Subverting Tropes 2
Sorry for the late post. We had our RPG campaign today, and it's been a while so I might have let it go a little long. Still, I'm here and ready to hit you with my thoughts about another topic I enjoy.
Spoiler Warning: Today I'm going to muse a bit about Wander Over Yonder, a cartoon from Disney about a little orange, Muppet-like character who literally wanders the cosmos trying to make friends with everyone while his friend/steed keeps him from being killed. Be forewarned, I'm giving away a major plot spoiler for this series so I can break it down.
Now, I've said before that I feel like subverting tropes has, itself almost become a trope. Tropes aren't a bad thing (cliches are), they're just common ideas and themes that pop up from time to time in fiction. Lately, it feels like every movie, game, or story has to have a twist ending, something that zigs when the viewer/reader thinks it will zag. And that's where I want to look at Wander Over Yonder.
In the second season we meet a villain known as Lord Dominator. This character is huge, has a deep booming voice, armor over everything, horns on the helmet, and shoots lava from their hands. This character plays into one trope (an oddly specific one that Overly Sarcastic Productions actually mentioned very recently) and subverts another... sort of. It's done well, I think. The first is the twist. Lord Dominator who looks like this...
Turns out to actually look like this normally...
Yes, she's a girl. That's the first subversion. Sorta. See, it's become a trope now (you clicked that link earlier, right?) to bait and switch the maniacal, warlord of all doom that has a deep, booming voice and muscles without end, with a female. Now, Dominator is by no means any less dangerous in this latter form. The big armor is basically a disguise. But that's not really the trope I'm interested in. It's her motivations.
See, for the longest time, villains were just villains. The Devil was a common villain because he didn't need a motive. Why would the Devil try to burn down an orphanage? Because he's the Devil! No more need be said. But then we matured as a culture and needed more depth from our villains. If you doubt me, go watch Avengers: Infinity War. They are trying their hardest to make Thanos a sympathetic villain. That's the current trend, in my opinion. Our villains have to have a good reason. Maybe it's for the greater good? Maybe they were abused as children? Who knows? But the trope is clear, the villain is either relatable or, on occasion, was right all along.
But not Dominator. In her signature song, it's revealed what her true motive is. As all the other space villains are conquering worlds for power, she's amassing power for one reason. Destruction. She doesn't want to conquer anything. She wants it all destroyed. She leans into the old trope of the Devil.
Was she abused as a child? No. Is she doing it for a greater good? Not at all. She just, very clearly and without question, wants to annihilate all life and all planets from existence. That's all. She finds it fun.
And you know what? I respect that as a character motive. It acknowledges what it's doing because all the other villains are different from her. They want to rule. Enslave. Conquer. Dominator just wants to watch the world burn. It's subverting expectations... but acknowledging that expectations have shifted... and leaning back into the original trope. I like it.
Also, her song is freakin' awesome.
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Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.