Wednesday, March 20, 2013

“Soon I Will be Invincible” : The Undaunted Optimism of the Wicked


" . .  This morning on planet Earth, there are one thousand, six hundred, and eighty-six enhanced, gifted, or otherwise-superpowered persons. Of these, one hundred and twenty-six are civilians leading normal lives. Thirty-eight are kept in research facilities funded by the Department of Defense, or foreign equivalents. Two hundred and twenty- six are aquatic, confined to the oceans. Twenty-nine are strictly localized—powerful trees and genii loci, the Great Sphinx, and the Pyramid of Giza. Twenty-five are microscopic (including the Infinitesimal Seven). Three are dogs; four are cats; one is a bird. Six are made of gas. One is a mobile electrical effect, more of a weather pattern than a person. Seventy-seven are alien visitors. Thirty-eight are missing. Forty-one are off-continuity, permanent émigrés to Earth's alternate realities and branching timestreams.

Six hundred and seventy-eight use their powers to fight crime, while four hundred and forty-one use their powers to commit them. Forty-four are currently confined in Special Containment Facilities for enhanced criminals. Of these last, it is interesting to note that an unusually high proportion have IQs of 300 or more—eighteen to be exact. Including me..

. . . I'm the smartest man in the world. Once I wore a cape in public and fought battles against men who could fly, who had metal skin, who could kill you with their eyes. I fought core fire to a standstill and the super squadron and the Champions. Now I have to shuffle through a cafeteria line with men who try to pass bad checks. Now I have to wonder if there will be chocolate milk in the dispenser and whether the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could with his life.

. . . I'm not a criminal. I didn't steal a car. I didn't sell heroine or steal an old lady's purse. I built a quantum fusion reactor in 1978, and an orbital plasma gun in 1979 and a giant laser-eyed robot in 1984. I tried to conquer the world and almost succeeded 12 times and counting. . . ."
Dr. Impossible  "Soon I Will Be Invincible"

An interesting resume.

There is a line in “the Lady and the Unicorn” when Nixie says “Oh yes, no one has faith like the damned.” Speaking of course of herself. Things like faith and courage have a way of perversely turning up where they should not be. The title of this book says it all. “Soon I Will Be Invincible”. We know without a prompt that this is a super villain speaking, a super hero would not have to wish for such a thing, it would be a given. No other character in genre fiction has eternal optism or hope like a comic book villain. Like Wiley Coyote in the oldRoad Runner cartoons, they always believe that this next scheme, this next invention, is the one that will put them over the top to world domination, and this in a genre in which traditionally there must be a happy ending of which the villain is defeated and the super hero triumphs. The villain wakes up in the morning, sometimes in prison, knowing he lives in a world where he can never win. But it is his faith to go on trying. This gives the bad guys like Dr. Impossible acertain, sisyphysian glory, a dynamic of faith that just winds them up each new day and pushes them past the prison walls knowing this time It Will Surely Succeed. Super heroes of the old school tend to be more smug, sure of their rightness and the purity of their motives. Consequently the villains, the mad scientists, have always been the more interesting to me, the more energetic and inventive as they look for that one special thing.


Modern super heroes and villains have earned a powerful place in our cultural mythology for exactly the opposite reasons they had in ancient times. The ancient mythical heroes were generally born to glory. Modern comic book heroes and villains are born of tragedy. Their super powers, or their obessession with acquiring power are born of the traumas that shaped and empowered them. Nuclear accidents, seeing loved ones killed, sometimes in front of them, injustice committed upon them, what ever makes them want to reshape the world as they find it. Its what draws us to them because of our secret belief that we could have shaped the world better and more justly if only we had been given the right tools. Because our private traumas have shaped and sometimes empowered us, we see ourselves in our creations.

The odd exception to the ancient mythical heroes have been the old Norse Gods, the Aesir. Of all the images of God mankind has concocted the Aesir were unique in that they were mortal. They were capable of making fatal mistakes, of being wounded, of experiencing pain and finally death. It was believed that someday all things would come to an end. This was essentially the only religion which embodied this belief about its gods, that they were not immortal at all. They embodied a kind of brooding pessimism that was a part of the soul of the people who invented them, a fatalistic, zen like absence of hope as Nixie explains to Father Delmar in “The Dying Light”:
 
“These old gods you see, they offer no one hope. They have no hope themselves. Jah, you see this heaven they have, it’s not the heaven of the Jesus and the Blessed Virgin. No. No, Father. These gods, they know they will die and being gods, it makes no difference, they will die. Like us. Even Wodin, he’ll die too. What they want, these old gods, is a good death.”

“Doesn’t sound much like Heaven. No hope? Just a good death?”

“It can be very liberating to have no hope.”

“So what are you telling me, what does all this have to do with you?”

“I’m like a Norn, who cuts the cord of the Fate. I’m a valkyrie.”

Dr. Impossible and those like him have the optimism of Wiley Coyote, the optimisim of the wicked.  No matter how many times the ACME safe or piano on the giant rubber band rebounds and crushes him, he always picks himself up and has a new plan.  The next plan will surely work.  Soon he’ll be invincible.  You have to love that.

12 comments:

  1. You've taught me so much about villains, Garce - and now you've shown me something new.

    Villains never doubt themselves or their abilities. And that gives them an advantage over the heroes, who are perpetually scrutinizing their motives and their actions. This is especially true of more modern "damaged" heroes, who suffer in conjunction with their powers.

    In the moment where the hero hesitates, the villain sees his opening. Or even more likely, uses the crack in the hero's faith to insert even more doubt, to erode the hero's moral certainty even further.

    Nixie, though, is neither a hero nor a villain. It might be interesting to put up against a real villain and see what she does. (But then, perhaps that's what you have in mind for the origin tale.)

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  3. Reminds me of Pinky and the Brain--next time, next time, well take over the world! Thanks for a very enjoyable post!

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  4. Hi Garce- Great to see you here!

    Stimulating post, my friend.

    Religions and other belief systems give us the courage to carry on in spite of the laws of the jungle. Old animist thought systems such as what we now call Wicken survive because of the very real connection to the earth and all that entails, including how to use the gifts: weather, phases of the moon, medicines, potions that nature provides. Quite zen, in application. The more modern religions separate what is true on earth, substituting that reality for a fairy tale of sorts. "Behave This Way. It'll get you through life's trials and your reward will come after you die and live with your god" (or virgins, or whatever). That's pretty effective in control of the population as well.

    Death is what the older generations feared, just as now, and the promise of something after our trial-filled lives is the promise of happiness. The modern super-hero seems to suggest an amalgam of the two, valuable on earth as well as for altruism of the ages, or for that matter for evil. That debate will come when the topic is religion.

    Be well-
    Daddy X

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  5. I'LL NEVER LOOK AT VILLAINS THE SAME WAY!

    lindarb49@hotmail.com

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  6. Since we first realized to connect past and present to the future, humans have always feared death. That's why we invented elaborate ritualistic religions to comfort ourselves when the knowledge of our own personal extinction is too terrifying to bear.

    Villains are the equal yet flipside to heroes, because both strive to leave a mark on the world that will live past their physical selves. For some odd reason we remember villains and bad guys more than those who defeated their evil plots. Maybe we admire the chutzpah?

    fiona.mcgier (at) gmail (dot)com

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  7. Hi Lisabet!

    (Finally got a quiet two minutes to get on online again)

    You;ve pointed out an interesting gap in the Nixiead, she's never been up against a real villian. I wonder why that is. At some point I should think of something.

    I think people who have especially strong egos, people who are evil or crazy or both, never doubt themselves the way more morally complex people would.

    Garce

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  8. Hi Urb!

    Thanks for coming by and reading my stuff. I think Pinky was supposed to be doing an imitation of orson welles. He sounded like Orson Welles.

    Garce

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  9. Hi daddy x!

    As someone who came originally from an intensely religious background I've always been fascinated by the power of religious imagery and mythology. I see modern comic book heroes as the modern continuation of the mythical gods anfd their stories.

    Garce

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  10. Hi Hotcha!

    don;t look at heroes the same way again either. Thanks for reading my stuff!
    Garce

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  11. Hi fiona!

    I've always wondered why that is too, I have the same fascination with the bad guys. Somehow they always seem to have a more interesting story to tell. They see the world differently. If I have a favorite movie its probably "Das Boot", the German made story of a WWII U Boat crew.

    Garce

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  12. I love stories with Myths mixed in.

    penumbrareads(at)gmail(dot)com

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