File this in the improbable pairing department: Tintin vs The Joker.
I recently reread the pair of Tintin stories Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon. Tintin books are the kind of thing you settle in to read after a long day at work. The Evil guys are dastardly and mean, Tintin is heroic and young, and Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus and Snowy and the Detectives are all there for comic effect. Tintin gets excited when he gets to drive a cool tank on the moon and you can feel his boyish thrill. The mean guys show up and knock Tintin out—Tintin undoubtedly had a serious problem with concussions in his old age. Tintin is a little bit clever and a lot bit brave and saves the day with sheer determination. Over and over, book after book, the same basic story unfolds.
I also recently read a pair of comic books written by Brain Azzarello and illustrated by Lee Bermejo: Luthor and Joker. These are of much more modern vintage. They are supervillain books—the superheroes show up, but are really the side characters in a story about the villain. Both are good, not great, just good. They are also quite different as befits the difference in the two villains. It is the difference between these two villains that intrigues me.
As any good Calvinist will tell you, at our heart, none of us are good. But, that’s just a euphemism. We are all totally depraved. Yeah, I know people don’t talk like that anymore, but just a little introspection reveals that fundamentally the desires of our heart are evil. “Darkness is a harsh term, don’t you think?/ And yet it dominates the things I seek” is how Mumford and Sons puts it. (This is rapidly, yet unintentionally, turning into a Good Friday sermon.) There is quite a bit of variety in our Darkness, though. And that is where this pair of books comes in. The test: Are you more the Joker or Luthor? The Joker is Chaos and Destruction; he laughs at the world and destroys it for the Pure Joy of it. Luthor is Arrogance and Pride; he wants to mold the world in his own image. In neither world is there a role for Good or Love.
Reading this pair of books was thus, if I am honest with myself, disturbing. The Joker? Well he has no appeal to me; I am happy to see the Joker fail; I feel no sympathy for him. I suspect he is the more popular villain though; many people like the idea of smashing things. But, Luthor? Disturbingly, I read his tale and realize part of me is just like him. He hates Superman, hates the idea of a force more powerful than Man, a force which would come to earth to Save us from Ourselves...Save Me from Myself…well, part of me also wants to resent that idea…it’s is so…humbling. Cue St. Matthew’s Passion.
Now combine these two pairs of comic books. Imagine if Tintin came up against the Joker? Who would win? Sadly, it doesn’t seem like much of a contest. To beat the Joker, we need a hero much more powerful than a good, decent, heroic lad.
…and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.