So, a great villain
I love Batman. I don’t know
why—maybe it’s the cool gadgets, but my fascination started with “Holy
Toledo, Batman,” in the fifth grade as I watched Adam West run around
in his blue pajamas. Even then, the villains scared me—the Penguin and
Catwoman . . . but no one was worse than the Joker. And through the
years, he’s only gotten scarier—first through Jack Nickolson’s
portrayal in the 1989 version of Batman, and most
recently the late Heath Ledger’s amazing performance.
But what makes the Joker so
frightening, the quintessential villain? It’s not just his face, or his
crazy antics, although they help. No, there is a formula to every epic
villain and the Joker nails it.
First, however, let’s find out
what makes a villain.
“Holy super-villain, Batman! Is
that a list?”
1. A great villain is Human, a little bit like us.
He wants what we want, or has been through what we’ve been through. For
example, the sad (but untrue) story the Joker in The Dark
Knight tells one of his victims about being abused by his
father makes us, just for a second, feel for the sick, deranged Joker.
Says our favorite caped crusader: “Criminals are complicated . . . we
just need to find out what they’re after.”
2. Except when they’re just a bit Eccentric. Weird.
Creepy. Like the Joker’s scars, and his propensity to lick his lips,
play with his hair, wield his knife to etch smiles into his victims’
faces. As wise Alfred says, “Maybe you don’t fully understand him.” Or,
maybe we don’t want to!
3. Especially since we don’t have to understand him to fear him. A
great villain is Believable. We know he’ll do what
he says. Like the Joker videotaping and killing Batman look-alikes.
4. A good villain also Goes after People in Power
—like the Joker taking out the judge and commissioner. They don’t stop
at the little people, they aim for the Big Dogs.
So, a great villain is human, he’s creepy, he’s believable, he’s taking
out the power players, and then he is . . .
5. Tricky. A great villain can find his way into
private places . . . like a meeting of the Mafia minds, or Bruce
Wayne’s penthouse party. Nowhere is safe.
6. And it’s not enough that he can find anyone anywhere, but he does Big
Ticket Crimes, like commandeering a semi and taking on a SWAT
convoy. A great villain doesn’t let a daunting thing like a police
escort or a heavily armed building detour him. He thinks BIG.
7. Because he’s also Indestructible.
He walks away unscathed from terrible crashes and flying bullets. Like
the Joker, walking away from said semi flipping over onto its back.
8. Most of all, a great villain Taunts
Death. He seemingly doesn’t care about being
defeated, even about dying. A great villain seems fearless before his
The Dark Knight allows
us the perfect opportunity to apply our list of Great Villain elements
and compare villains. In a surprise twist, Two-Face appears to finish
So, let’s see how Two Face stacks up against the Joker.
1. Human? Yep, Two Face has lost the woman he
loves, and we understand his motivation for hating the people who
2. Creepy? Take one look at his face, and you can’t
deny he’s got the Joker on the creepy scar scale.
3. He’s also a bit Eccentric with his coin
4. But will he kill people? Yep, Two Face tracks down a bad cop, and
point-blank takes him out. He’s Believable.
5. And Two Face has developed Tricky track-down
skills. He’s found the mobster responsible for freeing the Joker.
6. Then he becomes Indestructible when he survives
a car crash that kills the mobster.
7. Two Face even Taunts Death, putting the gun to
his head, ready to let the flip of the coin decide his fate at the end
when he is deciding whether to take out Batman and Commissioner Gordon.
So, who wins the war of the Two Villains?
Without a doubt, the Joker. Because while Two Face has all the
ingredients of a great villain, his motives are sane, even
The Joker however has no motives.
“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t
be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to
watch the world burn,” Alfred says about the Joker. He kills to kill.
He destroys to destroy.
And that’s the scariest villain of all.
Susan May Warren is the founder of My Book Therapy, a boutique fiction
editing service for writers, and runs A Writer’s
Blog. Join her and 300 other voices to write a book online in
2009 – Blog a Book with www.MyBookTherapy.com!