So Good to Be Bad: The Study of a Bond Villain

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I remember being on a panel about Character Construction and hearing the con’s distinguished Guest of Honor say something along the lines of “You want to make your villains complex and multi-layered otherwise they resemble something out of a James Bond movie

My own reply to this was “You say this as if it were a bad thing.”

bond-goldfingerLet’s face facts — no villain is more fun to watch in action than a classic James Bond Villain. I’ve heard authors mock the megalomaniacs of Bond’s world, dismissing them as forgettable, cookie-cutter caricatures. I find this argument irrevocably flawed as we all recall with delight that legendary exchange between Auric Goldfinger and James Bond as an industrial laser is slowly inching its way up to Bond’s body:

Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”
Goldfinger: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”

The crafting behind a Bond Villain begins with a study and deep appreciation for hubris. When Bond Villains are producing and executing their plans, they know what they are doing is wrong. They know it and they love it. They revel in it. They delight in watching innocents (provided they believe in “innocents”) suffer. The superiority complex usually develops from Bond Villains growing up in a wealthy, privileged, and self-indulgent family, decorum insisting they are referred to by their full name — Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Hugo K. Drax, for instance. After the initial meeting, though, heroes usually refer to them by last name only which means their last names must possess a certain kind of panache. This is why you would never come across a Bond Villain carrying the surname of Smith or Kowalski.

Hubris, you will find, will also help in defining your villain’s sense of style and finesse; and again, Bond Villains possess an abundance of both. When I first heard actor Mads Mikkelsen would be playing the title role in the NBC thriller series Hannibal, I knew the “intelligent psychopath” (as Will Graham describes Lecter) was in good hands as Mikkelsen as I remembered him from Casino Royale as the enigmatic Le Chiffre. Down to the cut of the their tailored suits, their refined manners, and their preferred cuisine and entertainment, etiquette is everything to Bond Villains. This finesse contributes, in turn, to charisma. Perhaps there is a direct connection between hubris and charisma. Even a monster the likes of Raoul Silva has a charming side about him; and as terrible he is, the joy you take in watching a Bond Villain’s rise and fall relates to exactly to how charismatic you make them.
oddjob
A Bond Villain must be charming as they need to attract people, and from this attraction comes the loyal sidekick or minion as well, but there is a better title we give these anointed few: Henchmen. If you have a Bond Villain for your story, better start working on a cleverly-named Henchman. Before he was Tattoo, Hervé Villechaize played Knick-Knack to Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun. The earlier mentioned Auric Goldfinger had his Oddjob, and I would be amiss not to mention Dr. Evil’s hysterical parody, Randomtask, from the first Austin Powers film. While Bond Villains are the brains behind the evil deeds, it’s the Henchmen that get their hands dirty. They should be competent and capable, but if the henchman or henchwoman is smarter than your Bond Villain, this can add an interesting thread to your story.

Just something to consider.

So what’s next? You’ve got the hubris, the charisma, and the henchman. What else do you need? You need a place to launch your plans into action, a place to not Moonraker-space-stationonly rest your head after a day of planning and scheming but also let the world know you mean business when it comes to evil deeds. You need a lair. The delicious freedom in crafting your own Bond Villain is that you are not limited to where you locate your lair. You got an underground network of caves under your country estate that you want to make your base of operations? Sure, why not? You want to gut out a dead volcano and make it your Mission Control? Okay. Underwater base? Done. You want a freakin’ platform with multiple shuttle bays in low-Earth orbit?!

Did you want that with or without the radar jamming cloaking device option?

With your lair, you are only limited to your imagination, and at this point you want your imagination to play. “World domination” as a motivation opens a creative door for you as a writer. How are you going to do it? Pitting two superpowers against one another only to be the last man standing? Wiping out the population with a toxin and repopulating the planet with your “perfect” specimens? Or hold the world for ransom with your death ray? Think big. After all, that’s what the Bond Villains do.

Bond Villains are a joy to create, easy to spoof (as well as their henchmen), and so much fun to play with in a story. Perhaps in my own setting with the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, incorporating a Bond Villain is easy; but it might surprise you how fitting the qualities of a Bond Villain can fit within your Epic Fantasy or Military Science Fiction. Think about it. Where was Sauron making his hideout in Mordor? The Queen of Hearts had her own palace as a base of operation? And let’s not forget when Emperor Palatine wanted to remind people who was in charge, he commissioned a space station the size of a small moon equipped with — wait for it — a death ray.

Perhaps in the space of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, we all have room for a touch of Bondage.

 

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tee_headshotTee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieterthat meant more time to write at night) would pave a way for his writings.

 

Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrencesseries, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affairwere finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light and launch a new ventureOne Stop Writer Shopoffering a variety of services to up-and-coming and established indie authors.

 

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6 comments to So Good to Be Bad: The Study of a Bond Villain

  • Guilty as charged. I went through quite a little process while reading this post: I started with “But I hate Bond villains; they’re so over-the-top.” And as you started listing their attributes, I was, like, “Yeah, see? This is why I hate them.” But then a bit of what you were saying started to sound familiar. And by the end of it, I realized that, “Yup, Sephira Pryce (from the THIEFTAKER series) is basically a Bond Villain.” Well played, Mr. Morris. Well played indeed . . .

  • Good post on an often-unappreciated aspect of heroic fiction.

    You rather glossed over the most important function of a villain, which is to make the hero. It hardly matters that your protagonist good guy is noble, brave, daring, and stalwart if the odds he is facing are lacking in potency. If you look at the Bond films (or pretty much any good-versus-evil story), the good ones work precisely because the villains are over the top, and the bad ones fail because the villain simply wasn’t up to snuff. If James Bond spent his career going after jaywalkers, who would care?

    It is also true, of course, that a good villain needs a good hero. Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959) had one of the best-realized villains in animation history, but Maleficent was unable to shine because Prince Phillip was such a wimp; he wouldn’t have gotten five steps without Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather aiding his every move. (I have only scant hope that the upcoming live-action version with Angelina Jolie will finally do Maleficent justice, but we shall see.)

    Balancing the capabilities of the protagonist against those of the antagonist can be a delicate task, but it is an essential one to master if you are to succeed in taking over the world creating a compelling narrative.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    ”’This is why you would never come across a Bond Villain carrying the surname of Smith or Kowalski.”’

    And yet, let us not forget the most excellent Agent Smith, although there’s a fairly strong case to be made that he’s more henchman than villain. But he’s definitely got style, as well as the well-groomed people-are-bugs (excuse me, viruses) attitude.

    I’ve *really* got to work on my villains for my new project, but you’ve just given me an awesome idea. One of the henchmen *is* the evil-lair! Some *thing* with a shifting-labyrinth quality, I think.

  • TeeMorris

    David: The first step in recognizing your Bond Villain appreciation is admitting to it. Welcome to my twisted world. ;)

    Wolf: Sure creating a compelling narrative is good and all….but ruling the world from your castle hideout is also badass.

    Hepseba: Oooooh, I didn’t think about Agent Smith…good one!

  • Razziecat

    You and I will have to agree to disagree. I just can’t take Bond villains seriously. To me, the most frightening villain is not only powerful, but also just a little sympathetic. It’s easy to be 100% against a maniac with a death ray, but when you find yourself ever so slightly (or maybe not so slightly) drawn to the villain’s point of view, or empathizing with his or her reasons for doing what they do, then you’ve got a slippery slope, and the hero is in real danger of giving in. The fight is internal as well as external, the hero’s virtue becomes a bit of a liability, and the whole thing is more complex, or at least it seems so to me. Thanks for some good food for thought, though…! :D

  • Far as henchmen go, my noir urban fantasy setting MC’s nemesis (wow, try saying that one fast) has a hulking mutant henchman known only as The Black Hood and named thus by the MC, because he wears…well…a black hood with just eyes cut out. Sad thing is, the MC’s somehow related to the henchman that’s been mutated by a botched experiment. By a happy (or unhappy, as Deadboy sees it) accident, the MC is actually the closest the nemesis has gotten to what he wants…but, I shouldn’t. After all:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQTp8Ozj1JQ
    ;)

    But yeah, the villain, Cartwright, is a sociopath with borderline psychopathic tendencies. His henchman, a mutant he created in a lab that might or might not have an underlying conscience. And then there’s Jonathan “Deadboy” Kane, an ex-cop that found himself at the wrong place for friends at the wrong–right?–time. And then there’s an overarching plot that also has an arch-villain. But, of course, that’ll come later. ;)