Modern pop culture loves a great villain. We love them so much, we now are starting to root for the “bad guys.” There’s a whole TV Trope dedicated to this new found love of villains. A few examples are: Breaking Bad, Prison Break, Despicable Me (although there is a change of heart in the end), Suicide Squad, Death Note, The Seven Deadly Sins, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Black List, the list goes on… and there are plenty of heroes that go back and forth between good and dark. Characters like, Captain Hook (from Once Upon A Time), House, Oliver Queen (Arrow), and Batman, are typically trying to wade through the light and dark to find the right choice.
Society loves a great villain with a compelling backstory because it’s more realistic. The idea that there is a perfect hero, who’s motives are always altruistic, is hard to believe. I mean let’s be honest, if I had superman’s powers, I would definitely do a lot of eavesdropping. Or for that matter, maybe rob a few real rich people… I mean they’re not going to miss that, right? Anyways the point is, we want to connect to characters. We aren’t perfect, so why should our favorite protagonists be perfect? Complex back stories and multiple motives are intriguing. A protagonist who chose to do good, simply because they are good, is not nearly as juicy as the struggling politician who has been black mailed.
American culture also loves a female villain. While there’s typically less female villains than male villains, these ladies are loved. Not only do they usually have sexual confidence, they also tend to appear more sinister. While there are a lot of arguments against women villains who use sexuality as one of their attack strategies (it creates a flat character that is not more than their female body parts, and also makes it seem more acceptable for women to sexually harass men), I don’t actually want to address those arguments in this post. While these arguments are true, these ladies are still badass and have a lot of character.
What I would like to explore is three of the best female villains of all time. I picked these ladies based on their innate evil personalities, the level in which American culture loved them (using ranked.com), and how well they fought against cultural tropes.
Harley Quinn. You know her from Suicide Squad (as depicited in the Colorworld art next to this text) and from DC Comics. Harley first showed up in an animated episode of Batman in 1992, and later made an entrance in The Batman Adventures #12. She becomes the love interest for Joker who ultimately commits evil actions because he loves chaos.
What Makes Her “one mean mother”: Not only does she frequently create chaos with Joker, Harley also makes sickening decisions that prove her loyalty to Joker. In one storyline of Batman, she encloses him in an air tight ball as a shrine for Joker. She loves violence and unfortunately, in modern depictions is over sexualized. She is often portrayed as sexually confident, whereas the original depiction of her and Joker’s relationship showed a lot of domestic violence. That leads us to her backstory and Tropes…
Interesting Back Story: Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel was a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum where Joker was being kept. After volunteering to help him, she ended up falling in love with him. After helping him escape numerous times, she eventually took up the name Harley Quinn and joined him in creating anarchy. Some comics suspect that she was driven to this life style from a messed up family or from bullying as a child. I think those back stories don’t do her justice. How can a woman who is strong enough to grow from a broken family and go on to receive a PhD to help people, just turn into a psychopath? Well this weird story line doesn’t take away from her evilness.
Female Tropes: Harley Quinn epitomizes so many stereotypes… so many! Let’s start with the trope “Females Are More Innocent,” and “Never A Self-Made Woman.” Harley Quinn was wrote as a dramatic character. While she does just as many crazy moves as Joker, the audience has sympathy for her because Joker is frequently attempting to harm her. This relationship with Joker is what makes her a super villain, thus she did not find greatness on her own. Since she is always vying for Joker’s attention, she also promotes the trope that “All Abusers Are Male.”
The last tropes that I think are significant are “Men Act, Women Are,” and “Men are Generic, Women are Special.” These two make Harley a favorite for a lot of comic book lovers. Even though she does she not have a lick of muscle, functional fighting clothing, or appropriate voice intonation for stressful events (more modern depictions), she continues to be a favorite villain to include or mention in shows, movies, comics, fan art, comic cons… you get it. She’s extra special. At least more special than Joker.
It’s most interesting that even with these tropes, she is still viewed as strong, confident, sexually secure, and totally rocking a villain “like or better than a man does.” And isn’t our own interpretation of a character most important?
Her Downfall: Since most villains don’t really “die” in comic books (keeping the universe out of reality), she obviously gets beat time and time again by Batman or joins the Suicide Squad. This can be attributed to her lack of fear towards torture, death, or capture.
Beating the Trope: Harley could be even more badass if she stopped following Joker around all the time. There is one storyline where Harley teams up with Batman in an attempt to keep humanity from turning to plants by Poison Ivy. That is pretty amazing for her to do that, however not necessarily in character with anarchy and the “do evil just because” characterization. If Harley did things separate from Joker, she could be more infamous than Joker himself. I propose an ending where the Joker is killed and then Harley takes meticulous and thought out revenge against Batman. This process would lead to her discovering that she is in fact better without him.
Harley definitely sucks in her ability to defeat American tropes. However, she still ends up kicking our typical trope’s @$$ because she continues to be an amazing villain. Even as a spokeswoman for domestic violence, she continues to create chaos “just for the hell of it.” That means she has some definite strength. I think we all just need to remember there is a two fold meaning behind this powerful lady.
Dante is a female antagonist from the anime Full Metal Alchemist. This 400 year old kickass lady is a powerful alchemist who uses the philosophers stone to jump to other bodies. Originally she used the stone with her love Hohenheim. Together they take out entire cities working on alchemy. Too bad that relationship didn’t last…
What Makes Her “one mean mother”: Dante will do anything to get continue to survive. She manipulates and uses people at every turn. Killing in order to extend her life is just a means to an end. Her belief that she is superior to most alchemists, fuels her hate towards them. She uses her powerful skills in alchemy summon the Gate using infants (that’s evil!) and completes transmutations (attempting to bring deal souls back to life) with ease. She also gains a horde of these transmutated people called Homunculi.
Interesting Backstory: (THERE ARE SOME SPOILER ALERTS IN THIS BACKSTORY) Dante created the philosophers stone with Hohenheim. Together to killed hundreds of people and took down at least two cities to create the philosophers stone. After loosing a son to mercury poisoning, they attempted to bring him back from the dead. However, the person who came back was not a full human, but some half life. They called it Envy. Eventually after several lifetimes of stealing bodies, Hohenheim leaves her for another woman. Alone, she uses the Homunculi as her minions to try to create another stone. In order to motivate an alchemist to create another stone for her, she wages a war with her Homunculi.
Female Tropes: Listen, I am not going to lie. Dante is freaking amazing. She is strong, independent, and does not lean on someone other stronger bad guy. Now taking into account that this show is an anime, there are different Asian tropes at play in this show. The one applicable Western trope is the “More Deadly Than Male Trope.” Basically, Dante becomes more vengeful and power hungry than Hohenheim, which initially feels likes the old adage “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Defeating the Trope: Honestly we don’t need to defeat this trope. She is a powerful independent lady and takes charge. However, eventually she dies because her soul is being split with each body she possesses.
Dante made this list because she is highly motivated and doesn’t even have a trope to change… now that’s a powerful woman!
This evil power house is from the Harry Potter world. Not only did she want to purge the world of “impure” muggle born wizards, she also worked to have the muggles (regular old humans) to be servants to the wizard community.
What Makes Her “one mean mother”: Bellatrix was one of the closest followers to Voldemort (the ultimate dark wizard in Harry Potter). Not only did she follow him during his initial uprising, and went to wizard prison for him, she declared her loyalty to Voldemort even when faced with a life sentence in prison. After breaking out of prison she went right to work. Bellatrix was known for torturing people for information, and delighting in killing people… including Sirius Black.
Interesting Back Story: Bellatrix married a “pure blood” wizard and came from the same family line as Sirius Black (Harry’s godfather). While she did not give her husband attention or affection, she continued to show her loyalty and affection to Voldemort. Her lust for power was tied to this relationship. J.K. Rowling later adds that Bellatrix had a secret illegitimate child with the Dark Lord before their timely demise.
Female Tropes: While Bellatrix created her own sexy and did not gain her powers from her sexuality, she is not the ultimate “boss.” Bellatrix needed Voldemort to teach her the dark magic she uses. Thus she falls victim to the trope that women are powerful because “there’s a powerful man behind them.” Read more from TV Tropes on “Never a Self-Made Woman.”
Her Downfall: Bellatrix was ultimately killed by Mrs. Weasley, a sweet woman who cared for everyone. It was fitting for Mrs. Weasley to do the deed since she was the anti-Bellatrix. She fell because under estimated Mrs. Weasley, and allowed the passionate mother to take get an open shot.
Defeating the Trope: Bellatrix could have been even more amazing if she stopped leaning on Voldemort all the time. Think about this ending instead: Bellatrix sees that the Death Eaters are falling and then instead of staying loyal to Voldemort (who didn’t give two hoots about her), took a gang of Death Eaters and peaced out. She could have come back even deadlier than Voldemort. Her passion and struggle to prove herself to him always clouded her to own strength.
In conclusion, Bellatrix makes this list because she’s independent, vicious, power hungry, and ignores cultural norms.
There’s only three here, but leave a comment if you think someone can dethrone these three ladies!
Written by: Victoria Bartholomew