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Heroes may be simply good, but the greatest villains are never simply evil. All-bad all the time is boring and predictable, not to mention unbelievable.

A man is only as great as the obstacles he overcomes, as heroes are only as great as the villains they conquer.

Adversity defines courage and a villain defines a hero. So what defines a villain? – Complexity and contradiction, that’s what.

 Darth Vader, Don Corleone and Hannibal Lecter are without a doubt the greatest villains of all time. They are also as complicated as they are legendary.

Darth Vader

 Before he was the leader of the dark side, Darth Vader or Anakin Skywalker started life as a slave who ultimately wins his freedom in a podrace on account of his unparalleled piloting skills.

After being taken from his mother and put under the wing of Obi-Wan Kenobi, he falls desperately in love with Queen Padme. The two eventually elope; but when her life becomes in jeopardy, Darth Sidious convinces Anakin that the powers of the dark side are the only thing that can save her. He takes the bate and grows to be the most gruesome goon in the universe.

 Don Corleone

 As a child in Italy, Vito Corleone’s father refuses to be extorted by a local Don. As consequence, his father, mother and brother are killed. The young orphan flees to America to escape the Don’s wrath where he gets a job in a grocery store, but is soon fired in favor of a local gangster’s nephew. Vito then organizes his friends and resources to establish an empire based on ruthless dominance and absolute devotion to friends and family.

Hannibal Lector:

Lecter was introduced to cannibalism as a child. During the twilight of WW2, Nazi collaborators kidnap him and his sister. The soldiers soon go mad from hunger and eat his sister just feet in front of him. Lecter is irreversibly traumatized and becomes fixated on revenge, and cannibalism. After leaving his orphanage, Hannibal lives with his Japanese aunt Lady Murasaki, who comes from a long line of Samurai Warriors and teaches him martial arts and flower arranging. He then enrolls in John Hopkins Medical School.

If your wife were in danger of dying, would you compromise your morals to save her life?

If you were thrown into the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, would you have the tenacity or intelligence to survive, let alone construct an empire?

If Nazis ate your sister, would you try to rectify her death, maybe even in the same manner it was executed?

I did not write this in defense of villains; I’m not justifying their actions, or ours. But I am making two points about nefarious scoundrels.

1) We have a lot in common with the ones we hate.

“Just cuz you don’t like’um, doesn’t mean you ain’t like’um.” – Sam Jackson, The Sunset Limited.

2) An epic hero demands an epic advisory – Good guys vs Bad guys; it’s never that simple.

“The shit’s chess, it ain’t checkers.” – Alonzo Harris, Training Day (Honor Roll Mention Greatest Villain)

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