Thursday, October 19, 2006

Supergirl #5 v. Star Trek #5: Contrasting Christian and Jewish Views of "Evil"

So, while many people are saying that Supergirl #10 is their favorite so far in the new series, if I had to create a Top 10, #10 for me its a clear number two, behind Supergirl #5.

Characters
Major Heroes: Supergirl, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman
Minor Heroes: Martian Manhunter, Flash, Hawkman, Black Canary, Green Lanern (John Stewart)

Major Villains: Evil Supergirl
Minor Villains: Zor-El (flashback), Darkseid (flashback)

P'Shat

The story begins with a flashback of Zor-El sending his teenage daughter to Earth, with instructions to kill the son of Jor-El when she arrives. Her true personality is submerged under a false "innocent" personality, that re-emerged briefly when kidnapped by Darkseid, and again when Luthor used his Black Kryptonite on her, splitting Supergirl in two. "Good Supergirl" denies the story, and claims that evil Supergirl is purely a creation of Lex Luthor. The Supergirls fight, and when confronted with an assortment of superheroes, take their fight into space before crashing down into Gotham. Evil Supergirl attacks Batman, who fends her off until Superman and Wonder Woman arrive. Evil Supergirl switches their costumes, so that none of the heroes knows which is the "real" Supergirl. When Superman tries to take them both down, both Supergirls fight back.

Superman and Wonder Woman each briefly defeat one Supergirl, and Batman takes out his Kryptonite ring, threatening to destroy them both. One of the Supergirls requests that Wonder Woman bind them together with her magic lasso to determine who is telling the truth, and who is the "real" Supergirl. Since neither of them know, they cannot answer, and instead get fused back together. The fused Supergirl doesn't know which one was "real" either, but says that it doesn't matter, because she is responsible for her own destiny.

Drash

So, you remember that episode of Star Trek, where there was a transporter malfunction and Captain Kirk was split into "Good Kirk" and "Evil Kirk". No, not that one, where evil Spock had an evil beard. And no, not that other one where Kirk becomes evil because he's taken over by an evil female scientist. And no, not that other one where . . .

Okay, Kirk becomes evil a lot, I guess. You'd think the crew would have a standard policy of checking to make sure it wasn't an "evil Kirk" before following his orders. But in this one, there's a Good Kirk and an Evil Kirk running around on the same ship. Evil Kirk is raping and pillaging, while Good Kirk is on the bridge running the Enterprise. It's essentially the same plot as Supergirl #5, where Black Kryptonite splits Kara into Good Supergirl and Evil Supergirl. The difference is, Supergirl #5 would be a perfect text for a Sunday School Church lecture, while The Enemy Within (coincidentally, Episode #5 of Star Trek) could be screened at a Hebrew School.

Now, the "Christian" view of evil doesn't require much explanation, since it is probably the one we think of most naturally. Given any conflict, there is a "good" choice and an "evil" choice. We must choose the good, and either destroy or suppress the evil. The philosophical model is Kantian ethics, which can be visualized as a scale from 0 to 10, where 10 is absolute good, and anything short of that requires us to work toward improvement in the future. Supergirl embodies this model by having the split personalities that alternately dominate, and one or the other must prevail. There is no indication that either of the Split SGs are weakened by the division -- if anything they are strengthened by losing the inhibitions caused by the other when they were joined.

The "Jewish" view of evil, on the other hand, doesn't work that way. In Jewish theology, there are two conflicting forces, the "Yetzer Tov" (good impulse) and the "Yetzer Rah" (the evil impulse). And everyone has both, and needs both in order to survive and thrive. The philosophical model is Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics with the "golden mean" and can be visualized as a dial from 0 to 10 that you are trying to keep in the middle, at around a '5', without letting either the two Impulses dominate. Thus, Good Kirk became an ineffective Captain after he is split from Evil Kirk. Without the Yetzer Rah, the Captain is unable to make decisions that will put his crew in danger, is unable to fight effectively, etc. Both Kirks are only half-men without each other, and must be combined in order to survive.

Now, although these are two diametically opposed ways to view evil, it doesn't actually create different results in the vast majority of "normal" situations. (It may help, explain, however, why Christianity has more examples of ascetic followers.)

This Supergirl arc is similar to the Indigo/Brainiac arc from the Outsiders, with the difference being that Indigo was a robot, so it was more understandable that she had "good" and "evil" programming.

The Supergirl finale was somewhat muddled, though. We are led to believe that, once they were re-combined, evil Kara was submerged again, but that is not clearly stated. Overall, however, the frame of the story, in contrast to The Enemy Within, is that Good and Evil are conflict forces within us, and the Enemy Within must be blocked, not accomodated.

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