Friday, August 19, 2016

WBI Avengers Roundup

We’re trying this again.

Every third Friday I talk about a villain in my WBI series, which is fun, but limited. One villain does not a pattern make. That’s why I also like to talk about similarities and differences within groups.

Today we’re talking about AVENGERS, villains who seek to bring about justice, however twisted that definition may be. Our players are Zira (The Lion King II), Victoria (Twilight), Sophie Devereaux (Leverage), Inspector Javert (Les Mis), Judge Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and Maleficent (Maleficent). Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with the characters—this analysis is very general.

Shall we?

Women outnumber men two to one. Of the 34 villains I’ve analyzed thus far, only six have been women. Four belong here. This speaks most about my own preferences, but still. Interesting.

Four of these characters exist in more than one form of media. Javert and Frollo exist in books, movies, and musicals. Victoria and Sophie appear on screen and in books.

There isn’t a set “occupation” for Avengers, but they fall into distinct groups.

Javert and Frollo (both Victor Hugo villains) seek to uphold the laws of both France and God. Since they are a policeman and judge (in the movie) it’s no surprise justice motivate them. However, the extent to which their personal prejudices inform their senses of justice makes them corrupt.

All four women seek to challenge or bring down the ruling authority in their story. Both Zira and Maleficent feel wronged by the kings in power and hope to end, if not destroy, their rule. Victoria opposes the Cullen family, members of the vampire upper class who killed her mate. Her grudge with their behavior is also with their power. These women are leaders seeking vengeance.

Sophie resists the corporate and sometimes legal giants who wrong ordinary people with their power. Since she does this with a team, I separated her out by her specialty: grifting.

All of these villains are motivated by personal gain. You’d think this means they just want revenge, but it’s usually deeper than that. This gain is how justice benefits the villain. If justice happens, they may get equality, a natural food source, or emotional satisfaction. Justice fills a gap in their lives—and frequently the point is to close the gap, not to right the wrong.

These villains are also motivated by idealism because they feel they deserve to fill that gap. They have a standard for good living. And since Avengers respond to people who do not meet the standard, evil is a motivation that allows for “just” punishment.

Justice needs help. Note that every villain has either minions or family ties that makes the plan work. Frollo, Javert, Victoria, Zira, and Maleficent employ people to cover all their bases—every one but Maleficent dies when they try to strike out alone. Likewise, Sophie needs the rest of her team to combat corruption, but Leverage operates with more group equality.


What does an Avenger look like?

SO FAR: Avengers want to bring about justice, which means they are all about authority. Some Avengers belong to a legal authority and enact justice through an abuse of power. Other Avengers are put in a place of need by the ruling authority. These villains respond by becoming self-appointed authorities to thereby meet that need. This need makes Avengers feel as though they deserve what they want and justifies any hurt they may cause to other parties.

Avengers function by working in groups, either as leaders or as team members. This prevents an Avengers’ opponents from overpowering them. Maybe the group dynamic contributes to the high concentration of female villains under this label.

Ultimately, Avengers are looking for change where they see a lack, making a personal battle very public.


How can this help us write an Avenger?

one—find what the Avenger needs. An Avenger fights because s/he has been wronged and still suffers the consequences. What are the consequences?

two—identify the party that wronged them. Some person in authority (who?) (I don’t know who) stands in the way of fixing an Avenger’s problems. Who is that party? Why do they oppose the Avenger?

three—establish the Avenger’s support system. Avengers need a family or minions or an army to overpower the authority. Who stands behind the Avenger? Why?

four—figure out the plan. Arbitrary attack rarely satisfies a physical or mental need. How will the Avenger organize their efforts to eliminate the problems?

five—decide what evil looks like. Avengers aren’t villains because they want to feed their children or punish murderers. They’re villains because they hurt people in the process of getting those things. What is the worst that your Avenger is willing to do to fix their problem? Why can’t we support that?

Avengers intrigue me because they’re sympathetic and among the most likely to retire from villainy. It’s hard to condemn a villain with a legitimate grievance. Some villains, like Sophie and Maleficent, relinquish their selfish abuse of power as soon as they find their needs met. Javert and Zira also had the option to change at the end of their stories. Jean Valjean and Kiara were willing to respond to their needs instead of their behaviors, and that mattered. It didn’t save anyone, but it mattered, because these principles aren’t fictional. There are needs to be met in the world and when you have a need, the question “what does evil look like?” can have a very different answer. It doesn’t take an evil genius to figure that out.

Do you like reading about characters motivated by justice?

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