Rivals, Frenemies, or Just Plain Enemies?

I’ve never seen a college football rivalry as fierce as that between Ohio State University (the Buckeyes) and the University of Michigan (the Wolverines). (For a great article on that rivalry, click here.) Since I traveled with my family to Columbus, Ohio over the Thanksgiving weekend to attend my niece’s baptism, I happened to catch Saturday’s game—a loss for Michigan with a score of 42-41.

         383px-2013_Ohio_State_Buckeyes_logo.svg  Michigan_Wolverines_Block_M

We watched the game at Ohio State’s student union. Let me tell you, there was joy in Columbus when the Buckeyes won. I jumped up and screamed though OSU is not my alma mater. (Speaking of alma maters, the Northwestern Wildcats beat the Fighting Illini on the same day. Hee hee.)

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After the screams of victory died down, my family and I toured the campus, noting the many M’s taped over on signs—a testament to the fierce rivalry. Even M’s are no-nos.

This rivalry caused me to think about rivals, frenemies, and enemies and the differences between these categories. Yeah, that’s the way my mind works. And I’m going to mention Batman: The Brave and the Bold again though I wrote a post on it before. Call me saucy. In that series, Batman and Green Arrow have a friendly rivalry. They try to outdo one another in crime fighting. I’m also reminded of the way Legolas and Gimili tried to outscore each other in killing the Uruk-hai during the battle at Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers. They’re rivals, yet they’re on the same side (anti-orc). (Yes, I plan to see The Hobbit, in case you’re wondering.)


Legolas, who is as cute as a bunny and Gimili, who is . . . um . . . pleasant

Merriam-Webster.com defines frenemy as “one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy.” Although Catwoman doesn’t exactly fit the definition since she never pretends to be a friend, I can’t think of another word to describe her relationship with Batman. She’s a cat burglar who also tries to steal Batman’s heart. Call that cheesy if you like, but that’s how it goes down, especially in The Brave and the Bold. Batman might be into her sort of, but he’s also into justice. Yet he seldom puts much effort into capturing Catwoman and making sure she heads to prison. Somehow, she always manages to escape. On the rare occasion when they work on the same side to tackle a “worse” criminal, Catwoman is usually poised to betray Batman and get what she wants (money; jewels; rare cats).


They can’t make up their minds.

The Joker, however, seems to be a straight-up enemy. But in The Brave and the Bold, he makes comments like, “Now that’s the Batman I know and love.” And in The Dark Knight, he said, “You . . . you . . . complete me.” A weird symbiosis, since each helps the other to remain on his A-game. Batman takes him down and the Joker winds up at Arkham Asylum (in the animated series) only to escape and start the cycle all over again.


Do enemies need to need each other? Does Jean Valjean need Javert? Does Superman really need Lex Luthor? I’m shrugging as I type this. But I can’t help thinking of a quote from the November 8 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Sean Bailey, president of production at Walt Disney Studios said

The better you make your villain, the better your hero has to be. . . . We call it the Hans Gruber theory. One reason Die Hard is a great action movie is Gruber never makes a mistake, but he’s still defeated by John McClane. McClane is a great hero because he’s up against such a formidable adversary. (47)

I love that quote, because it reminds me to avoid taking the easy road with my antagonist and hero. You see, I usually like being lazy in my writing. Whatever’s comfortable—that’s the route I take. But a hero or antagonist who wins or loses easily is about as satisfying as eating one potato chip after you’ve starved for three days.

My hero and my antagonist are not friendly rivals or frenemies. They’re enemies plain and simple. But they (hopefully) make each other better. Alas, only one of them will survive that experience.

How does your antagonist bring out the best (i.e., getting him or her to step up his/her game) in your hero and vice versa?

Breznican, Anthony. “A Villain Will Rise.” Entertainment Weekly. 8 November 2013: 46-47. Print.

Catwoman and Batman image from fanpop.com. College logos from Wikipedia. Joker from batman.wikia.com. Legolas from manga-anime-inir.blogspot.com. Gimli from lotr.wikia.com.