The Good, the Bad, and the Fugly:

Comic Books and Duality

We have explored costumed comic book heroes and villains, dancing out the eternal ballet of good versus evil. Their world is black and white. Batman will forever be at odds with the Joker, the pendulum swinging back and forth in perpetual motion as Batman stomps out the Joker’s sadistic plots, only for the Clown Prince to return again and torment Gotham another day. One of them represents all the noble and good aspects of a society, the other embodies the bad, and neither will ever rethink their stance. But the real world is never black and white. It is full of the same bright candy colors of the superhero comics that we read. Duality is an illusion. In the three-dimensional world, there’s never only two sides to something. For instance, so far this column has focused on the reconciliation of two environments — the comic book world, and our own. But there is a bridge between the two that has existed since the earliest childhood memories of the human race: mythology.

Mythology has always been a crucial part of a society. It uses universal metaphors to make its characters and stories about the trials of human living relatable to a vast audience. It exists to carry on moral values, preserve a society’s rituals and beliefs, and search for answers to questions pertaining to the strange universe we inhabit. Comic books are the descendents of ancient myths. Superhero comics are the mythology of the nuclear age. They capture the aspirations, fears, and fantasies of our society. It isn’t hard to imagine an archaeologist finding a comic book several hundred years from now and studying it the way we study Greek or Egyptian mythology. The superhero realm is forever linked to our world through its function as myth. Therefore, myth must be the third aspect of Living Fiction.

But back to what I was saying. I couldn’t help but feel as I wrote the last two columns that I was simply chasing my tail. Round and round I went trying to explain good people and bad people, like some type of Sunday School teacher. It didn’t feel right, and the reason for that is because in nature you will never find absolute good versus absolute evil. Even in the patriotic revival of post-9/11America, there are still a good number of people who realize that no one on either side is 100% wrong or 100% right. That’s not to say that someone like Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer that was discussed in my last column, was 60% wrong in killing those people, or that the police that apprehended him weren’t 100% right for bringing him in. But does it mean that everyone that breaks the law is as vicious and uncaring as Rader? Come to think of it, how come the Riddler is always dumped off in Arkham Asylum alongside such murderous animals as Joker or Two-Face? All he ever does is take money from people, write riddles, and wear cool clothes. To have him serve his time in Arkham Asylum, the honorary ninth sphere of Hell, seems a little overboard. Is it just because he wears a costume when he does it? Seems a bit steep, but oh well.

Once again, I’ve strayed from my topic. Suffice it to say that not everyone that breaks the law is a “villain”, and sadly, not everyone that upholds it is a “hero”. The really scary part comes when understanding that not a whole lot separates you and me from people like Dennis Rader. On a far enough timeline, each one of us can trace our mitochondrial DNA back to the same set of ovaries, so we are quite literally one big happy family. When you go even deeper (I apologize if I lose some of you here), you begin to consider that we are all composed of the same red giant star debris that everything else in the galaxy is. So not only are you related to Dennis Rader, you’re also related to your couch, your can of soda, the asteroid that just fell to Earth and landed on your car, whatever. You get the idea. That might have been a little bit too far out for a column on superheroes, but every once in a while it doesn’t hurt to remember your roots. And since we are all related to each other, we all share the same potential for good and evil. We can all do what Dennis Rader did, but we can also all do what Martin Luther King Jr. did. Superheroes and villains and mythology are all there to guide us in the right direction. Throughout history, wise men have taught that an “enemy” is a valuable thing to learn from. It helps you to hone your patience and tolerance. I’ve always thought superheroes are at their best in the rare moments when you see them embracing their evil counterparts. Does anyone remember the last scene in Batman: The Killing Joke when Batman and the Joker actually share a laugh together? I loved it.

So that’s all I’m saying for now. If anyone reading this is interested in hearing more on the topic of mythology as it pertains to comics, or the duality of heroes and villains, go to Google Video, and look up Grant Morrison and Deepak Chopra’s panel at this year’s San Diego Comic Con, as well as Morrison’s speech at the Disinfomation Convention. Good stuff. It’s what compelled me to go back and rethink all the “heroes versus villains” stuff. Also, I’d like to invite anyone who reads this to write me and tell me what they think. Let me know I’m being read.

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