It’s Good to Be Bad

As a society, we’ve been fascinated by villains in literature and drama for thousands of years. Greek playwrights gave us the concept of protagonists and antagonists, good versus evil.  Every good guy needs a bad guy to provide “moral dissonance.” But not all villains are purely true evil. Many classic villains have been molded by adversity in their lives. Great examples are Victor Frankenstein, Javert from Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Spider-Man’s Doc Ock, and even Darth Vader (okay, so maybe we can’t feel too bad for Darth Vader). What happened to turn them into villains? Chance meetings, life experiences as youngsters, personal tragedies, being misunderstood, poor life choices, and, quite possibly, poor personal hygiene molded them in their formative years.

The same is true for two of the dastardliest villains to plague Gotham City: The Penguin and the Riddler.  The Penguin entered the world as Oswald Cobblepot; The Riddler as Edward Nygma. Ed’s parents obviously had a twisted sense of humor. The name E. Nygma was too good to pass up.  With a name like that and an obsessive love for puzzles, little wonder that Edward chose Riddler as his nom de la criminalité. Twists of fate and circumstance caused these Gotham residents to turn to lives of depravity. Yes, I realize depravity may sound a little harsh, but come on! Riddler has tried every way under the sun to kill Penguin after being practically blood brothers, to which Penguin promptly responded by turning Riddler into a block of ice. Sorry, spoilers.

The early years of Oswald Cobblepot of “Gotham” fame are somewhat shrouded in mystery. What is known is that he was raised by a seriously over-protective mother. Adding to young Oswald’s difficulties, he inherited his father’s short, stocky stature, and something his mother lovingly called “a Roman nose.” Actually, it looks more like a beak. Turns out PeeWee Herman is his long-lost dad. I can’t help but think, poor Oswald. But I digress.

His physical features surely caused him no end of problems on the schoolyard. His classmates teased him and called him “a stupid puffin.” “Oh, Oswald dear,” his mother would say trying to comfort him, “if anything, you look more like a penguin.  An emperor penguin at that.”

Experiences during his adolescence honed his cunning nature and hurried his development toward acts of unbridled malfeasance. He would open his school locker and find it filled with fish. After serving at the feet of some of Gotham’s true villains, Oswald discovered that revenge soothed a lot of his ruffled feathers…no pun intended. Okay, so maybe it was a little bit intended. At any rate, the point being he decided that a life of crime brought him great joy.

Penguin’s ex-friend, Edward Nygma, followed a somewhat similar path, although his metamorphosis occurred somewhat later in life than Oswald’s. There is an old saying that goes, “There’s a thin line between genius and insanity.” Edward was living proof.

After graduating from Gotham University, Ed was no doubt recognized for his brilliant work in criminal science writing essays such as “Just the Facts Ma’am!” He worked closely with the Gotham Police Department to help solve crimes, often giving them clues in the form of riddles. Indeed, his brilliance is unparalleled. But things went off the rails for Ed when he fell for a woman who worked for the department, and, oddly enough, after his friendship with Penguin began.

I’m not too shy to say that Riddler and Penguin are my favorite characters on Gotham. They remind me a bit of Loki. Oh sure, they’re evil…but also maligned and misunderstood. Who knows what they would be like if they had only been accepted by those around them? If society had been nicer to them, would they still have gravitated to a life of crime and underhanded devilry? Would their cunning and brilliance have been contained to the side of good instead of forwarding their goals of petty revenge or feeding their delusions of grandeur and dastardly ambition?

Being a villain, however, is not all bad. They get to do bad things, which seem a lot more exciting and fun than the hero’s lot in life. Comic book villains often take great pleasure in performing their wicked villainy…often laughing as they do it. I mean, hey, at least they enjoy their jobs, right? We should all be so lucky.

Thanos, Red Skull, and their genuinely malevolent ilk aside, villains are terribly underrated and underappreciated. AND they perform a valuable service. Do you think Batman and Superman would be considered superheroes if all they did all day was to act as crossing guards and pick up dog poop in Gotham City and Metropolis? No. They need villains to fulfill their life’s work as superheroes. Their very status in the world relies on the Penguins and Riddlers of the underworld. Villains on the other hand don’t need anyone to be…well…villains. So, who’s the better character now, hmm?

Marvel Miss

With the head honcho of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) giving a bunch of interviews lately in support of the upcoming movie Ant-Man (which I’m definitely going to go see) there’s been a lot of excitement in my life as I think about the upcoming slate of superhero movies. My eyes and ears in eager anticipation.

Being a consumer of this fine entertainment is quite exciting. But I sort of think that being the creators of said entertainment might be even more exhilarating. That’s why in the middle of all this activity I’m quite disappointed to know that Marvel Universe characters won’t be attending the San Diego Comic Con.

If you’re not familiar with the SDCC, saying that Marvel superheros won’t be attending is like saying that the Pope won’t be going to church on Easter Sunday.

Oh, they’ll have panels with writers, executives, animators and such. I think the Agents of Shield (t.v. show) cast is due to appear. But none of the characters from the movies will be in attendance as they’ve been in the past.

I understand scheduling conflicts, sure. Celebrities are busy and can’t make it to everything they’re invited to, but Marvel’s choice to forego the mecca of comic book geekdom is on par with a rock band that doesn’t put on concerts. Even though spokespeople for Marvel have said it’s not a sign of disrespect, I feel like not sending someone is thumbing the nose at us fans. Well, not me personally since I can’t even begin to afford a ticket, but I’d still like to know that I could see Loki’s smile in person if I did have the expendable income to go.

In this article, the writer says this about Marvel’s decision:

Also it came down to money as well. The studios spend thousands of dollars to go and there was no need to force the issue if there wasn’t an immediate benefit according to one executive.”

Marvel’s nickel and diming us? Really? They have to worry about paying their water bill? Marvel has more money than Scrooge McDuck. “Thousands of dollars” to them is like laundry change for us.

Marvel, if you’re listening, do the right thing. Put Robert Downey Jr. in one of your Iron Man suits and fly his butt down to sunny San Diego for 36 hours. Too big of a star? I’d be happy with a Mark Ruffalo, too. Or Star-Lord. Or Captain America. Or any number of heroes you happen to have around. It’s not as if you have a shortage.

Although seriously. Just send Tom Hiddleston. Given his past Comic Con performance, Loki would do it for us all.

Quote Challenge – Day 3

Once again, my thanks go out to The Ugly Duckling’s Life for including me in the Quote Challenge. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend checking out her blog. It’s an eclectic bit of writing that is well, well worth it. Although she is killing me with the recipes that she sometimes posts…simply killing me.  I’m sad to see this challenge end, it’s been really interesting to think about the quotes and choose which ones to use. I may continue to do an entry once in a while on those topic.

Everyone who has followed my blog for any amount of time knows that I am somewhat taken with Marvel Comics and the Marvel Universe as it plays out on the big screen. So it should come as no surprise that I would attempt to sneak in a quote from one of the characters into this challenge. I could’ve chosen the delightful Deadpool who, goodness knows, has come up with some doozies or the ever sassy Tony Stark who has spouted off some definite noteworthy quotes in his day. But no. For this, I must refer to my favorite, Loki of Asgard.   So for my third quote, I give you:

“I am Loki, of Asgard and I am burdened with glorious purpose.” ~ Loki of Asgard (Avengers)

Now, now, before you roll your eyes at me, yes, I realize that Loki was on a mission of destruction at the time he made this declaration.  However, taking simply the quote and not its intent…or rather Loki’s intent…aren’t we all burdened with glorious purpose?  Or shouldn’t we be?  If this quote were spoken by say, Tony Robbins or Stephen Covey (rest his soul), wouldn’t it be met with an entirely different view? Albeit, neither of those gentlemen was ever attempting to take over the Earth…at least as far I know. But can we ever really know another person?  I digress.

However, my point remains the same. We all have a glorious purpose in life and we should strive to meet it head on…fulfill it, whatever it might be. So long as Earth domination is not key to the plan.

 

And here are the rules for the Quote Challenge:

  1. Post your three favorite quotes, one on each day, for three consecutive days. The quote can be from any book, author, or your own quote.
  2. Tag three other bloggers with each post to challenge them.
  3. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

Along with other bloggers I’ve seen though who have done this challenge, I’ve decided to ignore rule #2. No one likes to be ignored at the party (and quite frankly, all of the blogs I follow are amazing, which is why I follow them), so I’m extending an open invitation to this challenge for anyone who reads this and would like to participate.  So – have at it!

Bad Guys?

Marvel Studios has been getting it right lately. I don’t know if you’re following this expanding and intricate universe they’ve been creating in phases over the years (including Iron Man 1/2/3, Captain America 1 & 2, Thor 1 &2, Avengers, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) but the quality and care that has gone into the franchise has been great — not just for other superhero movies to take note of and try to emulate so we, as an audience, get better crafted stories, but they’re at such a high-caliber that even non-superhero movies could possibly learn a thing or two as well.

For instance, the creation of a believable villain. I’ve said in the past that I fawn over the villains that have a twisted view of reality that was a slow evolution of injustices and misfortunes that accumulated over the course of their life. I hate the villains that just do evil because they want to be bad. That makes no sense. I don’t believe anyone wakes up thinking “Gosh, I would love to be a horrible person and do things that are terrible to others.” Maybe there are some people like that, but in movies I just can’t buy into it. It’s infinitely better when the backstory of the villain is laid out so you can see how they got to the murderous path they set upon.

The Thor films have done it exceptionally well with Loki. While I obviously don’t condone anything he does in that movie (cough, cough),  I can understand why he might think what he’s doing is right. That’s the important ingredient: the empathy. Marvel Studios has done it again with the latest Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier.

Sidenote: If you have not seen the movie yet, stop reading. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

The “bad guy” that Cap, Black Widow, and their team has to take down seems amazingly sinister in the beginning. Just a brutal force with no stop button on the terror he wreaks. No small talk, no petting a white cat as he demands money from the UN via Skype from his secret lair, no MWAHAHAHA laughing, no grandstanding. He just destroys things, silently and quickly. Pretty standard badass stuff. And also pretty forgettable. But as the movie unfolds and his backstory is slowly revealed, the character gets depth and intrigue and you start to see how he got to be this unstoppable storm of homicidal rage. He was given a chance to be empathized with as we saw how his tormentors brainwashed away his humanity and turned him into a dehumanized zombie. It was just awful to watch (in a good way). I felt so bad for him. Yes, the villain. I felt so bad for what he had to go through. And once again I find myself on the side of the “bad guy.”

That’s the type of villain I think movies (or stories in general) should always aspire to. A story that can be viewed from all sides, rather than just the lens of the hero, makes a much more compelling plot and really engages me as a fan. Bravo, Marvel! Your ability to make the villain “not so bad” has been getting stronger as time goes on. It’s getting harder and harder to really hate the villain anymore since they’re not all born with black hearts. They’ve just had some horrible experiences that really messed up their heads and I’m glad the movie studio is taking the time to put that much thought into the “bad guys” now.

captain america

 

Good vs. Evil (Or, Ode to Loki)

On paper it all seems so simple. The good guy wins. The bad guy loses. That’s the way it’s supposed to go, right? I think there’s nothing wrong with that if you buy into the premise of a villain that only exists to be a malevolent force, which is pretty silly when you think about it. I think that everyone believes they are a good person and what they’re doing is for the betterment of society/earth/family/etc. People aren’t just born and decide “I know what I’m doing is wrong but I really want to bring about destruction just for the sake of destruction.” This just doesn’t hold true. At least, not with characters who are fleshed out.

Take Loki for example. On the outside he’s a terrible deceiver, a trickster, a plague to all the citizens of Asgard, a poison to contain and destroy. Okay, okay I realize that’s harsh and personally I just don’t see it but this is what we’re supposed to believe. Anyway, once you look at his motivations it becomes clear that in his warped view of the world, the terrible things he does are either responses to injustices he’s already faced or ways to correct what he perceives to be already misaligned.

Although he has some obvious anger issues that a little family therapy would probably help to work out, just take a look at what he has gone through (and all in one fell swoop mind you): His father betrayed him, he found out he’s not a true heir, his brother is heavily favored (adding fire to the sibling rivalry), and in an ultimate act of punishment he was denied access to his mother, the one person he loved the most. All he wants is to be accepted but that’s the last thing anyone is willing to give to him. How does this not create a pretty pissed off person looking to change things in their image?

Often times, in well-crafted stories at least, villains are just misunderstood and are rarely given the tools to properly deal with the plight they were placed in. I’m not advocating for evil to reign over us all, just making a plea to try to see things through their eyes.

Of course it helps when you have the perfect person playing the part. I mean, the actor can easily make you love or hate a character. It’s very likely that the entirety of the above well thought out, deep and philosophical rhetoric would be moot if someone other than Tom Hiddleston was playing Loki. Yes, I know, it should hold the same regardless….but come on….we all know that just isn’t true.

Yes, yes, I realize that when Loki lays waste to Asgard and takes the throne, we’re supposed to be appalled and dismayed, and morally we should call for his downfall. He’s the villain after all. However, all of that falls to the wayside with Tom Hiddleston’s mischievous grin and we instead find ourselves rooting for his success.

Loki