The Banality of Evil

Posted by on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 at 05:07:42 PM

Even now I curse the day–and yet, I think,
Few come within the compass of my curse,–
Wherein I did not some notorious ill,
As kill a man, or else devise his death,
Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it,
Accuse some innocent and forswear myself,
Set deadly enmity between two friends,
Make poor men’s cattle break their necks;
Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night,
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.
Oft have I digg’d up dead men from their graves,
And set them upright at their dear friends’ doors,
Even when their sorrows almost were forgot;
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
‘Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.’
Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.

Titus Andronicus is a play so nasty that some scholars question whether the Bard could have lowered himself to write such venom. But it’s still pretty awesome, and Aaron is undoubtedly a Bad Dude. His hardcore BADNESS is exciting, almost refreshing when set amongst all of the more nuanced characters that populate Shakespeare’s other plays. But just like the kid who decides he would love to eat nothing but Fluffernutter, or the first man to edit together an All-Climax porno tape, the creative minds at DC have decided that it would be awesome if every antagonist in their comics were as evil and crazy as Aaron (or more likely the Joker).

We realize our boy Grant Morrison has been working within the palette of PURE EVIL lately in his superhero work, but the villains in Batman and Final Crisis are meant to be human avatars of Pure Evil, and are outliers — the garden-variety villains in the rest of the book recoil in disgust at the sort of things the Joker or Darkseid get up to. Elsewhere in the DC Universe, there is a definite “in for a penny, in for a pound” mentality: Are you a bank robber? Then you must be a murderer as well. Have you killed someone? Then you’d be willing to kill anyone, preferably thousands of them at once. And once you’ve committed mass murder, you might as well be down for rape camps, genocide, global extinction… it’s all “crime”! It’s all “evil”!

We can’t be the only people who find this incredibly boring, can we? It seems as if every villain in the DC Universe is receptive to, if not actively seeking, the destruction of humanity. So many villains have committed genocide — there’s even a villain named Genocide! — that DC has created the Sympathetic Mass Murderer. Sure, Black Adam personally murdered every human being in Bialya, but he’s not like Darkseid or Lady Styx or Starbreaker or Lobo or Brother Blood or Trigon or Alexander Luthor or Superboy Prime or Cheshire or Eclipso or Parallax or the Anti-Monitor or Vandal Savage or Brainiac or General Zod or Monarch or the Joker or Mongul or Hank Henshaw or Deathstroke! See, he was really angry when it happened, and it was revenge against the people the who killed his wife! Okay, so the people he wrongly blamed for her death, but still! Shades of grey!

Some characters just aren’t powerful enough to kill millions of people on their own, but DC doesn’t leave them out! In books like Infinite Crisis or Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, these characters can be foot soldiers in genocide! Near the end of Infinite Crisis, once the new Secret Society had forgotten about their initial motivation for forming, and then their secret leader Alexander Luthor had forgotten his motivation, they decided to just break every criminal out of every jail in the world, at which point all the criminals teamed up to try to destroy society en masse. Luthor’s plan was, and I quote, to “give the Earth a C-Section and let Hell split out.” And apparently, every criminal and incarcerated felon in the world went “welp, might as well try to destroy the world’s urban centers! Let’s do this!”

Even minor villains without enough “juice” to mass murder are probably spree killers, rapists, drug addicts, child molesters, necrophiliacs, sex perverts, cannibals or some combination thereof. Given the things that DC characters like Black Hand, Mad Hatter, Matchmaker, Dr. Psycho and Jimmy Olsen put their dicks into, it’s no wonder that Alexander Luthor might assume “Hell” comes out of a womb.

So it’s no wonder that Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink is about the Tattooed Man seeing the face of God, affirming his commitment to family and community, helping the Justice League save humanity, getting a hero’s welcome, and then deciding to become a supercriminal again. He’s addicted to evil, you see. He probably gets a fat check for doing a college lecture tour, and tears it up, preferring to curbstomp an elderly lady to get his pocket money. He just can’t stop, he’s so evil! Just like everyone else.

It’s not even that these characters do evil, you need evil-doers for action stories. But look across the aisle at Marvel: nearly all of their iconic bad guys have motivations and goals beyond Inflicting Evil. There’s an occasional leftover Nazi like Red Skull or a complete psychopath like Bullseye, but most of the time there’s a level of nuance to enduring supervillains, the sort of thing that really only exists at DC for Lex Luthor and maybe Black Adam, the Good Genocider. And this relentless tide of unabashed, blatant evil that permeates nearly every book DC puts out right now isn’t scary, shocking or disturbing. It’s just boring.

Matt wrote an article dissecting the recent Faces of Evil: Prometheus one-shot last week, and Jon has one in the pipeline looking at Faces of Evil: Kobra. These are not fun books, but they’re great illustrations of the monotonous tone of purestrain evil shooting through the past several years of DC Comics. We’re not doing this to be dicks, we’re trying to show some tough love. Though were we DC characters, I would cap off this critical essay by shooting up, drowning a cat and trying to staple it to Ian Sattler’s face. Isn’t it great to not live in the DC Universe?

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