Thursday I Won't Care About You #6: The Nature of The Beast

This column contains spoilers for the recently concluded “War of the Superman” arc.

And I’m back true believers. Sorry for the absence of a column last week, it was my big 2-0 so I decided to live it up a little bit. Given that I’m no Hemingway I doubt any of you would have wanted to read anything I could’ve put together in the state I spent the day in.

In the grand scheme of things I understand that turning twenty is pretty much just another drop in the bucket. It doesn’t come with any cool privileges like sixteen and eighteen did or twenty-one will, but it’s made me stop and think about certain things. Where I’ve come from, where I’m going, what I want to get out of life…it’s also made me reassess the things I care about.

It’s cool enough here in Philly at the moment (thanks to a surprise rain storm) that sitting outside with my laptop is actually quite pleasant but I’m thinking about the real reason I’m out here. I’m not allowed to smoke in the house and there’s a part of me that wonders if I even want to smoke out here. I told myself on my birthday that I could not imagine still smoking cigarettes on by my twenty-first so I’m wondering why I’d even do it now.

There’s a girl who I still think is the most beautiful thing walking on this Earth but I don’t think I love her anymore and that’s probably the best thing for both of us.

And then there are comic books, specifically the ones that have people in silly costumes, which I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop loving.

The thing that attracts me to these stories (the very same thing I thing I think attracts most of you to them, even if you don’t know it) is that at the core of our very beings we long for a better world, one in which good people and unwavering morality triumph over the dark things which seek to consume us all. Physically and mentally I know I’m not cut out for a career in law enforcement or medicine so I know I’ll never be able to help people in the direct way that people in those fields do, but if I woke up tomorrow and realized I could fly, I promise you I would tie my bedsheets around my neck and try to save someone, anyone, anywhere, because I think it’d be the only thing I could do.

Or maybe I’m just full of crap and I read comics to indulge my deep-seated delusions of grandeur and lust for power. Comics are, after all, just another means of entertainment and escape from reality…which is why it’s always jarring when I see something like this:

Which is not so subtlety mirroring some of the ills we are facing in the real world. And no, I’m not just talking about all the crap going on in Arizona. Last time I checked the Europeans were still in a xenophobic frenzy over Muslims. I didn’t find this scene jarring because I find something troubling about the inclusion of real world problems in comics, quite the contrary, I find it wholly refreshing, but it made me think about the that evil is portrayed in comic books.

While I wouldn’t say writers have gone out of their way to provide legitimate motivations for villainy in every story ever written, I would say that most make the attempt to have their villains be believable or at least leave enough in the subtext of a story to allow a reader to figure out why the bad guy is doing what he’s doing.

Take the “Bastards of Evil” for example. This is a new villainous group who recently made their first appearance in Young Allies #1 and claim their evil deeds aren’t motivated by anything other than the fact that they just want to do bad things, give away their true motivations in the very name of their organization. They are the unwanted and unloved spawn of super-villains. They can front all they want and pretend their misdeeds have nothing to do with all the mommy and daddy issues they’re sure to have, but it’s clear to see that those very issues are the driving force behind what they do.

And then there’s this guy:

General Sam Lane.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen around the ‘net about his characterization in the wake the re-enlargement of Kandor and the unleashing of 10,000 Kryptonians on the DC Universe is that his utter hatred for Superman (and all Kryptonians) is that it seems to stem from, well, nothing.

Looking at it from the point of view of the character I can understand that he’d view the addition of 10,000 super-powered beings a significant threat to the security of the United States, if not the world. The implications of the story, however, seem to imply that Lane’s anti-Kryptonian agenda and weapons stock-piling were in play long before the Kandorians were even a factor. Once again, looking at it from his point of view, I can understand the threat a Superman gone rogue would pose to America (and the world) and the need to be prepared for that threat.

What I can’t understand is the hate, the utter blinding hate Lane seemed to have for Superman and the genocidal campaign he carried out because of it. Did hearing his daughter called “Superman’s girlfriend” stir up a psycho-sexual rage which made him hate Kryptonians (even though there was only one of them around?) I don’t know and we’ll probably never know until some writer resurrects him (again) and makes him explain his actions.

Given this all this, General Lane seems to be one of the few villains in comics whose evil doesn’t come from anywhere. A lot of people would call that shoddy characterization and even shoddier writing but I think the idea of an evil that just is might be an idea that writers shouldn’t be afraid to explore.

Why?

Because fundamentally I think the idea of such a terror is something that makes us uncomfortable. Look to any horrific act in the news that leaves us asking the proverbial “Why?” and there is always someone willing to offer up an answer and we will accept it because we need to be able to make sense of the horrendous things that happen in our world. We can accept what’s good as commonplace and natural but we always seek out an explanation for the bad because if their wasn’t one, no matter how unsatisfying it wound up being, I don’t think we could sleep at night.

I guess what this all boils down to is that I’m now at a point where I want to start reading comics which are going to elicit different things in. Excitement and amazement are all well and good, but I’d like to start feeling something else. I’m not sure what exactly it is yet but I’d like it to be unsettling and perhaps a little unsatisfying.

It’d be a lot like turning twenty all over again.

That’s all for today folks.

I’m Jay Galette and I’m not sure I can really handle getting older.

PS: I’ll talk about Daredevil next week. I promise.

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