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It’s Good To Be Bad

The story world has always spun tales of lovable rogues. Robin Hood and his merry men. Riddick. Han and Chewy. Jack Sparrow. The Misfits. Motley Crue…wait, nevermind. Anyway, we love stories about surly tough guys who just want to look out for number one and end up doing good along the way.
| Aug 10, 2016 | 1 comment |

I haven’t seen the new Suicide Squad movie, and from the conflicting reviews, I’m not in any hurry. The cute tagline “Worst. Heroes. Ever.” makes it obvious that this is no ordinary superhero movie. I have seen the animated (and shockingly graphic) precursor Batman: Assault on Arkham, where the Suicide Squad is sent on a search-and-destroy mission simply because their heads will explode if they don’t accept. Mercenaries without getting paid, so to speak. Nothing really heroic, just survival. From what I’ve heard about the new movie, though, there is a greater evil than their merry band of miscreants, though they don’t set out to stop it out of the goodness of their hearts.

Image copyright Warner Bros.

Image copyright Warner Bros.

The story world has always spun tales of lovable rogues. Robin Hood and his merry men. Riddick. Han and Chewy. Jack Sparrow. The Misfits. Motley Crue…wait, nevermind. Anyway, we love stories about surly tough guys who just want to look out for number one and end up doing good along the way. They may be bad and selfish, but they end up fighting someone or something worse, which makes them less bad by default. A memorable quote from The Chronicles of Riddick: “In normal times, evil should be fought by good, but in times like this, well, it should be fought by another kind of evil.” Doesn’t really make sense when you break it down, but it makes for good entertainment.

There is also usually some element of redemption in these kinds of stories. Deadshot’s love for his daughter adds a soft spot to an otherwise cold killer. Riddick is ruthless but only to those who deserve it and helps others even when it puts his life in danger. Robin Hood steals from the rich and gives to the poor. We have a hard time rooting for someone who is pure evil, even if they do some “good.” We want to see some change in their character, some melting of the ice. Hannibal Lecter helped Clarice Starling catch the skin-wearing psychopath, but he stayed just as evil and sadistic as he was when we first met him. No one could consider him to be a “hero.” The notion that good triumphs over evil is an inherent human hope, and we reflect it even on those who are evil but do some good actions.

The theme of the Bible is that God, the ultimate good, triumphs over the evils of sin and death. There is no heart too cold for Him to thaw, no sin too black for him to erase. We desperately need to believe that this is true, because we lost without it. We impart this need onto the fictional world as well. Traditionally “good” heroes like Superman or Spider-Man start out good, fight the good fight, maybe a little compromise or moral conflict here and there, but in the end, good wins, and they remain good. Yet it is the evil “heroes” that challenge us with the added need for redemption. We don’t necessarily want them to become “good” but we don’t want to see them revel in evil. We want them to stop and think, “Maybe blowing up innocent people isn’t the best use of my time. I’ll still smash windows and punch out the cops, but maybe there’s more to life than this…” We cheer when characters like Spawn or Ghost Rider, regular guys inadvertently thrown into the supernatural realm, use their evil-borne powers for good instead of doing the devil’s bidding.

Image copyright Sony Pictures

Image copyright Sony Pictures

As believers, we know this isn’t just wishful thinking. The world is full of awful people whose lives have been transformed by the healing power of God’s grace. Even those who resist God’s love sometimes feel convicted and forsake their evil pursuits because of their own conscience. Just as light overpowers the darkness, so does good overpower evil. It may take awhile, and the darkness may never leave some people completely, but everyone knows the strength and power of love, even when it’s on the comic page or movie screen.

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1 Comment on "It’s Good To Be Bad"

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Janeen Ippolito
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Nice, thoughtful take on the evil-with-a-sliver-of-gold character type and the underlying attraction to that type.