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Literary Villains Suited to Comic Books

The Page to Slightly More Colourful, Speech-Bubbled Page Transition

By Conor HuftonPublished 6 years ago 4 min read
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This idea probably isn't entirely original, especially since by this point all new works have drawn some inspiration from elsewhere. Inspired by The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but unlike that series, this list entertains the idea of placing literary characters inside existing comic book worlds—rather than exclusively featuring literary characters.

Long John Silver (Robert Louis Stevenson’s 'Treasure Island')

Long John Silver is a textbook "worthy opponent," a deceptively charismatic master manipulator with a ruthless streak, perfectly capable of combat and shocking brutality in spite of his impairments. He is forced at one point to join the side of the heroes and he gets away with it—SPOILERS (The story’s a million years old and really famous, to be fair).

He is well-suited to any grittier superhero comic (e.g. Marvel’s Jessica Jones series, Alias), reinvented loosely as a contemporary gangster begrudgingly allying Jessica to capture former associates.

Fagin (Charles Dickens’ 'Oliver Twist')

Like the above entry, adaptations give him the sympathetic treatment: a London crime lord raising children into thievery with skills in manipulation, an unquenchable lust for wealth, and a selfishly pragmatic sense of compassion. He’s slightly comical, though, and physically unthreatening due to frailness.

Like Long John, he suits any grittier comic, but Batman or Punisher seem to be prime contenders for him, especially since Sewer King from the Batman Animated Series episode "The Under Dwellers" is arguably an exaggerated Fagin already.

Rebecca & Mrs. Danvers (Daphne Du Maurier’s 'Rebecca')

The former barely appears on page. She’s apparently an abusive, adulterous (with her cousin, no less) extremist who convinced everyone she was great. Rebecca deliberately drives her husband to murder, knowing he’ll suffer more in long term. She’s open to sympathetic treatment, though. Reader opinion depends on potentially unreliable assessments. Her murderer may have been less justified than we’re lead to believe. This is something that could add a greater layer of mystery and creative freedom to a comic book. Similar plans to hers have been seen in pop culture before, albeit it rarely between husband and wife. Either way, her role would need expansion.

Mrs, Danvers, her infatuated housekeeper and a more obvious piece of… work, deserves comic book treatment too as an equal partner to Rebecca.

This may be another one for the Jessica Jones Alias series; her murder being solved while Danvers gives Jessica issues. Alternatively, Jessica could be hired to prove the justification of her murder. Whether or not it would be would depend on which traits of the literary characters were magnified or changed.

King Leontes (William Shakespeare’s 'The Winter’s Tale')

Driven by unwarranted suspicions of adultery, he arrests his wife and banishes the baby he believes isn’t his. When his actions cause even greater loss, he fills the next 16 years with remorse. It gets lighter, I swear.

The tone shift the play is known for would fit a Deadpool story because of the Marvel antihero’s Meta reputation. Leontes could be reinvented as a reformed HYDRA agent with the same past as his theatrical counterpart.

Peter Pan (JM Barrie’s 'Peter Pan & Wendy')

From a parent’s perspective, he’s the bad guy. After all, he coaxes children from their homes and into a world of dangerous mermaids and pirates, trying to prevent them from going home. He’s the only reason Captain Hook, the more conventional antagonist, even poses a threat to the Darling children. Not just that, he kills the lost boys if they show signs of aging and laughs when Wendy, John, and Michael almost die. Additionally, to paraphrase the book, he’s seen many tragedies in his life "and forgotten them all" because he’s a selfishly detached swine. He’s really up himself, too. Reinvent him only very slightly and he could be an antagonistic figure.

DC’s "Mistress of Magic" Zatanna, having some detective skills, could investigate cases of missing children and encounter a slightly aged-up version of him. Not only does he require the supernatural environment, but Zatanna deserves a more iconic rouges gallery.

Claude Frollo (Victor Hugo's 'Hunchback of Notre Dame')

Hugo’s Frollo wasn’t evil from the start like Disney’s interpretation. He was initially genuinely selfless and nice but eventually driven to villainy by the lust he feels for a gypsy girl that conflicts his beliefs. Not defending him, he still ends up a jerk.

Daredevil could be a fitting opponent due to the dramatic tone and occasional involvement of the church. On the other side, DC appropriately features a character called Gypsy, but she’s obscure—no solo series/rogues gallery.

Fox and the Cat (Carlo Collodoi's 'Pinocchio')

This is a duo of falsely affable conmen who tempted Pinocchio into a world of corruption. Even in the original novel, little is revealed about the pair. Their malleability is part of what makes them worthy of comic books. They could be portrayed as a subservient comic duo in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics, or former rebellious teens forcefully transformed and bribed into villainy with the promise of being human again in a Batman series. Another possible interpretation could be as enigmatic masked human assassins, a trait that could be transposed into several superhero’s series’.

Honourable Mentions: Frank Cauldhame (Ian M Banks' 'Wasp Factory')

What little I know of this book/character complies with bleaker comic books: a relentlessly violent, depraved teenager. A lot of other books have characters of this description (Butcher Boy, We Need to Talk about Kevin). Its Frank’s detailed and unique backstory that would make him a welcome comic book feature. Usually, tragic comic book villain’s actions are negated by their history (e.g., Magneto or Mr. Freeze, as great as they are). Frank could become complicated without seeming sympathetic or excusable. It's difficult to associate a specific hero with him due to lack of, um, what’s it called… actual knowledge.

Oscar Diggs a.k.a. The Wizard (L Frank Baum's 'Oz Books')

This is an unofficial entry for the obvious reason he isn’t seen as a villain throughout. In spite of encouraged empathy and absence of authorial criticism, The Wizard does some indisputably questionable things in his journey to the top. He uses con artistry and at one point, he even sells Oz’s rightful ruler as a child slave. It suits a series like Guardians of the Galaxy, that allows for alternative settings, interdimensional travel, and comically bumbling authority figures.

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About the Creator

Conor Hufton

getting better at this writing thing (aka slowly learning the alphabet, learnt how to use pen). Spanning critical writing, fantasy, parody and sci-fi (ruining all of them in the process).

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