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Villains: An Endangered Species?

Given such large and recent announcements, which we will get to later, there is something that has become a little bit of a company wide problem for both DC and Marvel. While it might not be a problem that will seem too urgent in the short run, over time it could manifest larger, deeper, structural issues. Which, at the end of the day, is helpful to no one, especially given the rocky nature of the “Big Two” in recent years.

 

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What could this problem be, one might ask, that it would be so dire? Well, if said one completely skipped over the heading for this article, that problem would be the increasingly worrying proportions of villains. As in, there are less and less villains – almost every year. They are slowly becoming an endangered species, almost like any other, and it’s something that needs to be addressed until it gets out of control. Also, before it stops being shocking enough to warrant any sort of sales spike, which is what the Big Two really should be concerned about. If something is done too many times then there’s no real interest in it happening again and then no hype.

Nonetheless one can already see the gears of its creative self-destruction already in motion and working. Characters known to the mass public as being antagonist roles or in the roles of the opposers to the heroes are getting their own ongoings – characters such as Magneto and Sinestro (maybe it’s an “-o” thing), to even the side comedy relief character known as Larfleeze. Previously, indeed at the start of the “New 52”, DC Comics had launched the Red Lanterns ongoing due to their perceived runaway popularity after the Blackest Night event, and right at the cusp of the reboot they even turned fan favorite DCAU character “Livewire” into a hero.

 

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Though, none of this is quite compared to the lengths that Marvel has gone through with their handling of this phenomena. The mascot for this on their end is two-fold. The first is none other than Dr. Doom, who has become a character with a large amount of stories that claim to give him depth when they in fact serve to place him into a heroic mold more often than not, creating this impression of him among readers that he is this anti-hero. A notion that itself has been completely overhauled and taken to task recently by writer Matt Fraction in his Fantastic Four/FF finale. Yet, to go back to Magneto, these are still interpretations that can stick. It blurs the line between the villains and the heroes, creating a gulf where conflict is concerned. If the villains are no long villains, who can our heroes fight?

That question is answered easily enough: they fight each other. Sure there have been stories such as Secret War and the Contest of Champions, but it has only been ramped up to such an inane level over the past decade and with such intensity. Civil War, Avengers vs. X-Men, Trinity War, and others much like those are just cookie cutter in their execution at this point. A formula decades past expiration. Yet, where can they turn to? Without the villains who are iconic in their stature to fall back on? New villains are hampered by the fact that they are new – and that they almost inevitably fail to capture an audience and die off/fade away.

 

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Inevitably, on the other spectrum, the idea of the villains reforming could be something that sticks around for a while – but in so far as the public thinks of the iconic incarnations, it is something that can always be reverted. To this end we have to take a look at DC’s very own Doctor Light, a villain with a huge amount of notoriety and one that is nearly inextricable tied to the Teen Titans franchise. Yet, a villain who has been overhauled completely into a pure hero with the advent of the “New 52” – something that was needed given that he was already made useless as a villain by Brad Metzler’s Identity Crisis.

The thing that is clear, however, is that he won’t be allowed to stay this way. Sooner or later, public perception is what matters and when the time for the inevitable Titans relaunch comes, he will be shoe horned into that. A sentiment echoed by Fraction’s Journey Into Mystery run, which ironically benefited by the exposure of Loki through the Marvel Studios movies as standing the chance of staying reformed. Still, it’s a zero sum game, as we either get shallow disposable replacements, or shoddily done/shoddily undone status quo changes that overall hurt the stories that lead up or spin out from them. It also just makes the protagonists, the people that we’re supposed to be cathartically rooting for, into nothing much but just jerks.

 

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Since I would be remiss to not mention Johns’ upcoming inclusion of Lex Luthor and Captain Cold to his  Justice League, all I have to say is that the change isn’t being played off as permanent, but as showing how such a thing would not work for the two. Which, overall, is a fantastic little experiment. Any thoughts and comments would be appreciated below. Do you have any villains you want to stay bad?

 

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