Friday, January 28, 2011

The Joker and the Luthor.

You just drew in your breath a little, didn't you? I did too.

Lex Luthor and the Joker interact. I completely forgot about this issue and it blew me out of the water. The way these “villains meeting” usually goes is they come up with an idea to kill one of their rivals and then one betrays the other so our hero can escape or win the day. It's mostly stuff for fans that really must know the answer who would win in a fight.

Enter Paul Cornell written and Pete Woods drawn Superman-free Action Comics run. Luthor is on a quest for more power and is being manipulated by everyone around him as he searches, vainly, for A Thing That Will Give Him More Power. (It's called a black sphere, which is a conduit to something that I'm not sure of, but it involves the refuse of last year's crossover. Literally.

The crossover threat spun out of the Green Lantern universe and ended up involving the Black Lanterns, who were evil. Or wanted to restore death. Or something. Look. What matters is that Luthor, for a two, three, four hour period was given incredible power to save the Universe from a extinction level threat. It was taken away from him when the Earth was no longer in danger of being killed.

He thinks, via these black spheres, discarded bits of malevolent energy from the black rings of the alien invaders, that he can harness an incredible amount of power. It should surprise no one to hear that Lex Luthor, man of Action, in this case, has cataloged their location and has made a list of all of them. There are a number of these strewn across Planet Earth, some in cities made entirely of traps, some in the Arctic Circle, some being guarded by Gorilla Grodd, but ignore all that for one sweet moment: The next one on the list is in the Joker's cell in Arkham Asylum.

Oh. Shit. Yes.

And before you begin, “but James, I don't know much about the Joker or Lex Luthor to pick up on many of the details that would make this thing sing” I tell you, “Trust me, you already know what you need to.”

Here's what you need to know: Lex Luthor is a man of science, devoted in two duties, one to advancing the human race and the other to kill Superman. (Bet you knew that already.) The Joker is a Nietzsche-inspired villain who believes life is a black comedy, kills lots of people and dresses up to do it. He's a deranged nihilist, in short. (Bet you know that already.)

And that's what makes the issue great, the multiple dichotomies, the multiple levels.

For all Luthor's Promethean posturing, he's a villain. He'd murder any number of people and commit crimes against humanity to kill Superman, a being that has made Earth its home and protected ordinary humans from extra-terrestrial invaders, falling rocks, guys with guns and anything dangerous or evil that the alien can put himself between humanity and it. The Joker makes no pretense to nobility. He's deranged, psychotic and willing to commit despicable acts because they have been done before and not punished.

Lex Luthor believes you are as you make yourself and the Joker believes that's a game for suckers.

You've got Lex Luthor, realist, man of science, there is a flow of time and it is a line kind of guy. You've got the Joker, the feral, violent nihilist, who believes history is multiple choice.

Lex Luthor is very serious about the future. The Joker lives in the moment. He kills in the moment, too, but that's another story.

Hell, both of them are serious about their superhero antagonists. Lex Luthor needs, must kill Superman, because the human race would evolve better with Superman out of the picture. The Joker, on the other hand, continues to use grisly means just to get Batman to see his point.

Or in other words: Chaos versus Reason, played in the key of villany.

But the most surprising part, is not that the Joker can see into the plot, not that Lex Luthor is being given the run around by a robot version of his arch-enemy's lover that knows it's a robot, but that the Joker is a romantic. The Joker was transformed by the loss of his innocence, to the point where he well, just look to your right.

That's...a really simple origin. He mistook meaninglessness for futility. Luthor came to the table ready to bargain, ready to interrogate and ready for any kind of hidden scheme. It is not lost on me that there really is something with a hidden scheme, in the room, something that can be bargained with and something that ought to be interrogated in that room, but unless Cornell pulls a “I knew it all along,” which I don't think he will, Luthor can't see it.

Hell, all Luthor had to do was ask, but of course, that was the one thing he couldn't do. The Joker might be bizarre, and irrational, but Luthor, the man who expected secrets within secrets and got the truth. Of course, from the person that Luthor expects the truth, there are secrets within secrets.

Back to the Joker, though. The Joker lives in a universe where people hold back extinction on a nearly annual basis, within the timeline and he's still hung up on the idea that life did not birth him with a meaning. Which might be why he's stuck in a box (even if he could escape it if he tried) and Luthor's out slobbering over power.

Anyway. Action 897. It's a really, really good issue and contains some cool philosophical stuff that's fun, even if you don't care about Superman or Batman villains.

Dillinger Escape Plan (who'se shirt I am wearing now) playing Nine Inch Nails' Wish, with, Nine Inch Nails. One of the lyrics works pretty well for the Joker. "I wish there was something real. I wish there was something true." Also, video is so goddamn sick. Press play already.

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