A great man once said “Without evil there can be no good so it must be good to be evil sometimes.” Philosophical quandary’s aside I can say one thing, a match between two faces or two heels is generally significantly less entertaining than one between a heel and a face, all other things being equal.
But that’s a complicated word “heel.” What exactly is a heel. It’s definitely the wrestler we’re supposed to boo but what makes a heel, exactly. Is a heel a jerk? A villain? Can he just be the opposite of the current face? Come along with me as I attempt to outline what is, and is not, a heel with a series of simple but important rules.
A heel is not just a villain
This is a good one to get out of the way in the beginning. A lot of wrestling heels think that all it takes to be a good heel is to emulate your classic TV/Comic/Movie villains. But the problem with villains is that they generally only need to persist for one complete story arc and against one good guy/hero/face. A heel needs to consistently generate ire from people encountering him.
Let’s look at an example from popular culture, shall we? Captain Cold, of The Flash on the CW fame, and I guess also from comics, is a great villain. He generally sets about to do bad things. Things that the Flash can’t just stand around and let him do. He is also very good at what he does. He brings together a group of other like minded rogues and, together, they go from a bunch of thugs with high powered weapons to a legitimate threat to the fastest man alive. And that’s where he goes of the rails, heel-wise. Just reading that didn’t you want to start cheering for the good Captain? Sticking it to the man, making the most out of what little he has, you start to root for him, just a little. And suddenly he’s in the middle of a face turn and we need to move him onto Legends of Tomorrow so it looks like it was all deliberate.
The same is true in wrestling. Triple H is a great villain. He generally does things that the public wouldn’t approve of and has no remorse for any suffering he causes in trying to achieve his goals. But he also went from this:
And regardless of how you feel about those two gimmicks, the one of the bottom is almost certainly more fun to be or, at the very least, generated the most success for good Mr. Helmsley. And it’s hard to dislike someone for doing something that made him one of the best in the world in his field. And it shows in his frequent heel/face turns. Even now we have people cheering raucously when he pulps the face of our, supposedly, favorite face Roman Reigns and the face of my personal favorite face Dean Ambrose. It’s hard to boo someone who is “that damn good”. Which leads me to rule two.
A heel must be worse than his opponent
I know that’s controversial, and hard as hell to book, but that doesn’t stop it from being true. A heel can’t be better than the face you book him against. They can bring unfair advantages to the table in the form of a large friend or stable of friends. They can, and indeed should, cheat to win at every opportunity and exploit loopholes in the rules to extend title reigns. But it must be understood that in a fair fight the heel would lose to the face.
To address the aptly named elephant in the room, there is an interesting caveat to this rule called the “monster” heel. A monster heel can be used sparingly as a tool to punish an up and coming face. But a monster heel needs a flaw of some sort, or just a clever booker, to ensure they are always seen as a weapon and not as another wrestler. The moment you start booking a “monster” heel for title matches, or even just using them to do anything but squash jobbers, they stop being a monster heel and need to find some other job.
Examples from popular culture? Sure, let’s do it and let’s do it fancy. Same character, in one incarnation a perfect heel in another doing everything wrong. Let’s talk about the Shredder. No, not a mechanical piece of office equipment, I’m talking about Oroku Saki of TMNT fame. In the 90’s cartoon show starting at about episode three he is a perfect heel. It’s understood that if the turtles, or even just Leonardo, got him in a fair fight they would win quickly and decisively. So you hated Shredder and kept coming back to watch the show in the hopes that you’d see that mythical fair fight. And, if memory serves, I don’t think that ever happens. The Shredder in the comics, however, is a different breed. He’s a threat, a better fighter than any individual ninja around. In fact the “heroes” need to band together to defeat him and generally lose even when they do that. So you end up wondering why you like these turtles at all. They’re not the best, should I be cheering for the best? It doesn’t matter because in comics you can kill people and, again if memory serves, they straight up did, solving that problem in a way that, ideally, you wouldn’t want to do for a heel in wrestling.
In wrestling we saw the end of this process not that long ago in Brock Lesnar. If you keep booking a heel in fair fights that he wins you eventual don’t have a heel anymore. It wasn’t “Suplex City” that made Brock the sort-of face he is today. It was the fact that he beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania, the fact that he regularly dominates whoever goes in the ring with him and the fact that he never has to cheat to win. In the end it doesn’t matter who they beat and how hard they beat them, if they beat them fairly, and they are wrestlers, they are not heels. Clear? On to to the rule three.
A heel must be universally disliked.
This is the golden rule and the hardest to follow. Let’s cut to an image real quick:
I wish I had a better image but that happened like a few hours ago and I’m not a real journalist who goes to events. That is certified gold heel Chris Jericho about to steal and rip in half a fan’s sign that says “Get Well Bret”. In Canada. Jericho is not feuding with Bret Hart. Bret Hart isn’t even competing and may never do so again. He is a beloved Canadian icon and a legend in the WWE and wrestling in general. So, naturally, when confronted with that kind of respect and love a well meaning heel should tear that right down.
It’s tempting when creating complex characters to have a side of all your characters that some aspect of society will respect. There’s no room for that when you’re a heel. Are you a Canadian wrestler in Canada? Make fun of the intelligence of all Canadians. Is that insonsistent and hypocritical? You’re damn right it is, man, eff that guy in the eh, I sure hope AJ Styles gives him a solid beating. Furthermore, I would like to be present, or at least watching live on the WWE network, when that happens. And therein lies the purpose of the heel. They need to make us want to see them punished so bad that we’d pay to see it. And they can’t do that if we’re sort of one there side. And they certainly can’t do that while three quarters of the audience is cheering for them.
Pop culture examples abound for this one. The wives on both Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, Kylo Ren, from a little film called Star Wars – The Force Awakens, Joffrey and his Mom on Game of Thrones, all keeping us in our seats and/or coming back for episodes and seasons in the hopes that we might get to see these beasts suffer. There are no Joffrey fans, Kylo Ren’s action aren’t sort of okay from some perspective. They’re terrible creatures who need to suffer and we will pay to see it happen.
I have two more rules, well, one more rule and one bonus rule, but I’ll leave those until next week. I am nothing if not sympathetic to the fact that people like their weekly articles to be more bite size. Plus this protects me for at least another week from people who think I left out a crucial rule.
Oh, but one last thing, I have a certified “No-Prize” for the first person to comment with the speaker of the quote from the beginning of the article. And no fair Googling. And while you’re commenting, why not like and subscribe to our Youtube channel and Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr? No, I mean it, why not? That wasn’t rhetorical, put your answer in the comments while you’re down there.
Oh man, part two is available now and it’s over here