Heroes become super by virtue of their actions. They do great things. They perform heroic acts. And then, when the honor is bestowed upon them by some shared consciousness, they become superheroes. The super- prefix is one that is earned, not given. It is a trophy. No superhero has ever become a superhero by calling himself a superhero.
Villains, however, are different. Because people are assumed to be good by default, villains must consciously decide to deviate into villainy. No villain has ever accidentally become a villain. Villainous acts are performed with the full intention of achieving an end goal that satisfies ego, greed, lust, or the desire for power. Sometimes those goals align with universally positive outcomes, and, though they should always be seen through the lens of skepticism, villains are not bad without exception. Actions that appear evil can often be used to achieve noble end goals. In fact, in many situations, “evil” is a required ingredient for the manufacture of success. Villains are often misunderstood superheroes.
Responsibility vs. Power #
The biggest benefit to villainy is that it provides far more potential for doing good than heroism. Unlike superheroes, villains are not beholden to the requirements of their position. Villains define their own situations, while superheroes work against very strict, and very public, rubrics for doing good. This difference gives villains the ability to achieve goals on their own terms. It gives them the freedom to be creative and to push boundaries. While superheroes have responsibility, villains have power. Superheroes are handcuffed by conformity. Villains are liberated by absolute power.
The downside to all of this is that villains play a fragile game. With power comes moral corruptibility, and with corruptibility comes unpopularity–maybe even hatred–from society. But as long as villains can hold themselves back from corruption, they can do great things. Villains must be strong. A villain’s only responsibility is to protect what he symbolizes. In the absence of a responsibility to the public, a villain must fight against his primal instincts.
The fight against apathy #
The differences between superheros and villains are not very important. When distilled, both are just symbols. Bruce Wayne put it best:
People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, as a symbol, I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting.
No matter what morality drives the motivation, symbols represent philosophies that cannot be destroyed. Villains and superheroes are not people. They have no faces. Against their inner struggles, they take up causes in the fight against apathy. They are symbols, everlasting.