’t fall for that. I always want the bad guy to get where he’s going because I want to go there with him.
I understand that storytellers go to great pains to make their villains unlikable, but the very attributes that make villains who and what they are, are the very attributes I admire about them. Villains are driven. They refuse to sit around and let life’s momentum carry them. They won’t take “no” for an answer. They want be the best “they” they can be (even if it means killing everyone else), and they’re not afraid to put “the plan” ahead of all other considerations (see: killing everyone else). And they have such perfect plans (almost)!
First, anybody capable of building (and staffing) a secret underground volcano/waterfall/abandoned missile silo base is a logistical genius to whom all of mankind should immediately bend the knee. The closest thing we have in the real world to a super-villain is the megalithic construction and logistics corporation, Bechtel, responsible for constructing the Chunnel between London and Paris, San Francisco’s BART system, the mother-freaking Hoover Dam and is the parent company of the widely-recognized-as-evil Halliburton. Has Bechtel ever tried to construct a secret underground base? Well, yes they have. Although they weren’t able to keep it a secret for very long.
What else have they built? Boston’s “Big Dig,” for one, the massive project first dreamed up in the 1970s to move Boston’s interstate highways underground. That project took 30 years, went ridiculously over budget and attracted litigation more effectively than the Patriots attract Superbowl rings. Plus, the damn thing killed people because somebody skimped on the glue.
So if it were to someday come to light that a private citizen has somehow managed to construct a secret, underground base, somewhere, without somehow screwing it up or getting sued, then that person would deserve to take over the world, so long as they build a few hydro-dams and underground super-highways afterwards. Because chances are they’ll do a better job than the yahoos we’ve got doing it right now.
The bottom line is: I respect villains because they get shit done, often in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And, as the cliché goes, if it weren’t for the fact of those meddling kids/superheroes/investigative reporters, they’d accomplish a lot of pretty impressive shit. Sure some folks would have to die, but that’s never really stopped anyone. Bechtel killed “officially” almost 100 people building the Hoover Dam, after all (that number is widely regarded to be a gross underestimate).
There is a small part of me, however, that abhors villains and everything they stand for. This part of me would feel very comfortable buying a small boat and living day-to-day, doing odd jobs to pay for beer and sailing from shitty, little coast town to shitty, little coast town, with not much more than a few coins to rub together and no care in the world. I am in touch with that part of myself. I call him Bubba.
Here’s how it works: Bubba tells me to do things. He tells me how I should live my life, what should be important to me and how I should treat others. He does so patiently and in terms that are easy for me to understand. I listen to Bubba, consider his advice and then laugh in his face and do the opposite. Because all of the things he abhors – money, power, success – are things that I have it within my grasp to acquire. So I let Bubba hang out on the spare sofa of my mind while I set about taking over the world (of internet videogame-related media). Bubba tsks at me while he watches The Price is Right and empties my mental fridge, but I generally ignore him.
I’m glad Bubba is there, though. If he weren’t, I would probably be a villain. I can see how that might come about. Remove just the right mental check and/or balance and suddenly it doesn’t really matter what other people think of you. It doesn’t matter who you hurt or what you destroy. Clear your mind of all existential angst and suddenly the difference between right and wrong recalibrates – what is right is what you want right to be, and what is wrong is anything that stands in the way of that.
It’s not hard to imagine, really, which is why it’s comforting that villains in stories are so rational. After all, your typical storybook villain isn’t out to simply ruin as many lives as he can. He doesn’t care about you. Not even enough to want to hurt you.
Perhaps that’s why villains who build volcano bases are so much fun to think about. Because the other kind of villain – the real kind – is so terrifying. The fact is, if somebody has the wherewithal to build a volcano base, then he probably also has the resources to do something far worse. That he doesn’t, that his only crime is to want to better himself (at all costs) doesn’t make him evil, it just makes him human. The kind of person who’ll spend his life savings on a bomb strapped to a suitcase full of plutonium, or a box cutter and some plane tickets … that person is a monster.