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Friday, January 24, 2020

Horror Author Curtis M. Lawson: Irredeemable- My Top 5 Villainous Protagonists + giveaway

Irredeemable- My Top Five Villainous Protagonists
By Curtis M. Lawson 

I think the majority of readers need a hero of some sort in their fiction. Not every protagonist needs to be a paragon of virtue, a white knight, or a bad girl with a heart of gold, but most readers want someone to root for. It is their hope to travel down the familiar road of the hero’s journey and take comfort at the worn signposts that mark the beats of the story.

People want to feel that they can, at least in the end, count on the protagonist to do their best to make sure the world is set right. Sure, a hero might stumble along the way, but at the end of the day good overcomes evil, love is stronger than hate, so on and so forth. Peter Parker always accepts his burden of great responsibility and swings in to save the day.

While I think everyone appreciates traveling down the comforting boulevards of the hero’s journey, some of us occasionally want a different experience. We see the big bad wolf lurking in the forest, and we are drawn to his dark allure. There are signs all around, warning us not to veer from the road. The words “HERE THERE BE MONSTERS” are scrawled across those uncharted regions of our map. We don’t heed the warnings, and once we step foot into those wild woods, all bets are off. A different breed of creatures lives in that wilderness and different kinds of stories are born there.

This is the world of the villain—the world of the irredeemable protagonist. Unchained by the tropes and pacing of conventional story arcs, these bad guys and gals offer some of the wildest journeys in all of fiction. From Walter White’s transformative journey in Breaking Bad to tales of adolescent psychopaths roaming the streets, we are offered a brave new world where anything is possible…except, perhaps, redemption.

As a reader and a writer, I have always been drawn to stories like this. I find them enthralling, unpredictable, and thought-provoking. They hold a mirror to the face of the audience and challenge them to look at their own negative traits. As uncomfortable as that may be, it’s as important to understand the monster within as it is to aspire toward something greater. I’m not a religious man, but if I were to put it in biblical terms I would say that Christ is an aspiration, but the devil is already in our hearts.

In celebration of the villainous and the unique stories they offer, I present my top five irredeemable protagonists.

#5 Wesley Gibson (Wanted) 
Let me preface this first entry by saying that I’m talking about Wesley Gibson from the Wanted comic series, and not from the unfortunate movie adaptation. There is an important distinction between the two, and if you only saw the movie, I implore you to give the comic a chance. It is an altogether different experience.

When we meet Wesley he is a down on his luck, underachieving everyman. He is, by his own admission, spineless and insignificant. Early into the comic, Wesley encounters an assassin named Fox and learns that his absentee father was a supervillain named The Killer and a key member in a secret, global cabal.

Wesley finds that he has the same skill set as his father—the ability to turn anything into a deadly weapon coupled with incredible accuracy. Instead of being appalled at his ancestry and his newfound skill at murder, he embraces it whole-heartedly and takes his place in The Fraternity, a secret society of supervillains that run control the entire globe.

Wanted goes on to turn the conjoined twin tropes of the chosen one and the orphan discovering his legacy on their heads. Wesley’s tale is a wild inversion of the typical super-hero story, ripe with violence, betrayal, love, lust, and hate. Like Luke Sky Walker or Harry Potter, Wesley grows as a character over the course of the story, but unlike them, his growth only leads him to darker and darker places.

Wanted presents a funny mirror reflection of the hero’s journey and stretches familiar tropes like silly putty. It’s dark, smart, and as unapologetic as its main character. There is no moral lesson at the end and there is no karmic justice. It’s simply a story of over the top bad people, doing over the top bad things, in an over the top bad world.

The best thing about the character of Wesley is how incredibly relateable and intensely despicable he is. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have felt trapped in a dead-end job or a passionless relationship. Most of us have had days, weeks, or even years when we felt like losers. We have all felt powerless and have had dark fantasies of what we might do if our fortunes were reversed. Wesley makes us consider if it is only a lack of power and opportunity keeping us from the path of evil. He isn't some faceless slasher or a nameless Auschwitz guard. He's the kid pumping your gas. He's the part-time student at a community college. He's you reading this from the desk at your unfulfilling job.

#4 Alex DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange) 
Alex DeLarge is one of the most iconic villains in all of film and literature. Portrayed by Malcolm McDowell in a legendary performance, the psychopathic teenage criminal is as charming as he is terrifying. The resident of a near-future dystopia, Alex roams the streets with his friends, prowling for victims to rob, rape, and kill. From gang fights and assaults on the homeless to home invasions and all-out rape, we see Alex tumble down a spiral of excess and violence.

Alex is as self-confident as he is unapologetic. That youthful arrogance, mixed with his dangerous stare, and a dash of culture and style has made him one the most enduring villainous protagonists to ever haunt the page or screen. Even when the roles are reversed and Alex finds himself the victim, he shows no genuine remorse, but only a sad form of self-pity. Depending on which version of the story you prefer (the film and the original American printing of the book differ from the original British version), the tale ends with Alex coming full circle, his free will restored and him having learned nothing along the way. That wolfish glare returns to his eyes as he tells us all we need to know. “I was cured alright.” 

#3 Walter White (Breaking Bad) 
Like Wesley Gibson, Walter White is a down on his luck everyman. Where Wesley is a study in undeveloped potential, Walter is an examination of squandered brilliance.

As you probably know, Walter White was a high school chemistry teacher struggling to make ends meet for his family, when he was given a terminal cancer diagnosis. When we first meet Walter he is a beaten man. His posture is slumped and his earth-tone clothes blend into the desert backdrop, making him almost invisible. He gets no respect at work and no love from his wife. His brother in law sees him as a joke and a wimp, and it is hinted at that he allowed a former business partner to cheat him out of a small fortune sometime before the events of the series.

As the shows name implies, Walter breaks bad late in life, desperate to leave money for his family after his cancer consigns him to oblivion. His plan? Cook and sell crystal meth, and not just any crystal meth, but the best, purest crystal meth anyone has ever seen. Along the way, Walter becomes the villain that everyone wants to be—a brilliant, ruthless, and capable bad guy who takes care of his business and his family.

What is really stunning about the character is not just his transformation from goofy chemistry teacher Walter White to ruthless drug kingpin Heisenberg, but the way that these disparate aspects of his personality co-exist in a sort of symbiotic harmony. Through the series, we see Walter express his deep love for his children, his brother in law, and especially for his partner in crime. In fact, it’s that love that fuels nearly every terrible act he commits. When he starts cooking meth, it is to provide for his family. When he lets Jesse’s girlfriend die from an overdose it is to protect him from her influence. When he poisons a child, it is to keep his bond to Jesse intact.

Walter’s tenderness toward his loved ones and the timid goofiness of his everyday persona never seem jarring when juxtaposed against the willful cruelty he shows himself capable of. One never bats an eye as he dissolves a body in acid in one scene then cares for his disabled son in the next. The duplicity of his character is incredibly rich, organic, and believable.

Walter’s anger and resentment seem justified and even righteous through the series, and the viewer can’t help but fantasize about stepping into the role of Heisenberg to take control of the problems in their own life. Even after Walter crosses the line from morally gray to completely irredeemable, and as his goals change from altruistic to egocentric, we can’t help but stay invested in him.

#2 Patrick Bateman - American Psycho 
Patrick Bateman, the wall street sociopath of Brett Easton Ellis's controversial American Psycho is perhaps the least redeemable character on this list. His excesses are unmatched, even by Alex DeLarge and unlike Wesley Gibson or Walter White, Patrick Bateman is no everyman gone wrong. He's broken and vacuous from the start. He's alien and unrelatable. He's a haunted house.

While Bateman is a character that many would not want to follow, he manages to pull the reader in through a combination of his strange charisma and the promise of increasingly wild violence and perversion. These factors coupled with the morbid intimacy of the prose, demand our attention, if not our love.

The duplicity of the character keeps the audience engaged, despite their best wishes. Bateman is self-absorbed, yet possesses no real self. He is rich and successful, but empty and unfulfilled. He appreciates the finer things in life but equally revels in the ugliest sorts of behavior.

Where a story like Wanted subverts and twists typical character arcs, American Psycho cuts them down with an ax. I would argue that the book and the film barely resemble a cohesive narrative. They are more like a haunted house carnival ride through one man’s crumbling psyche.

And of course, the fact that Bateman is an unreliable narrator adds an additional level of complexity. Is Bateman the psychopath he claims to be or is he just a broken and empty man lost in the singularity of his own madness?

#1 Satan (Paradise Lost) 
No list of villainous leads would be complete without the devil himself.

Milton’s Satan is seen by many modern readers (including myself to a certain extent) to be the hero of the epic poem Paradise Lost. This was not the intention of the blind poet, however. In Milton’s eyes Satan was a prideful fool, a force of corruption and, well… the devil.

What makes Satan the ultimate villainous protagonist is that his arguments do not seem entirely unjust to the reader, and he holds himself with dignity and pride. He’s inspirational, passionate, and in possession of an incredible will. Satan demonstrates nearly every attribute that the pre-Christian heroic archetype would possess, and I don’t think that’s by accident.

I believe that Milton intentionally set out to demonize the ancient model of heroism by having the devil personify that ideal, in the same manner that aspects of benevolent pagan gods were integrated into Satan’s character in other places. Milton sought to make the proud and ancient heroic ideal into a devil but instead made the devil into a hero. That is a big part of the reason that Milton’s Satan resonates with readers more than his interpretation of Christ, and why most people only read the first half of Paradise Lost.

All that being said, there are still plenty of things that place Satan into the realm of the irredeemable. First of all, Satan’s intentions are completely driven by ego and resentment. He does not act on behalf of his fellow angels, for the opportunity to free mankind from a tyrannical father, or even for his own good. Everything he does is a sacrifice at the altar of his own arrogance. These twin forces of ego and resentment define the character. They blind and twist him, and never is he as powerful again as in that first scene.

Black Heart Boys' Choir
Curtis M. Lawson
September 8, 2019
261 pages
ISBN: 1075108063
Publisher: Wyrd Horror Genre: Horror
Great art demands sacrifice.

Lucien Beaumont is a teenage misfit and musical prodigy ostracized by his peers and haunted by familial tragedy. When he discovers an unfinished song composed by his dead father—a song that holds terrible power—Lucien becomes obsessed. As he chases after the secret nature of his father's music, the line between gruesome fantasy and real life violence begins to blur.

To complete his father's work Lucien believes that he and his group of outcast friends must appease a demonic force trapped within the music with increasingly sadistic offerings. As things spiral out of control he finds that the cost of his art will be the lives of everyone around him, and perhaps his very soul.

About the Author:
Curtis M. Lawson is a writer of unapologetically weird, dark fiction and poetry. His work includes Black Heart Boys' Choir, It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World, and The Devoured.

Curtis is a member of the Horror Writer's Association, and the organizer of the Wyrd live horror reading series. He lives in Salem, MA with his wife and their son. When he is not writing, Curtis enjoys tabletop RPGs, underground music, playing guitar, and the ocean

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