Some of the best literary and on-screen duos are like flip sides of a coin. They may hate each other, but they also probably couldn’t live without each other. One of these people is usually evil. Or “evil” in very deliberate quotation marks. The other one is typically a virtuous, heroic-y person. Together, they complete one another in an endearing and/or off-putting way. Perhaps comics creator Kate Beaton said it (and drew it) best with her series on a pirate and his nemesis…
Here are some of the best frenemy duos who mean so very much to each other.
The Doctor and the Master/Missy—Doctor Who
The Doctor and the Master were pals as kids, and later morphed into “best enemies” who can’t really imagine the universe without the other in it. They are completely opposed to each other in nearly every moral and philosophical sense, but Doctor still cares deeply for his erstwhile pal. At one point the Master even fought Rassilon off for him. Later on, as “Missy,” the Master finally comes clean about all lot of her past wrong-doings—many of them (unsurprisingly) were a bid to get the Doctor’s attention. Because she wanted her friend back—the person she used to pal around with in school, who ended up choosing humans as the sort of people he’d rather romp about the universe with. Once the Doctor learns this, he tries to help Missy clean up her act, and she truly wants to help him by the end, even if it means doing “good” things. She’s gone for now, but that’s the fun of the Master… you never know when she might show up.
Batman and the Joker—DC Comics
No matter what iteration of the characters you’re looking at, these two wind up locked in a battle that they’ll never truly emerge from. The Joker terrorizes other people in Gotham, but it’s Batman’s attention that he craves. Heath Ledger’s take on the character from 2008’s The Dark Knight insists that they’re both “freaks” and that he is eager to continue this give-and-take dance forever. When Batman was set to marry Catwoman in the comics, the Joker was hurt not to be called on as his Best Man—because he is, isn’t he? The one who knows Batman in a way that no one else is capable of knowing him. The one who can truly see him on a fundamental level that no one else is willing to seek out. And while Batman may not want to engage with that part of himself, he certainly knows it’s there. The part that needs this clown, even while he reviles every act the man has ever committed.
Victor Vale and Eli Cardale—Vicious and Vengeful by V.E. Schwab
Victor and Eli became friends against Victor’s desire entirely. His handsome sophomore college roommate kept being too… interesting. So when Eli decided to do his thesis on ExtraOrdinaries—people with powers—Victor was determined to get in on Eli’s project. And eventually nudge him toward practical application of the theory. And get them both turned into EOs themselves… But it didn’t work quite the same way for Victor that it did for Eli, and their falling out resulted in a prison sentence for Victor during which he could only think about serving his time and eventually getting his revenge on his former best friend. Victor’s obsession with Eli’s handsome face only brings more trouble in its wake, and not just for themselves—their animosity drags plenty of other people into their orbit, and spans two novels: Vicious, and the upcoming sequel Vengeful.
Buffy Summers and Faith Lehane—Buffy the Vampire Slayer
After teaming up with her Slayer “sister” Buffy, Faith does her best to fit in and play nice with the Scooby Gang… but she never quite manages it. Having a less than idyllic upbringing when compared to the Sunnydale kids, Faith always feels separate and isolated. When she mistakes the human Deputy mayor for a vampire and kills him, it sets Faith on a path divergent from Buffy. She falls in league with the definitely not-human Mayor of Sunnydale and does terrible things on his behalf until Buffy battles her and leaves her in a coma. Buffy and Faith are mirrors of one another, a good look at what their power can be used for on both sides, and a commentary on how community, friends, and family can shape the Slayer. Faith and Buffy learn from each other, and their relationship pushes them both forward in ways neither of them predicts.
Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty—Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes Stories
What would happen if the world’s cleverest detective had an opposing number who was ever bit as clever? Developed by Arthur Conan Doyle for the sole purpose of killing off his beloved creation (he wanted rid of the guy, but it didn’t stick), Professor James Moriarty is now a staple in most Holmes fiction, whether as a rat voiced by Vincent Price in Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective, or as the true identity of Irene Adler in Elementary. Though the character is fairly thin on the ground in Doyle’s version, other writers have taken the concept and run with it—after all, there’s a great thrill in the havoc Moriarty represents. And it can never be said that Holmes doesn’t enjoy the game while it lasts… if only for the challenge.
Avatar Aang and Prince Zuko—Avatar: The Last Airbender
Punished by cruel father for daring to speak up, Prince Zuko is banished from his home in the Fire Nation and told that he may only return when he has captured the Avatar—who no one has seen in 100 years. Lucky for him, the Avatar is found frozen in an iceberg a few years later, and so the hunt is on. The series deliberately shows the parallels between the two young men as they struggle to figure out their destinies. But in the end, these two don’t stay nemeses; Zuko eventually joins Aang’s group and uses his firebending to help the Avatar overthrow his father’s regime. Zuko’s relationships are full of these sorts of equal opposite parallels, though. He is in many ways the midpoint between the goodness of Aang and the fury of his own sister Azula, coming up against both of them at different times in his life.
Professor X and Magneto—Marvel Comics
These two. You know. They love each other. But they just can’t agree on anything, from their opposing stances on humans and mutants living together, or how best to run a school for mutant youth, or even how to drink martinis… for a friendship that spans decades, they have a funny way of showing their love for one another. (Or maybe it’s really just Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan’s love for one another. That seems about right.) But without Erik Lensherr and Charles Xavier, you don’t really have X-Men. And you don’t have so many fascinating chess games. It’s hard not to love them, even if Professor X is a jerk.
Ms Coulter and Lord Asriel—His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
Sometimes you have an affair and have a kid. Sometimes you have an affair and have a kid and then end up on diametrically opposed sides of the same fight. Ms Coulter and Lord Asriel may have their daughter Lyra in common, but beyond that, they couldn’t be more different. Ms Coulter is an agent of the Church, researching Dust and performing experiments on children. Lord Asriel was against the Church entirely, meaning to stop the Authority and bring about the Republic of Heaven. Though the two of them wanted completely different things, their daughter was always a uniting point, bringing them together when they’d put as much distance between themselves as possible.
September and the Marquess—The Fairyland Books by Catherynne M. Valente
When she gets to Fairyland, September encounters the ruler of the place: the Marquess, who runs Fairyland with an iron fist. The Marquess agrees to give back a spoon that she stole from witches if September will agree to retrieve a sword from a casket in the Worsted Wood. The sword is not actually a literal sword; when September retrieves it, it is a wrench, one that the Marquess wants September to use to separate Fairyland from the human world. This is because Fairyland doesn’t let you stay forever—at some point, you are booted out, never to return. The Marquess refuses to accept than outcome, intent on staying, and so she and September are merely on opposite side of the same journey. Not a simple hero and villain, but two who reside on opposite sides on an experience that they both want to hold onto.
Who are your favorite best frenemy duos?