You know what makes me laugh an evil laugh as I watch the world below from my magical all-viewing evil portal?
When the heroes do my work for me.
I’m not just talking about when the hero makes a mistake, or when the hero somehow thinks it’s a good idea to go through the Impossible Dungeon to get the MacGuffin to protect it from me by getting it first – although that is pretty hilarious (Seriously? You think you can protect the MacGuffin better than the Impossible Dungeon? Of course I can’t get through the Impossible Dungeon, only a hero could do that! And why would I even try, anyway, when I know full well you’re going to do it for me?)
No, I’m talking about when the hero outright fails at his one job, usually either because the hero has made an incredibly foolish assumption and instead of trying to get any more information about the situation, said hero just runs full speed with that assumption, or because the hero is completely incompetent.
Actually, I could probably boil down that first reason into incompetence, too.
Let me get you some examples:
Any Final Fantasy fans out there? Final Fantasy heroes actually have a pretty bad habit of doing the villain’s work for him, whether because they didn’t realize they were on the wrong side or because a quest giver told you to do a thing and you went and did said thing without asking any questions. Of course, there’s also a lot of getting MacGuffins from their definitely far more secure Impossible Dungeons, too – I’m looking at you, Cecil!
In Final Fantasy V, our Dawn Warriors are trying to figure out a way to defeat the evil Exdeath because apparently we can’t just stab him a lot in the face (even though we end up just stabbing him a lot in the bark later). There’s an ancient turtle sage that also has no idea how to defeat Exdeath but we go and consult him anyway and he tells us that there’s this forest used to seal evil spirits, which eventually conglomerated and made Exdeath. (This birth is something on which I frown, by the way.) Clearly, that forest has the answer as to how to kill Exdeath. Especially since Exdeath seems to have focused his efforts on going there.
And very, very clearly, what the Dawn Warriors need to do is go there and kill anything that moves, right? Because a forest that is used to seal evil spirits deserves to be marauded and looted! (Well, any area in any Final Fantasy game deserves to be looted.)
You get to the Guardian Tree after Exdeath tries to burn down the forest with you in it to find four weird-lookin’ blue things which the group quickly assumes must be evil things that Exdeath is after and must be destroyed. They attack you, solidifying this assumption, and the Dawn Warriors destroy the crystal-lookin’ things.
Guess what? Turns out that they were protective seals on the crystals and Exdeath was going to the forest to try and destroy them. (Protip for the non-FF player: crystals = the best, most good, most important possible thing in the game ever.) Way to go there, chosen warriors of the crystals.
To solidify how incredibly stupid you are, Exdeath shows up pretty immediately after you break the seal, claims the crystals, and begins to kill you to death.
Actually, video game heroes in general have a bad habit of not really paying attention to anything they’re doing until it’s too late.
Kirby’s Adventure is a fine example of Kirby making assumptions and making a mess – Oh, King Dedede is evil, so whatever he’s doing must be bad! Better not actually ask him and instead just beat up his friends to undo anything he’s done!
While I could detail the situation, a certain Cracked article actually does a better job than I could, so I will just sum up here instead: King Dedede happens to know that the Nightmare King is going to be coming to the world to steal the star wand, so he breaks it up into six pieces and gives those pieces to his finest warriors to guard. Kirby, only knowing that King Dedede has broken up the rod and given it to his friends, sets on a quest to kill the actually not that threatening “minions” of the penguin king, murders them, and gets the star rod all ready for the Nightmare King. Does he defeat the Nightmare King? Yes. But before that, he sure acts as a first-class evil minion. It’s less of a heroic act for Kirby to kill the Nightmare King at the end than it is a heel-face-turn!
And then, of course, there’s the hero that’s so buffoonishly idiotic and incompetent that the only reason they’re not considered a villain is because for whatever reason, most of the (non main) cast seems to still think the guy (or gal) is a hero. Even if this wasn’t the case, I believe we as an audience would still have a hard time pinning them as a villain. It’s like Gilligan in Gilligan’s Island. Yes, he’s basically the sole reason the show exists beyond the first several decent attempts to get off the island, and yes, the best solution to the crew’s problems is to just eat Gilligan, but it’s like drowning a problematic cat that keeps breaking all of your dragons and eating your food or otherwise jumping on the kitchen table no matter how much you spray the little brat. You just can’t do it. You just can’t. And that’s why Gilligan’s not a villain; he’s just an idiotic, hopeless little kitten that you simultaneously want to beat and feel bad for even thinking you wanted to do that. And then you begin snuggling him and wondering where his collar went and- whoops, not talking about Gilligan anymore.
However, that’s not really the case for Zapp Brannigan. I’m sure the audience is not the only group that keeps hoping that one day, something terrible will happen to him and he will never, ever get on screen again. I’m sure of this because that view is made to be pretty clear with a few other characters. Now, because Futurama is a cartoon and meant to be hilarious, it is of course a tool for comedic affect that Zapp is considered a war hero when he’s clearly not only a moron but also kind of a douchebag, not to mention chauvinistic and immature. And only in a comedic universe could Zapp have become an honored “hero” by defeating a killer robot army in a rather villainous way…something of which he’s actually proud:
“Killbots? A trifle. It was simply a matter of outsmarting them…You see, killbots have a preset kill limit. Knowing their weakness, I sent wave after wave of my own men at them until they reached their limit and shut down.”
Watching any group send Zapp as their diplomat is like playing a game of DnD and while your silver-tongued rogue is trapped in the palace dungeon, up above the rest of the party is trying to negotiate your release and out of cleric and a druid who are both quite wise, a particularly charismatic bard, a fighter, and a barbarian, they choose the barbarian to speak with the king. Anyone would have been better. Anyone. The fighter would have been a better choice.
Even if the purpose of the story is not to be comedic, one can still find the incompetent hero-villain. He’s not like to be heralded a hero in this instance, unless there’s been a gross misunderstanding in his favor, which will undoubtedly come back to bite him when people expect him to be able to pull off the hero again and he can’t because the first time was all a lie. The heroes would probably be better without their not-a-villain, but since killing people for the only crime of being obnoxious and ruining everything without meaning to is morally wrong, and heroes have a hard time even hurting the feelings of another, the not-a-villain character gets to stay on. Chances of this type of character being a child are quite high, since lack of intelligence can be switched out for naivete and the moral implications of disposing of said character one way or another are more extreme. You tell an adult to get lost, if they start crying, you roll your eyes with steeled resolve to get away from them. A child starts crying, and all sorts of things could happen. Steeled-resolve eye-rolling may still be a result, but so can freaking out about appeasing the child to stop the crying.
So what does this mean for our villains? This means an interesting discussion of morals and ethics, primarily. What is the difference between a hero who is a villain, and a villain? Intention? The villain usually thinks he’s doing the right thing, or is at least trying to, as well. Why is a villain who is trying to do what’s right any different from a hero like the above who is doing what’s right? What is the difference between this kind of hero and a villain?
Me, I think that the only difference is if the hero ultimately sees the good and fixes his mistakes – and the villain doesn’t. I have a hard time calling a hero as such when he does things, on purpose or not, that are clearly the wrong, bad thing to do and a villain as such when he is doing everything in his power to do good and is just mistaken on what that is. If the hero is only a hero by virtue of the author referring to him as such, I’m going to point out the author clearly has no idea about the difference between a ‘protagonist’ and a ‘hero’ and, if asked to identify the villain, will probably point at the protagonist. So unless this kind of hero ultimately realizes and atones for his mistakes, I’m going to be pointing at him.
What do you think?