Some villains strive for wealth and power. Some villains strive for glory. But a surprising number of villains are motivated solely by their tangled relationships with the hero. These are love-hate relationships, in which the villain just wants to impress the hero or spend quality time together. Here are the 12 most codependent supervillains, in no particular order.
Spoilers for old stories ahead...
The Master has been a recurring villain on Doctor Who for decades, over multiple regenerations. And from their earliest adventures, the Master always seems reluctant to kill the Doctor, while the Doctor keeps saying he's quite looking forward to their next deadly encounter. Even after all of the other Time Lords are gone, the Master finds a way to come back. As the Master's ultimate goal is to cause the Doctor pain, to the point where he refuses to regenerate after being shot, allowing himself to die because he knows the Doctor will mourn him. Nothing sums up their relationship better than the lyrics of the Scissor Sisters song he sings and dances to while taunting the Tenth Doctor: "I can't decide whether you should live or die."
Syndrome, once Buddy Pine, didn't start off as a super-villain. He was Mr. Incredible's biggest fan, and his goal in life was to become his sidekick. After being rejected by Mr. Incredible he became obsessed with getting his revenge. He didn't have any superpowers of his own, so he created machines that could destroy "supers" and used them to kill super heroes until he felt it was ready for Mr. Incredible. He devotes his entire life to getting his revenge on Mr. Incredible and proving to him and the world that he can be a superhero. He explains his motives:
Syndrome: It's finally ready! You know, I went through quite a few supers to make it worthy to fight you, but man, it wasn't good enough! After you trashed the last one, I had to make some major modifications. Sure, it was difficult, but you are worth it. I mean, after all... I am your biggest fan.
Mr. Incredible: [recognizing that last line] Buddy?
Syndrome: My name is not Buddy! And it's not Incrediboy, either. That ship has sailed. All I wanted was to help you. I only wanted to help, and what do you say to me?
Mr. Incredible: [Flashback] Fly home, Buddy. I work alone.
Syndrome: It tore me apart. But I learned an important lesson. You can't count on anyone, especially your heroes.
Doctor Horrible offers a twist on this trope — it's the hero who is obsessed with the villain. Although technically, Captain Hammer is still the antagonist of this story, so it still fits. Captain Hammer seems especially gleeful about foiling Dr. Horrible's schemes and inflicting pain and humiliation on the mad scientist. He seduces Penny because he knows that Dr. Horrible is in love with her. He tells Dr. Horrible: "I'm gonna give Penny the night of her life, just because you want her. And I get what you want." Captain Hammer might be a superhero in the eyes of the world, but his fixation on Dr. Horrible is super creepy.
Why does Bowser keep kidnapping Peach? For love? For power? For cake? Or possibly, he does it for Mario. After the third or fourth time, he's got to know that Mario will be coming after Peach, and yet he kidnaps her anyway. He never learns from his past mistakes, he just keeps blindly going down the same path. There are all kinds of fan theories out there to explain why Bowser keeps kidnapping Peach, but it seems as though Bowser wants Mario's attention, or wants to annoy him. Again and again he acts out, hoping that Mario will show up.
There are countless versions of Captain Hook out there, each of them slightly different. No matter their differences, each and every one of them is obsessed with Peter Pan. Hook goes way beyond a "normal" thirst for revenge, spending all of his time thinking about, hunting, and preparing to fight Peter. In Hook he tells Peter: "Peter. I swear to you wherever you go, wherever you are, I vow there will always be daggers buried in notes signed James Hook. They will be flung into doors of your children's children's children, do you hear me?" When Peter asks what Hook wants from him he replies, "Just you."
If Voldemort hadn't been so obsessed with Harry Potter and thwarting the prophecy that foretold his downfall, he might actually have been able to succeed. Instead of focusing all of his energy and army on taking over the magical world, Voldemort spends his time chasing a teenager around England. And in the process, Voldemort shapes Harry into the hero who can defeat him, thus making the prophecy a self-fulfilling one. And Voldemort and Harry are so closely tied together, they literally feel each others' emotions.
The yin and yang spirits of Vaatu and Raava in Legend of Korra are mortal enemies and completely dependent on one another. Vaatu is the spirit of chaos and darkness, while Raava is his complete opposite. They spend their existence battling one another, each trying to gain dominance. Even as they do this, they recognize that they need one another. They could never completely destroy each other.
The Monarch wants to do is kill Dr. Venture. He first attempted to murder him when they were in college together, and has continued making attempts on his life ever since. He devotes his entire life to arching Dr. Venture. The Monarch is willing to put his career, his marriage, and hundreds of henchmen's lives at risk in order to stalk the Venture family. Despite having opportunities to kill Dr. Venture and his sons, they always seem to slip through his fingers, allowing him to continue his lifelong obsession. He is so obsessed with Venture that after he finds a robot with Venture's face, he has sex with it.
Ralph was designed as a video game villain, and his only reason for existing is to wreck the homes and business of his neighbors. The hero of the game, Fix It Felix Jr., has a magic hammer that can fix anything. Over the course of the movie, they learn that they really do need each other. Ralph and Felix depend on one another completely both for their livelihoods, and to save the day.
Spike and Buffy's relationship is weird, complicated, and constantly changing throughout the show. Are the enemies? Are they allies? Are they lovers? For much of their relationship they have a weird sexy/murdery thing going on, and you're never quite sure which way it's going to go. Spike enjoys taunting Buffy and trying to kill her, although he can never quite manage to do it. He eventually becomes part of the Scooby Squad, but there's definitely a period in the middle where he's kind of a pathetic stalker.
Much like Buffy and Spike, Ares and Xena have a complex relationship. Sometimes antagonistic, sometimes sexual, their interactions don't quite fit in the typical mold of hero and villain. Ares is constantly trying to lure Xena back to the side of darkness and war, claiming he wants to make her his Warrior Queen. In his pursuit of her, he frames her for murder, switches her body, and commits all manner of crimes. Despite having opportunities, he never kills her, instead preferring to keep her alive to battle another day.
Killing Batman is never what the Joker wants to do. As he says in The Dark Knight: "I don't, I don't want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You... you... complete me." He recognizes that without Batman he would just be another petty criminal with nothing to do, and he accepts it. And in the Legends of the Dark Knight comic "Going Sane," the Joker believes he's actually killed Batman — and immediately becomes a normal guy again, able to hold down a relationship and a job. The Joker isn't the only villain in Gotham to be dependent on Batman. The documentary A Mirror for the Bat explores his relationship to the villains of Gotham, including the Joker, the Riddler, and others.