Villainous Overview

Even Evil Has Standards

Next time you gamble, bet your own life.
~ Mirage confronting Syndrome on his malicious actions.

Even Evil Has Standards is one of several important villain–related phenomenon borrowed in name from TVTropes.org. This refers to any situation where an evil character takes offense to an action by another wrongdoer, for being too extreme/depraved even for them. This illustrates that the former evildoer does have at least some moral standards/limitations of what they are willing to do, and the latter villain in the situation is more often than not pure evil.

If the "Greater Evil" is a particularly major threat, the lesser villain may join the heroes, temporarily or otherwise, in order to stop it, or if they are the main character become a hero in their own right. Otherwise, it may instigate an active conflict between two antagonist parties, or the more honorable villain may simply execute the worse one if they are particularly more powerful (which is often, as in many cases the "Greater Evil" is a minor villain such as a savage criminal, rather than a major threat in the story). In darker stories with more ambiguous morality, one villain might not even be intended to come off to the audience as clearly worse than the other, but one sees the other as worse based on their subjective sense of judgment. A major villain's allies/minions may also turn against/abandon them based on this principle.

Prime examples of the type of act that goes beyond the limits of what certain evil characters would do often include murdering a child, killing/betraying one's own allies, mass killing of random innocents and/or destruction of an entire city, especially if the killing isn't necessary for getting what a villain wants, and sometimes rape and torture. Having other villains disapprove of something is a common indicator of a Moral Event Horizon. A subversion of this is Pragmatic Villainy where a villain won't commit a certain evil act, not because of standards, but because it's of no use to them.

Main Forms of Even Evil Has Standards

The following is a list of things that could show that a villain has standards. Sometimes, it is that a villain is unwilling to kill innocent people, but a greater evil kills innocents like a hobby, while it also extends to the discovery of a great secret kept from the villain with standards.

  • Usually, the villain with standards has one rule that's summed up in 4 words; "DON'T. KILL. INNOCENT. PEOPLE". Sometimes, a villain is horrified at another villain for killing innocent people/heavily scarring someone's innocence to get what they want, leading to betrayal and the horrified villain showing his signs of having standards (Razer did wish that the Red Lantern Corps could destroy the Guardians of the Universe, but argued with his master about blowing up a planet, no matter how densely-populated it is).
  • While a villain may have crossed the Moral Event Horizon, they may still be horrified at another villain for doing it, like Dr. Eggman.
  • A villain can often have a loved one who is killed/injured/used as hostage by the more-evil villain, triggering betrayal.
  • Often times, a villain with standards is angry at their villainous superior for destroying someone who was actually defending them, regardless of whether or not they deserved it.
  • The villain can often reach their breaking point when another villain greater than he comes along. The former is often going to do horrible things that cross the Moral Event Horizon greatly to stop the greater evil, triggering the possibility of another villain betraying their master and even the protagonist who aided this villain decides to go against him (Tarrlok in Legend of Korra's Season 1 had organized a government act that prevented anyone who could not bend elements from staying out for very long because of his brother Amon leading a dark revolution and becoming a Dark Messiah, even to the point of a loud and angry mob being placed under arrest, despite that even if they were innocent, it was still considered an evil thing to do. Unalaq in Season 2 had plans to unify both Water Tribes under his own flag, even gaining the trust of protagonist Avatar Korra, but had started oppression and led to a civil war spearheaded by Korra's father and Varrick, the villain with standards, starting against him, and so Korra turned on him and she discovered his secret allegiances).
  • A person does an evil act, but for an actually good, sometimes even heroic, reason. Not just in their eyes, but they know that doing the act will make them a hero (Moira Queen hires China White to kill Malcolm Merlyn, but it was because he kidnapped Moira's husband Walter and planned to destroy Starling City's lower-class district, the Glades).
  • In certain cases, a villain with a deceased loved one is motivated to become evil because of this (an evil Batman, if you will), but discovers that a villain either greater or less evil did the job, prompting the villain to lead a campaign against their new enemy (Zuko had thought his mother died, killed by his father Ozai, but discovered that she was still alive possibly and turned on his evil father, then joined Aang and "Team Avatar").

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