Villains Month: Demona

One of the problems that often seems to creep up with female villains is that so often their creators attempt to “redeem” them. I’m not really sure why this is, perhaps to deal with the discomfort of having usually male heroes kill a woman, or because they often serve as counterbalances to the male villains, who are usually much more evil, by being morally ambiguous. In either case, female villains turning good, sometimes as a result of love, is pretty common in stories, to the point of cliche. That she does not fall victim to this at all is one reason I like Demona from Gargoyles so much.

Demona, to be sure, is not bad for no reason; indeed, she has tragic, understandable reasons for her behavior. Living in a world where her own kind are treated as monsters and freaks by humans despite their constant protection of said humans, she came to be understandably bitter. Unfortunately, Demona’s bitterness and desire to take revenge on humanity has led not only to betraying the humans in question, but also the principle law of gargoyles, which is the protection of their charges. In so doing, she has actually caused the deaths of many of her own kind, and further damaged their reputation among humanity, facts that she cannot accept. Her refrain, and that of other characters in the series as well, is, “What have I…what have THEY done?”

The series goes out of its way to show Demona in, if not a sympathetic light exactly, at least a nuanced one. Cursed with an immortality she shares with a human she despises, and forced to live desperately alone, the years and endless losses have driven Demona into a state of total war with the entire world. I have always found bitterness to be a fascinating motivation for evil. The bitter person rarely sets out to do wrong, and indeed usually starts off with good intentions, which are worn down by the injustice of the world. Soon, they begin to perceive enemies everywhere, view idealism as naivete, and develop the need to betray others before others can betray them. Many see the pain in Demona and hear her persuasive words, and long to believe she can be healed or helped. Unfortunately, well before the series began, she gave herself over to revenge, and even turns against her own kind if she sees them as too soft on the matter of humans. In particular, she despises Goliath, her former love, because he chooses to protect humanity, from her not the least.

Despite the fact that she is fanatical in her beliefs, Demona is by no means impractical. She is well-versed in magic and willing to use technology (putting her ahead of most of Goliath’s Manhattan Clan, who generally still fight like medieval warriors), and she makes alliances with amoral humans who are willing to serve her purposes, such as David Xanatos and Anton Sevarius. Indeed, when she is later cursed by Puck to turn into a human during the day, a state she would normally be given to hate, she adapts, and uses the transformation to her advantage.

Demona is also still somewhat capable of love, though her feelings and attitudes towards it are twisted. It is likely that she longs for affection, having spent so many centuries on her own, but is incapable of ever fully committing to it as a result of her eternal mistrust and hatred of others. While her love for Goliath has long since turned to hate, she still seems to hold a particular loathing for Elisa Maza, the human for whom Goliath develops feelings, out of jealousy, even though she admits Elisa is not evil as humans go (this fact only seems to make her hate Elisa even more). She later falls in love with Goliath’s clone Thailog, even though it is obvious for the most part that Thailog is a complete sociopath and incapable of affection for anyone. Finally, and perhaps most tragically, Demona does seem to have true affection for her daughter Angela, and works to convert the young gargoyle to her way of thinking. Sadly, because Demona is who she is, she still cannot resist lying to Angela, or using her to further her cause. This leads Angela to condemn her mother, which only serves to drive Demona deeper into despair and loneliness.

The greatest tragedy about Demona is that there so often seems to be hope for her. There are many times in the course of the series where she seems reasonable, as though perhaps if she is simply given a helping hand, she might be able to turn back, and end the cycle of revenge and bitterness that binds her. Unfortunately, hope is the essence of tragedy, and every time, this hope is either a ruse, or destroyed by some twist of fate. All this makes Demona an extremely effective and compelling villain, who will never change her ways.