Reflections on Good and Evil in a Super-Hero World

As a writer of super-hero fiction (and movie-geek), I felt an obligation to see Megamind at the theaters this weekend. For those of you expecting a review, you won’t find one here. Sorry. Yeah, I enjoyed the hell out of it, but there are enough reviews of the movie out there that you don’t need one more voice shouting in the wind.

I’m far more interested in how they handled the concepts of Good and Evil.

It’s amazing how easily those words get thrown around — oftentimes as if they are absolutes with clear, defined delineations. And the truth is, that really isn’t the case. Good and evil are labels, and relatively subjective ones at that. You only have to watch a political rally to see that. In a nutshell, “Good” means “I agree with your values and viewpoint” while “Evil” means “I am strongly opposed to your values and viewpoint.” This makes it real damn easy for one group to point to homosexuals or meat-eaters and call them evil with out examining themselves too closely.

Comic books and the world of super-heroes by extension, tend to live in a hyper-realized plane, a bigger-than-life place rife with hyperbole. For decades, the heroes were paragons of good — the villains, servants of purest evil. Oftentimes only the flimsiest excuses was used to explain this. “Loved one killed by criminal so life devoted to bringing criminals to justice,” or “Accidentally lost my hair because of hero’s action, so I am now devoted to destroying him and all he holds dear,” are actual motivations for some of the most famous heroes and villains in comic books. Is it possible for a character to have loved ones killed by criminal and not rise to become a champion of good? Of course. It happens all the time in the real world. Meanwhile, the truth of it is that most people who we would judge as “Evil” don’t see themselves that way. It’s ingrained. Everyone pretty much accepts “Evil” as bad and something they don’t want to be. So they create justifications, compelling reasons for why their actions are the right, nay, “Good” thing to do. The road to hell, and all that.

But Good and Evil are convenient hooks to hang a story on. Us vs. Them. Light vs. Dark. Soup vs. Salad. Unfortunately, that convenience makes it far too easy to just apply the label and go on doing your story. What we end up with too frequently is the established Good Guys in spandex beating up on the declared Bad Guys in spandex. And at it’s core, it is frequently hollow.

That’s why I enjoyed Megamind as much as I did (though the epic city destroying climax was pretty damn impressive). It didn’t just cast “Good” and “Evil,” toss them in some spandex, and let them fight it out. It treated the characters as human, gave them depth, and made them actively consider what it meant to be good — what it meant to be evil. And by examining this concept, as a concept and not an absolute label, it allowed them to question their own sense of identity.

That’s the kind of depth I appreciate in my super-heroes. It’s the same kind of depth I try to impart to the characters of Cobalt City. Treat the characters as human, first and foremost. Give them reasons for what they do. Let the readers use the labels of “Good” and “Evil” if they want to. I guarantee that by the end of the Protectorate series, they’ll be pulling some of those labels off and reapplying them elsewhere. 🙂

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