Friday, January 27, 2012

The Watson Report: How Bad Guys Die

How Bad Guys Die
by I.A. Watson 
I’ve been giving some thought to how master villains tend to meet their ends. Some common ways much beloved of adventure fiction are:

Desperate Last Struggle: The hero and villain slug it out one last time, for all the marbles. This often takes place in a significant location, such as the lip of a volcano or on a high girder over the city, or while a countdown clock ticks away to destruction. The hero seems outmatched – the villain cheats – but there’s one final heroic push…

A Duel With His Opposite: “We’re not so different, you and I.” Hero and villain finally duel to discover who is superior with the weapon/technique/skill of their choice in an honourable clash to the death. Turns out our hero was just that tiny bit better after all.

One Slim Chance: The villain is getting away or is about to launch his doomsday device or something else. “Nothing can stop me now!” Our hero has one long shot and he takes it. Mid-gloat, the villain’s brains are splattered across the control console.

Delayed Retribution: The villain begs for his life. The hero spares him. Then, as soon as the hero turns away, the villain pulls his hidden dagger. But the hero is ready for him, swings round, and shoots him dead. Hey, the villain had a last chance and he wasted it!

No Escape From Justice: Our hero is free. He lurks in the shadows, implacable, unstoppable. The villain loses his nerve, flees… but the henchmen he left behind to cover his trail are quickly taken down and terrible vengeance looms out of the darkness to bring the villain screaming to his final end.

Defeat at a Terrible Cost: To destroy the villain, the hero or someone close to him must also sacrifice his or her life! Common symptoms are lunging for the aircraft controls to force a power-dive, shooting into the reactor core, and grabbing the baddie then leaping into the volcano.

Victim’s Revenge: That girl he done wrong, that kid who’s father he murdered, that dog whose puppies he slaughtered get their final, unexpected moment of triumph. The villain faces karmic reprisal. Natural justice is restored.

Villain’s Own Hubris: He was warned not to open that casket, or to try and use that artefact, or to try and usurp the power of the gods. He didn’t listen. Now nature/terrible monster/the gods have turned on him to accomplish his doom.

The Minion Snaps: Faced with one abuse too many, the villain’s henchman finally turns on his master. The girl was the only one who was ever kind to him! And there the minion stands, right next to the lever that released the mind-squids!

Killed By Irony: The villain’s greatest weapon is turned against him. With the all-powerful death-cannon strapped to his arms he can’t reach the cancel destruct button in time. That useless peasant he killed in chapter three was the only one who knows where the antidote is hidden. It’s a bad idea to discharge your taser disruptor into an enemy when you’re both standing in the sewage. Common variants of this include The Briar Patch Trick - Goaded into some action which seems clever or evil, the villain in fact accomplishes his own doom, and The Past Catches Up – Some early part of the villain’s history, usually linked to his origin, comes back to haunt him and bring about downfall.

The Price of Failure: The villain allowed the hero to get away. His plans are ruined. Now his dark master/demon he sold his soul to/angry subordinates turn on the villain and punish him for his defeat.

An Unexpected Moment of Heroism: Hero and villain must team up to defeat an even greater menace. The villain makes a final noble act of atonement for his wickedness.

The Villain’s Death Is Part of the Plan: Now nobody can input the lost launch codes and stop the end of the world. The villain dies to accomplish his goals and has one final laugh at his heroic enemy. A variant of this is Mutual Assured Destruction – the villain triggers the explosion that destroys him and his adversary together.

Definitely Dead Till Next Time: And a special mention goes to all those “assumed” deaths where the body vanishes. Falls over cliffs or huge base-destroying explosions are best for this, but there are plenty of elaborate scenarios where the villain seems to be gone for good but isn’t. They come in two flavours: 1. The villain planned it all along, and 2. The villain wouldn’t have survived except for a lucky coincidence; in the second version he may also return horribly scarred.

Points are awarded for anyone who can suggest another category and for anyone who can cite a movie or book where each of these endings applies.