Supervillains and Philosophy: Sometimes, Evil Is Its Own Reward” by Ben Dyer
Supervillains and Philosophy: Sometimes, Evil Is Its Own Reward” by Ben Dyer The comic book world is full of equations, theories and principles that would rival the combined works of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. Many of these are unspoken postulates and chief among these is that for every great superhero there must also be a great supervillain, be it Lex Luthor to Superman, The Joker to Batman or the Green Goblin to Spider-Man. So says the foreword to the anthology “Supervillains and Philosophy: Sometimes, Evil Is Its Own Reward.” As part of the ongoing Pop Culture and Philosophy series, “Supervillains” picks up where predecessor “Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice and the Socratic Way” left off in discussing the battle between good and evil as found in the multi-paneled world of the glossy pages of comic books and graphic novels. Here however, contributors look specifically at the dark side, and no, we’re not talking about Darth Vader. Philosophical writers and comic book experts from all walks of life in academia and otherwise provide 19 essays worth of content on topics ranging from moral authority to the nature of existence to the application of science. Mad science, specifically. Like most entries in the Pop Culture series, there is a blend of classic philosophy and how it relates to modern topics, be they “Harry Potter,” “The Simpsons” or Bob Dylan. Here is no exception, as writers under editor Ben Dyer draw inspiration from Plato, René Descartes and Immanuel Kant, to name a choice few. Especially noteworthy is Andrew Terjesen’s thoughts regarding Plato student Aristotle’s definition of the term “magnanimity” and supervillain Doctor Doom’s embodiment of the idea of being nobly obligated to rule. As one of the top baddies of the Marvel Comics universe, the character of Doom has long been simultaneously renowned and criticized for being the archetypal European dictator with delusions of grandeur and plans of universal domination. Terjesen expands on this concept by questioning Doom’s role in the Marvel community and whether or not his intentions are basically good with negative outcomes. Such is the query of many essayists, as the word “utilitarian” keeps popping up again and again as they evaluate what truly separates a hero from a villain, particularly the motives of “X-Men” villain Magneto in fighting for the betterment of mutant life. Contributors to this work approach their writing in different styles, whether it’s a fictitious conversation, such as the chapter “New Wars, New Boundaries,” or a recount of certain character’s back stories, like “Two Fates for Two-Face,” a look at what shaped the psyche of one of Batman’s most well-known adversaries. There are numerous similarities between these topics and the ones found in “Superheroes and Philosophy,” as well as entries in the comparable Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series, including “Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul,” “Watchmen and Philosophy: A Rorschach Test” and “X-Men and Philosophy: Astonishing Insight and Uncanny Argument in the Mutant X-Verse.” But there’s no lack of new issues to be examined alongside these previous texts, especially with the Marvel Comics “Civil War” miniseries and the film version of the villain-centric story “Wanted” making for poignant talking points. Whether you want a better insight into Brainiac, Venom, The Sandman and more, or you can’t get enough of Friedrich Nietzsche, “Supervillains and Philosophy” is as enjoyable a read as any Superman or Iron Man title. And there are so many more pages?