Top 10 Favorite Villains

Wow. I’m long over due on this one aren’t I? I sort of fell off the blogging wagon at the end of last year. Sorry about that, especially to Josh, who I vowed to try to keep up with.

For 2014 one of my personal goals is to start writing more often. I enjoy writing and I need to develop that. So expect more things here, including more short stories. Here we go.

Time for another top 10, this time it’s my favorite villains. Like my boy Josh did over here on his own list, I’m limiting this to single villains (no groups or evil races), only one villain per series/show/universe, and only to ones I myself have experienced (meaning I’ve played the game/seen the show or film/read the book/etc)

Let’s do this thang.

10. Gul Dukat – Star Trek: Deep Space 9

guldukat

Gul Dukat: A true victory is to make your enemy realize they were wrong to oppose you in the first place; to force them to acknowledge your greatness!
Weyoun: Then you kill them?
Gul Dukat: Only if it’s necessary.”

“What?” you might say. “This is your entry for Star Trek, and not Q?” Yes, yes it is. For one thing, I don’t think Q is actually a villain. Half of the various episodes he’s portrayed in, his morality is something akin to “Beyond Good and Evil” and the other half, he’s either actively helping someone (however twisted it may seem) or just being goofy. Gul Dukat, however, is a truly magnificent villain. You could make lists of his individual crimes that would go on forever, yet because of his charm and likable demeanor, you could almost forget you’re having dinner with a mass-murderer. Seriously, watch the show and count the number of times he switches sides, or at least appears to.

The quote above pretty much exemplifies why Dukat is so enjoyable to watch. He never believes anything he does is evil. He believes he is a great man, and that sometimes great men must do things other lesser beings consider horrible, but of course that is only because they lack the proper vision! His ego is that out of control, and it leads him to allying himself with creatures which are the Bajoran religion’s equivalent of demons, nearly annihilating the galaxy in the process. I loved watching this guy, and Marc Alaimo did a fantastic job portraying him

9. Harbinger – Mass Effect series

Harbinger

“ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL”

The Reapers are terrifying enough. Massive ships that resemble squids, equipped with a weapon that can shred capital ships in one or two hits, posessed of incredibly deep voices designed to induce terror in their foes, and have the ability to indoctrinate people, which is essentially a form of mind control that they can do even when they’re dead (the Mass Effect wiki describes it starting out as feelings of paranoia , like they’re being watched, evolving into  subtle whispers that they subject cant ignore, that you follow without question, and eventually devolves into mindless slavery). They’re very clearly designed to resemble Lovecraftian entities in design, intent, and undefeatability.

Now make one of them larger, older, more devious, and multiply it’s firepower several times over. That’s Harbinger.

You first “encounter” him in Mass Effect 2, although you don’t realize who or what he is at first. Your enemies in that game, the Collectors, aren’t very well understood initially, and occasionally when fighting them, you’ll hear a deep voice utter “ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL” and one of them will rise into the air, become enveloped in some kind of energy, and land with heavier armor and coming at you with better tactics. You kill it, but the voice only taunts you again afterwards, and later, you find yourself battling another “possessed” Collector. As you continue in the game, you’re led to believe that “Harbinger” is the name of the Collector’s General, and that it possesses its own drones to better fight you and serve as a battlefield leader without endangering itself.

It’s not. The General itself is possessed by the true Harbinger, and it’s used as an intermediary for the drones. Harbinger is in fact a Reaper, the oldest Reaper. It’s bigger, more powerful, and smarter than the rest. And it wants you dead.

You can make a case for Sovereign (the Reaper that was the main antagonist of Mass Effect 1) being an equally good or better representation of the Reapers, but I find the constant terror of battling Sovereign’s posessed soldiers to be a more satisfying experience overall. And the final scene of Mass Effect 3, where Harbinger is doing his damndest to kill you personally, is just sheer terror and adrenaline.

8. The Joker – Various Batman series

The Joker

“My point is, I went crazy. When I saw what a black, awful joke the world was, I went crazy as a coot! I admit it! Why can’t you? I mean, you’re not unintelligent! You must see the reality of the situation. Do you know how many times we’ve come close to world war three over a flock of geese on a computer screen? Do you know what triggered the last world war? An argument over how many telegraph poles Germany owed its war debt creditors! Telegraph poles! Ha ha ha ha HA! It’s all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for… it’s all a monstrous, demented gag! So why can’t you see the funny side? Why aren’t you laughing?”

Oh man, the Joker. Of all the Batman villains, you knew it had to be him. He’s been the Dark Knight’s main foe for years, and his appearance and demeanor has ranged from amusing to downright terrifying. I can think of so many versions of the Joker that are memorable. The No Man’s Land series when he murdered Sarah Essen-Gordan. The entirety of Batman: The Killing Joke, where one of many versions of the Joker’s origin story is detailed (though this one may be the most famous). And of course there’s Mark Hamill’s masterful voicework as the Joker of the Bruce Timm-helmed DC animated universe. But I think a lot of us can only think of Heath Ledger’s Joker from the Dark Knight when we think of the character. And why shouldn’t we, he did an absolutely fantastic job.

The Joker is madness personified, a man with no restraints, no morals, nothing holding him back from doing whatever he likes strictly for his own demented amusement. Nothing is sacred to him, there’s no line he won’t cross if he feels like it. And he isn’t going anywhere, because Batman’s own moral code prevents him from ever killing him. No matter what the Joker does, no matter how many he kills or ruins, he’ll always come back for more.

7. General Tarquin – Order of the Stick

Tarquin

Tarquin: I’m sorry, Elan, but you brought this all on yourself. I tried to give you a dramatically significant death scene to swear vengeance over, but you seem to prefer this…this disjointed anarchy.
Elan: Didn’t we… already do the scene… where you try to convince me to do things your way?”
Tarquin: Yes, and it didn’t go right, so we are DOING IT AGAIN. And we will CONTINUE to do it until you understand that it is in your best interests to listen.

The Order of the Stick is a comic where everyone is aware that they are characters in a D&D-based comic, and concepts like attack rolls, hit points, skill checks, and saving throws are well known and natural to the world. The heroes know they’re the player characters, the heroes of the story, and the world almost literally revolves around them. So what makes a villain dangerous in a setting like this? One who is completely aware of the tropes and cliches inherent in stories about villains and their minions and is able to subvert that knowledge to keep himself in power. Tarquin knows he’s in a classic fantasy story, and he knows what happens in stories like this one. He uses this knowledge to set himself up as the ultimate villain, knowing that some day, some hero of destiny will come to take him down. He welcomes the inevitability, because he knows the story will make him a legend.

Of course, he’s well equipped to make this goal happen. He’s an incredible warrior, a stellar tactician, and he has the support of his own party of adventurers, friends who have gained in power as he has. The six of them rule the three most powerful empires on the Western Continent from behind the scenes, manipulating their puppet rulers to keep their kingdoms strong. When the Order of the Stick encounter him, he is affable, helping the Order both out of sheer confidence in his own established power, and his belief that the story will keep him in power until it is most dramatic and poignant to do so. And he’s right, it seems impossible to ever topple him. It doesn’t help that his son, Elan, is a member of the Order himself. Tarquin firmly believes that his son is the hero of the story, and he is determined that Elan will follow the plot of the story as he believes it is destined to go: Elan will suffer some sort of defeat, swear vengeance, wrestle will the idea of killing his own family, and culminating with a final showdown. The problem is, Elan isn’t the leader of the Order of the Stick, and he’s not the story’s main protagonist. He knows this and is content to serve his purpose in the story. As you can tell from his quote above, Tarquin does not take this well, and you can see how ruthless, sadistic, and vile he is under that affable exterior.

Tarquin is a subversion on the usual fantasy warlord villain, and he is a lot of fun to watch, just to see how many of the usual ways heroes trick villains he will see coming and be prepared for. And it makes Order of the Stick far more interesting, because a villain who sees what we expect coming requires an outside-of-the-box solution to beat!

6. The Master – Doctor Who

The master

The Doctor: But you’re changing history. Not just Earth, the entire universe!
The Master: I’m a Time Lord. I have that right.
The Doctor: But even then, why come all this way, just to destroy?!
Toclafane: We come backwards in time, all to build a brand new empire, lasting 100 trillion years!
The Master: With me as their Master. Time Lord and humans combined; hadn’t you always dreamt of that, Doctor?

The Master, like the Doctor, is a Time Lord. Where the Doctor goes and seeks to help people, the Master is bent on conquest and rule.

Played primarily by the brilliant John Simm in the new Doctor Who series (Derek Jacobi briefly held the role before the Master was shot and regenerated into the John Simm version), the Master served as the memorable “Big Bad” of season 3, as well as Tennant’s final appearance as the Doctor in “The End of Time”. Credit can be given to this version of the Master for greatly expanding his backstory. As a boy, the young Master was taken to look into the Untempered Schism, a rip in the whole of Time and Space where one could see the entire Time Vortex. The experience drove him mad. The Master constantly hears a series of 4 drumbeats in his mind, never ceasing, and he blames this event.

The Master is a conqueror, seeking absolute control over the universe. In the revised series, he fled the Time War in fear, hiding at the very end of the universe, forcing himself to forget who he was using Time Lord technology to make himself human. Unfortunately, he is awoken, steals the Doctor’s TARDIS and returns to present day Earth, manipulating the British government and citizenry to become Prime Minister. With the help of some creatures (won’t say what, as it’s too awesome to spoil) he had encountered at the end of the universe, he takes over the planet, ruling unopposed for a solid year, building a fleet of rockets to go forth and conquer the rest of the universe, in the name of establishing a “New Gallifrey”, the Time Lord homeworld which died in the Time War.

John Simm’s portrayal of the Master is spectacular, switching from an evil mastermind gloating at the Doctor’s failures to speaking with the Doctor as though the two were long lost brothers, catching up after so much time apart. He perfectly pulls off the charming exterior that barely conceals a sadistic madman, and manages to make him utterly hilarious at the same time. For that, he gets a spot in the top 10 for me.

5. GLaDOS – Portal Series

GLaDOS

“Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the chamber floor will result in an “unsatisfactory” mark on your official testing record, followed by death. Good luck!”

GLaDOS is one of the most unique villains on my list. Initially she’s just a voice on a loudspeaker, compelling you to proceed through elaborate test scenarios of the portal gun. She seems benign enough, if a bit cold, but slowly you realize the maliciousness of this voice, culminating in her leading you to your would-be death. You escape her clutches and control, and eventually seem to destroy her. She returns in Portal 2, more vicious (well you DID kill her) and deadly. Through a series of strange circumstances you actually end up allied with her against a worse threat. She regains control of the testing facility, and just when you think she’s going to end you…she lets you leave.

GLaDOS is memorable because of her distinctive voice, her dialogue (which ranges from very subtly threatening to being outright yet still affably malicious), and the seeming impossibility of defeating her or wresting control of your fate from her, a very Lovecraftian concept.

4. The Lich King – World of Warcraft

The Lich King

“But, be warned. The land itself will rise up against you.
Long forgotten terrors will smother your courage.
Sacrifice everything as the final darkness falls…
In the end, all that awaits you is death.
Only then will you understand,
you’ve been following in my footsteps all along.
So come then, you heroes! Come in all your power and glory!
For in the final hour, all must serve the one… true… king…”

Oh the Lich King. First introduced in Warcraft 3, where he began as the fallen paladin-turned-Death Knight Arthas. Ultimately at the game’s conclusion, Arthas would don the Lich King’s armor and merge his soul with that of the original Lich King, the former Orc Ner’zhul. In World of Warcraft, the presence of his undead minions was felt, but the Lich King himself would not appear until the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, where he would attack major hubs of civilization in both Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms in hopes of luring powerful adventurers to Northrend, where he would constantly appear, sending powerful minions against you, but curiously, never attacking you himself. This lasted throughout the entire content cycle of this expansion until the final raid on Icecrown Citadel was added to the game, where you battle the Lich King himself.

And that’s where he reveals that everything he subjected you to, all the powerful undead minions he threw at you, the moral quandaries he subjected you to, even the fight with the Lich King himself….was all a test. After you sufficiently damage the Lich King enough, he uses a single attack that instantly kills your entire raid. And then he reveals his plan: to bring the greatest, most powerful adventurers and heroes to Northrend, test their resolve and strength, and weed out those powerful enough to challenge even the Lich King…and raise them up as his most powerful undead generals, warriors capable of covering all of Azeroth in darkness and death.

Had he not made the single arrogant mistake of leaving Tirion Fordring alive during the battle, he would have succeeded. But he did, and Tirion shattered his bonds and then shattered the Lich King’s iconic runeblade, the weapon that started him down his path to damnation, Frostmourne. The runeblade released the souls it had stolen, one of whom held the power to resurrect the dead adventurers and bring the Lich King down for good.

The Lich King is one of the most iconic villains of the Warcraft franchise, and a classic example of the fallen hero. However, there is no redemption for Arthas. We’re never really sure what exactly the Lich King is, in the end, though. Initially, he’s the corrupted spirit of an Orc Shaman, then by Warcraft 3’s end, it seems Arthas and Ner’zhul fuse into some sort of gestalt entity. The Lich King book’s conclusion would seem to have Arthas obliterate both the spirit of Ner’zhul and the remnant of his good side (represented by himself as a child) making the corrupted Arthas the dominant personality. And then when you kill him in World of Warcraft, his iconic helmet falls off, the icy power fades from Arthas’ eyes, and he asks if it’s over before dying. However, the idea that “there must always be a Lich King” has been made mention of several times by this point, and another must take up the mantle of the Lich King to prevent the Scourge from overflowing Azeroth. I’m massively summarizing here to avoid spoilers, it’s a cool cinematic and you should all go watch it, but ultimately another heroically chooses to bear the burden, and puts the Lich King’s helmet on. When he does, his voice noticeably changes, becoming very much like Arthas’ when he was the Lich King. So what exactly is the Lich King? Does Ner’zhul’s spirit live on in the helm? We may never know.

3. Loki – Marvel Cinematic Universe

Loki

“Are you ever not going to fall for that?”

Let’s face it, before Tom Hiddleston took the role over, Loki was fairly low in the ranks of popular Marvel comic villains. Sure he was considered Thor’s archenemy, but as a villain, he was a fairly typical megalomaniacal world-conqueror sort. Tom Hiddleston, in his appearance in Thor, The Avengers, and most recently Thor 2: The Dark World, have redefined Loki and made him one of Marvel’s most popular characters.

The Marvel Cinematic Loki retains Loki’s powers and tactics as a trickster and sorceror, but made the focus of his character development his self-worth issues. In Thor, Loki feels that Odin considers him inferior to his brother, this despite Thor’s arrogance and immaturity. This is made even worse when he discovers he’s not even Asgardian, he’s a Frost Giant adopted by Odin. So to win his father’s love, he shows Thor for the ass that he is, and then manipulates the Frost Giants so that he is in a position to kill their king, and look justified in doing so, giving him all the reason he needs to try to wipe out their world. In The Avengers, bereft of acceptance from his father, he tries to prove he is greater than him by conquering Earth (with the help of Thanos and the Chitauri). Finally, in Thor 2, he’s given up any semblance of loving his adopted father, and is only motivated to help Thor by revenge against the Dark Elves. At the film’s end….well, it’s still a little too new to say here, but lets just say Loki’s need for affirmation has manifested itself again.

Tom plays Loki as a charming, witty, affably evil persona barely concealing the rage and fury he feels at his place in life, and does a fantastic job with the role. The little nuances, such as the laughter, the mirthless smile, and the few times when the facade drops and we see the true sadistic side of Loki, are all brilliantly done. It’s a shame we won’t see Tom as Loki again anytime soon, because he’s set himself up as a superstar from that role alone.

2. Handsome Jack – Borderlands 2

Handsome Jack

“Hey, you know how I got my hands on that Vault Key? See, a few years back, Wilhelm and I paid a visit to your little friend Tannis. And we beat her for hours. We ripped it outta her broken fingers. But we let her live. Because that’s what heroes do. They show mercy. “

Okay, if you’ve played Borderlands, you know it’s not a nice place at all. The wildlife is vicious and terrifying, most of the people have gone completely insane and think nothing of inflicting horrible atrocities upon each other, whatever parts aren’t overrun by bandits are almost all controlled by a monolithic mega-corp that has equally low regard for human life, and ever the heroes that you play as have what could most kindly be described as “issues”. But nothing shows the ugly, the evil, the skin-crawling wrongness of the world of Pandora like Handsome Jack.

Handsome Jack is the CEO of Hyperion (the aformentioned mega-corp), which has essentially interdicted Pandora. He is seeking another Vault on the world to release a powerful being known as the Warrior, as well as the means to control it, to bring “order and civilization” to Pandora. Sounds like a worthy goal, right? Well, it would be, except he’s a sadistic psychopath, and his concept of “bringing order” pretty much entails “viciously killing anyone or anything on the planet that isn’t Hyperion, and sometimes even Hyperion personnel”. And I do mean anyone. Jack is mentioned to have killed innocent men, women, and children during the game. He has practically enslaved his own daughter, and is using her to empower the device that will allow him to free and control the Warrior. Mind you, this entails pumping her full of a radioactive substance native to Pandora AT ALL TIMES, and keeping a slave collar on her just to control her. He cracks up at the result of his murder of Helena Pierce, barely containing his laughter long enough to order his men to kill the refugees she was leading to safety. His corporation maintains facilities where humans are experimented on. And he regularly contacts you just to give you crap about things you’ve done, scream threats at you, or let you know about some other horrific atrocity he’s committed or planning to commit.

Jack himself isn’t very intimidating to you the player, because you’re a far bigger badass with loads and loads of guns, but as a concept, Jack is terrifying. The idea that a human being could be this depraved, to do the things he’s done, and in his mind consider himself a hero, AND gained the crazy amount of power Jack has, is utterly horrifying to comprehend. Jack inflicts some horrible tragic things on the protagonists and the people they protect as well, and together, these things make him my second most favorite villain, and a true joy when I get to the final boss fight with him in the game.

1. Grand Admiral Thrawn – Star Wars expanded universe

Thrawn

Thrawn: “It was my one failure, out on the Fringes. The one time when understanding a race’s art gave me no insight at all into its psyche. At least not at the time. Now, I believe I’m finally beginning to understand them.”
Pellaeon: “I’m sure that will prove useful in the future.”
Thrawn: “I doubt it. I wound up destroying their world.”

Grand Admiral Thrawn. The first villain introduced to the Star Wars universe beyond the Emperor and Darth Vader. So much was unknown about Thrawn when Timothy Zahn first wrote his trilogy of books in the early 90s. With blue skin and red eyes, it was clear the man was not human. So what was he? Why had his species not been seen in the Empire or the Republic before it? And how did he get to the ultimate military position of power in the Empire, known to be extremely xenophobic to non-humans?  His genius is demonstrated early on, combining incredible tactical knowledge and skill with the ability to get into the minds of the foes he faces, to understand their psychology, simply by studying the works of art of their species. He gives the nascent New Republic the first true real threat they’ve faced since defeating the Empire at Endor, and for a time it seems like he’s unbeatable. Only by making a major error in understanding the Noghri, an alien race that had dedicated itself to the Empire, does he fall.

But what were his motivations? Further writings show that he was a maverick among his people, who as a nation do not attack others with military force unless provoked. Thrawn believed that first strikes were necessary to ensure the safety of the greater good. He was exiled for acting on this belief, and was later found by the Empire and brought to the Emperor. The Emperor granted him rank and sent him to map the Unknown Regions, in the name of the Empire. It would seem he succeeded at doing that, but he created a vast swath of territory in his own name and ideals…the best of the Empire (unity, common purpose, strength) without the worst aspects (xenophobia, megalomanical displays of power, leadership through fear), and called it the Empire of the Hand.

It would seem his motivations lie in uniting the galaxy in the face of extra-galactic threats, though some of his actions described in the Thrawn trilogy would belie his noble purpose (see the scenario described in the quote above). Whatever Thrawn’s true motivations may have been, he made for a wonderful villain for the New Republic, and his legacy on the Star Wars universe earns him my number 1 favorite villain spot.

So there you have it. Did I miss someone I shouldn’t have? Is there someone I’m missing because I simply haven’t seen/read the universe they’re a part of? Comment below!!

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