Hi. Total Villain. Nice to meet you.


I'd like to think that, at the very least, Boston Rob had a crisis of conscience in Samoa.

I haven't watched Survivor since the first season (this is somehow the show's twentieth, despite the fact that I'd swear season one was about a year and a half ago; their production schedule apparently combines the strengths of both the BBC system and a midwestern meth lab) but my friends and I were absolutely hooked on it when we did watch. I would have a viewing party every week, and we'd all order Chinese take-out and sit about eighteen inches from the screen for an hour. Before the definition of reality television became "chronicling the star of a sex tape's trip to Target," Survivor seemed wholly new and fascinating to me; it was like a documentary about a game show about a junior high thrown into a centrifuge. What I liked most about it was that, while it was obviously as edited as any sitcom, the people on the show behaved in ways that characters on scripted shows would never be allowed to by a network. Tell them at the pitch meeting it's a drama where the villain inexplicably walks around nude making small talk for half the season, and see if that makes it to the pilot. Never mind the lovable homophobes, occasionally unintelligible dialogue, and America's Sweethearts with legs covered in running scabs.

Unfortunately, the very unpredictability that appealed to me proved to be Survivor's downfall. My interest in the show completely deflated when (spoiler alert for those of you catching up on Survivor: Season One on DVD) the manipulative, naked a-hole walked away with all the money. Talk about something that wouldn't have happened on any other hit show. I was wistful for the Seinfeld finale. Sure, karma had other plans for Richard Hatch, but I didn't know that then. All I knew was that I already see plenty of a-holes I want to punch triumphing. I can get that from watching actual reality. When Jeff Probst said, "See you next season in the outback!" I said, "You know, I don't think you will."

Since then, every subsequent set of contestants have been viewers of the show, and now they all go in knowing their best shot at victory is to set records in a-holitude. As my wife has continued watching these shows year after year, I wish I had counted the number of times I have overheard some harpy saying, "I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to Play the Game." As far as I can tell, Playing the Game is just what they call lying without being embarrassed. A lot of people in prison could Play the hell out of The Game. At this point, I'm wondering, Where do you go when you are there to make friends? That, I might actually be interested in watching. Wait; it's The Bachelor, isn't it? It's Rock of Love.

It has finally come to this: apparently, on the twentieth season of Survivor, the two tribes are actually called "Heroes" and "Villains." This means that the producers had to call at least ten people and say, "We're doing Good vs. Evil this season, and after getting to know you, when we think 'Evil' yours is the first name that comes to mind." At least ten of the people they called heard this and said, "I'm in! Evil. Absolutely. I'm going on national TV, and every time my mom sees me there'll be a bug at the bottom of the screen that says 'Team Douchebag.' Cannot wait." I'd like to think several more people turned them down and have been staring hard into the mirror ever since.

While I hope to God I never have to share a bus bench with any of these media-groomed sociopaths, much less an hour of my week, they fascinate me nonetheless. I'm trying to remember if I have ever heard a person refer to himself or herself as a villian, even if it was a character in the worst movie I ever saw. The Joker said he was an "agent of chaos." Once, someone told John Travolta he was crazy and he replied, "Yeah, ain't it cool?" But "evil"…?

All that comes to mind is Magneto, and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. I guess there have also been four or five groups of Avengers opponents who called themselves the Masters of Evil. Honestly, though, when you see how the people in question are dressed, the notion that there were already some self esteem issues there is a pretty short leap. At a certain point, you just say, "'Evil Mutants'? Oh, why not? Everybody already calls me The Blob; it's not like I had far to fall. At least I'm in a Brotherhood now."

Even that is just an obvious product of sixties writing. Modern writers know we're all the hero of our own story. At some point, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants became the Brotherhood (of Mutants) and when Brian K. Vaughan wrote Mystique's eponymous book he had her say that the "Evil" in the old name was meant as an ironic political statement, which was the moment I knew I would be following this Vaughan fellow for as long as he was putting pen to paper.

In the annals of 21st century comics, that Mystique book doesn't get nearly enough fond recollections. I know it was the last thing I ever expected to like, precisely because it was a book that gave a starring role to a longtime villain. I don't know how companies besides Marvel are about this sort of thing– I know DC made an antihero out of Catwoman, and the Suicide Squad sort of treads on similar territory– but for years Marvel has been almost compulsively unable to resist the urge to redeem their bad guys. If the Marvel Universe was a person, Marvel would totally keep taking back that guy who cheated on her and stole her identity to get a Mastercard.

Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were all bad guys when they were picked to join the Avengers. Magneto ran Professor Xavier's school for a couple of years. The Juggernaut came and worked at the school for a couple of years. Sabretooth… well, I don't think he spent any unsupervised time with the children, but I know he has lived at that mansion on at least one occasion. Venom had his own damn series; he was the "Dark Redeemer" or some hogwash. When I was skeptical about Mystique's book, Venom's book is what I had in mind. (The first one, anyway; it suddenly occurs to me he got yet another one the same year Mystique came out.) Right as I was beginning my prolonged sabbatical from comics in the nineties, Marvel's idea of "edginess" was to make stars out of the bad guys. I have a Sabretooth #1 on the premises somewhere. I have a very shiny thing calling itself Magneto #0. I have the second issue of neither.

Used properly, this sort of character arc was what I liked so much about my comics as a kid. The Marvel Universe was a complicated place. Magneto had a hard life that almost made you understand why he was taking that nuclear submarine and throwing it at a Cub Scout Jamboree. At the same time, you have to know when to say when; there was a time when it seemed like everyone the X-Men should normally have been fighting was a member of the X-Men.

Wait a minute! What am I saying? Magneto is on the X-Men right now. No wonder all the crossovers for the last five years have pitted hero against hero; all the bad guys were reformed. The producers of Survivor could have warned us about all this. "Make a Villains box," they'd have said, "and put the villains in it."

I am on the edge of my seat about who's under those inky blobs because I don't want to see any baddies making good with the Avengers for a while; that's what the Thunderbolts are for. Besides, you can only be a redeemed villain after you've thought of yourself as a villain, and I don't need comics for that right now. If I want to see people who identify themselves as villains, I can do that in real life now.

 


Jim Mroczkowski is happy that sometimes the good guys win in real life. Meanwhile, he is content to hiss, "Curses! Foiled again!" on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I was about halfway through this article and I started thinking, "You know, when Magneto called them Evil Mutants he was probably playing around with reclamation of despised terms.  Like in ‘Dykes to Watch out For."  And then two lines later I find out that Vaughan already suggested that in the Mystique book.  Which I clearly need to go read, especially since I understand it involved blowing up Fantomex (oh, yes, there are sometimes I *do* wish dead meant dead).

    As for the ‘didn’t come here to make friends’ meme, that explains why I can’t watch any reality TV of the last-one-standing variety.  The ones that are actual races or competitions of skill, sure, but practicing how to ‘survive’ when everybody else around you drops dead doesn’t exactly strike me as a life skill. 

     

  2. I loved the Mystique solo book. It was launched alongside the Emma Frost solo book, which was also quality, with obvious parallels. Sadly, both books collapsed without their original talent working on them.

  3. What? Rich and Rudy were my favorite guys on the first season of Survivor. -_-

  4. Good article Jimski. I started reading and immediately thought of the the villain in 3 Ninjas, Snyder. At one point he says "God, I love being a bad guy!"

  5. Jim, I sadly must let you know that the girls on ROCK OF LOVE claim that they ‘aren’t there to make friends’ either. There is also much discussion about people being ‘thrown under the bus’ on most VH1 reality shows. I should know as my wife and I watch them most Sunday mornings. Oh, but everyone on those shows really aren’t there to make friends. They’re there to just be on TV and get free alcohol.

    But, back to your actual article. I liked the idea that the Blob called himself evil because of low self-esteem. Made me smile.

  6. I think Magneto #0 was a one-shot.  I have the same issue.  Not sure though.  Sabretooth limited had a lot more to do with Mystique and Graydon Creed than Sabretooth.

  7. "Mystique" by Brian K Vaughan.  Now there’s an awesome book.

  8. In Earth X, it’s also suggested that Magneto named his group such as a way of putting Xavier in the role of a moral contrast he wouldn’t be entirely comfortable with. "Look, the world’s concept of ‘good mutants’ are complacent bootlickers while we who are freedom fighters are the ‘evil’ ones.  Don’t listen to Xavier’s houseslave rhetoric.  Join the Brotherhood."

  9. I keep hearing this whole "everyone thinks they’re the hero" nonsense and while it is sometimes true, I don’t think it’s always true. If you can admit to yourself that you kill people solely because you enjoy it, you’ll get real comfortable with the idea of calling yourself a villain. I mean, c’mon.

    @ohcaroline: Don’t even get me started on Fantomotherfuckingex. Whoever invented him needs a foot in the ass. Sideways. 😉

  10. @Diabhol: I believe that foot would go to Grant Morrison.  Despite the generally positive feelings toward Morrison’s work here at iFanboy, I’ve yet to hear anyone say anything  good about his stint on X-Men. 

  11. Feelings about Morrison’s New X-Men are complicated; at the time, Ron wrote an impassioned, detailed cri de coeur called "The X-Men of My Discontent." One of the few things I still remember about that run is that I hated Fantomex with my whole heart.

  12. I open up the issue of ‘Uncanny X-Men’ that came out today, and there is Fantomex, drawn by Greg Land.  It’s like someone decided to spray the comic with Caroline-repellent.