Character Profiles: The Suave Villain

What sharp little eyes you have, my dear.

– Lord Archelaeus Burleigh, The Skin Map

Archelaeus Burleigh was an earl – rich, refined, well-dressed, every inch an aristocrat. He was a great traveler, too, and a man of books. As may be expected, he was very reasonable, in the sense that he generally gave people a chance to join his side before he killed them.

Burleigh was a Suave Villain. Suave Villains are an interesting breed. They are taken as being more intelligent than their uncouth cousins – henchmen, enforcers, hot-tempered leaders of the pack. They’re also taken as being more evil. I don’t know why. Maybe the hot blood of angry, aggressive villains is at least mammalian, but the cold-hearted cunning of the Suave Villain is definitely reptilian.

There’s an irony in such characters that lends them depth. Burleigh was educated, urbane, at the top of society; the Suave Villain is by definition a master of the conventions of civilization. He is also, by definition, lawless. His manners may be the height of etiquette, but his philosophy is the philosophy of the jungle. Outwardly, a civilized man; inwardly, tearing up the roots of civilization.

A similar contrast is found in characters such as Gaston and Jadis: beautiful on the outside, ugly on the inside. These characters illustrate the superficiality of good looks. Maybe characters like Burleigh illustrate the superficiality of what they call “good breeding” – all that smooth comportment through society, always knowing the right thing to say, the right thing to wear, the right fork to use.

Many, many people have been coated with this lacquer of civilization without it ever touching their souls. These are garden variety snobs and egotists and selfish people – and, just now and then, Suave Villains. The Suave Villain’s hands may be dirty, sometimes even bloody, but his fingernails are very clean.