Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I have made a few changes to the blog, not least of which is the title and overall theme. I am very new to this blogging thing, and while all the "How To's" on blogging say to be very specific in your blog content, I say "Arrrrgh! Over the side with this foul barnacle called specificity!"

I often talk like a pirate when I feel strongly about something.

So all I have to mention right now is what I am reading. I have found myself beholden to several books, most of which can be found on my Amazon Kindle, a lovely device that is dear to my heart. I am reading the first installment of Steampunk Tales (so far the best story is a tale of Victorian space-age radicalism by Catherynne M. Valente, entitled "The Anachronist's Cookbook"), Alexei Panshin's New Celebrations: The Adventures of Anthony Villiers (hard to categorize SF), and China Mieville's new novel, Kraken (which seems more like a Neil Gaiman/Tim Powers lovechild, not necessarily a bad thing). My non-electronic reading is limited to the second novel in Stephen Hunt's Kingdom of Jackals series, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves.

The Lemur will most likely be along sooner or later with his considered opinion on the above codices. Until then, the Lemur bids you farewell.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Villain Musings: Magneto

Next under the Sympathetic Villain microscope of evil analysis: that greatest of Marvel mutant supervillains/anti-heroes, Max Eisenhardt/Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, AKA Magneto, Master of Magnetism.

Like most villainous characters, what makes Magneto sympathetic is his biography. I am more willing to accept a person I think I understand, even when his actions are deplorable. Here's his origin story according to Wikipedia:

Magneto was born Max Eisenhardt sometime in the late 1920s to a middle class German Jewish family whose father, Jakob Eisenhardt was a highly decorated World War I veteran.[1] Surviving discrimination and hardship during the Nazi rise to power,Kristallnacht, and the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, in 1939 Max and his family fled to Poland where they were captured during the German invasion of Poland and sent to the Warsaw Ghetto.[1][16] Max and his family escape the Ghetto, only to be betrayed and captured again. His mother, father, and sister were executed and buried in a mass grave, but Max survived possibly due to the manifestation of his powers. Escaping from the mass grave, he is ultimately captured yet again [17] and sent to Auschwitz, where he eventually becomes a Sonderkommando.[17][18][19] While at Auschwitz, Eisenhardt reunites with a Roma girl named Magda, with whom he had fallen in love when he was younger, and with whom he escapes the prison camp during the October 7th 1944 revolt. Following the war, he and Magda move to the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia, and adopts the name "Magnus". Magda and Magnus have a daughter named Anya, and live uneventfully until one night when an angry mob burned their home down with Anya still inside. Enraged at the mob preventing him from rescuing Anya, the young Magneto's powers manifest uncontrollably, killing the mob and destroying a part of the city. Magda, terrified at Magneto's power, leaves him and later gives birth to the mutant twins Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch before walking away to die. Wanted by the authorities for the deaths and destruction in Vinnytsia, while searching for Magda, Magnus paid a Romanian forger George Odekirk, to create the cover identity of "Erik Lehnsherr the Sinte gypsy" for him.[3]

"Erik", relocated to Israel, where he met and befriended Charles Xavier while working at a psychiatric hospital near Haifa.[2] There, lengthy debates are held by the two regarding the consequences humanity faces with the rise of mutants, though neither reveals to the other that they both in fact possessed mutant powers. However, they are forced to reveal their inherent abilities to one another, while facing Baron Von Strucker and HYDRA. Following the battle, Erik (now dressed as Magneto) leaves, realizing that his and Xavier's views are incompatible, with a cache of hidden Nazi gold, which provided him with the financing to launch his goals.

Stan Lee, co-creator of Magneto, has said that he never envisioned Magneto as a villain, but rather as a man desperate to make the world safe for mutantkind. As portrayed by Sir Ian McKellan in the feature films, this comes out very strongly. He even quotes Malcolm X at one point. Sure, he's arrogant, amoral, bigoted, and vicious, but he is also devoted to a cause bigger than himself. I think he has more in common with the leaders of radical movements: Lenin, Paine, Goldman, Guevara, than with supervillains of Lex Luthor and Doctor Doom's ilk. His biggest flaw is in seeing only groups, never individuals.

I suppose how you view Magneto (or any other radical figure) is based on what lens with which you choose to view the world. Che Guevara is an international hero to some, a murderous sociopath with a political agenda and a fetish for firing squads to others. If you are a mutant, Magneto is a freedom fighter, if you're human, a terrorist. When interpreting the character, you have to decide with whom you identify. You and I are human, but comic geeks (and I am definitely one) will probably more readily identify with (if less readily condone the actions of) Magneto and Homo superior.

If Magneto were an In Real Life person, history would have to be the final arbiter of his character. And like all historical figures of great power, he has been retconned more than once (he was even a superhero for a while, in the 80's).

Saturday, July 3, 2010

So, "Sympathetic Villain". What's up with the name of this blog anyway? I'll be honest, it came to me in a flash and I went with it. I thought about it afterward and decided that it was more appropriate than I first thought. The sympathetic villain, in my mind, is one of the most interesting and compelling characters in Western culture. An example:

Satan: Until John Milton, Satan was a bugbear used to frighten Christian children and adults into behaving "properly." After Paradise Lost and Mick Jagger, Satan became something else, something much more interesting and (strangely) sympathetic.

The Story as I See It
You're Lucifer, Bearer of Light, beloved of the creator god, and a shining example (literally) of angeldom. One day, Dad makes something new, hyper-evolved chimpanzees, which are currently flinging their own poo, but Dad thinks they have potential. Dad is so taken with his new toys that he decides his firstborn, the angels, should bow down to mankind. Your older brother Michael, Sword of Heaven, is the first one to kowtow to the poo-flingers. After all, Dad said to do it. Dad says fly, Michael asks "To which Celestial Sphere?" You think about it, get pissed off, and decide maybe Dad's not all he's cracked up to be. Maybe the Board of Directors needs to put in a new CEO. You throw out some seditious memes to your buds, some other angels you are pretty sure are grumbling over the direction the Boss is taking the company. You eventually gather a third of the entire Host to your banner and you go for it. You are up against an omnipotent, omniscient being that knew all of your plans already and was completely prepared for your little anarchist rebellion, and not surprisingly, you lose. You and your rebels are cast into the Pit (you weren't wondering why there was a Pit sitting around unused?) and you decide it is "better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." Then you spend the next 4004 years plotting how to show up the poo-flinging humans in front of Dad.

Byron sympathized with Satan, Jagger sympathized with him, and I'm pretty sure Eric Kripke and Ben Edlund of Supernatural have a soft spot for Old Nick too. I know I do. In the story of the War in Heaven, I am on the side of the angels, the Fallen Angels.

P.S. My intention is to profile and examine villains of all stripes, from literature, film, culture, etc., but will also be using this as a personal blog for self-expression of various kinds. So don't be surprised to find my attempt at mythological cinquains, or a serial story, or just a plain old web rant, gracing the "pages." Do offer suggestions for other villains you consider sympathetic, so I don't always have to come up with my own ideas.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Seriously, a Blog?

This is my first blog post. I can hear the chorus of voices now, "Well, duh, we can read it right here on the InterWebz."

Don't you just love people who use cute little terms like "InterWebz"? I love them so much I want to put them all in a cute Hello Kitty box with pink ribbons and place it in an empty swimming pool and fill the pool with cement and then write cute haiku in the cement until it dries and then I won't be able to hear the screaming anymore.

Wow. That's dark for a first blog post. So be it.