My theme for the A to Z challenge is Villain Archetypes.
Yes, 26 descriptions of some of your favorite villains of literature, TV, and movies.
April 16 – N is for Nefarious
Nefarious is one of my favorite descriptions for a villain. When you say the word, the combination of fricatives and sounds positively breathes dastardly deeds and pure acrhetypal antagonism. For the Nefarious archetype, I’ve chosen to pay homage to the pulpy, old-school villains of yesteryear, like Snidley Whiplash or Wu Fang. Most prominently featured in children’s stories, classic black and white comic strips, pulp magazines, or even silent movies, these are the bad guys that spawned the complex, compelling villains we know and love today. Watching or reading the golden age stories featuring such Nefarious characters is a stroll through simpler times, where the good guys wore white hats, the bad guys had mustaches, and everything in the world made sense.
The most enjoyable thing about these villains is the relative simplicity of their motivations. A Nefarious archetype would not have to worry why he did things, and neither did the reader. It was enough to see their evil machinations on the page, and then see how the equally-pulpy hero would thwart them. Often a reflection of prejudices or topical subjects of the time, a Nefarious often served as an embodiment of a fear or compulsion that reflected their respective era. I don’t have a time-frame for pulp villains in mind, as a popular trope now, particularly in graphic novels, is to re-imagine them or integrate them into modern times (See The Twelve by J. Michael Straczynski or Watchmen by Alan Moore), but most of the Nefarious villains appear pre-1940s.
Primarily in serialized print or shorter films, when stories had to be told in a truncated amount of time, the Nefarious villain was the ideal solution for compelling narrative. With little time for explanation or back-story, these antagonists were often visually striking, donning devil costumes, long black capes and top hats, or sporting impressive handlebar facial hair. They spoke, moved, acted, and even laughed in a despicably evil fashion. The iconic Nyah-ha-ha! of Snidley Whiplash still echoes in my brain to this day. A Nefarious villain is not complex by definition, and its this simplicity that makes them so appealing. Sometimes, you just want to read (or watch) something where you don’t have to figure out the bad guy. He laughs, swishes his cape, and ties helpless maidens to railroad tracks. Doesn’t get much more Nefarious than that.
Some of my favorite Nefarious villains:
- Snidley Whiplash (Obviously)
- Graf Orlok (Nosferatu)
- The Octopus
- The Scorpion
- Dr. Satan
- Dr. Yen Sin