In a world teeming with superheroes, the term “villain” gets tossed around too much. Applied way too often.
And, normally, it gets applied where it isn’t applicable at all.
What makes a hero a better than a good Samaritan? Better than a good citizen? More than just someone doing the right thing?
The answer might surprise you if you’ve never thought about it.
Additionally, the answer mirrors the answer to the question:
What separates a villain from a criminal? Someone nefarious? A no-good person? Someone who’s rotten?
What separates them? Where do we draw the line?
What’s the difference?
If you’ve never thought about it before…
I’m sure the answer will surprise you.
Aching and hacking and doing my damnedest to keep my eyes open. Because I’m bleeding.
This plan of mine, it proved to be worthy. Proved to be strange, horrid.
As I stagger onto my feet—blood punching up from my lungs, smattering red against the broken pavement—I see that it wasn’t impossible. That it isn’t impossible.
That it was all worth it.
As I gain my bearing, I take a stuttering breath. Lungs raggedly dragging air in and out, pumping more life into my body. Desperate to keep things moving, keep things going.
We have to keep going.
That’s what my organs insist.
I have to keep moving. Keep standing.
Because I can.
And as long as I can, I will.
Across from me, I see that I am not the only one with such conviction. With such determination. From the rubble, something rises. Coughing and hacking in much the same way as myself. A body dragged upward, onward. Almost like a puppet on a string. Compelled by something more than itself. Forced to keep going, to keep trying.
Forced to stand.
And I use the word “forced” lightly.
It’s not against his own will that he’s forced to stand.
It’s against my will that he’s forced to stand.
My destruction. My threat. My hand.
I’m why he stands.
And he’s why I stand.
He is the reason I came here. The reason I put this plan into action. The reason why we’re broken.
The reason we’re standing.
Sputtering, my laugh gurgles from my lungs. Blood seeping from my smile as the hero glares at me. His determination breaking the light of the sun, reflecting something with so much more power. So much more meaning.
He stands against me, glaring daggers.
I stand against him, smiling with red-rimmed teeth.
What’s the difference?
Where’s that line?
I used to wonder that all the time. All the time. What marked me as something different? Something more? Where do I stand so that I can be more than a purse-snatcher? More than a candy thief?
Amongst the rubble. The wreckage. It’s the two standing, the two hanging on. Opposing forces that are broken, shattered.
But refused to be stopped.
You see, a good citizen is just doing their civic duty. Doing what they can when they can. And a criminal is often driven by desperation—vying for money, or power, or whatever else they can get to fill the void pulling at their soul. To fill a need, a desire. Both parties share in the fact that they’re just people going about their business, driven for a moment.
But a hero?
They’re driven for a lifetime.
Ready for more than just the moment. Looking beyond the “here” and the “now”. Drowning desperation, pushing aside the simple things. Forgoing the easy route.
A villain and a hero…
They’re more than that.
Ready to give more than a moment.
Ready to give their life.
We stand staggering, the hero and I, both of us a mess. Both of us aching. My vision is blurry, and the hero staggers a bit. Unsteady in his brokenness, the loss of blood slowly gripping us, drowning us. Becoming burdensome for our bodies. Urging us to lie down, to be done with this mess.
More blood rips its way up my throat. Demanding to be freed from my body. This broken vessel that has proven to be enough.
That has proven to be more.
In a society full to the brim with people claiming to be heroes—with men and women who have special abilities, nearly-cosmic amounts of power—those words are thrown around far too often.
Not many live up to scale though. Not many are truly dedicated, truly worthy of the titles bestowed upon them.
Just as I am.
And, yes, I’m willing to give my life for this villainy—for this wretched act that I believe will open peoples’ eyes, bring a different kind of peace.
With a true hero standing before me, I know:
I’m willing to give my life, and I will give it. When I walk away from this place, I will heal myself. I will store power. I will come back swinging harder than before.
I give my life to my cause.
And, one day, when the time is right?
I’ll give it my death, too.
All these moments I have, I will pour into this. All my moments I will bend into being something sturdier, stronger than what once was. I will build something that can’t be shaken.
For as long as I exist, I will be the villain.
And, it won’t be easy.
Because now I know, too:
There’s at least one true hero out there. One willing to give just as much as I am. One willing to fight, and defend, and die for the sake of others.
Another willing to give it his all.
Smiling, I unleash a torrent of red. I can feel it dribble down my chin as my lackeys rally to me, ready to whisk me away. Wanting to save me.
I only have a moment.
Just the one.
Just for now.
And, I feel it’s important to clear the air. Call out the elephant in the rubble.
“Valiant,” I call out to him.
The hero grits his teeth, dragging his shattered leg. It’d be disgusting, seeing such a wretched and broken thing, if it weren’t for the meaning behind it.
He’s still willing to fight.
And, for me, that makes it an honorable sight.
Woozy, more than likely delirious, broken in so many places, and still.
He’s willing to fight.
“For now, I’ll retreat,” I tell him. Calling out over the dust that’s still settling. “I suggest you do the same. I’ll be back another day hero. Mark my words, I will.”
He’s not as delirious as I think.
Sputtering—an echo of my own fouled up insides, blood raining down on the cement in front of him—he does what he can to straighten up. Address me with that fire, the fury in his eyes.
“I know you will, villain.”
He sees it, too.
He knows, just as much as I do.
The fight isn’t over.
I haven’t won.
I certainly haven’t lost.
In fact, I think I’d argue that, in that moment, with us standing among our beautiful wreck, wheezing our life force, struggling to stand, I think I might’ve won.
No, that’s not the word.
Not won, not lost:
Between the two of us—the hero and I—an understanding was born.
Something to lose. Something to stand against. Something to struggle for.
What else could you call that but gain?
Two forces going all in, opposing without hesitation. Without reservation.
Ready to give their all.
And that, my friends, is the difference.