Saturday, January 21, 2017

Villains Going Solo

Usually villains have a horde of minions at their disposal. An army of brutal followers ready to strip the heroes of all confidence and advantage. Those villains are terrifying. It looks like they have all the power in the world.

But what if I said that, sometimes, villains don’t need all that grand backdrop of followers?

The main villain going up against the heroes on his own, his own wits and power at his command. Maybe he has a small following, or maybe he’s a one man band. But he’s a loner, and he’s going to destroy the villains that way.

These kinds of villains are some of the most dangerous because you might not see them coming right away. Or if you do, you don’t see their true intent until it’s too late. They work quietly, use misdirection, and then slam the heroes with their work and a sneer of triumph as the heroes flail to recover.

Armies draw attention.

Loners can sneak in undetected.

Now not all villains should be this way, of course. Not all stories call for it. But they’re an interesting category of evil and wickedness.

Let’s look at Tolkien’s Morgoth from The Silmarillion. Morgoth was cunning, prowling Middle Earth and whispering into the ears of the most susceptible. He lured Sauron to his side, and we all know how dangerous Sauron turned out to be!

Morgoth didn’t outright defy the Valar. He was subtle, patient, quiet. He gathered followers, but he undermined the Valar with his cunning, too. He had the ability to stand alone and make himself into a force to be feared for many, many years on Middle Earth. He moved the right people, and did it quietly, slowly building.

In his wake, he left the world with one of its most powerful villains in years to come. Before the events of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sauron did a lot of damage by himself, too. He took after his master, prowling and creating trouble. He didn’t raise much of an army then, but he was still a pain in the heroes’ backsides.

While Morgoth quietly undermined the Valar and Sauron disrupted the peace that followed, the villain in Captain America: Civil War was a man quite literally going solo. Zemo was a single man on a mission, and his clever misdirection brought the heroes right where he wanted them, right where he could make them most vulnerable and turn them on each other.

Now if that isn’t power, I don’t know what is.

Zemo did everything on his own, though he did use outside resources he had available. He used Bucky’s past crimes to flush him out, to create conflict among the Avengers. He had no minions, no forces to back him. He was one man against super-powered fighters, and while he covered his tracks for a time, his smokescreen distracted the heroes from his real mission. And it left everyone in shatters.

Solo villains provide a force unto themselves. And while not all villains need or should be a one-man team, it may make your villain that much more intimidating if he has the capacity to wield that much power on his own, even when he has an army at his back and ready to do his will. Even if he doesn’t use it, just knowing that he could, while he still uses minions, could make him an intimidating presence for the heroes to face.

Images found via Pinterest.

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