You don’t get to be an editor for almost five years (and an assistant ed for four before that) without developing some sort of editorial philosophy about what you’re doing. Much of what we’re doing here at Marvel is heroic fiction. So here’s my philosophy (or at least part of it) about heroes. A hero is heroic in direct proportion to the villainy of villains s/he confronts and triumphs against. Sounds simple and obvious enough, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t pit his/her hero or heroes against as powerful and as evil a villain as possible in order to test the hero’s mettle? Yet, certain heroes have managed to acquire “better” regular opponents to clash with than others. A “good” villain should a) have a clear motivation for his/her villainy, b) a credible background to foster that motivation, c) an effective superhuman power or gimmick to help him/her accomplish his/her goals, d) a good name and costume. A “great” villain should have all the above plus a) a complex (not complicated) personality, and b) a good track record of how many times s/he succeeded in accomplishing his/her goals, or at least how difficult it was for a hero to thwart them.
So how many “good” and “great” villains can you think of? Does every hero who has his/her own series have at least twelve of them? If not, says this editor, the writer will have to repeat him/herself a lot – or resort to “bad” villains (those who don’t fit the above criteria). That’s why I’m on a campaign to get my writers to come up with new villains, at least every third storyline or so. That way, there will be new blood to replenish the tired old blood of villains who have lost one too many times to be taken seriously.
A hero who has it easy cannot prove his heroism. On the other hand, a villain who has it easy can prove his villainy. Villains need victims not heroes. A hero may only be as good as the toughest opponents s/he has faced. To make our heroes better, we’ve got to have better villains.