Thursday, April 5, 2018

Top Ten Trope Thursdays: Even Evil has Standards


*Note: Spoilers, spoilers, cha-cha-cha. They're in this article cha-cha-cha*

Welcome back to Top Ten Trope Thursdays. This is where I pretend you care about my opinion, and you pretend that I'm witty, charming, intelligent, and don't have crippling self-esteem issues.

As I gear up to hit some solid villain/antagonist related tropes, I had a thought about something I just absolutely love. It came to me watching Supernatural (You'll see why when we get to that point.). And, as with most fictional tools and building blocks, TV Tropes has a name for this one: Even Evil Has Standards.

If you don't know what it is from that, I promise you've probably seen it. Especially in spec-fic, where our villains tend to really chew up the scenery and monologue like everybody and their grandmother is watching, it's a common occurrence. This is where our villain says "I'm evil, but I'm not that evil."

I think the most familiar example for most people comes from the Joker. It's not on the list, but it's TV Tropes's example, and it really illustrates the point. In a crossover comic with DC and Marvel, the Joker teams up with Red Skull. He things the Nazi paraphernalia is just a get up. That's his villain theme.

But when he finds out that's not the case? That's when this trope is enacted. "I may be a criminal lunatic, but I'm an American criminal lunatic."

See, for all the evil and chaos that the Joker has wrought, a Nazi? Nazis are right out. He doesn't play that game. And while this trope can be played for comedic effect, I'm sticking as much as I can to the more serious examples I've seen. If you're favorite is missing? That means it's likely I haven't seen it, so I can't speak to it.

With all that said, let the list begin. Because I may be long-winded, but I'm not long-winded and pendatic.

10: Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)
This is at the bottom of the list for two reasons: Jack Sparrow is hardly evil, and this comes from a deleted scene, so it's of questionable canonicity. But it's so good I had to put it on the list.

So we have a scene with Sparrow and Beckett, where Beckett is talking about how Jack got labeled a pirate to begin with. He was apparently found "liberating some cargo."

Jack pauses and then replies, very simply, "People aren't cargo, mate." Jack Sparrow is selfish. He's a drunkard. He's a pirate. He's a murderer. He's a thief. But he's not a slave trader, and he won't condone it.

9: Mirage (The Incredibles)
You remember her? It took me a hot minute to remember her name when writing my notes for this article. She worked for Syndrome, long silver hair, nearly strangled to death by Mr. Incredible? Yeah, Mirage.

Again, I never considered her evil, so she doesn't place too incredibly high on this list, but she was willing to watch multiple superheroes get killed to further Syndrome's plans, and was complicit in getting them there and convincing them to fight.

But where she drew the line was blowing a plane with children on it. Superheroes have dangerous lives. Children…they're innocents, and Mirage just couldn't blow them up, immediately setting her up as more likable than Syndrome.

8: Crowley (Supernatural)
Ostensibly, it doesn’t get much more evil than Crowley. He's literally the King of Hell. And while that's not thoroughly and completely true in practice, it doesn't make Crowley a nice dude. He tortures people, physically and psychologically, and orders considerably worse done to humans where he doesn't have to dirty his hands. Selfish, conniving, and all around just not the sort of gent you want to invite around for tea…partially because you'd probably have to sell him your soul.

So what's the line for the King of Hell himself? What's too evil for him? Well…nothing. This is as close to a comedic example as I'm willing to touch, in no small part because it inspired this entire list. But also, it does speak to Crowley's character if you're willing to dig a bit.

When he finds out that one of the demons under him has opened a sex trade/prostitution ring to collect souls, he immediately orders it shut down. Why? "I'm evil, that's just tacky."

See, not only is it not the right thing to do, enslaving innocent, unwilling women to be your prostitutes, but it's also not the way things are done. Crowley is always presented as not necessarily the lesser evil, but certainly the more sophisticated, honorable evil. And this plays into that. If he's going to get your soul, he's going to do it the old-fashioned way, god damn it.

7: The SCP Foundation (The SCP Foundation)
(CW: Sexual assault, rape)
This is the last of my "Maybe they're not really evil" entries for this list. The SCP foundation is actually a good organization. They keep our world safe and secure so you and I can live without immortal, genocidal lizards eating us, among other nasty things.

Specifically stated by them, they are "cold, not cruel." They won't do anything beyond what is necessary, but they will do what is necessary to keep everything "Secured, Contained, and Protected."

This example comes to us from SCP-231, which is a Keter class. It will cause extensive and irreparable harm to the world and human life, potentially ending everything if not contained. SCP fans are already cringing, because they know what's coming.

Without going into huge detail, SCP-231-7, the last remaining instance of the entity, is a young woman. To contain the SCP, they administer Procedure 110-Montauk. It has to be administered by six felons with sex offense backgrounds. SCP-231-7 has to be monitored only by medical professionals who have not taken the Hippocratic oath. And the point is to cause intense emotional and physical stress that also keep her from giving birth to…something. That's why, ever 3-4 days, she's given drugs that erase her memories, so she can experience it all as something brand new. That's pretty much what we know.

Now, the implication and most widely accepted explanation is that she's brutally raped by the six felons until she miscarries. The Foundation tried and failed to find other techniques that would keep the world from being destroyed, and nothing worked.

All of this is obviously pretty fucking awful. So where the hell do they invoke this trope? It's a really small thing compared to what happens during 110-Montauk, but if one of the felons tries to go beyond what is necessary for the procedure, they're killed on the spot.

Cold, not cruel.

6: The Capitol (The Hunger Games)
What the hell kind of redeeming qualities could the Capitol have? They cheer for and pay to watch children murder each other once a year. It's a massive spectacle and they love it.

Well none is the answer, but there's one sort of throwaway line. It doesn't make them good people, but it does make them…less evil than they could be? As I talked about in the Guile Hero article, Finnick is forced to prostitute himself to the wealthy. But when talking about that, we find out that he was safe until he was sixteen.

So…so yeah, it's really not much of a redeeming quality. But the point of this trope isn't necessarily to redeem, but to show that evil characters do have their own boundaries. And the Capitols' boundary is "prostitutes should be at least sixteen years old."

5: Simon Phoenix (Demolition Man)
Kidnapper, mass murderer, possibly quite literally the most violent man in the world, since they've pretty handily eradicated violence at this point in the world.

You'd think it would be hard to find something he's got boundaries against, be wrong. As this trope does its best to demonstrate, everyone has lines they won't cross, things of which they can't approve. For Simon Phoenix, he sees the government robbing people of their free will, and that's what drives him to kill the man who removed him from cryogenic suspension. The very man who gave him freedom wants to control the will of the people, so Simon is more than happy to turn on him, because that's fucked up.

4: The Comedian (Watchmen)
Hey! It's Negan!

Okay, that's out of the way. The Comedian is a bastard and he always has been. We see that all the way back in the Vietnam War. He got a local woman pregnant, so what does he do? He shoots her in the stomach, kills her, and obviously destroys the fetus.

Also he rapes the first Silk Spectre and gets her pregnant. Doesn't murder her, at least…I guess that's something?

But no, the real something is that this flaming rapist bastard does have lines. When the second Silk Spectre, his daughter, implies that he's trying to sleep with her, he shoots that right down. He's a bastard, but what kind of person does that with his daughter? And also, though he's willing to kill indiscriminately, genocide? That's a big nope. Not because he doesn't want to die, but because that's just not what you do. Killing everyone just isn't right.

3: Maleficent (Once Upon a Time)
I have a love/hate relationship with Once. I used to love it…now I really think it's trash. But when it was good, it was so good. Part of that is the cast of villains. Maleficent was a minor part, but there's a great bit very, very early in the series where we see Regina going for the Dark Curse…which Maleficent has.

Now since these are fairy tales, a lot of the villains are fully aware that they're evil. But Maleficent is the first time we see one of them with some sense of general humanity left. The Dark Curse is some of the most evil magic available, and Maleficent doesn't want to give it up. She'll help you put people into a nigh-irreversible nightmare coma, but the Dark Curse? No. Why? It's too intense…or as she puts it, "Whoever invented that monstrosity makes us look downright moral."

2: The Thiefmaker (Gentleman Bastards)
(CW: Rape)
I'm a big fan of this series. It's dark and gritty and complex, and it has thieves as the main characters, so I'm immediately sold.

The Thiefmaker is a central part of the backdrop. He takes orphans off the streets and trains them to be thieves…and, you know, if he thinks maybe they'll be a danger to him, he has no problem "handling" things and getting rid of them. Children. Orphaned children who rely on him as their guardian.

Now also in this world are the Jeremites. They're from another land and are not necessarily the nicest folks, but one thing stands out above all others: they think redheaded girls are of special, magical prominence. Specifically when they're raped to death.

Oh yeah, it goes there. You have an STD? Well, raping that redheaded girl will cure you. You can get money or fame or really anything. And it's especially potent magic if you're the "last one riding her" when she dies.

Now excuse me while I shower with bleach real quick.

As it turns out, one of the Thiefmaker's charges, Sabetha, has red hair. This penny-pinching, semi-murderous thief goes out of his way to buy her hair dye, because even he can see that's horrid. Far beyond anything he could condone, even on his worst day.

1: Johnny (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac)
Oh, JtHM, how I love thee. It's certainly not for everyone, but Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is the perfect thing for the grown up Invader Zim fan. It's early Jhonen Vasquez, and it carries all that quirk and darkness we know from Invader Zim.

The title character is, as it says on the tin, a homicidal maniac. He has multiple levels in his cellar designed to torture and kill folks. And he does it admittedly and gleefully. There's an entire arc about how he's so terrible that he goes to hell. Johnny is a bad, bad, bad man.

But in two specific situations, we see that there's some sort of rule to be had in even his life. He becomes famous enough that he gets a copycat killer, but the killer is also a rapist.

No go. Johnny won't condone it, and Johnny never rapes. Period. So he kills the copycat. I mean, I guess that's sort of what you do when you're a Homicidal Maniac.

The other thing we see is his protection of children. Specifically his neighbor Squee. A pedophile tries to have his way with Squee, and Johnny comes right after him…again, with the killing. He's Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, that's kind of his only move.

And I consider Johnny's character a prime example of this trope because, for how awful he is, Johnny is our main character. He's evil, no doubt, but he's likable, and in no small part because of these tropes. He kills because he's a homicidal maniac, but sex crimes? No. He's an engaging and interesting evil character with his own personal rules and boundaries…because Even Evil has Standards.

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