I think the happiest people on earth are the “bad” guys, the super villains. You see them on TV, in movies, in comic books. You know that they’re fine specimens of persistent optimism because they always laugh, even when they’re plotting against superheroes who they know, in the pit of their guts, they’ll never ever defeat.
I can’t think of any villain that doesn’t have that peculiar laugh. My head is full of memories of villains chortling on screen. There’s the Joker, the Riddler, Lex Luthor, Dr Evil, my old professor in advertising. I don’t have a long list with me, I don’t remember every name, but I recall faces and always that laughter. Always that unsinkable optimism.
Take Penguin. The guy would scheme an elaborate plan to blow up Gotham City, and when I say elaborate, I’m talking about Rube-Goldberg-machine elaborate. Of course, we all know he fucks up each of his attempts. But that’s okay; he has his birds, his monocle, money, liver. When the shit hits the fan, he just laughs and escapes and vows to return…again and again and again.
Something tells me a guy like Penguin should instead be emulated by kids as some sort of “idol.” He’s the champion of the fat and short, the patron saint of the ugly and miserable but happy, the de facto hero of people who never win but who never cave in. Penguin should be mentioned by authors of self-help books. Oprah should guest him. Bush and Blair should have photo-ops with him as some sort of reinforcing hope in hopeless situations like Iraq and Michael Jackson’s face. Somebody should whisper to Fidel Castro’s ear as he’s lying on his deathbed (assuming that he did come close to lying on a death bed, and that somebody actually wants him to remain alive), “Remember the Penguin.” Celine Dion and Charlotte Church should mention the Penguin in one of their saccharine songs.
Penguin and Joker and the Riddler—that’s some holy trinity, if you’d ask me—should be the poster boys of shrinks so that shrinks could talk about them with patients. “Look at them fabulous wankers,” the shrink would tell some manic-depressive during rare lulls in a session. “They always fuck up. Is Gotham City destroyed? No. But are they giving up? No, no, and no. They’re still at it in all these years. Shining examples of positive-thinking, never-say-die individuals. And here you are, all you think and talk about is your aches and pains, your Xanax, your Prozac, your ‘they don’t understand me’ bullshit.”
Maybe the shrink would never say “pain” to a patient’s face, but you get the picture.
The funny thing is, these villains are mortals: they go about their honest business of trying to destroy the world by the sheer power of their wit, cunning, and humor. I remember jumping up and down at home chanting “Lionel Luthor! Lionel Luthor!” after the guy survived for the umpteenth time in a Smallville episode, then realizing a piece of wisdom I’ll pass on to my great grandkids: Lionel Luthor is very die-able, yet he survives. Superman is invincible by default, and of course, he will always survive. Between the two of them, who do you think I’ll give my candy?
Which brings us to the subject of Lex Luthor, who is also awesome. Does anybody have any idea how tough it is to travel all the way to the Fortress of Solitude in Antarctica, in the middle of fucking nowhere, just to snoop in on Superman? If there’s anything we know, it’s that going to Antarctica when you’re bald and a weakling is a fucking superhuman feat.
Shoot a bullet through Luthor’s head and he’ll die; do that to Superman, and he’ll just flash a Colgate-y, American Dental Association smile. Which reminds me of a line in the film Angus. Angus’s grandfather tells him one night why Superman is the biggest coward in the world. So Angus asks, How is that so?
The grandpop says something like, It’s because Superman does not know fear; he’s immortal, indestructible, kryptonite notwithstanding. He has no capacity to be brave. Courage is the territory of guys who can feel physical pain, who can be hurt, who can and will in fact die; courage is doing something you know will kill you but you do it anyway for the sake of something you believe in. Not Superman. He’s forever out of the whole bravery business.
Grandpoppy words of wisdom you’ll always love to live by. But here’s my question:
Who’s the dumb motherfucker responsible for Superman’s outfit?
The best answer gets candy, too.