Good Villains

In order to watch all nine episodes of Vikings, I am currently enjoying my free 30-day trial of Lovefilm. So for the past three days I have watched Batman: The Animated Series over breakfast, and over lunch on Tuesday as well. Because that’s how I roll.

Batman was one of my favourite cartoons back in the 90s when I was still legally a child (verdict’s out on whether I’m really an adult yet), along with Eek the Cat, The Tick, and X-Men. And it stands the test of time.

Amongst the many reasons one could list, I would like to give you Catwoman. And possibly Mr. Freeze.

The first and eighth episodes of Batman are a two-parter about Catwoman, ‘The Cat and the Claw’. In it, Bruce Wayne falls for Selena Kyle who, as Catwoman, is too busy falling for Batman. Ah, star-crossed lovers. But that’s not what I’m here to discuss. I’m here to discuss Catwoman as a villain.

Catwoman is a cat burglar, although sometimes it’s more her cat Isis who does the actual burgling. Nonetheless, the first part of ‘The Cat and the Claw’ involves Catwoman and Isis stealing a bejewelled necklace.

And what does Ms Kyle do with her wealth?

She buys land to turn it into a wildlife preserve to protect mountain lions. Of course. Who wouldn’t?

I like this kind of villain. She’s not out to take over the world. She’s not after power. She’s not in it simply for the money. She doesn’t want revenge. She’s not insane. For her, the crime is a means to the end. She wants to use her wealth for the greater good, even if her means of acquiring it are not.

I appreciate having this kind of villain around. It helps humanise the face of ‘evil’. All too often, we do our best to truly villainise criminals and ne’er-do-wells. And certainly, most of us would rather not be criminals. And certainly, we’d like to see justice served.

But when the face of evil is human. When it’s someone whose higher ideals are the same as our own, someone whose ill-gotten wealth is used for good … well … that’s harder to manage. That makes us rethink those ne’er-do-wells and criminals.

And hopefully, it makes us rethink ourselves.

In the wrong circumstances, would I turn to crime to try and make a better world? Would I turn to crime simply to survive? How much more evil am I than Catwoman or the bereaved Mr. Freeze?

It’s easy to look at the Joker and say, ‘He’s insane. I’m not like him.’ Or Lex Luthor and say, ‘He’s power-hungry. I’m not like him.’ Or Red Claw (the other villain from this two-parter) and say, ‘She’s a terrorist and murderer. I’m not like her.’

But then you look at Catwoman and say, ‘She’s a conservationist. Am I like her?’

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