October 12, 2012

Lovable Supervillains

        A good villain can be so hard to find.  There are villains that I love for their delicious pure evil, such as Darth Vader in "A New Hope" and Maleficent in Disney's "Sleeping Beauty," but today I'm talking about villains that are actually our heroes.  With all my goody-goody speeches about heroic heroes, you'd probably expect that I'd purse my lips disapprovingly at the very idea of books or movies about supervillains.  And it's true that I have a very limited tolerance for anti-heroes, or "heroes" who do all the same evil things as the bad guys but are lauded because they do it for our team.  But I confess to as much fondness as anyone for a solidly comedic supervillain, especially, of course, one that turns out to have a heart of gold after all.  Here are a few I've enjoyed.
        Gru of "Despicable Me" - Sure it was predictable, but the point wasn't where we would end up; it was how we'd get there, and our whole family got a kick out of all the supervillainous fun.  We especially liked when Gru punched the shark, and of course the minions.
        Artemis Fowl of the series by Eoin Colfer - Colfer did a nice job with Artemis's transition from pure villain to heart of gold, and of course I liked Butler the bodyguard, proving once again that a supervillain needs super sidekicks.  And both Artemis and his opponents always have the most excellent selection of technological and magical toys.  But [Spoiler Alert!] I'm sorry to say that I lost it at the end of the third book when Artemis lost his memory and turned completely evil again.  That's when I gave up.  (But I am assured by one of T's friends that I should have kept going because he gets his memory back and the whole series is awesome.)
        Bartimaeus of The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud (Book One is The Amulet of Samarkand) - Bartimaeus is a true demon, introduced as a villain, and certainly looking out for himself.  But his sense of perspective, and most of all his sense of humor, end up making him the hero of the series.  (There's another book about the character, The Ring of Solomon, that's still on my list of books I'd like to read.)
        Demon Kid of St Viper's School for Super Villains, by Kim Donovan - I received a review copy of this one, and my real regret is that it wasn't around three years ago.  Unfortunately, P is really out the top end of its target reading level, so he and I both thought it was cute, but slight.  In some ways almost a parody of Harry Potter, Demon Kid begins a new school, runs into immediate rivals, makes friends, and has to prove his worth to the teachers and himself.  There were lots of fun jokes and references to supervillain tropes, a few twists, and exciting chases and battles.  I think the toughest thing in the series will be that perpetual problem for supervillain heroes: the balance between believable badness and likeable goodness.  If Demon Kid were really to be a supervillain, wouldn't he happily kill all his enemies and backstab all his allies at the first convenient opportunity?  And if he's to show mercy and loyalty instead, how to keep up the plot device of his desire to be the most nefarious villain of them all?  Still, such meta considerations aside, I think this would be a fun, light romp for the seven or eight year old who likes super heroes and lots of sound effects.  What's not to love about invisible invisibility guns, classes in diabolical laughter, and the International Space Station?
        Finally, what about two more characters riding that thin line between lovable and hateable: Dexter of the cartoon "Dexter's Lab," and Calvin of the comic Calvin and Hobbes.  Both veer wildly between noble impulses and plans for world domination.  Both endear themselves to us with their quirky imaginations and ridiculous escapades.  Both would be nightmares in real life, but are treasures in the world of fiction.
        So let's join the minions in cheering for our favorite supervillain's latest plans to take over the Earth.  And may the most absurdly villainous villain win!

[Pictures: "Chill vs Demon Kid," computer artwork by Petherick Button from St Viper's School for Super Villains: the Riotous Rocket Ship Robbery by Kim Donovan, 2011;
"Calvin as tyrant," pen and ink from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, May 11, 1992.]

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