A Case for Pure Evil

#1

“My friends, it has been said that I like war. My friends, I like war. My friends, I love war. I love holocausts, I love blitzkrieg, I love defensive lines, I love sieges, charges, I love mop-up operations and retreats…I love every act of war that can occur upon this earth. My heart leaps with joy whenever a soldier is tossed high into the air and torn to pieces by well-placed sniper rounds. And the feeling that comes when a soldier runs screaming from his tank only to be torn apart by machine gun fire is such an exquisite sensation. It moves me deep within my heart to watch a fresh recruit stabbing over and over into the bloated chest of a long-dead enemy…gentlemen, all I ask for is war.”

This is a massively summarized speech from one of my favorite villains in fiction. The Major, from the Hellsing series, is a modern day Nazi who leads an army to destroy London for a singular, simple reason. He loves war. Not the causes or the reasons, he doesn’t care about the honor of the Reich or racial purity or anything other than war for the sake of war. He loves the bloodshed, the carnage, and utter destructiveness of war and will go through extreme lengths to achieve what he wants; war without end. The Major is an example of a type of villain who has been discredited in modern fiction, called unoriginal or lacking in creativity and empathy. The Major isn’t the ‘hero of his own story.’ He isn’t a misunderstood victim. He isn’t a Well-Intentioned Extremist. He isn’t a good guy deep down.

The Major is a Complete Monster.

The Complete Monster, as described on TVTropes, is a villain utterly lacking in redeeming features. Most people hear this description and they yawn, thinking of mustache twirlers and monologuers. Considering these types of antagonists to be antiquated, without purpose in our more enlightened and sophisticated modern media, where complexity and sympathy is the measurement of the quality of an antagonist. I hear people say, all the time, that they are ‘tired of the stereotypical, bad-to-be-bad villain.’ These people are under the impression that writing a Complete Monster is lazy, and easily done.

But the Complete Monster is not easy to write. It may be one of the hardest cases of a character to write compellingly. The Complete Monster is heinous, without sympathy, and without any chance of redemption. What they do is evil, not because it must be done for a greater good, but because they want to. They are devoid of empathy (or if they have empathy, it is used for the sinister purposes of manipulation or increasing suffering), their reasons are either non-existent or unsympathetic and don’t even try to justify their actions, and they never at any point suffer moral doubts about what they’re doing.

When you think about the most well known Complete Monsters in fictional history, minds often go to Disney. Jaffar, Cruella de Ville, Scar. Maleficent’s name is even a synonym for evil intentions. Other prime examples are the Joker, Father, and Freddy Krueger. The main link between all Complete Monsters is their complete disregard for anything that stands in the way of achieving what they want. When people say that they hate Complete Monster villains for having boring motivations, they are usually focusing on the wrong thing. For starters, a Complete Monster doesn’t have “evil” as their motivation (unless their motivation is literally to spread evil, which can be interesting in its own way). Usually, a Complete Monster written well has motivations that are very simple. Common ones are power, money, and revenge. It could really be any of these, and you could still have a functional and effective Complete Monster, because for this type of villain, the motivation really isn’t the point. What they want doesn’t matter.

The thing that makes a Complete Monster a threat isn’t that they want something, it’s that they really want something. They want it so bad that they will do whatever they have to in order to get it, and it doesn’t matter how many orphans or puppies they have to kick on their way to it. They don’t care. Most importantly, the power of their wanting is so all consuming that nothing will ever cause them to waver from their course to getting it. That drive is what makes Complete Monsters so interesting and hard to look away from. It’s so rare, in fiction and reality, to see someone who has that much conviction and drive toward getting what they want. It doesn’t matter what it is, our Complete Monster wants it and that’s all that matters, and no petty little things like feelings or ethics are going to stop them.

Because the Complete Monster is so detached from moral reasoning, there is really nothing to slow them down. No morals bind them, no personal attachments to others make them vulnerable, and no regrets ever slow them down. That’s one of the main things that separate Complete Monsters from the Well-Intentioned Extremist; no regrets, no doubts, no hesitation. The Complete Monster isn’t going to have a conflict of conscience because they don’t have a conscience to be conflicted.

This complete lack of doubt in the evil they do, and their narcissistic ego, tends to make Complete Monsters incredibly charismatic when coupled with great writing and dialogue. But that brazen confidence and eye-catching charisma should never be confused with sympathy; the Complete Monster should never do anything that invokes our sympathy, or do something that makes us think that they might not be such a bad guy deep down. Usually, any sympathy we might have for a Complete Monster goes away once they start actually doing things, and we see how monstrous that lack of regard for regrets and doubts can make a person. This is the reason most Saturday Morning Cartoon villains didn’t really work as compelling Complete Monsters. Because they were limited by children’s television standards, they were restricted by morals, and a Complete Monster is characterized as a creature without restrictions.

Lack of restrictions are what make Complete Monsters so terrifying, especially for the team of protagonists. For protagonists used to bargaining, talking down villains, and convincing people to be their best selves, the Complete Monster presents the ultimate challenge. The Complete Monster cannot be placated because they want something and they will have it, usually to the detriment of the heroes or the world. The Complete Monster can’t be bargained into accepting a less damaging alternative, doesn’t have relationships to reign them in, no sympathetic motivation to deconstruct, and no morality to be appealed to.

For a band of heroes, the Complete Monster forces them to bring their all, because it’s certainly going to throw everything it has at them with absolutely no mercy. This is wear chips in their armor have a chance to show, because there is no tactic too low for this creature to exploit. No weakness that’s too dishonorable for it to prey on. The Complete Monster forces the heroes to either bring their best selves or be utterly destroyed. It presents a scenario in which there is no longer any diplomacy, no moralizing, just dig in your heels and fight for what’s right. Proving the strengths of their convictions against an unrelenting force that doesn’t have anything to hold it back.

Now I’m not saying that the Complete Monster should or has to be the manual off of which every villain is made. I love my Wilson Fisk, my Thanos, and my Discord. But I’m tired of the phrase “I’m tired of villains who are just plain evil.” In the hands of good writers, a Complete Monster who is just completely devoid of any sympathetic qualities and inner goodness can be a creature that is both fascinating to watch, and narratively impactful in a way that no other villain can be. There is a place in fiction for the mustache twirlers, the megalomaniacs addicted to monologuing, and the flamboyant sociopaths who can’t take a walk without kicking every puppy they pass. Pure evil can be complex in its simplicity.

All I’m asking is…give evil a chance.

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#2

Additional reference

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#3

Yeah, I actually thought of that when I saw the thread title (to the point of wondering if this was about that video, given the timing).

Other than that… okay? Honestly not sure of what to say. I mostly agree with the OP, and I don’t think there’s much to discuss - I mean, who can disagree with “something is good when it’s well-written”?

Though if it’s to be a blueprint for the antagonists in your two game projects, @Interestedparty I’m all for it! (also was that a Metal Gear Rising reference at the end? It sounded like a Metal Gear Rising reference)

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#4

I love this post so much. And Joker is a great example of how amazing a Pure Evil villain can be. Christopher Nolan said about The Dark Knight’s Joker, “He has no arc. He has no development. He is an absolute.”

And that’s one of the most fascinating things about his character.

In the original version of Mass Mother Murderer, I wrote a Pure Evil MC that was massively popular with my fans. I think this is because it can cathartic and even fun to do horrific things in a fictional, safe setting where these terrible things don’t have any real world consequences.

And I’ve personally always been a fan of good monologuing. Hell, MMM’s MC has a giant monologue in the last chapter where they lecture and humiliate all four ROs, and everyone loved it.

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#5

It was my main inspiration.
I saw it, tried discussing it with someone, got rejected off of the basis of “Pure Evil being too simple (former English teacher),” and decided to write my thoughts in an essay format.

…It is kind of stupid when you put it like that.

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#7

cough Mr Burns cough

#8

Honestly, not sure if Voldemort is a great example of Pure Evil done right. Opinions might differ, of course, but for my part, I found him quite boring, and the book never really managed to sell me on the “so scary no-one ever dares to say his name!” part. If we’re speaking Harry Potter, I think Bellatrix Lestrange might be a better example - maybe not as powerful, but unhinged enough that she genuinely comes across as scary.

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#9

I don’t think Voldie is necessarily terrifying from a reader’s standpoint, but he’s certainly menacing and creepy. Though from a character’s standpoint, I can see how the most powerful dark wizard of all time who committed genocide could be pretty scary. :man_shrugging:

#10

But that’s the thing, to me at least, he never felt like the most powerful dark wizard of all time. Sure, the characters are all talking about how dangerous he is, but every time he’s on-screen? He’s pretty disappointing.

#11

Just to add onto this: Ozai from Avatar the Last Airbender.

From the start he’s portrayed as the “ultimate challenge” yet compared to the rest of the cast, he’s really not that complex (at least in the series, Idk about the comics tbh). He’s a pretty good example of a pure evil type character and that’s just because it was necessary for the plot.

ATLA is still excellent nonetheless because Ozai just doesn’t matter very much and that’s fine. Stories were villains take a backseat to focus on other aspects can be just as compelling. Plus as it’s been pointed out before pure evil character doesn’t mean badly written or uncomplicated.

#13

The big thing I liked about Ozai is that the climactic confrontation was more about Aang’s personal growth and choices rather than making it all about Ozai’s motivation or whatnot. Zuko and Azula were really cool more complex villains who had their very distinct developments, and worked well because they had Ozai as a backdrop.

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#14

I’d say Voldemort was a massive case of “tell, don’t show.” Most of the atrocities he committed were committed in the first war, or while the gang wasn’t around to see it. In his own scenes, he certainly had the enthusiasm and glee, but for me he came off as some guy’s grandpa that was just trying to fit into the dark lord role rather than a true master of evil, and everyone around him was too nice to burst his bubble so they acted really scared whenever he was around whether or not he was actually doing anything scary.
Maybe it’s just the lack of charisma. Since like Cooper points out, he does fit the bill of a creature who goes to unfathomable lengths to achieve his selfish desires, mutilating himself to the point of being unrecognizable and never letting a single puppy cross his path un-kicked.
Despite that, I never got the aura of a malicious and delightfully evil maniac, nor an unstoppable and terrifying force of pure malevolence. I dunno, something about his mannerisms just never gave me the sense that this was a guy who was confident, in control, and never bothered by doubts.

In that regard, Umbridge was a better example of a Complete Monster. She certainly invoked all the emotions that a horrifically and purely evil villain are supposed to bring out from both the characters and the audience.

I think the thing that keeps Ozai from falling into obscurity is that while he doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time, in almost everything we can see the affects of his actions.
Zuko’s damage and Azula’s psychopathy made a pretty strong case for why this guy was evil, and every scene in which the Fire Nation committed yet another war crime was an extension of his own sociopathy. And in the brief moments he was on screen and doing things, he showed off all the power and relentless determination that is inherent in egotistical megalomaniacs when he was willing to torch pretty much an entire continent just to finally accomplish his goal of taking over the world.
He was so obsessed with getting power that he was willing to burn the entire world just so he could rule the ashes.

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#15

Unicron the Distroyer is a very good example of a complete monster, for proof click or tap on this link: https://tfwiki.net/wiki/Unicron

#16

When watching Red’s video, I actually thought of a good example of a Pure evil villain contrasted by being alongside a more nuanced, maybe/maybe not redeemable one. Namely Xykon and Recloak from the Order of the Stick webcomic.

Now for those who are unaware (which is probably a lot of people given the obscure source), the story takes place in a fantasy setting (more specifically a D&D parody who dared to outgrow it’s daily-joke format to progressively become an epic adventure tale), and had from day 1 Xykon and Redcloak as the main villains. Xykon is a lich sorcerer, who spends half of the time being hilarious, the other half being terrifying, and occasionally being both at the same time. He’s funny, he’s stylish, he can even sometimes come across as oddly wise, and he’s an absolutely irredeemable monster who likes nothing more than seeing others suffer. By contrast, his right-hand man/minion/dragon-with-an-agenda Redcloak is a lot more nuanced, with an “evil, but for a good cause” approach. And I think having the two of them side-by-side really does a lot for both characters - I’m not sure either of them would work as well without the other to play off their strengths and weaknesses, and watching the shifts in their relationship is admittedly fascinating.

Interestingly, the two of them are given a prequel book expanding on their backstory. and while Redcloak’s motivations and life-tragedies are revealed, as is fitting for his type of character, Xykon’s backstory only emphasize what a monster he is. You get to understand a lot about his character, why he became that way, what motivates him, ect… and also realize that he was pretty much Pure Evil from the very start, he just more savy and more dangerous about it as time went by.

I can’t help but think it all comes too late. The horcruxes reveal comes after his character has already been well-established, and maybe I’m jaded, but after being quite familiar with D&D style liches (see above) and their philacteries, it only made me think “oh, he’s one of those”, even though admittedly it’s rather unique in the HP-verse. On the sadistic killer department, I couldn’t help but think he was outshined by Bellatrix, and all in all, it’s kind of hard to take his “greatest threat to the wizarding world” as face-value when for all intent and purpose, his actions have been on a very limited scope, be it in space (England, with vaguely Eastern European auxilliary recruitment) or time (a few years as an underground, albeit powerful group the first time, and pretty much the same after). Honestly, he feels more like an unusually successful terrorist leader than the second coming of Hitler.

Plus, I can’t help but think that the news of his downfall, from someone uninformed, would have lloked something like “Cult leader previously believed dead killed during school takeover. Preliminary informations seems to indicate he shot himself.” :smiley:

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#18

personally (and don’t hate me for this lol) but…I never saw Voldemort (from the movie , and aint a fan either) as like this make you shake in your boots vilain . Heck half way trough I kept asking myself if those who followed him were moron .

The vilain of Jade empire would be a good exemple of ‘Pure evil’ I think . 2 of them never showed any remorse and if anything believed it was their destiny-gift-reward-whatever . Oh and there is Death hand , so that make them 3 .

Frieza and Buu (well kid Buu) are good exemple I think too .

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#19

Xykon is indeed a good example of this concept. Redcloak is a villain only from a certain point of view; to his people he’s a hero. Xykon has no allegiances beyond those necessary for his goal. And realizing that said goal could end the world hasn’t been a big issue for him thus far.

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#20

As I said before, for me, the best “pure evil” villain, will always be Mr. Burns. The guy literally has a song in which he dances while saying how good it is to kill puppies, for crying out loud!

#21

I really like the vest!

#22

So, the Force of Nature Villians pretty much?

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#23

I mean, pure evil villains are definitely not for everyone. And I feel their position is inherently weaker than a villain with good backstory and motivation so they need extra effort to make them work.

In a sense they are a little boring to a degree because they are not complex, it’s not hard to understand their motivation and the reader can’t really connect with the villain, so a lot of times there’s a feeling of a wasted potential.

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