If you know anything about me, it’s that I hate clichés. I always have; my personal slogan since the beginning of time has been “No old wizards, no dragons.”
But, that said… if there’s one thing that’s absolutely also true about me… it’s that I love certain clichés.
Because certain clichés, like certain formulas (the three act model for fiction) work when they’re used properly. In fact, in a lot of high Spirit, feel stories, you have to slather on particular elements to make the Happy Fun Time Jamboree cogs function properly. I suppose you could call those accepted elements Foundation Clichés; things as obvious as the sports team winning the big game with an impossible goal–all in slow motion–a moment that’s a prerequisite for the feel good sports movie. They’re clichés that make a formula work. I definitely do not love all of them–actually, I may love exactly one of them while just acknowledging that the others make sense and work well.
But, whether I like them or hate them, Cliché Showcase is all about throwing a spotlight on all clichés–calling glaring attention to them. Very, very likely to dish on how much I hate them.
But for right now, with this very first entry in the series… let’s start off with the love. Because the trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron just came out and it fits too well with one of the Showcases I had planned. So let’s both tune out for a moment and enjoy my very favorite Foundation Cliché!
The Cartoon Villain
By my definition, the Cartoon Villain is a villain who is unrealistically evil. They might be pushovers or they might be legitimately dangerous, but either way, it never makes sense how evil a Cartoon Villain is.
In appearance, they range anywhere from a massive, killer robot–that’s actually all black with (seriously?) red lights all over his body–to an Aryan superhuman who somehow looks less evil when he’s wearing black shades with his black trench coat (because there are crazy, comically insane red eyes under those glasses).
These are villains with little back story and just enough motivation to be vaguely understandable, but never so much motivation that you disagree when a protagonist inevitably calls them insane. They have these vague motivations, mind you, for plans that always center on destroying or taking over the entire world or universe. Or tri-state area.
Why I Love Them
They’re a Pantheon: A pantheon of ridiculousness, sure, but still a pantheon. One that is completely upheld, strictly, by the standards of their peers; you either create a new member who can stand beside the likes of Skeletor and the Joker or, congratulations, your comic, cartoon, or action story kind of sucks. Because, as a Foundation Cliché, the Cartoon Villain is insanely important to a lot of story formulas (for example, Saturday morning cartoons would be absolutely nothing without them and comic book movies suffer significantly when they’re not on par [you could’ve replaced Malekith with a piece of cardboard with “Malekith” scrawled on it and The Dark World would’ve been the same movie]).
Their Design Demands that You Throw Caution Out the Window: Because, in order to create a Cartoon Villain who’s awesome, you need to go for every possible extreme; making something tasteful is not an option. These are the most over-dramatic looking characters you will ever see and ones that follow almost no rules other than, “Should look eviler–don’t look evil enough.” Skeletor just has a skull for a head. A yellow skull on his muscular, blue body. Why?… Why? I’ll tell you why–check the one rule. What’s it say? “Should look eviler–don’t look evil enough.” Okay. Add a purple hood for good measure. We’re done here.
Their Enduring Simplicity: And maybe that’s what I really love about them–their bold-faced simplicity. You know Red Skull is evil when you look at him and see that his face is a red skull. But even if you didn’t know, Red Skull would be the very first person to tell you he’s evil because Cartoon Villains also usually don’t lie–because lying is a lesser evil, totally beneath them because they don’t care about petty things like saving face. In fact, in some strange way, when you consider how easily they open up about their plans, Cartoon Villains are almost… the most honest characters you will ever come across.
They’re Just So… Likeable: All of these details–the simple, understandable motivations; their strange honesty; and / or their insane, dramatic design–make for absolutely likeable people that you can relate to (except for the whole being crazy thing). Or, at least, they make for character quirks that you love watching and listening to.
For example, there’s the strange way that, in Captain America: The First Avenger, Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull is a fantastic supervisor who deals out positive reinforcement left and right(unless you really, really screw up [at which point he kills you]). Of course, an odd, really backwards incentive to liking Red Skull more is that he also thinks Hitler sucks. And sure, it’s because the Nazis aren’t evil enough for him anymore, but lines like, “Arrogance may not be a uniquely American trait, but I must say, you do it better than anyone,” makes it clear that his hatred isn’t based on… racial or national bigotry? That Red Skull. He’s… kind of an alright guy?
And, continuing on the Marvel front, the trailer for Age of Ultron very concisely makes you understand Ultron’s motivations; he’s throwing off what I can only assume is Tony Stark’s control, making his motivation… freedom? Retaliation for indentured servitude? “There are… no strings on me.” Why do I immediately want Ultron to win?
And, of course, on the shallower side of things, you want Skeletor or Albert Wesker around because they will just always–always–say the most amazing things in the best ways.
Ultimately, maybe I just want to write one of these villains so badly that I had to vent in this post. Maybe they are not the best clichés out there–maybe this love is all my own.
But, way more likely: you already have a favorite Cartoon Villain in mind, because you’ve had a favorite for years and years.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this first, very positive entry in my Cliché Showcase series. If you do have a favorite Cartoon Villain in mind, I’d love it if you dropped a comment below–I know I missed so many great villains here. It was in a serious effort to not go on forever.
Thanks for reading! And, as always, write well.