I love, love, love a good dark character. I think most people do. There’s a reason why some of the show-stealing characters in our favorite stories tend to be the shadowy ones. However, there’s also a reason why most of these folks tend to not be the protagonist: even with complex character development, it is simply not easy to relate to a baddie.
In general, we need to be inside the mind of the one who is wholly good in order to feel comfortable looking at the one who is bad. As the audience, we want to think we’re the hero. We want to think that we’re the ones vanquishing the Joker—we don’t actually want to be the Joker. At the end of the day, we want to be fascinated and disturbed by that other guy and then go home safe in the knowledge that we are the wholesome, good ones. “Man, that Joker is batshit insane! Good thing I’m living in the mind of a self-sacrificing vigilante who cares about others above himself. Fetch my robe, Alfred.”
Dark protagonists are tricky to do well, but there are some villains out there who would make fascinating, fantastic leads. These are the folks who hint at more behind their facades. They have that thread of empathy in them for the audience to latch on to—and they are also characters that would not be lessened by having their aura of mystery taken away. (The Joker, in my opinion, would make a terrible protagonist. We love him because we know so little about him. I don’t want to hear about the Joker’s dark past—I want him to stay elusive and thus terrifying, with his constantly shifting stories.)
So, without further ado, here are some baddies that I wish were protagonists:
Ravenna, aka the Evil Queen (Snow White and the Huntsman): One thing that pleasantly surprised me about this thoroughly enjoyable movie was the Evil Queen. She was more than Snow White’s muhaha tormenter—there was something deeper in this woman’s brief, tragic flashback and the heartwrenching look she gave Snow White at the very end, even as she lay dying. Can you imagine how amazing a movie this would be if it had been told from the Queen’s point of view? If we’d started at the beginning, in her youth, and seen her journey from innocent girl to king’s wife to ruling queen, how her heart became dark with bitterness and power, how she feared a young princess would take away her immortality, and then end with her tragic demise? What was the world like from inside her head? I would’ve loved to know. (I hear rumors that Once Upon a Time also depicts a sympathetic Evil Queen.)
Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter): Well, obviously others have had the same idea, because Draco makes for the best Harry Potter fanfiction. Yet another baddie with a morally conflicted heart. The Harry Potter series would be deliciously darker from Draco’s point of view—the split story we’d get from his interactions with his family’s Death Eater connections and his conflicts with Harry from inside his head. It’d be interesting to see a story from a young bully’s POV, and his ultimate redemption. (And yes, I am purposely choosing a quibbly-lipped emo photo.)
The Darkling (The Grisha Trilogy): Yeah, I know, he’s like the Joker in that he’s fascinating partly because of his mysterious nature. Also his utter hotness. But screw that, I don’t care. I’d love a story from the Young Darkling’s point of view. Was he once hotheaded and optimistic? When did he veer into bleakitude? How did he react when he first used his powers? Did he struggle with it, like Alina is now struggling with hers? Many more questions that are spoilery so I won’t post? I have a feeling some of these things will be covered gloriously in book 3, Ruin & Rising. Still, Darkling POV book ftw.
Those are a few of my choices for baddies that would make great dark protagonists. Do you have some of your own in mind?