This is the fourth part of a five part series on the concept of identity viewed through the lens of comic books and superhero mythology.
What happens when the villain is the hero?
To borrow from Dungeons & Dragons Alignment System, villains are usually one of three flavors of evil:
- Lawful Evil
- Neutral Evil
- Chaotic Evil
Note that all three remain evil, their moral code, if they have one, is, at best, flexible. In general, they do things to benefit themselves. The degree of disregard for others determines where they fall on the spectrum between Lawful -> Chaotic.
The “Deal with the Devil” or Faustian Bargain type of story represents a form of Lawful Evil, where the Devil has a code of conduct and a contract by which he abides. Granted, the odds are alwaysstacked in the Devil’s favor, but the rules remain.
I would argue that, as mentioned yesterday, The Joker represents the far end of the spectrum. He is almost a being of pure chaos, whose mission is to wreak havoc just for fun.
Again, these are different from the Antihero, who, while not necessarily 100% good, is never truly evil. In my opinion, most Antiheroes trend more toward the being neutral more so than evil.
But, sometimes, the lines get slightly blurry and the villains become the heroes. Sometimes, the police need to enlist the help of a sociopath, cannibal, serial killer to catch someone worse. Threats to the planet require Thor to enlist the help of Loki. Occasionally, when the future itself is in doubt, Magneto will put aside his genocidal rage and team up with Charles. And, sometimes, there are missions that the Justice League won’t touch, which is when you call in the Suicide Squad.
Suicide Squad is one of the more interesting combinations of villains thrust into heroic roles. They recently had an introduction to a mass audience (aside from their cartoon appearance) via Arrow on CW (which is the topic of my very first Psycho Drive-In article!). It has also been announced that, along with the full slate of DCU heroes, Suicide Squad is getting their own movie. The “hero turns to the villain to catch a villain” trope is neither new nor unique. Many people are familiar with it fromSilence of the Lambs. While I’m not familiar with the entire canon, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find at least one Sherlock Holmes story in which he must enlist the help of Moriarty.
But the Suicide Squad introduces an interesting wrinkle, they have Amanda Waller.
Unlike her “recruits,” Waller, aka “The Wall,” isn’t really a villain. But I hesitate to call her a hero. Often she’s represented as believing that the work she does, and the various organizations by whom she’s been employed, are doing something for the “greater good.” Therefore, she doesn’t think twice about sending a villain to “neutralize” (read: kill) what is perceived to be an even greater threat. Nor would she think twice about pulling the trigger on the explosive devices implanted in those villains’ heads. To her, the Suicide Squad is as the name implies, disposable soldiers who are uniquely qualified for dangerous, often deadly, tasks.
Arguably, Waller’s greatest contribution extends beyond her seemingly pragmatic approach to civil defense and military strategy. On their own, very few of the members of the Suicide Squad are sympathetic. Most tend towards various degrees of malevolence, with others ranging from borderline to complete sociopaths. Yet, standing the shadow of The Wall, they all become almost immediately sympathetic. Waller treats each of the members as an object, a tool for a job. She (Waller) strips them of any semblance of humanity and puts them to work where she thinks they will best fit. Interestingly, this objectification of the villain usually triggers something in our own moral code. In spite of their history, and the knowledge that most of them cannot be rehabilitated, there is something that stirs in us that knows it’s not right to treat other people, even the evil ones, like things and not people. We know that even the lowest of the low still deserve some dignity.
Otherwise, how are we any different than them??
For the final part of this series on I’ll follow up on that though and look at why it sucks to be the hero.
- Part one of the series is You’re Such a Poser.
- Part two of the series is Secret Identities.
- Part three of the series is Me and My Shadow.
This post originally appeared on DethPaw.com