In the bonus material on the back pages of Justice, author Jim Krueger praises Bob McKee and his story seminar for teaching him this pivotal idea: every good villain must believe himself to be the hero of his story.
You can see that idea played out best in my description of Luthor’s motives. He wanted to raise up a new, stronger humanity that didn’t lean on the crutches of overpowered non-humans like Superman and the Martian Manhunter. He’s still a villain because of the path he’s willing to take to get there, but you can see how calling him a hero of his own story could work.
Wilson Fisk (Kingpin) in the Daredevil series would easily fit here too. He spoke of remaking the city into a better, safer neighborhood. But he also knew what goodness and moral truth were, at least, something of them. In this clip, which is one of the best of the season, he talks through his thinking process probably for dramatic effect, not from a fit of honesty.
Krueger says good villains don’t roll out of bed wondering what new terrors they can unleash, except some of them do. Some men just want to watch the world burn, as Alfred in another story put it, and even Krueger’s story demonstrates that
In Justice, dozens of villains collaborate on a single, grand cause because they are being manipulated by their leaders. I won’t tell you how to avoid the spoiler, but they do not share a distorted view of some common good that has pressed them to put aside differences. Their only good is their own profit, power, or pleasure. Their leader is using them to wage war for as long as he can until he disposed of them. Nothing about that can be called good.
Heroism is about saving people. In the New Avengers series I’m reading now, their compulsion to save people is almost a weakness. They will not let go of the possibility that they could defeat what at the moment appears to be indefeatable. They must try while they still can. Villains think about using people and saving themselves, which isn’t good just as abuse of all types is heroic.
Macbeth may be the hero of his story. Hamlet is. Many others just want the thrill of dropping the match that sets the world aflame.