I know I promised a ‘This Old Monster’ as last week’s blog and failed to deliver and not this week I’m doing something short and quick. As my fans and the people who keep this project going both in terms of encouragement and financially (via ads or books sales), you deserve some sort of explanation.
Without going into details, my mother became ill last Wednesday and was in the hospital for a week. For the next week, I’m going to be taking care of her until she’s out of the woods.
For you guys, the down side is that I barely wrote anything this past week, so there was no blog last Friday and this one is going to be very short. In addition, I’m going to run another chapter of what was meant to be an ebook-exclusive story, Descendants Prime #2 instead of starting Descendants #78 purely so I can maintain my buffer.
If all goes well, the This Old Monster article will be up next week. Thank you for understanding and for the supportive comments and emails other have already offered me. I am a lucky man indeed to have fans like you guys. Still, I know a lot of you are going to be jonesing for your Superhero fix this week, so allow me to direct you to Flicker, a new serial by one of our very own commenters here, or The Pen and Cape Society‘s main site where you can find a number of Superhero writers.
Also the sidebar over there ←.
This week, I thought some people might be interested in hearing my thoughts on the newest villain in the Descendants Universe: Joykiller, namely, how he came to be.
There are really two genesis points for Joykiller. One is a conversation I had on a writing board where someone was talking about the inherent nastiness of the human condition: how if given the chance, we would all do terrible things like you see in every post-apocalyptic story. The idea is that without society, we would just go nuts and murder steal everything. They then extended this to superheroes, stating that given powered beyond mortal men, a ‘normal’ person would invariably be evil or at least immoral and the any other portrayal of powered individuals is immature and unrealistic.
My counter to this was in the form of several points.
The first is that the existence of society and its tendency to stop people from doing these things is proof that such an assertion is incorrect right out of the gate. If all humans were so bad then why would the vast majority of us voluntarily take part in a system that stops us?
Second, if one were to watch the news objectively, one would know that the good or at least okay people vastly outnumber the evil or at least awful. Consider how whenever some dude takes and AR-15 (and it is almost always and Ar-15 these days) and shoots a bunch of people, there are dozens of people flocking to help the victims? From first responders to folks who set up fundraisers and support groups, there are literally hundreds of people who respond to the evil others do with goodness, even taking into account the people who use these events as the cover for scams.
And finally, I feel like apocalyptic stories gloss over how many people actively devote themselves the helping others for little to no reward. Int he film The Purge, we see people just going a-murderin’, killing homeless people for the hell of it. However, there exist in this world right now people who actively champion the homeless not just legally and in terms of support, but who go out in force to stop people from hurting them. So… wouldn’t these same people take advantage of The Purge’s stupid ‘we turn off the law for a few hours’ thing to beat back to people trying to harm their friends?
To me, that’s what a superhero is. They’re a person who wants to protect or help people but who has the ability to do so on a whole new level. Getting powers isn’t going to alter their core personality. If you’re an ass and get powers, you’ll be an ass with powers and fit into the DC universe post-Flaspoint (By the way, the guy who wrote Man of Steel and the Dark Knight Trilogy thinks anyone who knows who Martian Manhunter is is a virgin). But if you’re a stand-up human being, you’re going to be a stand-up superbeing once you get powers.
It shouldn’t be that hard.
It is the second point that formed the first seed of Joykiller. I liked the idea of showing that even the actions of a complete monster could in fact bring out the good in other people. The idea that said monster wouldn’t be able to handle that idea deeply appealed to me in the same way I often see people on CBR have complete meltdowns trying to argue that LIFE IS PAIN AND NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS TO PEOPLE, then I link stuff like Batkid.
The other inspiration came from re-watching The Dark Knight. If you’ve already read ‘Date Night’ chapter 6, you might already be drawing parallels. If not, I won’t spoil my own work, but I will spoil The Dark Knight because you should already have watched it so many years after the fact.
Anyway, the Joker in The Dark Knight is a guy who professes to believe in nothing but chaos and chance. His is, of course, lying. Everything he does is calculated and ordered. Above all, it is highly dependent on his own ability to judge people and make predictions based on their actions.
Where he fails is in the fact that his believes that all people are inherently small, petty, cruel and vindictive. While he manages to scare people enough to have one guy try and out Batman and others try and kill the first guy, there are a markedly small number of people willing to take him up on the latter.
And then we have the famous ferry scene. For the uninitiated, Joker places bombs on two ferries: one containing convicts and another containing civilians with remotes on each that he says will blow up the other ferry. He tells them that the first ferry to blow the other up gets to live. And while a few people are totally okay with that, in the end neither ship detonates the other.
The movie goes on a bit longer, but it is at that moment that the Joker loses. You can tell he’s shocked and enraged at it too. It just does not compute to this guy that people would choose not to murder one another to survive.
It’s at this point that I think the direction of the film misses a good opportunity. It’s after all this that Batman then find and fails to save Equally cynical and emotionally broken Harvey Dent and becomes a wanted man. I don’t think Harvey should have lived necessarily, but I wish this happened before Joker failed.
You have no idea how many people call that last scene Joker’s final victory, but it is very much not. First of all, Joker couldn’t care less what happened to Harvey after he set him loose. It gives Joker no joy to know Batman is now wanted and Harvey’s crimes have been covered up. Second and more important, I think, is that Batman didn’t get mistakenly blamed for killing harvey, he assumes the blame, in effect sacrificing himself to keep Gotham’s belief in what Dent was preaching before alive.
Indeed, this was Joker’s final defeat, but it’s positioned in such a way that people don’t get it. Joker wanted Harvey to kill a bunch of people and be exposed, thus showing that anyone can be broken—and that is exactly what didn’t happen.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and say ‘Date Night’ was better than Dark Knight (yes, the title was intentional). TDK is one of my favorite films and I never intended to nor expect to surpass it, but it was my interpretation of the same kind of villain and TDK’s Joker in the context of The Descendants. I wanted to show what a similar concept would look like in my admittedly more four-color world and Joykiller was the catalyst for it. He’s a much darker villain that we’ve seen before, but that’s because he has to be for the point to get across.
And, much like TDK, in the end, the villain is largely unaware of the more important steps that are being taken. In TDK, it was Batman learning to pull back from the edge. And DN, it was significantly more romance-oriented because hey, I’m me.
So there’s that.
Have a good weekend, my friends. Hug your family and friends for me.