Here are, what I think, the 6 greatest villains in all fiction of recent history. Prepare for some of my usual philosophy talk.
Here are, what I think, the 6 greatest villains in all fiction of recent history. Prepare for some of my usual philosophy talk.
Joker is easily my favorite fictional character, of any franchise, of all time. Since DC has never ‘officially’ released any backstory for the Joker, I’ve come up with my own theory. DC seems to allow others to create their own origin story (such as The Killing Joke, and Tim Burton’s 1989 movie Batman), but since no official explanation for how the Clown Prince of Crime came to be who he is, I’m going to piece together what I think really happened to him.
What Did Not Happen
Joker did not get his appearance, nor his madness, from falling into a vat of chemicals. Look, I love Joker, but saying he started to look like a clown because of “random chemicals” has always struck me as really lazy writing. Sure, most superheroes/supervillains get their powers from absurd means, but Joker doesn’t even have powers. It’s just a look. The only take on Joker I’ve ever seen that didn’t use some cheap explanation for his appearance is The Dark Knight. That movie showed that Joker looks like a clown because he simply wants to. He intentionally looks like a clown. Which is perfect. If your head hair happens to be green, if red streaks make you look like you’re constantly smiling, and if your skin happens to be bleached white…. That’s a hell of a coincidence if you didn’t do that to yourself on purpose. So, it’s safe to assume Joker looks that way on purpose.
What Does Joker Do?
What a person does is usually the best indicator of what shaped them and what made them who they are. Joker never ‘officially’ tells his origin story, but he does always like to talk about what he wants (chaos), and his various philosophical reasons for why he wants it. What he seems to always imply is that Batman helped shape him into who he became. So, what does that have to do with chaos? Well, Batman is trying to rid Gotham of crime and corruption, but if Batman was directly responsible for what happened to Joker, then Joker would only ever be after Batman and nothing else. So, Batman can’t be directly (or indirectly) responsible. Joker is a kind of philosopher, we have to admit, which I think makes it obvious that something changed his world view, and THAT’S what turned him into what he became.
Also, Joker is knowledgeable and skilled with chemicals. His signature weapon is Joker Venom, which makes people laugh themselves to death. As we all know in real life, chemicals can easily have various effects on our minds and bodies, whether it’s making us hallucinate or have severe eye irritation or whatever, and if Joker invented his own drug with such a specific effect, the guy has to be educated in that field, at least.
Last but not least, the guy seems to not even know where he came from. In several stories, including Arkham Origins, and the aforementioned The Killing Joke, he outright says he doesn’t remember who he was before becoming Joker and that he’s glad he doesn’t. Perhaps it’s brain damage, or perhaps he found a way to erase his memories, or perhaps the guy’s just faking insanity to avoid the death penalty… Anyway, now for our feature presentation.
A man, who we’ll just call Jack, grew up in a broken home, with an abusive alcoholic father and a junkie mother. Living with an abusive father made him learn how to physically defend himself against a stronger opponent. He hated his father, but he loved his mother because she was a good person, despite her problems.
Growing up in a poor, rundown household forced him to spend his time thinking about things, since there wasn’t much money to go places or buy things to occupy his time. Also, seeing the effects drugs had on his mother made him ponder the philosophical truth that our bodies are completely made up of chemicals. Fascinated with how the mind and body works, he chose to study biology and biochemistry in his spare time. He spent his years in high school focusing on his education more than his social life, and after graduating high school he found work as a biochemist.
By this time, however, he probably lost both of his parents, who likely became casualties of their own addictions. He hated his father, but still, his parents were the only family he ever truly had. Not to mention he obsessed over his education just to escape his impoverished life, so he never had a social life either. In a way, he was alone now. But, while in the field of biochemistry, he developed a love interest. This girl was the love of his life, but one day she was killed by mobsters who raided the factory they worked at to steal useful, expensive chemical compounds. Jack tried to save her, but he was overpowered and thrown into a vat of chemicals by the thugs. He survived the fall and was rescued from the chemical pool. He was thought dead, but was resuscitated at the hospital. When he awoke, he was told his girl had been killed, and in a fit of rage, he killed the doctor caring for him, and ran from the hospital.
Later, he looked at his body and saw that the acidic chemicals burned off all the hair on his body and bleached his skin white, permanently. If anyone knew he was still alive, they wouldn’t recognize him anymore, so he decided to disappear. While in hiding, living off scraps wherever he could find shelter, he lost the will to live, but chose to exact revenge on the mob for the death of his girl. However, he didn’t know who was responsible, so he would settle for killing off 10 random mobsters.
His plan involved luring his victims into an enclosed space and poisoning them with gas. To pull this off, he would need a better appearance than just a hairless guy with pasty-white skin, so he got a wig of green hair and painted his lips red, mimicking a clown, and now calling himself “Joker”. Now that he looked like a person (somewhat), he worked his way through the streets learning who had connections to money. He did whatever it took, including petty crimes, to earn the attention and respect of men with large sums of money. He ultimately allied himself with mobsters that he was also planning to kill. Once he earned as much as he needed, he lured his ten victims as planned, and killed them.
But Joker found no satisfaction from their deaths. He realized that even if he knew those exact men were the ones who killed his girl, it wouldn’t bring his girl back. He started killing more people, completely at random, and learned more and more that he had no REAL control over these great truths about life. Nor did anyone else.
Rather than committing suicide, since he still had no will to live, he decided to go out with a bang and simply have some fun causing chaos. He quickly learned how much he could accomplish by not caring about right and wrong, and being evil was so easy because everyone dies eventually anyway. He wanted to die proving a point.
However, he met opposition with the Batman, who was just starting to rise. This Batman character was in the way of his plans to cause as much chaos as possible, so he tried targeting Batman for a while. After an encounter or two, his ambitions changed one final time. He had found the perfect figure to demonstrate what life had taught him. Batman took life too seriously. Batman hilariously believed that he could rid Gotham of crime. Best of all, Batman refused to kill, and even had a chance to both kill Joker and to simply let him die, but Batman spared Joker’s life both times anyway. In a way, Joker was now in love with Batman. And from that point on, Joker’s obsession was trying to corrupt the incorruptible Batman, and make him learn how little control we all have in the end.
If you enjoyed my take on Joker’s origin, please check out my novel Remnant here. Also, help support my writing in general by becoming one of my Patrons here. Want more Batman-related philosophy? Click here.
There couldn’t be a greater superhero franchise than Batman. It’s not just because he’s cool. It goes much, much deeper than that. I’ll list some reasons, saving the best for last.
The most human superhero with the most human supervillains.
Batman doesn’t have any superpowers, and same goes with most of his villains. The characters in the franchise rely on things that people in real life would rely on if they were to fight crime, or be criminals: wits, technology, and henchmen (whether it be gangs or the police force). If you can build an entire successful superhero franchise from characters who pretty much don’t have any powers, you know you did something right.
Are the villains insane, or just misunderstood?
The fact that this question even needs asking is, I think, a triumph for the franchise. Notice that most, if not all, of Batman’s villains have tragic backstories that turned them into what they become. It even happened to Batman himself. Not only did Batman’s parents die right in front of him, but at least in Batman Begins, it’s implied that the event would have been avoided if Bruce hadn’t been scared of the play his family was watching. So, Bruce seems to blame himself on a subconscious level. He overcompensates for what he blames himself for by fighting the shit out of crime in the city. But he does so by dressing like a bat-man…. Is that crazy? Yeah, a little.
I think Bruce Wayne chose to become Batman in order to be a symbol; something to frighten his targets and his would-be targets. He became a terrifying nocturnal creature, a bat, so that criminals would have something to fear during their usual business hours of operation, the night. So, what I’m saying is, Bruce became a bat-man in order to use criminals own fear tactics against them.
Of course, though, the rise of Batman was also the rise of men and women who appear to be just as crazy. Dressing as a bat to fight crime is still at least a bit crazy. Others saw what Batman was doing and thought: I’ll become a symbol of my own. And every one of Batman’s villains became a walking symbol for what they were trying to represent.
Take Mr. Freeze for example. His wife is neither alive nor dead. She’s literally frozen in time. I don’t know if Mr. Freeze learns Batman’s true identity at certain points in the comics/movies/TV shows, but I’m certain that if he did, he’d be envious of Bruce, because Bruce’s parents were at least killed. Bruce knows the fate of his parents, whereas the one Freeze loves most is in a state of limbo. A state of limbo perhaps only he can get her out of, and he’s terrified of failing. It became his obsession to save her. So, from preserving her body, to finding a cure for her illness, he gained an obsession, just like Batman did, and his obsession involved, well, freezing things.
In real life, I think insanity is very much a real thing, but it can also be mislabeled on a person too often as well. Insanity is being checked out of reality. Insanity is when you can’t discern the difference between reality and fantasy. And almost none of Batman’s villains seem to have that problem. They’ve all been driven mad, but they’re still perfectly sane. And nothing drives a person mad quite like a broken heart. Bruce Wayne, Mr. Freeze, Harvey Dent, and hell, even Penguin… They all have had their hearts broken in different ways. I wonder what drove the Joker mad… Which brings me to my final and favorite segment.
Without the Joker, there wouldn’t really be a Batman, and vice-versa. It’s true that every hero needs a villain – it makes for a good story – but with the Joker, it’s much, much different. There have been many takes on the character, but I think they all revolve around one central theme, which is that Joker isn’t out to destroy Batman, he’s out to destroy what Batman stands for.
He’s a walking parody of Batman and all his villains. He’s fascinated by freaks and what makes a freak, and decided to become one himself. It’s not official confirmed that Joker got his appearance from dropping into a vat of chemicals (though it’s widely depicted to likely be the cause), and since it’s not been officially confirmed, I believe that Joker simply chose to appear the way he does. Again, it’s about being a parody of these superheroes and supervillains in Gotham City. He’s there to counter both what the heroes and the villains stand for. Not to mention, he does it while laughing… a lot.
It’s all funny to him. Not just life itself, but also the fact that there are people in Gotham who seem to take their ideals to each end of the extreme. Joker doesn’t outright tell people how absurd it is that they take life so seriously, he just simply demonstrates the absurdity. I don’t think Joker kills people just because he’s a sociopath, I think he kills people because he knows everyone dies. Batman doesn’t seem to accept the fact that people die, which is why he outright spares (even saves) Joker’s life from time to time. And this is why Joker keeps doing his thing.
To the Joker, life itself is a joke. Everyone dies, everyone suffers tragedy, and there’s nothing one can do to put an end to those things forever. Crime would exist with or without the Joker. Crime would exist with or without all the other villains. It’s utterly meaningless for Batman to think he can put an end to something that literally cannot be defeated. In fact, Batman’s extreme war against crime is the very thing that created all the supervillains he fights. He upset the balance of nature. Sure, he took justice to the extreme, which could be a good thing, but since nature always balances itself out, other freaks just like Batman came into being to fight him. Joker is that antithesis of that balance. Where Batman stands to prove that not all people are corruptible, Joker stands to prove that crime cannot be defeated. In order to truly defeat his greatest foe, Batman has to kill Joker, but that would make him a killer, right? Exactly. Batman would become the very thing he’s trying to defeat, but that’s the only way to defeat it. So at the end of the day, Batman might win the fight, but Joker wins the argument.
Joker isn’t insane, he’s actually trying to demonstrate that we are insane. All of us. We are insane for taking life too seriously, when the truth is, it’s all meaningless in the end. That is not being tuned in to reality, to think that there’s a point to what is pointless. This would also explain why Joker has no regard for his own well-being; because why would he? He’s gonna die someday anyway, right? So, Joker is not insane; he’s actually saner than everyone else, including those of us in real life. And I think the real reason Batman will never kill Joker is not because it would go against his code, but because he knows Joker’s right, and he’s simply in denial. He thinks he can punch his way out of that truth.
Isn’t that hilarious?
The sequel to Remnant, which will be called Resurrection, explores the past of the character Ethan. As expected by anyone who has read Remnant, it introduces the one he became lovers and a parent with.
I’ve never written a love story before, neither in my non-published writings nor in Remnant. Working on the love story in Resurrection has been a real treat for this reason. It is an unusual kind of relationship Ethan has, and it, obviously, is between two unusual people, as would be expected with Ethan.
As anyone who knows me knows, I’m a big sucker for the subject of love. I do believe love is the only thing truly worth living for. A true religion, if you will. Something that cannot be seen or measured, but it can be felt and it is real in our hearts, like religious faith.
Knowing personally what it’s like to be in love, writing about two people experiencing it for the first time is like reliving it myself all over again. In Remnant, with James and Candace, there is a scene where the two reconcile after many months of tension and emotional distance from one another. That was one of my favorite scenes to write in the entire book, because it depicts something I believe to be true, with all my heart: that no matter what, love can find a way. James had already known his wife’s secret; a secret that many readers told me made them despise Candace. Despite knowing what Candace had done, he continued to love her, and just moments before both their deaths, all was made well again. I think, to James it was worth patiently waiting for Candace to come clean, even if to just have five last minutes of feeling what it’s like to be in love again. With Ethan and his lover in Resurrection, you get to see the opposite of what you saw with James and Candace. You see the beginning of the relationship, not the end. But trust me, the beginning of this relationship is equally as tumultuous as the end of James and Candace’s.
This is one of the reasons the experience of writing Resurrection has been more exciting than it was to write its predecessor. Where Remnant was a story about survival and ruin, Resurrection is about rising above events that nearly killed the characters. Some have told me they thought Ethan and Mercy were going to get together in Remnant, to which I usually responded by saying there wouldn’t have even been time for that. In this second entry of the series, I can depict more things to do with these important characters than merely their dire circumstances. I can explore their humanity. I can show my readers what makes these characters exactly who they are, and why.
In a way, Resurrection is a story about the healing power of love, in all the forms it comes in. I am excited to share the story with the world this year.
When it comes to writing a story, I believe you need a few key ingredients.
All stories, short and long, take a great deal of time to write. Years, in most cases. So, of course, if you’re going to dedicate so much of your life into this novel, it must be a story you love. This novel will be one of your children. As one of your children, expect it to drive you crazy sometimes, and don’t expect it to be perfect. Your mind needs to be in the right place when you do this. Writing novels isn’t as easy as non-writers think. There’s more to it than just putting words on paper, the same way making food is more than just turning on the stove.
The process is simple, but not easy. If you follow these simple steps, which helped me a great deal in publishing my novel Remnant, you might just get done faster than normal.
Step 1: Know the story.
I don’t just mean know what the story is about. I mean you need to know this story. With this step one, I will divide it into three sub-steps. Know how it begins, know how it ends, and know what it’s about. Every single thing that happens in the story is trying to arrive at a single point: the end. Will the guy get the girl? Will the villain be defeated? Will the meaning of life be discovered? Will they survive? The entire point of the story is about where it will ultimately end up. Now, you may be asking “how do I know where to begin?” Well, now we get to step 2.
Step 2: Start as close to the ending as possible.
Your novel could be a romance. However, if you start the book 3,000 years ago in ancient China, when all your story is about is two unlikely people falling in love in modern-day New York, that history segment is nothing but filler. Of course, that is an extreme example, but I’m sure you see my point. If not, I will say my point. Don’t make your story longer than it needs to be. Your readers will notice. Every single chapter should have at least one of two things happening: advancing the story, or developing necessary information. If you find yourself trying excessively hard to make the novel longer just for the sake of making it longer, than your story might just belong in the category of ‘short story,’ which is just fine. Not everyone wants to read a mountain-sized novel anyway.
Step 3: Chart out the entire story backwards.
Yes, you heard me right. Backwards. Now, just to clarify, I do NOT mean your story should actually be played out backwards Memento-style. Unless that’s exactly what you want to do, I’m only referring to planning here. When you’re having multiple plot points all converge upon a single conclusion, that’s a lot of details to work out. To make sense of it all, write the story backwards, starting at where it ends, then list what directly led to that event, then list what led to that event, and so on. Trust me, it helps a lot.
Well, these are my tips. They help me, and I hope they help you.
While I wrote this article, this song started playing on my computer. I think I’ll encourage you all to listen to it while you read this.
They say, “Plant a tree, write a book, and raise a child.” I couldn’t find the exact source of that quote, but it is a phrase I agree with. Even before I ever heard of it I agreed with it.
What’s the significance of planting a tree? Well, all life on Earth gets the energy it needs to survive from the sun, and where do animals like us get this energy? We don’t directly eat sunlight. Well, we get it from plants, who in their own way actually do eat sunlight. So, ‘plant a tree’ I agree with because we as humans survive thanks to plants. Also, trees help with our breathing too. We kind of owe plants our utmost respect. They take care of us and we don’t seem to take care of them much.
I’ll get to ‘write a book’ later.
As for ‘raise a child,’ I think there’s more to that one than the simple fact we need children to continue as a species. Remnant has many themes in it, including faith, the question of fight or flight, etc. One of the themes I had in the back of my head while writing the book was this: Children are our redemption. (Spoiler warning! Read no further if you haven’t read the book and don’t want the story ruined! You have been warned.) Ethan, though you don’t know exactly what he has done that he is so ashamed of, apart from the things he commits in the narrative, you know he’s done some pretty horrible things. So, why does he want to leave his daughter with someone else? Because he has already done horrible things, but he doesn’t want his child to follow in his steps. Children are like the second chance at life we never had. That is why they are our redemption. Most parents love their children, and for many parents, children are their motivation to clean up their life. For some, like Ethan (who I acknowledge is a fictional character), it is far too late to clean up their life, so they do everything in their power to prevent their child from becoming like them, even if that means leaving their life forever. Also, there is no love a person can have for another like the love a parent has for their child. When you have a child, suddenly your own well-being isn’t your primary concern anymore. It gives you purpose, where before, you may not have had a purpose. A child can be happy even when everything around them is terrible. A child can love and forgive unconditionally. Nothing changes your perspective of the world quite like growing into adulthood. Your imagination shrinks because you’ve been exposed to reality for a long time by then. But a child still has that imagination, they can still dream vastly without being hindered by ‘facts’ or doubt. They don’t weigh the odds, they just try. No matter who you are, you can learn a great deal from having a child. That is why I agree that everyone should have at least one child before they die.
Now, to ‘write a book.’
The reason I love to write is because stories are where our imaginations can be preserved. It’s where the impossible becomes possible. It’s where our wishes come true. It’s where we can relive happy experiences, or create experiences we know we will never have. I think it is the only true spirituality in the world. That and music. Only stories and music can truly transport a person to a higher state of existence, where true peace can be found.
Human beings have loved stories for hundreds of thousands of years, since our ancestors were first able to communicate with each other. When our species first learned how to write, and I’m mostly just referring to cave drawings, what did we do with that achievement? We depicted stories. Legends. Things that may or may not have happened. It didn’t matter if these events were true, because we love stories. It makes sense, I think, when one considers the fact we are social animals. We need others to survive, to be happy, and to have a purpose at all. So, of course we would naturally crave stories about how this man fought off a giant, or how the gods were angry and tried to kill us all but our people defeated the gods. We need stories to know that huge obstacles can be overcome. We need stories to know that someone out there is just like us and struggles just like we do. There’s a reason we treat fictional characters like real people: sometimes, fictional characters are real to US. If they’re real to us, that makes them plenty real.
I believe our innate love of stories is the primary driving force behind religion. It is why I think that, despite how dangerous religion is, it will never truly go away. It’s written into our DNA. Our existence needs a plot. For many, it’s difficult to accept that our existence is a result of chance, and there is no grand future our existence is heading toward. I can understand why billions of people can’t accept that.
Why should we all write a book? I think it is because we all know there is no magic in real life. Happy endings are extremely rare, and even when they happen, they still aren’t the true ending. The true ending is death; the thing we fear the most. Our bodies, our minds, were entirely designed for survival. Despite being 100% built to survive as long as possible, death is still something we cannot escape. However, perhaps death is possible to escape in a story. Even if you write a story where all the characters die, those characters are still immortalized in the book. A person can still open the book again, and start from the beginning. The book will live longer than the one who wrote it. In a book, there can be magic, and there can be happy endings. See, writing a book isn’t about the finished product, it’s about the writing itself. One has to take their mind into a different place, and live in that place in order to bring the story to life. Maybe you’ll spend 50 years writing that story. Maybe you never know where the story is going. But at least you’ll be writing it.
Make something that never truly happened happen. Ignore the laws of physics and time, and do the impossible. Such things are possible in the stories we create, no matter how much real life weighs us down.
The theme of my novel Remnant is faith. Since it is a character-oriented story, and it is written from their points of view, you get to know them fairly intimately by the end of the novel. I think the underlying theme to everything they are all going through is having hope when it is foolish to have any. As one example: Theia hopes to find her parents, even though she has no idea where they are, and she starts to be convinced her parents don’t even want her back. Another character has religious faith, believing that God will make the world right again, and he is utterly patient to find out if that will happen.
Of course, my novel’s meaning, theme, and even exact plot, is subjective and up to the reader’s interpretation. There absolutely is a specific direction the plot is going, and a theme, etc., but I don’t want to sit here as the author and say “this is what you should get from it,” because that would defeat what I want readers to take from it. It is written from several characters’ perspectives, and nobody in the book perceives everything correctly all the time.
In the context of this story, though, I think it is apparent that everyone relies on some kind of faith. Everyone’s circumstances are absolutely dire. They live in a familiar land, but that land has been torn apart by internal war, and now the land they once knew is desolate and destroyed. Food is scarce, and is equally as difficult to come by as friendly people. Basic human needs, from shelter to companionship, are all nearly impossible to come by. Yet, these people continue to try. In that environment, if someone is alive, it means they are putting your faith in something. Maybe it’s finding you family, maybe it’s having a family at all.
Remnant is a fictional story, but I put extra care into making it as realistic as I could. Because of that fact, I think the underlying theme of faith is something that drives all people to live from day to day, especially when life is difficult. If we didn’t crawl toward the light at the end of the tunnel, we’d just give up. Some people do give up, some people have a longer tunnel to crawl through, and some reach the light. What is pushing us, and how long it will push us, is all subjective and depends on the person. there’s never a guarantee we’ll get what we seek, but we always believe it’s worth trying, don’t we?
Some characters don’t have a happy ending, but some do, just as in real life. I openly forewarn everyone who has not read Remnant but is interested: it takes place in a kind of cruel world most people aren’t accustomed to seeing depicted, and cruel thing happen to the characters… but don’t hard times make it so much sweeter when we reach the light at the end of the tunnel?