"You wrote to me once, listing the four chief virtues: Wisdom, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. As I read the list, I knew I had none of them. But I have other virtues, father. Ambition. That can be a virtue when it drives us to excel. Resourcefulness, Courage - perhaps not on the battlefield, but... there are many forms of courage. Devotion, to my family and to you. But none of my virtues were on your list. Even then it was as if you didn't want me for your son."
, just before suffocating his father and framing Maximus.
Villains are bad, it goes without saying. However, they can't be all
bad for the simple reason that a character loaded down with all
of the Seven Deadly Sins
(along with whatever other character flaws writers can think of) will be too lazy, gluttonous, envious, prideful, angry, lustful and miserly to do
much of anything. A villain laden down with too many vices quickly becomes a loser
Even if they only have one vice, a villain is going to need a big heaping of icky good traits in order to accomplish their goals. They don't have to be an Anti-Villain
they just need to have one or more virtues
to get by. The reason for this is both practical and artistic. Practically, a villain with a virtue of some kind will have a way to put their schemes in motion and effectively oppose The Hero
. Without these virtues, authors would have to resort to making them a Generic Doomsday Villain
to get anything done. Artistically, it helps make the villain a Rounded Character
, and helps make them dynamic
if their virtue and vice are somehow in conflict.
Oh, and it lets them get all holier-than-thou and "Not So Different
" during a Breaking Speech
For example: A Prideful
villain might also be very hard working in order to get the power he needs. A slothful villain might compensate with amazing creativity, coming up with amazing inventions
, Evil Plans
, and limitless funds
. A wrathful villain may nonetheless
be very loyal to his minions, inspiring great devotion
. A greedy
villain might back it up with tenacity
, relentless and unyielding in their pursuit of more, more, more. A lustful villain may also be extremely courageous, willing to risk death or worse in pursuit of their carnal desires.
Where this can get strange and interesting is when this is applied to a villain who is Made of Evil
. Here you have a ball of elemental nastiness who also happens to have one or more positive traits. Who knew elemental evil had such good taste
However, there are virtues and then there are virtues
. Much like Color-Coded for Your Convenience
, there are some virtues that are okay for heroes and some that are more often seen in villains. These are:
- Ambition. Though heroes may insist that Ambition Is Evil, villains are the ones who try to make the struggle to get better (even if they have a tendency to overdo it), which heroes typically lack until disaster forces them to change.
- Determination. Sometimes when a villain keeps on trying despite being stomped into the ground a million times, and still gets up and keeps going after his goals regardless of the constant beatings, you have to at least admire their tenacity somewhat. In general, villainous breakdowns are significantly less common (though also more unexpected) than a hero falling to bits after a major defeat.
- Diligence. Despite Evil Is Easy and The Dark Side making access to power easier, many villains will undergo much more extreme ordeals and protracted effort than heroes, who usually benefit from Hard Work Hardly Works.
- Honesty. Though rare, some villains don't lie, and insist that keeping a promise is a matter of honor. This does have the practical effect of people being more likely to trust them, even if they are known to be a villain. In organized crime settings, a villain will not get far without a reputation for honesty.
- Honor. Calling card of the Noble Demon who preaches Even Evil Has Standards.
- Humility. Not all villains are smug and arrogant. Some are down to earth, personable, and modest. Common in a No-Nonsense Nemesis, and a large part of what makes them terrifying foes. They acknowledge their own fallibility and rarely shoot advisors for doing their job or minions for failure of The Plan. They will not be enraged by insults. They are not concerned with making a spectacle or Evil Gloating. This is a villian who will just shoot the hero or calmly inform them that the plan has already succeeded. If they give a "The Reason You Suck" Speech it will likely be both accurate and effective.
- Love. Despite Love Redeems, a surprising number love either their spouses, parents, children, or even friends/underlings while remaining evil. Of course, it's worth mentioning that Love Makes You Evil and Crazy. With Love as a villain's virtue, the result is often Unholy Matrimony.
- Loyalty is a pretty even split between heroic and villainous. This isn't being a Lawful Evil Rules Lawyer mind you, because these types can still be The Starscream, but Power of Trust brand loyalty where even a Chaotic Evil type will avoid betrayal.
- Passion. Emotion can be what gives life richness and value, but in some settings evil itself feeds upon passions and uses them to fuel its own ends.
- Patience. Most heroes are Hot-Blooded, but bad guys are patient Chess Masters.
- Resourcefulness. Another 50/50 split, resourceful villains are exceedingly dangerous because they will defy heroes Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty.
- Responsibility. Some villains care. Even if they go the wrong way about fixing problems, they are a lot more sensitive to noticing them.
- Selflessness. Most villains who try to create a better world don't do it for themselves. They rarely expect thanks for bearing all the difficulties and many accept it that they may not even be able to enjoy the results. Yet they are often willing to sacrifice their popularity and even their life for the greater good.
- Valor. To quote The Kurgan (and Neil Young): "It's better to burn out than to fade away!" Villains despise weakness. So even when they know they're probably going to lose and the odds are in the hero's favor, he's not going down without a fight. After all, if you're trying to take over the world, you're up against pretty much everyone, and thus it helps quite a bit to be able to look at an army six billion strong, smile confidently, and say "Bring it on." In fact, this is one of the most common "virtues" for a villain to have, and a villain lacking it will often specifically be singled out as a Dirty Coward.
Contrast Mr. Vice Guy
, where a hero has an emblematic vice, and Virtue Is Weakness
, where the villain explicitly rejects all good traits.
Usually, whenever Even Evil Has Standards
comes into play, it's because the offender has violated one of the virtues listed above.
This trope is very, very
common. Listing examples here would just be an exercise in futility.