I’ve always had a morbid interest in the Nazi occult. Something about the inherent evil of the regime coupled with the possibility that it tapped supernatural forces to further its goals. Add to that the kookiness of the whole thing, the weird personalities involved, the freaky science, the esoteric history and mysticism behind the runes and artifacts, and the terrible majesty of the Nazi war machine, and you have something darkly fascinating.
Now one idea related to the Nazi occult is the Fourth Reich – the possibility that some remnant of the Nazi regime survived 1945 and went into hiding, possibly in South America, Antarctica, the centre of the earth, on the Moon (the possibilities get sillier each time), and has been secretly plotting revenge. So of course this idea is rich fodder for all sorts of fiction. Now my interest led me to two particular comic book series: M Mignola’s Hellboy, and K Hirano’s Hellsing. Both involve some kind of Fourth Reich (in the former, an occult-obsessed fifth column guided by evil gods, and in the latter, genetically-engineered, vampiric panzergrenadiers), and oddly enough both shed some useful light on evil.
Now I don’t mean the shocking conclusion that the Nazis were evil. It’s more like the nature of evil itself.
First let’s look at Hellboy: I’ve always wondered why Hellboy is my favourite comic book hero. I’ve always liked Mignola’s artwork but most Hellboy comics out there were illustrated by someone else. Hellboy himself is fun in a way, he’s a big demon who likes pancakes and kittens, and takes on ancient demonic enemies with a huge pistol and an even huger stone fist. But on the other hand all the ancient demonic enemies get pretty samey after a while, plus I’m no fan of Hellboy’s quips and one liners.
But in the end the worldview of the comic is what kept me hooked. Hellboy establishes that evil is real, and that evil goes beyond what we can see. In fact most of the evil people in Hellboy’s world are pawns of an even greater evil, usually some kind of interstellar, shapeless demonic/alien entity, ancient and obsessed with the destruction of man. Plus Satan and his minions are real characters in Hellboy. It’s kooky and ridiculous but in the end it fits much more readily with my Christian worldview than evil in other comic books. DC and Marvel haven’t really gripped me that much because ultimately I don’t find their villains scary. Evil in DC and Marvel usually means a particularly power-hungry or cruel superbeing, who looks like a person (and wears tights). He often has ambitions and reasons for being evil. The exception I guess is the villain Galactus, who wants to eat the planet. It’s not much more ridiculous than Hellboy but… seriously he wants to eat the planet.
Evil in Hellboy goes beyond that – it’s shapeless, malevolent and capricious. There is no loyalty or safe bargaining with it. There is often no reason for the destruction it causes. It can’t be talked down or reasoned with (though to burst my bubble it can often be punched into submission or blown up). And that view of evil agrees a lot more with my worldview than a spiteful superbeing in tights. I do believe Satan is real and he hates people made in God’s image with a passion. He is utterly relentless in poisoning our minds and working toward our destruction. There have definitely been evil people before (and there still are), but looking at history’s repeated patterns of suffering, it’s not hard to imagine that someone, something is behind it all. Not a superbeing in tights, but something ancient and nebulous, whose otherness is just as frightening as his hatred for us.
So much for Hellboy. What about Hellsing?
If you’ve read Hellsing – and if you don’t enjoy cussing or gore I don’t recommend it – what strikes you most is how ridiculously violent it is. Bullets don’t just pierce, they gouge craters in bodies, they explode heads and send eyeballs flying. Blades or even fists happily decapitate and de-limb without any hint that bones were involved in the whole process, and each blow or wound sends Olympic swimming pools’ worth of red goo flying everywhere. It is a bit unnerving but the premise is crazy enough to keep you interested.
Now seeing a cleaved torso or a bullet-shattered kneecap on a page is one thing, but seeing it animated on a screen (which I did the other day when I watched the anime version) is something else. Legions of goons on the good and bad side (or rather bad and worse side) get smashed, mangled and blown to bits, again and again, to the sound of stomach-turning cries – well done to the Japanese voice actors.
And then it struck me – these pained, almost ecstatic screams, coupled with penetrations and bodily abuse – how different is this from pornography?
Sure, one involves sex and the other involves… something really different, but on the other hand, they both rely on using the human body, someone else’s body, for show. And it doesn’t matter that the gore-spattered corpse was drawn by hand – for me, sitting in front of a computer, it’s just as unreal (or real) as a pornographic actress on a screen. Both seem to teach, however subconsciously, that it’s kind of ok to use someone else’s body as a spectacle. It’s kind of ok to abuse. And when one body is used up, bring on another one. It’s all fake, who’s getting hurt?
Well, I am. The people involved in creating these products are. Our minds get slowly warped by this lesson: it’s ok to use and abuse as long as it’s not real (and we’d be fools to think that the abusive porn industry doesn’t cause real hurt, physical and psychological, to its actors and actresses).
Think of it this way: why does our consumerist generation love games like Call of Duty and films like 300, where goons are sent in for no other reason than to be splattered and torn apart for show? They’re used. A body – not even a goon any more – is being used. And when we’re done using, bring on another one, plenty more where that came from.
And that, for me, is just more proof that evil is real. It’s not the pornographers and the pimps, the sicko manga artists or deranged game designers who are the ultimate evil, it’s this voice that tells us it’s ok to use. That people, theoretically, are just things – viscera, pools of blood, a pair of breasts and a vulva – and can be used for pleasure, for entertainment, for show, ambition, power, wealth or security. And we listen to this voice. Sometimes we don’t even care if it hurts anyone. It’s too easy to cross boundaries between hurt or not, real or not.
That is what Hellboy and Hellsing taught me about evil. It’s real, and it hates people. It’s not a visible person even if he is personal, and his voice is really easy on the ears. That is scary. And that, arguably, is as evil as anything the Nazi occult ever conjured up.