I was flipping through channels last night to find something to put on in the background as I got some things ready for the retreat this weekend and (hopefully) take a nap when I came across The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I had seen this movie once before. Anything with Sean Connery is worth at least one viewing in my opinion and this was right around the time when I was excited about comic book adaptations (such as X-Men or Spiderman).
I ended up watching the show in its entirety. It’s amazing to me the things that strike you at different times in your life. I’m sure I must have noticed the use of characters (what self-respecting English major wouldn’t have). But I don’t think it struck me as quite so… ingenious… as it did last night. Creating a fictional world in which fictional characters (from other fictional works) come together to form a “superhero” team? Quite thought-provoking. Alan Moore, the author of the series, once stated: “The planet of the imagination is as old as we are. It has been humanity’s constant companion with all of its fictional locations, like Mount Olympus and the gods, and since we first came down from the trees, basically. It seems very important, otherwise, we wouldn’t have it.”
Moore doesn’t endorse adaptations of his work (he also authors V for Vendetta… another quite thought-provoking series. Seriously, people, if you don’t know something about the comic book or graphic novel scene, you’re missing out on some pretty philosophical stuff). Despite that, the movie adaptation is fascination. Just look at the heroes they choose to use. Alan Quatermain: Okay, I get him… he’s an adventurer and the type of person one might actually see as a hero… Mina Harker… vampiress and ex-wife to the infamous Jonathan Harker who, along with Van Helsing, fought the evils of one, Dracula. But her hero-strength is the part of her that is vampire… the very thing that was the evil in her own world. Then you have Dr. Jekyll… and his counterpart, Mr. Hyde. Again, the hero-strength comes in the form of the evil of his world.
The most fascinating “hero” or “villain” character to me, however, was Dorian Gray, who’s “strength” comes in his invincibility… the invincibility afforded to him because the ramifications and consequences of any of his actions take effect on his portrait, not his person. Though he turns out to be one of the villains, rather than a hero, his evilness manifests itself for reasons we can easily relate to. That portrait, his Achilles heal, was at stake. He chose to save himself, over the good of man-kind. And completely stayed within character.
And it is this distinction that sets apart our other heroes. Though their strengths might be provided to them by their evil natures or a result of malicious things in the world, they all choose to save man-kind… from them. They chose to fight to take down the man who wanted to create more of them. They could have thought, “hey, here’s my chance”. If others were like them they would no longer be alienated, no longer be “freaks of nature (or science).” But they recognized that their uniqueness was, in-it-self, a strength, and recognized that these manifestations of evil they used as their “strengths” should not be wished on anyone else, for any reason. They banded together and effectively prevented the villain(s) from creating any more of them.
Superheroes are a funny lot. In a book I just read, The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult, one of the main characters, a comic book writer, indicated that creating villains was more fun because heroes had to fit a pre-defined mold. And you can see that… Batman, Superman, Spiderman (any guy that ends in man J), the various X-Men… they may have their differences and their own character flaws, but they mainly fit a pre-defined formula.
Alan Moore, the author of the League, breaks that mold. Though he uses some more formulaic heroes (such as Quatermain) he takes the characters who are fringe characters, or characters who are stamped with evil and turn them into heroes. Makes you sit back and contemplated what true heroism is. What if heroism doesn’t really have anything to do with the outside world? What if heroism is the ability to recognize the evil nature in ourselves (that nature which we all have within ourselves to be bad) and choosing keep that nature from surfacing? What if the only thing from which the world needs saved is… ourselves?
(note: the above commentary does not necessarily reflect the beliefs of the commentator. They are rather “thought” questions to be used to spark conversation 🙂 )