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Wednesday, December 18, 2013 

Why do supervillains "deserve" their own movies?

With the news of new movie projects dedicated to Spider-Man's rogues gallery, a writer for The Week is trying to tell everybody why villains "deserve" their own movies. His sensationalized op-ed begins with a put-down of heroism:
The vast majority of superhero comic books are named after their heroes. For decades, we've had an endless string of square-jawed heroes who resolve to fight crime after an inadvertent brush with superpower-imbuing toxic waste/gamma rays/alien artifacts. Yes, some of these characters are far more compelling than others. But even the best of them are generally cut from the same cloth — and, let's be honest, a little bit boring.

We all expect superheroes to act in a certain way, which means that writers are often painted into a corner, forced to peddle banal stories about saving the day and getting the girl while simultaneously standing for truth, justice, and the American way. The best writers find ways to innovate, circumvent, or subvert these tropes, but they can never change the basic arc of a superhero story.
Oh really? He obviously hasn't seen what Dan Slott and company did with Doctor Octopus. And he's invoking a modern leftist, politically correct cliche by calling Superman's beliefs "banal". For these fruitcakes, patriotism is corny, and so too is heroism. This is exactly why superhero comics have fallen so far. And his op-ed becomes even worse with the following:
For villains, however, there are no such constraints. Indeed, a truly great superhero comic is defined by the quality of the villains. Batman has the Joker; Superman has Lex Luthor; Spider-Man has Doc Ock; Iron Man has the Mandarin. In each of those cases (and many more), the best villains have become just as legendary as their corresponding heroes, and are almost always more interesting.
The connotations in his words are disturbing. It's like he's suggesting they should go all out and start depicting the villains committing sex offenses, and if it's the costumed ones he thinks should be dealt with that way, that's only a quicker recipe for disaster. General audiences aren't bound to go for that.

His claim the villains are more interesting is insulting, and the quality of the villains can only go as far as the quality of the writing. Since when haven't there been stories where the villains ended up being a spectacular bore? Personally, I think Geoff Johns's rendition of the Flash rogues was awful, with a tale he wrote featuring The Top being one of the worst, and another with Heatwave turned into a mental case since childhood being unbearable. Slott's rendition of Doc Ock already speaks for itself. And anyone who thinks it's impossible to cook up a bad story with the Joker would be throughly mistaken, as the Joker's Last Laugh crossover could make clear.

Which brings us to the main problem with this article: the writer obscures and ignores one of the best parts of many superhero comics: the supporting casts. Isn't it significant if a co-star girlfriend like Lois Lane or Mary Jane Watson can steal the show?
So why not give them their own show to begin with? At the very least, it would give Hollywood a welcome alternative to the recent bout of barrel-scraping that's seen studios offer up ever more obscure heroes in an attempt to capitalize on the craze before it's too late. While hardcore comics fans might be genuinely thrilled at the prospect of seeing Rocket Raccoon or Ant-Man getting the big screen treatment, the idea of giving a recognizable villain like Venom his own movie offers enormous appeal to hardcore comics readers and mainstream audience alike.
Oh, does it? That's all a matter of opinion, I believe. It doesn't look to me like the moviegoing public is clamoring for villains to cheer on, and to do so would be putting morale at great risk. But hardcore comics readers? Unfortunately, they got that right. Among the audience left today, there are some who'd go for any product based on the comics, even one starring villains. Yet they're the only ones such a project could possibly appeal to, but not because they're basing their interest in terms of quality writing. Rather, on addiction to everything and anything related. That kind of marketing doesn't work. One of the commentors said:
This makes absolutely zero sense. Where does Daniel Bettridge find mainstream non-comic-book fans clamoring for a Venom movie? In what mirror universe does a villain (terribly) introduced during one previous Spider-man movie (in which he was only 1/3 of the total villainy on-screen, no less) strike anyone as marketable and "appealing"?
And how does a villain-centric movie end? Does the villain beat the "hero", which for story purposes would be the actual antagonist of the movie? Or does the villain lose, facilitating an unfulfilled ending for the movie's audience?
Mainly what I see being done here is Sony looking to throw any and all Spider-man-related properties against the wall to see if one will stick (no pun intended) so that by whatever means necessary Sony will be able to continue to claim they are making movies based on Spider-man in order to never, ever, never-ever have the rights revert back to Marvel. These are going to be terrible movies that probably make enough money to keep churning them out on video-on-demand for years to come. It's kind of fitting since bad superhero movies were among some of the original B-movie classics.
At this point, a lot of movie studios might continue to make movie franchises based on superhero comics even if they fail, because the rights to filmmaking outweigh the losses they're bound to suffer.

Also, the argument against obscure heroes falls flat, because their recognizability isn't what counts. It's the writing quality that does. If a movie with a minor hero is produced and the script is entertaining, isn't that something to be proud of? Not to The Week's writer, alas.

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This is a general trend in American pop culture - possibly further abroad too. I'm glad you pointed it out re. comics, which the horrible DC Villains titles also demonstrate. They've been doing this for awhile - Deathstroke's Titans another example. The rot started in the 80s with grimdark heroes and in the 90s with sympathetic villains. Now you have TV shows like Breaking Bad or films like the Town, where the villain is supremely sympathetic and ultimately heroic. It is a disturbing trend, and I'm not sure where it will end up.

"Since when haven't there been stories where the villains ended up being a spectacular bore?"

*Cough* Malekith from Thor 2 *uncough*

Malkeith wasn't bad. Underdeveloped? A little bit, certainly. But bad would be an overstatement.

The movie was entertaining as a whole, and that's all I ask.

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