Robert Peaslee and Rob Weiner have joined forces to co-edit The Supervillain Reader, a collection of in-depth supervillain analysis essays that allow the readers a chance to look closer at the villainous qualities in individuals and society as a whole.
“The idea for this book originally came out of the book on the Joker that Rob and I had written together years back,” Peaslee an associate professor and chair of journalism and creative media industries said. “While the Joker was worthy of a whole book to himself, we realized that there are so many other supervillains worthy of exploration and recognition.”
The idea was also sparked from The Superhero Reader published by the University press of Mississippi, Peaslee said.
“We decided to look at supervillains from all over the entertainment industry,” Weiner, a popular culture librarian and honors college professor, said. “Not just comic books, but villains from literature, TV, Japanese Manga and even Satan. We wanted to really expand on what makes a villain a villain, and we wanted to identify all the differences and similarities that all share.”
The book is comprised of essays on characters that had already been written, as well as essays that guest writers came in to write specifically for the book in order to get a more comprehensive list of villains, Weiner said. The book is divided into broad sections, and then there are multiple essays about different supervillains that all fit into that one section.
“Already, the book was different from anything we had done before,” Peaslee said. “We really wanted to have a discussion that covered all types of story-telling and all the prominent supervillains they hold. We wanted to give readers the lay of the land on the supervillain, so we wanted tons of different perspectives. So, we had to acquire the rights to the previously-written essays to be able to include them in the book and that was definitely time-consuming.”
Weiner said without a villain, there is not really a story to tell.
"There is almost always a villain in every story you read,” Weiner said. “It might not always be obvious, but they’re there, and they’re not always completely evil. Every villain has their reasons for why they’re a villain, and sometimes those reasons are pretty reasonable. I think that’s why people can become so invested in a villain. Not because they particularly approve of the villain’s misdeeds, but because they can sometimes relate to the cause. It really makes everyone take a step back and see what can be told of our own humanity.”
One of the main purposes of the book is to make the readers look inside themselves and figure out why it is they can relate to the villain, Weiner said.
“We as an audience, through whatever format we consume the media in, find ourselves living vicariously through the villain without actually having to stoop to their actions,” Weiner said. “Still, it makes us all ponder why our society is the way it is today.”
Amid the Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been countless opportunities for villains to present themselves in modern-day society. Peaslee said this was another reason for the publication of the book.
“Over the last twenty years or so, we’ve really seen an increase in villainous actions across the world, even more so within the last couple of years,” Peaslee said. “Twenty years ago, it was harder to receive information because there weren’t a lot of accessible outlets for people to choose from. The differences in views and opinions shrank, and everything was very cut and dry. However, there has been an increase in outlets for information, and values and beliefs have begun to evolve and split off into different directions. Deciphering right from wrong has started to become even more difficult.”
In addition to a growing pool of sources for information, Peaslee said the way films and TV shows have evolved has allowed for more diversity in opinions and content as well.
“People have been demanding for more complex representations of things in the world because the world is changing,” Peaslee said. “There are so many more ways to tell a story. They don’t have to be just 90-minutes or 30-minutes long anymore. They can be as long as people want them to be, and that has given creators the freedom to create more complex characters. It’s kind of a ‘chicken-and-egg’ thing. People see more representation and they become more interested.”
Weiner said that overall, he and Peaslee just wanted to create a book that would get people to begin looking harder at the villainous acts that are carried out in today’s world, and they wanted the readers to be able to identify those acts and correct them.
“This book was really a natural progression from the Joker collection and The Superhero Reader,” Weiner said. “We wanted to widen the scope and really go in-depth with these characters so that the readers can understand motives and be able to recognize them. The Supervillain predates the Superhero by thousands, if not millions, of years, and could be around for much, much longer. We just really wanted to bring attention to that.”
When asked about a possibility of a second installment, Peaslee said that it wasn’t something he opposed to.
“We definitely did not exhaust the list of supervillains that are already out there in the world,” Peaslee said. “While a sequel is not something we’re actively thinking about, The Supervillain Reader will not be our last project together. There are a lot of things we’re looking forward to in the future.”