So, my preferences in fiction are kind of unusual. We all like a good bad guy who exists only to be punched by our stalwart heroes, but a monster or a madman or a common criminal never really impresses me all that much; they can be well-done stock characters, but they’re still stock characters, inheritors of the often-hackneyed arts of storytelling which have been through every possible permutation since the dawn of conscious thought, and have been refined down to a form of propaganda which we all happily take for granted. Even the most powerful world-conquering abomination or the most sadistic evil torturer is never really all that scary to me. Let me tell you about what is.
Picture a villainous group from whatever franchise you like, whose modus operandi is to force everyone into becoming part of them, often literally and physically, with all manner of torture and horrific transformations and what-not. Obvious well-known examples are the Borg from Star Trek: the Next Generation, the Phyrexians in Magic: the Gathering, and the Sarkic Cults of the SCP Foundation universe. Now take whatever group you’re picturing, and remove the torture, remove the body horror, remove the pitiless and mechanically efficient destruction of anything that stands in their way. Give them a PR department, make them very conscious of branding, make it part of their mission statement that they’ll go out of their way to ensure that they look good to everyone.
Make them a charitable foundation, with a great reputation, who everyone likes and depends upon as they grow more and more essential to the people’s daily lives. And leave their absolute determination, at any cost, to totally control and unify literally everything that exists into their singular vision of what the future SHOULD be.
Since the Borg are probably the most widely familiar example, I’ll use them. Instead of being robot zombies that perform crude surgery on people in order to forcibly assimilate them as quickly and efficiently as possible, let’s make them beautiful. They’re these obviously perfect people who seamlessly blend man and machine into an integrated whole, and they show up and they tell you all about how wonderful their way of life is, and their logic is flawless and they’re so warm and approachable and they never ever say anything that makes you feel even a little uncomfortable. And, slowly but surely, they persuade everyone that they want to be assimilated, that it’s obviously RIGHT…and that anyone who disagrees is clearly a force of chaos and destruction who is a threat to the ultimate Greater Good. So, slowly but surely, anyone who tries to oppose the Collective is gradually isolated, given all sorts of aid and comfort to keep them from radicalizing, and slowly but surely moved out of public view, until one day they can quietly disappear and nobody will care. One by one, these “disruptive elements” are swept away without anyone noticing, and the world grows more and more perfect according to the Borg’s definition, until there are millions of worlds under their absolute control, and just a tiny handful of people who don’t quite agree, and know that the moment anyone even SUSPECTS that fact, it’s all over for them. They dare not breathe a whisper of their dissent, and they live the rest of their lives in constant terror, surrounded by smiling friendly people who would murder them in an instant if they knew the truth, and nobody who saw it happening would even imagine how it could be wrong.
That, to me, is REAL villainy.