On-going series will have multiple villains in order to keep things fresh. You need different enemies with a variety of ambitions to make sure it’s not the same adventure over and over again. Yet, you run into a problem down the road with the earlier villains that might fall into one of the following categories:
- No longer powerful enough to be a threat to the hero.
- Become so popular with fans that it’s hard to keep them evil.
- Naturally mellows over time because of repeated encounters with heroes.
- No more evolution, but still potential.
You can junk the villain or turn them into the minion of another, but many will give them the redemption arc. Dragonball is famous for this considering Piccolo, Yamcha, Tien, Vegeta, Buu, Android 16, and others have gone from villain to hero. Some have done the jump faster than others, but they all end up on the heroic side. This opens them up to a new evolution and extends their lifespan. They make friends and get chances to win fights, which improves their reputation in the world. Some go on to get married and have kids who carry on the adventure. It establishes a legacy for them, which wouldn’t have happened if they stayed as a villain.
In Legends of Windemere: Path of the Traitors, I did this with a few villains. The big one was Queen Trinity who went from villain to bitter rival to ally over the course of the story. Her evolution was more obvious than others since it was clear early on that she had heroic tendencies. This is something to consider when deciding on making a bad guy a hero or killing them off. Have them demonstrated the potential to do good? It can be forced with technology or magic, but that can be a role that doesn’t stick since it doesn’t feel natural. So, you need to take the villain’s personality into account here. One who loves nothing more than murdering is a difficult change while one who wants to rule the world can go hero if the other villains are out to destroy things. You can have villains grow out of their ambitions after being a hero for a bit because they can find something more worthwhile, but you need to be gentle about it. Blunt changes will ruin the character and those around them.
Some people might be yelling CLICHE at this point. You’re right because this is a plot device used many times over the centuries. One could go far back to the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ and say that Enkidu is a villain/counter force of the hero who became an ally to him. All of this works of the redemption concept, which is a staple of writing and human nature. We all want to see that people who do bad things are either punished or given a way to redeem themselves. Those who cannot turn back get the first and those who show hints of heroism get the second. It’s really hard to call this a cliche because it happens so much in real life. Most people don’t stay on the same straight path. They have turns and twists and dips, which vary in size. A hero who begins as a villain may be more crooked than an average person, but it’s still a realistic path.
So, what do you think about villains who become heroes? Overdone? Difficult or easy? Part of human nature?