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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Leiva on heroes and superheroes

Nice post by Steve Leiva. (Though, as always, this doesn't mean I'm in total agreement. In particular, I find villains who are absolutely evil rather boring. I like villains who are more sympathetic than that. Preferably they should have some kind of understandable motivation that tempts us to root for them and applaud their various victories and escapes; and they certainly should have a certain allure ... perhaps from a veneer of wit or charm or nobility. Think of The Master in Dr. Who; or Ozymandias in Watchmen; think of the Marvel big two villains, Dr. Doom and Magneto; or, to some extent, of Darth Vader, who is largely based on Dr. Doom; and perhaps also the villainous characters in E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros.)

7 comments:

Russell Blackford said...

And now we can discuss whether Ozymandias is really a villain. Same goes for Magneto, for rather different reasons: he has had many different interpretations and is currently presented as more an anti-hero.

verbosestoic said...

If you haven't yet, you might want to check out "Supervillains and Philosophy", one of those "Modern media and ... " books. I'm not sure how deep it is, but it's entertaining and a number of the contributors really had fun with the theme.

Russell Blackford said...

Hey, that sounds like good advice. I'd probably enjoy that book.

Steven Paul Leiva said...

Russell, I want to thank you for calling your readers’ attention to my blog. It is not only much appreciated, but many of your readers are kind enough to follow your advise and check my writing out. Since your readers are people of well above average intelligence, and probably all good looking as well, it’s a great group to be able to communicate with.

I must correct a wrong impression I may have given in my blog. When I wrote, “As the heroes in popular fiction, though, are all larger than life in both spirit and action, the evil in popular fiction is often more pure, deeper and darker than in reality. Especially in superhero fiction where the bad guys often know they are evil and, indeed, take great delight in being so,” I did not mean to imply that I liked my villains to be such, simply that they are often portrayed as such, especially in the comics and fiction I read in my early years. Lex Luthor seemed quite delighted to be considered a “criminal mastermind,” and SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revolution, Revenge and Extortion), which James Bond often fought against, always seemed proud of its corporate identity. I agree with your taste in villains and, indeed, the villains in my Fixxer novels, “Blood is Pretty” and “Hollywood is an All-Volunteer Army,” while potential epitomes of pure evil -- they are, after all, Hollywood studio executives -- do not see themselves as evil at all and have what they consider to be perfectly correct motivations, which are political in nature.

I brought all up this in my fairly frivolous essay so that I could sneak in some brief thoughts on an issue not at all frivolous -- the nature of evil. It was just a jumping off point to purpose that unlike the comfort of fiction, where evil often wears the very black clothes we would like it to wear in reality, or we dress it in those clothes even when it is being portrayed as more naturally grey, in real reality -- if that’s not a tortured term -- as I said in the blog, “I do not think anyone ever considers themselves evil...”

Evil is what we call those who contend with us, who stand in our way or cause us harm, or even, on occasion, inconvenience -- how often has bureaucracy been called evil? In other words, I purpose that evil is not a tangible natural force, like gravity, or even a tangible spiritual force, not that I give any credence to things spiritual. Evil is always the actions of others, but that does not deny that when those actions are incredibly harmful to us or others those actions are deserving of the appellation of “evil.” Nor does it deny that such actions permeate this world of ours, which frustrates and frightens us as we often feel powerless in the face of this -- and so the cathartic beauty of the metaphors for evil and the vanquishing of evil that can be found in the best of popular fiction featuring villains and heroes.

Russell Blackford said...

Hey, Steve, thanks for the comment. My parenthetical comment in the post was partly to forestall anyone thinking that I simply agreed with everything in your post and had no different thoughts - always a hazard when I commend a post from Out There.

Loved your original post and your long comment here, though it maybe tells me a bit about why I'm more a Marvel kind of guy than a DC kind of guy. DC still has the most iconic heroes - Superman and Batman - but Marvel has the truly great villains, IMHO.

Pity that the movie version of Dr. Doom is a bit of a travesty (unlike McKellen's brilliant Silver-Age-style Magneto). For my money, Doom and Mags have it all over Lex Luthor or the Joker.

Steven Paul Leiva said...

Russell -- you're right, I am more of a DC kind of guy. Nonetheless, I think you are right about about Marvel having the best villains, probably because they were created when Marvel was creating more complex and conflicted heroes. You can't have one-dimensional villains when you have multi-dimensional heroes. Of course, DC is now more along those lines, but I grew up in the early Silver Age before Marvel was big, and "Supes" and the JLA gang were deeply imprinted on my brain, and I suppose I still love their simple goodness, even if their villains were silly.

McKellen's Magneto is great and the FF's Dr. Doom in the films was dumb, silly and useless, you'll get no argument out of me there. And jumping back to DC -- I hop the new Superman movie drops Lex Luthor, I'm damn tired of him. But I am very much looking forward to the Green Lantern movie. I feel younger just thinking about it!

Kirth Gersen said...

Glad you mentioned Eddison -- Corund and Gro, being so much cooler than the King of Witchland, are what convinved me to share your view that all-evil villains are boring compared to their more nuanced peers.