English 5, Meneses
16 April, 2009
A Rising Villain
Brought alive by Marvel Comics, the X-Men character, Magneto, blurs the lines of hero and villain. As a Holocaust survivor, he aims to protect himself and the mutant race from enduring his past troubles. His racial and religious differences cause him to take a new perspective on the outside world, much like the main character in Lysley Tenorio’s “Superassassin”. The character in the short story also comes from a broken home, similar to the origins of numerous comic book heroes and villains. The broken home and damaged relationships cause the ignorant protagonist in Tenorio’s “Superassassin” to develop internalized and externalized oppression, thereby creating a young villain. Through the main character, Tenorio makes it evident that society needs to break the continuous cycle of oppression, thus overcoming our own evil predisposition.
The nameless main character in the short story is forced to be an outsider in his own community because of his ethnicity, an American Filipino. He constantly undergoes humiliation at school and even by his best friend’s family. The main character comments to his best friend’s grandmother that, “[I am] The Filipino, the mutant friend who is too different for her to speak with, too weird to be allowed to come over,” (Tenorio, 112). The grandmother’s reaction in discouraging her grandson to associate himself with the protagionist, further sets him apart from the rest of society. This distance forces the main character to purposely not try to assimilate, thereby inherently becoming an outsider. The main character finds himself continuously oppressed by those around him because he is of a different ethnicity, that he is forced to become an outcast. According to Mike Alsford’s book, Heroes and Villains, “…to see oneself as different from the rest of humanity is…the basis for true villainy,” (132), by having the main character set himself apart by his own doing, he only walks down the path of a villain. When he finally believes that he is the “mutant”, he can only see himself in that context and none else, making it much harder for him to believe that he can overcome his internal oppression.
At the beginning of the short story the main character is teased by his archenemies, Brandon DeStefano and Tenzil Jones because of his racial difference. After reading a note that he had written, the main character mentions that the other boys, “add[ed] an accent that isn’t mine. Then he look[ed] up at me, shaking his head in disapproval,” (Tenorio, 105). This emphasis on his differences causes the main character to turn to superheroes. The main character identifies with superheroes because they have approval in society, something that he strives for. Since he receives constant torment by those around him, superheroes are an easy model for him to imagine himself as. He believes that it would be easier for him to relate to a superhero because it would force him to grow courage and face those who oppress him. He tries to tell himself that he is a superhero, when he states, “long before the heckling from classmates and neighborhood children, the questioning stares from old churchwomen, and long, long before I knew the true story of my father, I was aware of the strange mutant abilities that my body possesses…” (Tenorio, 106). His different heritage is blamed because it deters him from assimilating, so he refers to his body as “mutant” (106). The main character feels as though he has to resort to another persona rather than confide in his own identity. Alsford states that an alter ego, “establishes his humanity, and prevents himself from becoming a distant and remote figure…” (137). By having another persona, the main character can feel included in society and act as part of it instead of viewing it from afar. It is easier to hide behind armor or an alter ego rather than to face the world open and unarmed.
The protagonist identifies with the comic hero turned villain, the Green Lantern. When describing the Green Lantern for a paper he has to write, the main character comments, “for the first time he encounters evils that the Guardians themselves cannot defeat: racism, poverty, overpopulation,” (Tenorio, 107). The main character sees himself more as the Green Lantern than any other superhero because he must face the same challenges that the protagonist in the short story must overcome. The main character goes through life changes because of his age and race, a change similar to that of the Green Lantern, however the superhero is changing from hero to villain. The nameless character adopts this transition as well, going from a protagonist to an antagonist when he decides to take justice in his own hands by facing his nemesis. The present evolution of his character is shown when he begins to describe the Green Lantern’s alter ego:
What makes me so angry is that the decision has already been made for us. The cover’s depiction of Hal Jordan proves the bias: his eye brows are sharp-pointed arches, his lips stretch in a sinister grin, and behind the mask his eyes are vacant, blank with madness and power. It’s the face of a villain, the kind I’ve seen a million times (Tenorio, 114).
When he has seen the face “a million times,” he can see a resemblance of the villainous persona in himself. He sees himself as a mutant or different because of his race, a “decision that has already been made for us” (114). Hence, the Green Lantern is a parallel character to that of the main character. He develops his cycle, turning from a hero into a villain.
An unstable home is a characteristic of the childhood of both heroes and villains. The broken home tends to be the first major obstacle that the character must overcome and cope with. This certain situation forces the character to mature quicker because they often must take care of an adult, a reverse instinct. The nameless character in the story has to take care of his mother, the only person left to care for him. After her drinking, the character states, “this morning I knock on my mother’s door, three times, but she’s out cold. She’s already late for work, so I go into her bedroom and lay her pink waitress uniform on a chair,” (Tenorio, 108). The young boy is still learning how to take care of himself, let alone having to take care of his mother as well, yet he does his best to fill both roles. This lack of a parental figure forces the main character to mature faster, therefore facing more challenges at an earlier age. This damaged relationship causes him to consistently act in the offense, or hurting those around him, so that he cannot get hurt by their actions. He projects his anger on those that have harmed him – an attempt to shield himself from others’ harm. Instead of learning from those who oppress him, he takes his frustration and projects it on others.
The main character continually tries to repair the broken relationship with his mother by staying around and helping her whenever she needs him. After his mother has been having “one of those nights,” (Tenorio, 107), he informs the reader of how he takes care of her,
I give her five quick shots of Johnny Walker and put her to bed. I take off her shoes, pull the sheets over her, and press REPLAY on her turntable. She puts her arms around my neck and pulls my face to hers, telling me what a good boy I’ve been. “Don’t you change,” she whispers. I can feel the tears on her lips, wetting my ear (Tenorio, 107).
The relationship between the main character and his mom is very weak; his mother is quite dependent on him to take care of her. Because he must care for her, he feels as though he must protect her as well. He believes that his view of justice is warranted because of who he protects. Yet, the means to which he tries to protect his mother are villainous, tendencies which his mother does not want him to have; she does not want him to change and turn to evil. By falling to the dark side, he oppresses his enemies by physically hurting them, so that those who are like him can share his shield of armor and cannot hurt the way he does.
The main character believes that his actions for protecting himself and others are justified when he seeks out his enemies; however, the motives for his actions are questionable because their origins are self-centered. Alsford states that, “…we sink down into [the] villainous self-serving,” (140). The character in the story thinks that physically hurting his enemies takes cares of his problems, as well as those who are like him. He believes that what he is doing is only for the betterment of society, when his thoughts are truely self-centered and will only effect him. The main character believes that his actions are justified because the person who hurt him is now hurt, thereby feeling the pain that he felt. However, this ignorant thinking will ultimately lead to his downfall since the means to his desired end only benefit himself and not the betterment of others. His motives are egotistical, which therefore turns the original protagonist in the short story into an antagonist. Although his intentions, to protect those around him from feeling the same pain he feels, might seem noble, it is ultimately his actions, not his intentions, that determine what kind of a person he is. Alsford states that heroes, “acknowledge their responsibilities and act on them,” (140). However, by having our antagonist start on a path fueled by anger because of oppression, he uses his actions to hurt others, therefore continuing the cycle of repression. Due to his ignorance, he chooses to take negative action on his enemies, instead of rising above those who oppress him.
The lack of knowledge and understanding of the world and people lead to oppression and injustice. Alsford informs that “injustice and oppression perpetrated out of ignorance, institutionalized by a way of a slavish adherence to poorly understood traditions and enforced by misappropriated power – these are the villainies…” (89). The main character forces his aggression on others out of immaturity, because he is unaware that there are different ways of handling his oppression. Instead of rising above his oppressors, he torments others to cover up the abuse he had to endure. By continuing this cycle of oppression, only time will tell when the next villain will arise.
Alsford, Mike. Heroes and Villains. Waco, TX. Baylor University Press, 2006.
Tenorio, Lysley A. "Superassassin." The Atlantic Monthly.