How To Make A Comic Book: Making The Perfect Villain
You’ve probably heard the saying, “a hero is best defined by his enemy,” or a variation thereof — the idea that a hero’s qualities are more dramatic and distinct when viewed in contrast with his enemy. If you have an uninteresting villain, you’ll also have an uninteresting hero. If you’re an old school Star Wars fan like me, this axiom is evident in both trilogies: The original trilogy works because Darth Vader is a fantastic villain who not only provides sharp contrast to Luke, but is a physical representation of what the hero could become. But the prequel trilogy doesn’t work because it lacks a strong, compelling villain to play Anakin against.
So when we began writing the story of Biowars in earnest, that was one of the first things we needed to really dig into: the villains. In our story, the antagonist is a secretive group that calls itself The Combine — a cabal of scientists who want to remake society from the ground up. They think humanity has grown stale, corrupt, weak — almost certain to destroy itself long before it would ever realize its true potential. To them, the 21st Century isn’t a time of soaring scientific achievement and spiritual growth, but a dark age poisoned by man’s basest aspects. Social order is determined by genetic luck — be born into the right kind of family in the right area of the world, and you have a shot at succeeding; be born into a fractured family in a poverty-afflicted region, and you’re guaranteed a life of privation regardless of what your innate abilities may be. And this state of affairs only eats away at the resources of the strong, slowly but surely — a society that will inevitably collapse in on itself.
Better, they think, to hasten its demise on their terms — and then, from the ashes of that diseased civilization, to launch a Second Renaissance. Their plan is decades in the making, and they’ve infiltrated the highest levels of government, industry, and media as our story begins.
We felt like this was a cool idea, a good starting point. But there are lots of secret societies in comics and movies. There are plenty of villains who are convinced they are the true heroes. We needed to refine the Combine, so that they’d be distinct both conceptually and visually.
In terms of defining characteristics, first and foremost is the Combine’s belief that the indiscriminate use of violence and reliance on weapons is inherently wrong and counter-productive. So they do not use bullets or blades or bombs. Their weapon is something far more dangerous, and one they aim with microscopic precision — microbes. These organisms can kill within hours and never be traced, and have been present in nature since the dawn of creation.
That sounds more interesting, no? But still, without compelling personalities through which we could explore the Combine’s ideas, it might still be too broad and impersonal. There needed to be a way to make this stuff impact our hero’s life on an intellectual and emotional level. That’s where Ernst Kelso and The Major come in.
Without giving too much away at this early stage, Ernst Kelso is a brilliant Steve Jobs-ian figure who’s known our protagonist, Alex Hawking, since he was a boy. Alex admires him — and we’ll get to see why that’s true — and when they are brought to loggerheads, the emotional impact on Alex will be (we hope) compelling.
The Major is a mysterious figure with a past that may or may not be the stuff of tragedy. The Combine recruited her because of her intelligence, physical skills, and unrelenting dedication to causes they believe in. And, because the Combine is completely gender neutral in a way our real world still isn’t, she quickly rose through their ranks, to the point where she is one of their highest-ranking agents.