FROM Batman’s nemesis to the Wicked Witch of the West, it seems that if you’re a baddie you gotta have a back story.

Once upon a time, storybook villains were allowed to be deliciously evil - no redeeming features, sadness in their past, or searing injustice lurking in their psyche.

Now it’s almost obligatory for villains to be re-written as tortured souls, haunted by a miserable chapter of their formative years.

In the musical Wicked, the self-styled Wizard of Oz prequel, the Wicked Witch who terrorises the Yellow Brick Road, and sets a straw man on fire let’s not forget, turns out to have been a rather likeable, studious girl called Elphaba, neglected, mocked and misunderstood for having a green face.

Comic books have a tradition of giving villains an ‘origin story’. In 2019 film Joker one of the greatest cartoon villains, the sadistic psychopath generations of kids have loved to hate, is revealed as a lonely, bullied misfit, mentally scarred by cruelty in his childhood.

And in current film release Cruella, the monstrous socialite villainess of 101 Dalmatians is re-imagined as a wronged and vengeful orphan. There’s a clue in the name with Cruella de Vil - this is a woman who steals puppies, skins them and wears and sells their fur - now we’re told she’s not all that bad really. It seems you can get away with anything if you’re motherless and a bit misunderstood.

Can’t we be just boo and hiss the bad guy or girl, without a redemption story (and multi-million dollar movie franchise) pulling at the heartstrings?

Being nasty is what makes villains such great characters. Without them, much of literature would be very dull. We want to be scared of the baddies, not feel we have to pity or root for them. Wouldn’t childhood be missing something without that irresistible fear of the Big Bad Wolf, the Evil Queen or the troll under the bridge?

When my youngest nephew was little he loved The Wizard of Oz; we watched the DVD countless times and whenever the Wicked Witch appeared his eyes grew as big as saucers, and his thumb went in his mouth, but he was fascinated by her. He loved the thrill of being frightened. I doubt the sinister sorceress would’ve had such an impact if I’d explained that, according to the prequel, she only turned out nasty because of sibling rivalry, abandonment issues and her crusade against government corruption.

It’s okay for children to be afraid of baddies in books, comics, films and on stage. When my niece was about four I took her to the panto Snow White and when the Wicked Queen appeared in a puff of green smoke she burst into tears and clung to me, wailing: “I want to go home!” Of course she was fine two minutes later, when the dancers in pretty dresses came on. She had discovered, as generations of youngsters have, that it’s fun to be scared witless at the panto.

How dull it would be if everything in children’s stories was nice and fluffy! Or to discover that the moustache-twirling baddies you watch from behind a cushion actually have PTSD rooted in the socio-economic failure of the American Dream.

Was Captain Hook bullied in the playground because of his hooky hand? Did the Ugly Sisters suffer body dysmorphia linked to their glass slipper trying-on trauma? Did Rumpelstiltskin have unresolved anger management issues?

As the wolf in Little Red Riding was once quoted as saying: “Sure, I eat people’s grandmothers once in a while, but that doesn’t make me a bad person. It makes me a good villain.”