This week, Sam Barsanti weighed in on Injustice 2, the latest DC Comics fighting game from Mortal Kombat creators NetherRealm Studios. These games come packed with a relatively elaborate story mode, and the original established a plot that involves Superman turning into a ruthless, murder happy monster in the name of “good” and Batman as the leader of his opposition. But RobertPostsChild thought the roles should maybe be reversed:
Is it weird to anyone else that Superman is the fascist dictator and not Batman? Like, if you were gonna put money on which of the two would eventually lose it and decide they had to rule the entire world, it’s probably the mentally unbalanced control freak who plans how to murder his friends in his spare time.
This kicked off a really great discussion about Superman’s character and its malleability over the years. First off, let’s get a little more context for the Injustice storyline from jmar:
I think it’s less to do with simply that Superman went into dictator mode after experiencing a tragedy and more what he does as a result of that tragedy and how that changes his thinking on things.
So, the bad shit happens and Superman is essentially tricked into killing his wife by the Joker. Superman kills the Joker in retribution. Fine, makes sense. Even though Batman didn’t want Superman to kill the Joker, he pretty much gets it. It’s not at that point that dividing lines are drawn.
But then, logically, if you’re Superman, your power is so immense that you COULD stop almost all tragedies from occurring if you so choose. Superman suffers a tragedy and the way he feels causes him to kill the Joker. So, the next time he sees a villain or criminal kill someone, what’s the right thing to do? He only kills when it personally affects him? That doesn’t really hold as a philosophy either. Or he could start killing these bad guys and ensuring that good people are not constantly getting blown up.
This is a view that ultimately most of the heroes come around to, save Batman who sticks to his no-kill rule. Wonder Woman, Aquaman (both of whom have shown on several occasions they’re not really opposed to killing), Flash, and Green Lantern all agree with Superman that his new approach is better and leads to more peace.
Superman continues to cross the “kill” line, including killing Darkseid’s son by crushing his skull when he threatens the Earth. He eventually takes over the protection of the Earth with his Regime, which is fascist in a sense but ultimately the idea isn’t “I’m the best, fuck all of you,” it’s “If you are a criminal I’m going to kill you so we can all live in peace.”
It’s not till years later that he kills heroes, and it’s because in his mind they are threatening the stability and peace that he has brought about.
In other words, it’s not “The Joker killed my wife, now I’m crazy evil.” It’s more “killing the Joker made me realize that nobody else should have to suffer what I went through, and I have such immense power that I can actually put that plan into action.”
It’s most definitely cynicism. And at least for me, I feel like All Star Superman gave the best example of why Superman wouldn’t turn evil: When he’s that powerful, being good is just natural because you are able to understand things on a level you would not be able to normally. There’s no temptation, then, no reason to be anything other than good. It’s an interesting contrast from all his main villains, who exploit their power in often petty ways.
There’s a part in All Star Superman (a comic, I should note, that has helped my through some dark moments in my life), in which it seems like Lex Luther has won. Superman is dying of cancer, and he’s given himself a serum with all Superman’s powers. And he starts destroying things, but he’s oddly ineffectual at it.
Lex and Superman fight, neither side really winning, but then something happens. Luthor stops. He can’t keep fighting, because he is so overwhelmed by the power. His senses have become so powerful that he can’t help but see the beautiful, tragic, absurd multiplicity of life in this world. For one moment, it makes this man—a man who openly avowed Hitler and who exploited people all his life—have perfect clarity, realizing that to be good to others is natural and the only logical conclusion in this world.
And then Superman punches him in the face. That’s not necessarily “realistic,” but that idea, that goodness is the highest state of humanity and that we can reach that through that kind of understanding, spoke to me. It still does.
Beyond that, though, it doesn’t even matter. Superman can be anything, because Superman isn’t real. There’s nothing innately smart or “real” to have something so clearly fictional be evil.
Time Well Spent
Also this week, Clayton Purdom finished up his review series on Persona 5. In the end, he didn’t think the game came away with enough substance to support its supremely lengthy playtime. Let’s just say there was a lot of disagreement in the comments, whether about the game’s pacing or Clayton’s reading of it. Solesakuma gave a personal, inspirational take:
I think the pacing is off at several times. It’s likely there’s one Palace too many and Haru doesn’t get enough time to develop, but thematically, Persona 5 is a very, very tight game. The idea that apathy is the main issue your characters face is there from the beginning. The main character gets into trouble because he gets involved (for a good reason). He gets punished for that and then meets another boy who was punished for exactly the same thing. Everybody knew what Kamoshida was up to and nobody did anything. It’s the rumors, the fact that people nominate Okumura yet do nothing, that they support and hate the Phantom Thieves blindly, etc.
The game’s main theme is that somebody has to do something and that somebody can be you. And it’s there in the social links too! Clayton dismissed most of the adults as “The X that can’t do their job” and that’s the point. Persona 5 also believes in science, journalism and organized dissent—that’s what Takemi’s, Ohya’s and Yoshida’s social links are about. When they meet the main character, they remember that hey, teaching can change the world. And it’s not that they were bad, it’s that they stopped believing.
Because social change happens when people realize reality sucks, and then take a leap of faith when they decide it can be changed. Persona 5 shows us characters realizing that over and over again. And in real life, that leap of faith is hard. I work in human rights, and the hardest part is not giving in to cynicism. I don’t want to give joy and the belief in a better reality to the right. Indignation and joy are the key parts of politics, so I found something that resonated with me in the game.
That’ll do it for this week, folks. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!