I’d like to talk about a pair of characters (doctors) and the concept of evil. Starting in 2007, Phineas and Ferb introduced Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz and his company Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated, and in 2008, Joss Whedon produced Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, chronicling Dr. Horrible’s attempts to get into the “Evil League of Evil.” In both works, the doctor is explicitly labeled as “evil,” but each character is so thoroughly fleshed out that you start to wonder whether he really is evil or start to doubt what “evil” really means.
Doofenshmirtz is obviously, demonstrably evil. He hates everything (except Christmas, but he builds doomsday -inators for that as well), enjoys making people miserable, and in one episode vaporized a guy just for talking to his daughter. Through all the flashbacks of his childhood, though, where he was put through increasingly ridiculous hardships (neither of his parents showed up for his birth, his parents used him as a lawn gnome, he was disowned and raised for a time by ocelots, etc etc), we start to understand why he turned out the way he did. Heinz Doofenshmirtz may be evil, but not intrinsically so. His evilness is a product of his past experiences, of the hardships inflicted upon him by his own family.
The kicker for Doofenshmirtz is that his brother Roger is the beloved mayor of Danville, where both of them live. Despite the public’s high opinion of Roger and his ostensible “good guy” attitude, the show reveals the extent of his selfishness. When a supervillain menaces Danville, Roger worries more that people will blame him than about the lives that are in danger. He also appears to shirk his mayoral duties on a regular basis to make time for golf. Roger’s evilness is subtle compared to his brother’s ostentatious schemes, but that subtlety serves only to make him even more evil in the viewer’s eyes. Heinz Doofenshmirtz may label himself as evil, even list it as one of his hobbies, but it’s difficult to think of him as a bad person. Roger’s outward display of samaritanism that masks his selfish desires makes him far more despicable.
Dr. Horrible (first name Billy) is more subtly evil, to the point where he could be described as merely radical. He wants to overthrow the current system and replace it with a totalitarian regime (which he runs, of course), but his motivation comes from disgust with the system rather than a pure desire for personal power. He passionately tells Penny, “[Homelessness is] a symptom. You’re treating a symptom while the disease rages on, consumes the human race. The fish rots from the head, so they say. so I’m thinking, why not cut off the head?” Penny then undercuts this by pointing out that the head is part of the human race, but the force with which Horrible delivers his little speech still conveys its truth, in his eyes. His ideas may be underdeveloped, but there’s nothing inherently evil about them. In essence, he’s talking about revolution.
Horrible’s nemesis Captain Hammer is a figure much like Roger Doofenshmirtz. Ostensibly he beats up bad guys and keeps the streets safe for the general public, but he too is only in it for popularity’s sake. Hammer takes Penny back to his headquarters and fucks her, just because he knows Horrible wants her. Beneath his Superman facade, Captain Hammer is the pettiest, most selfish character in the entire narrative.
There’s little moral distance between the evil doctors and their counterparts; the most significant difference is a desire for change. Roger Doofenshmirtz is of course happy being the mayor of Danville, even if he doesn’t actually help anyone from that position, and Captain Hammer clearly loves playing the hero even if his heroics are more dangerous than anything Dr. Horrible does. Both works are tinged with irony—Phineas and Ferb especially—and there’s a lot in both Heinz Doofenshmirtz and Billy Horrible that we could label as “evil.” There’s a lot in Roger Doofenshmirtz and Captain Hammer that we could label “evil” as well, though, and the major difference between them and their villainous counterparts is their satisfaction with the status quo.