Who’s the worst fictional villain you can think of? As in, the one you hate the most, find the most evil, are happiest to see defeated? Not the cardboard, two-dimensional variety, but the most deliciously-written, most entertaining, best villain? Not necessarily the most “evil,” so much as the best-conceived on the part of the author…oh, you know what I mean!
The one who came to mind for me was Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She was cold, manipulative, sadistic, and power-hungry–everything a good villain should be (and she was downright shiver-inducing in Louise Fletcher‘s portrayal of her in the movie). The weird thing is that, even though she didn’t care anything about her patients, she probably didn’t see herself as evil. No one really does when you think about it. We all make justifications. Hers were probably that she was maintaining order and keeping undesirables out of mainstream society.
The other villain I though of was Superboy-Prime from DC Comics Infinite Crisis story line. It was one story I actually managed to follow, despite my comic book reading disability. He was a teen-aged version of Superman from a parallel universe. Shortly after he discovered his powers, his universe was destroyed. Bummer for him. He was compensated by being allowed to live in a “paradise” dimension, but it was a place where he could never grow into an adult or live up to his potential. On top of that, shortly afterward, DC Comics introduced Moral Ambiguity ™ into its stories. Superboy-Prime, having the limited reasoning ability of most teen-aged boys, couldn’t handle said Moral Ambiguity. He broke into the “real” world to show that he was a better hero than the other superheroes. However, again being an immature, hormone-riddled teen-aged boy, he let himself be manipulated by others in the furtherance of their not-so-benevolent agendas. Then he got angry and accidentally killed someone. Then he got really angry. Before he was finally defeated, he caused a lot of death and destruction, but somehow, you find yourself feeling sorry for him, just a little. Again, he didn’t think he was evil. In fact he was doing what he thought was right.
That’s what I think makes a good villain–and it’s a hard thing for a writer to do–someone who has justifications for his or her actions beyond just “being evil,” to the point where the reader may even identify with him or her.