“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil”–C.S. Lewis
Those forsaken souls unlucky enough to enter my office at work can’t help but notice my obsession with super villain action figures. Their malicious gazes strike panic and discord into the hearts of all who cross the threshold into my dominion. Magneto and Ultron laugh maniacally as The Green Goblin prepares to launch a pumpkin bomb at his unsuspecting victim, for no reason other than he’s insane. Thanos, drunk on the power of the Infinity Gauntlet, plots the extermination of a planet to impress Lady Death, while Juggernaut threatens to build up a head of steam. And if that’s not enough to haunt your dreams, the Predator silently hunts you from the top of my bookshelf, just for the sport of it. Voldemort is currently out on loan, but you can still sense a nearby horcrux creating a pit in the stomachs of those brave enough to speak his name in hushed conspiratorial voices. The Joker and Harley Quinn waltz together, sharing a moment of heated passion just before trying to slice out each others’ throats.
I know what you’re thinking: what’s wrong with Iron Man? Sure, he’s brilliant, and admittedly, he made a pretty badass suit. I’ll even give you that his movies are fantastic, but what is there to learn from a narcissistic drunk? And don’t get me started on Superman–the boy scout with daddy issues. Don’t get me wrong, a well written hero has character flaws and finds the strength to overcome them–there’s a life lesson there, but I’ve always found fear to be a much more effective self-motivator.
When I look in the mirror at my powerful jaw line and dark, delicious chocolate eyes I remind myself of Dr. Doom to remain humble. What’s that, faithful readers? You don’t know the story of Dr. Doom?!? Well let me enlighten you. He became so consumed with a scar on his otherwise perfect face that he heated a hideous steel mask and painfully applied it to permanently disfigure himself and hide his physical flaw from the world forever. Simple vanity was his downfall. That’s so wonderfully and terrifyingly human.
If you’re honest with yourself, you have to admit that you can identify with these guys. I mean, Thanos committed genocide to impress a girl. I went to go see The Birdcage to impress Sarah Hummer in 9th grade. I even went so far as to tell her I enjoyed it. True, I was a long way off from exterminating a universe, but it was clearly a step down a dark path that dead-ends into self-loathing.
Charismatic, brilliant people, certainly much greater than I, fall to such simple vices. Jealousy, revenge, feelings of inferiority, lust, pride, and the perennial favorite, power, are all well documented comic book downfalls, but even love can lead to the path of bitterness. If you don’t believe me, read about poor Mr. Freeze and the frozen apple of his eye, Nora.
We’re all adults here, so let’s be honest with ourselves. the high road is often exhausting. I’m dangerously close to ripping off a Dane Cook joke here, but who isn’t occasionally tempted by the low road? Sure you’ll eventually become a monster, but in the moment it feels amazing. In the moment, ‘goodness’ often requires that you do the exact opposite of what you’re feeling. I’ve held my tongue plenty of times (probably hard to believe for those who know me), and rarely have I regretted it in hindsight. However, I can admit that on one or two occasions when I’ve been pushed, I’ve chosen instead to unleash the full, unadulterated fury of my tongue and detail an explicitly accurate and exhaustive list of my nemesis’ physical imperfections. In the moment the adrenaline rush feels worth it, but looking back I’ve always felt remorse. Don’t misunderstand me–on at least one occasion the dude totally deserved it–the remorse is primarily selfish. Sure I know it’s wrong, but mostly I just don’t want to have to think of myself as a ‘bad guy’. Before you judge me too harshly, think back on all of the ‘that’s what I should have said’ debates you’ve wrestled with internally after a confrontation. Even when we choose the noble path, we often second guess it.
But take heed, faithful readers, and learn from my beloved villains. They allow us to safely acknowledge the duality of our human nature. When stress weighs us down, the Joker’s insanity can seem like a blissfully simple and valid option. When we’re wronged, Magneto’s penchant for revenge feels vindicated. When love is not returned we lash out at the universe like Thanos. But one only needs to examine their stories to realize that there are no happy endings here. Follow their example at your own peril.