Only one of a few panels at this year’s Wizard World Comic Con in Austin focusing on villains, the panel titled The Most Villainous Villain had its sights set on defining what could make a villain the worst of them all. The panel featured “The Holder’s Dominion” author and video game creator Genese Davis (doing double duty as a panelist and moderator); author of the “Dead Hearts” book series Susanne Lambdin; and “Flesh and Fire” author Lucas Mangum. Artist Jorge Molina was also supposed to be included on the panel but did not make it.
— Genese Davis (@GeneseDavis) November 18, 2017
Despite the fact that the three panelists at Wizard World Austin were authors, they discussed villains from a number of different types of media. In addition to talking about villains from their own books and other novels, they spoke of villains in film, video games and TV as well. “I don’t go with evil for evil’s sake,” said Lambdin, who prefers an antagonist’s slow descent into the role. Mangum agreed, adding that “nobody likes a mustache-twirler.”
All of the panelists also talked about some of their favorite pop culture villains, those that were fleshed-out enough to be interesting. Lambdin and Davis both love Moriarty from “Sherlock Holmes,” while Mangum’s favorite is Darth Vader. Davis mentioned that in online polls she’s created about favorite villains, The Joker wins time and time again. Offering some explanations, Mangum said that it’s because The Joker “represents lawlessness,” while Lambdin attributed his popularity to the fact that he’s “psychotic but lovable, flamboyant and fun.” Members of the audience also shared some of their favorite villains, including: Bellatrix Lestrange of the “Harry Potter” series, Doctor Eggman from the “Sonic the Hedgehog” video games, Colonel Hans Landa from “Inglourious Basterds,” Skeletor from “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” Vegeta from “Dragon Ball Z,” Hela from “Thor: Ragnarok,” and Queen Catherine from the “Reign” TV series.
— Lucas Mangum (@LMangumFiction) November 18, 2017
When Davis spoke of similar polls focused around female villains, the winners are more often than not those from Disney movies: Cruella de Vil, Ursula and Maleficent. All three panelists agreed that this must be in part due to the fact that women aren’t often portrayed as villains in adult programming – at least not as often as men – and these characters are influential on the young children watching the movies. The antagonistic women from the Disney movies are the ones that stick with people throughout their lives.
Davis, Lambdin and Mangum also spoke of villains that are less-than-perfect. Among those is John Travolta’s Terl from “Battlefield Earth,” Dennis Hopper’s Deacon from “Waterworld,” and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze in “Batman & Robin,” all according to Lambdin, though no one argued with those picks. Another topic was the point of view of villains, or even redeemed villains. As authors, the panelists spoke of empathizing with their antagonists to understand their motives. The TV show “Dexter” came up in conversation as a sort of empathetic villain – someone who has “a moral line they will not cross, or a justification for what they do,” as Davis put it.
It’s no wonder there were several panels discussing the different types of villains and the aspects of villainy that, as audiences, we aren’t always asked to consider. The antagonists of a series have to be just as thought-out as the protagonists for anything interesting to happen, after all.