Drawing a blank

My partner and I were watching TV, and while I can’t even remember what prompted him to ask, he was wondering why there are so few great female villains – women who pursued power and wealth by evil or at least illegal or amoral means just because they wanted power and wealth.

And now I’m totally blanking. I can think of a handful of minor villainesses who kind of fit that category (Moonstone, Mystique and Ruby Thursday, and maybe a couple of others), but Ruby only had one major story before she became kind of a creepy joke, and aren’t Moonstone and Mystique mostly redeemed?

Before I could even suggest Catwoman (which I wasn’t prone to do anyways), he discounted her, partly because he views her as sad and crazy and avenging herself on evil men rather than possessing any tangible personal ambitions (based on the second Batman movie) or just using villainy as an excuse to flirt with the hero (based on the television series). Both of these apparently disqualify someone from A-list villainy, and I’d tend to agree.

So who am I forgetting? They don’t have to be confined to comic books.

19 Responses to Drawing a blank

  1. Simon Jones says:

    Dragon Lady from Terry and the Pirates did a pretty decent job of evilling it up. Though she got over it.

    I’m pretty sure at least one manga series has a couple consistently evil female villains. Though I can’t think of their names off hand.

    And, of course, there’s always Cathy.

  2. Dan Jacobson says:

    Umar from Dr. Strange does her thing just for the sake of power, though since she’s Dormammu’s sister the script usually treats her as an also-ran, and though in the beginning it was more about power for its own sake, after a while it seems to have been portrayed more as a competition with her brother.

  3. Huff says:

    Nurse Ratchet: most evil you-know-what ever.
    But yeah, villainesses (is that a word?) just come off as obnoxious. Lady Kaede from Kurosawa’s “Ran” was an awesome character thanks to the actress’ performance. Some of the old film noir vixens were cool, and more recently Gong Li was a blast in “Memoirs of a Geisha.”
    As for comics, Ririko of “Helter Skelter” is hands down one of the greatest characters I’ve ever encountered in manga, but she’s more of an anti-hero (a la Travis Bickle), especially since everyone in that manga is pretty amoral. Other than the psycho-naked assassins in “Lone Wolf and Cub” I’m drawing blanks right now.
    But if you want to talk comic strips Mary Worth is pretty damn evil…

  4. Huff says:

    Whoops, I meant “most villainesses just come of as obnoxious.”

  5. Matt Thorn says:

    Does P’Gell, from Will Eisner’s The Spirit, count?

    If we limit discussion to technicolor longjohns stuff…Well, what is the male villain standard we’re measuring against? Lex Luthor? The Joker? Dr. Doom? Magneto? All of those guys have a serious obssession with their respective nemeses. It’s really hard today to not look at those villains in a homoerotic way…or is it just me?

    Doesn’t Wonder Woman have some female nemesis? Sorry, I’m totally out of my depths here.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but it seems almost any time you have a hero/villain pairing, in which the villain specifically wants to make life miserable for the hero, you’ve got an unrequited sexual/romantic tension there. I mean, check out Peter and Harry in Spider-man 3. I saw it on opening day here in Kyoto with three female manga students from Seika, and when it was over we all agreed that they will surely be small flood Harry/Peter yaoi doujinshi appearing in the Summer Comic Market. It wouldn’t be too difficult to work Sandman and Venom in there, for that mattter. The film just screams “Slash us!!”

    Sorry. Completely went off track here with my own preoccupation. (^_^;)

  6. Estara says:

    Umm, historically…. Mata Hari?
    Hmm Marquise de Montespan? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7oise-Ath%C3%A9na%C3%AFs%2C_marquise_de_Montespan

    Not sure, really, and I haven’t read superhero comics in 15 years, so I’m rusty there.

  7. davidpwelsh says:

    No need to confine things to superhero comics or comics in general. (And if we’re going to include comic strips, I can’t believe no one mentioned Liz Patterson. I can’t count Margo from Apartment 3-G, because the Comics Curmudgeon has made me fall in love with her.)

    Dan: Good call with Umar. Of all of the evil demi-goddesses, she’s my favorite, even with the rivalry with her brother. I loved her in that Giffen-DeMatteis Defenders series. The Enchantress is intermittently amusing, but she falls mostly into the “bored flirt” category, so I can’t credit her with enough ambition.

    Matt: Good point that the obsession/attention factor is just as prevalent in same-sex hero/villain set-ups as it is with male/female or female/female pairings. It was one of the reasons I sort of wrote off the Wonder Woman gang. They mostly seem to just hate Wonder Woman, often by design.

    I can’t believe I forgot all those wicked queens, step-mothers and witches in the Disney movies, though. Those are some unapologetically nasty women.

  8. JennyN says:

    How about Rust Masson, anti-heroine of IT RHYMES WITH LUST? This was originally published in 1950 – some critics claim it’s the first graphic novel – and is now available in a replica edition from Dark Horse. The story (by Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller) is clumsily plotted and all the secondary characters are stereotypes, but the central love triangle suggests some very murky depths – though unfortunately these aren’t fully explored. A would-be crusading reporter, whose better impulses have been undermined by his alcoholism, is torn between the beautiful and domineering Rust and her beautiful, and almost equally determined, stepdaughter. I’ll leave anyone who’s interested to get hold of the Dark Horse edition, but Rust definitely fits the definition of villainess as a woman who pursues power and wealth as ends in themselves – simply because that’s what she wants. (She wants Hal too, of course, and Matt Baker’s superb black-and-white art makes it clear why he succumbs: this woman meets her once and future lover wearing a blouse open to the waist, riding-breeches and boots, and carrying a *whip*, fergawdsakes! And pause at page 12 to consider the implications as Hal begins to make love to Rust under a portrait of her late husband – who’s been buried the same day…) Rust doesn’t bother with regrets, neuroses, or anyone who stands between her and what she wants. A magnificent role model for the young.

  9. Dan Jacobson says:

    Jane Greer’s character in Out of the Past… Kathy is it? Full of all kinds of nasty.

  10. Lyle says:

    If it ever gets its much-needed DVD release do check out Suburban Shootout, mob queen Camilla Diamond is all that and a bag of chips. She should be an A-list villainess.

    Another under-recognized villain i love is Ruthie Patchett from Fay Weldon’s The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. Don’t let yourself get distracted by Rosanne Barr’s version, read the book or find the BBC adaptation starring Julie T Wallace.

  11. Kitty says:

    How about Alti from Xena? She was pretty hardcore evil.

  12. ChunHyang72 says:

    Cruella de Ville was motivated purely by her desire for a bitchin’ fur coat in the season’s must-have pattern: spots.

  13. davidpwelsh says:

    It’s so weird to me that Disney, with its passive-victim heroines, has so many formidable villainesses. But maybe one’s just an extension of the other: conventional, nurturing ambitions = good, anything else = wicked.

    And I can’t believe I forgot Dolores Umbridge from the fifth Harry Potter book. Of course, mesmerizingly awful as she was, she was mostly motivated by her desire to keep a man in power as opposed to wanting anything for herself.

  14. Nienna says:

    Queen Beryl, from the first season of Sailor Moon, would fit pretty well.

  15. Mitch H. says:

    How about Mom from Futurama?

    Then there’s Maya Kamina from Rahxephon, Shinsen Tennouzu from Speed Grapher… come to think of it, a lot of decent female villains tend to be malevolent mother figures. Cirin from Cerebus before Dave Sim went batshit, for instance.

  16. davidpwelsh says:

    Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate = evilest mom ever. Or the evilest mom that I can think of at this moment.

  17. This is a cheesy one, but what about Sharon Stone in Total Recall, not to mention Basic Instinct?

  18. davidpwelsh says:

    Hey, cheese generates some great antagonists. Now I’m going to have to run through my mental list of beloved teen movies and see if there are any villainesses I missed.

  19. Michael May says:

    Sherry Palmer, from the first couple of seasons of 24, is one of the best, most evil villains of any gender in the history of villainy.

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