Tuesday, January 10, 2012


A bit of rambling today. That happens when I try to think.

Ever notice how people seem to always say that they tales of redemption but they don't really seem to like redemption itself? Let me use comic books as an example here.

There are some levels of spoiler-dom ahead, but the stories are so old that I should be on solid ground in relating their details.

You may, for example, be aware of the Dark Phoenix Saga in X-Men lore. If you are basing your thoughts on the horror that was X-Men: The Last Stand, please banish those ideas from your mind now. In the real (ie- comic book) version of the story, Jean Grey was driven insane by the nigh-omnipotent powers she received as Phoenix. This resulted in her destroying a sun, which in turn killed billions of innocent aliens. Sure, she eventually recovered, but there was this left-over problem of what to do with a character that had such a terrible crime on her hands. Most people know that the ending originally proposed for this story arc had Jean losing her powers, with that being about it. However, Jim Shooter, Marvel's editor-in-chief, didn't like this. Given the magnitude if Jean's crimes, she had to be punished a bit more severely. Allegedly, this meant being exiled to what amounted to Cosmic Hell. A compromise position was reached with the writers where her sentence was commuted to simple execution. And that's what happened.

Years later, it was revealed that the Jean Grey who went all murdery wasn't even the real Jean Grey. I won't get into the details, but my point is that the consensus seemed to be that the only way Jean could return was to completely exonerate her from having killed all those aliens.

The same thing happened with Hal Jordan, aka Green Lantern. DC wanted to go in another direction with the character, probably more in the name of hipsterism than anything else. Their story to do this involved destroying Hal's hometown. This drove him insane, which led to his declaring war on the Guardians of the Universe and his fellow Green Lanterns. After massacring them all, he steals their power and attempts to annihilate the entire universe.

The DC folks, apparently noting that this wasn't a very good way to give such a venerable hero his send-off, tried to rehabilitate Hal's image by having him sacrifice himself to save the planet in an event called The Final Night. Even that didn't work. People still just remembered Hal as the psycho who killed all those Green Lanterns and a lot of other people along the way to trying to end the universe. They even tried literally casting him as "The Spirit of Redemption" for a while. That didn't work either.

Their response? Basically the same thing that happened with Jean Grey. See, Hal Jordan didn't really make for all that havoc. It was an evil being called Parallax, who grafted itself to Jordan's soul and mind-controlled him into all that badness. Again, real redemption was deemed impossible. Hal had to be removed from the situation entirely.

Where am I going with this? I just struck me last night how cynical society can be. We aren't really all that willing to forgive and forget even the slightest faults or evils from others. It doesn't have to be inter-galactic genocide. Just standard rudeness or irritability seem enough these days to write somebody off, regardless of the efforts they give to make amends. For criminals, there seems to be a lot more of a push for life imprisonment or capital punishment with every offense. Maybe it's just my neck of the woods, but it seems that way. We are much more apt to seek vengeance than justice, I think.

More than that, we seem to have lost the concept of expiation. Please don't read this as an argument against the death penalty or punishing criminals in other ways. It's the motives behind the punishments that are the problems. If nobody considers the hope that a person may actually achieve redemption, they definitely aren't going to see the value in expiation. The crime is the crime is the crime. The punishment is just our own personal satisfaction at seeing somebody get theirs. This is a dangerous way to be and is probably more a function of pride than anything else. Ultimately, we all deserve to be damned and should consider redemption and expiation a bit more seriously than we do.

In the words of Will Munny, "We all got it comin'"

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