Unfinished Business | Gold Digger v3 #60-73 What Makes a Good Villain?
These thirteen issues are packed full of action. The Lich-King abucts Cheetah and Tiffany to a dimension trapped in between life and death, where they're forced to battle against an army of aeons-old archers. The Diggers clan fights their way into a were-rat stronghold to try and rescue Cheetah from her dimensional prison. Gar battles some were-rat assassins to the death. Julia meets her match in the undead Zero. (There's even a short interlude where Gina fights leprechaun pirate ninjas.)
All of these conflicts (well, except for the leprechauns) have been orchestrated by the sinister Gothwrain, the were-rat archmage who is Gold Digger's most memorable villain. Over 150 issues, Gina and her friends have done battle with million year-old dragons, time-travelers capable of reshaping the universe to their will, and aliens capable of devastating entire galaxies. So why is this relatively weak opponent one of their greatest foes? I thought it might be good to examine him and see what made him tick, and what lessons could be learned from that. Here's what I came up with.
A good villain has a compelling history. Gothrwrain has a surprisingly convoluted history - hundreds of years before becoming a were-rat, he was the human wizard who created lycanthropy. He was eventually toppled by his greatest creation (and lover), infected, and bound to her will. So here's a villain who's been transformed into one of his own creations, forced to submit to a woman he once dominated, whom he loves and hates in equal measure. If that's not compelling, I don't know what is.
A good villain might have turned out differently. At this point in his life, all Gothwrain really wants is to be left alone. True to his nature, he's chosen a convluted, devious, and needlessly antagonistic method of achieving his goals. If only he were slightly less cynical and sinister, he could have achieved them peacefully, but the easy path never even occured to him.
A good villain has staying power. By the time of his defeat, Gothwrain has been menacing the Diggers for over 100 issues. As soon as you've forgetten about him, he pops up to remind you that he's still out there, orchestrating events from behind the scenes.
A good villain gets others to do his dirty work. Gothwrain rarely steps out of the shadows. Instead, he has proxies to do his bidding - Kyle, Brendan, Zero, the "mall rats", Lowtor, even relative heavy-hitters like Gyphon and the Lich-King. Some of those folks don't even know that they're dancing to Gothwrain's tune. In fact, we never see Gothwrain casting spells until his final battle makes it necessary.
A good villain always takes the long-term view. Gothwrain has been overtly manipulating the Diggers ever since Gold Digger v2 #41, conditioning them to react to his provocations in particular ways, but he's been subtly influencing them for far longer. He was responsible for the massacre of the were-cheetahs, for creating the Lich-King, and may have even been manipulating Tirant and Array for his own purposes. He's been planning his ultimate victory for over twenty years of Gold Digger time, and he's not afraid to take longer if it means getting what he wants.
A good villain is adaptable. While Gothwrain may always achieve his primary objectives - gaining access to the gold of the Leprechaun Kingdom, stealing scrolls from Dr. Diggers's library, or getting rid of Cheetah - he rarely achieves total victory. His pawns are taken off the chessboard, long-held assets and cover identities have to be abandoned, or his victory is tainted (say, Cheetah is only banished, not slain). But that never bothers him. He always finds a way to adapt and move forward.
A good villain never takes it personally. Truth be told, Gothwrain really doesn't have anything against the Diggers' except for their habit of interfering with his plans. He may need Dr. Diggers's incredible power reserves to bring his escape plan to fruition, but any other large power source would have worked just as well. It doesn't hurt Dr. Diggers is powerful enough to pose a threat to Gothwrain, while being moral enough that he won't raze all of Dark Home over a personal vendetta.
A good villain makes you take it personally. Let's admire Gothwrain's sense of timing here. He's tormented the Diggers for years, stolen their prize posessions, turned Theodore's father into a demented lich, nearly killed Julia's prize pupil, banished their adopted daughter to another dimension, and is on the verge of killing them outright. So now is obviously the perfect time to throw fuel on the fire by killing Theodore's mother. How can you not hate that?
A good villain always gets what he wants. No matter what the Diggers do, Gothwrain always finds a way to come out on top. All their strength, skill, and strategy comes to naught. In the end, Gothwrain is still calling all the shotes, and while his victory isn't as clean as he might have hoped, it's still a victory nonetheless.
A good villain never wins. Of course, what the villain wants is rarely what he really needs. That, and the hero is always one step behind him, ready to make him pay for all of his ill-gotten gains. Or maybe, just maybe, he discovers that he's played right into the hands of someone much, much worse...