Okay, so here’s the thing. I like comic books. But more importantly, I’m fascinated by the relationship between superheroes and their nemeses. It’s basically the natural progression of all literature, which is itself no stranger heroes and villains. Beowulf and Grendel. Van Helsing and Count Dracula. Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Like comic books, these classical stories highlight the correlation between good and evil.
But what if there was no evil? Would we have need for heroes, if they had no one to vanquish?
This question lies at the heart of one of M. Night Shyamalan’s lesser known films, Unbreakable. When David Dunn miraculously walks away the lone survivor of a train crash, Elijah Price – a comic book enthusiast with a rare brittle bone disease – seeks him out, claiming that superheroes are real . . . and David’s one of them. With Elijah as a mentor, David learns to use his incredible strength and previously undeveloped psychic abilities to stop criminals.
Spoilers: However, at the end of the movie Elijah reveals that he was the mastermind behind several acts of terror, including David’s train crash. You see, Elijah believed that where he was fragile, his exact opposite existed somewhere. And so he caused accident after accident, sacrificing hundreds in order to find one person who was unbreakable. Which he did; and in finding David, he discovered a hero.
I think it’s clear that Elijah didn’t start out evil. But he did unspeakable acts of evil in his quest to find – or create – a real life superhero, becoming his villainous counterpart in the process. He tells David, “now that we know who you are, I know who I am. I’m not a mistake. It all makes sense. In a comic, you know how you can tell who the arch villain is going to be? He’s the exact opposite of the hero.” This quote – this belief, demonstrates just how closely linked heroes and villains really are. One defines the other. It wasn’t just Elijah that needed David in order to understand his place in the world. David needed Elijah as well. Heroes and villains are dependent upon one another for their purpose in life, their very existence.
DreamWork’s 2010 animated feature, Megamind, shares a similar theme. At a loss after the death or his archenemy Metro Man, supervillain Megamind decides to create a hero to battle against. It’s clear that both he and Elijah, aka. Mr, Glass, believe that their lives have no meaning without an adversary. And it makes me wonder, would we have need of superheroes without villains? Does good have context without evil?
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.