Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Nihilism and anarchy in comic books!

Steve Gerber had some great ideas. The Legion of Nihilists, occasional foes of Daimon Hellstrom, sounded like one of them, but it wasn’t.According to the cult’s leader, Father Darklyte, the Legion rejects the existence of God, Satan, morality, evil, the works. From that perspective, having someone show up claiming to be the Son of Satan must be infuriating: if Daimon’s not lying then Satan is real, God is real, and we live in an orderly moral universe where life has meaning. To someone who rejects that worldview, Daimon should be like a red flag to a bull.

Trouble is, that’s not how the Nihilists react to Daimon when they first appear in Marvel Spotlight #16.

Nor when they return.The Sword of Righteousness? These guys seem less like Nihilists and more like graduates of Liberty University. Their reaction to Satanism is no different than any right-wing preacher, though their outfits are more colorful. It’s as if Gerber came up with a cool name but couldn’t think what to do with it.

In fairness they’re mostly used as throw-away adversaries for Daimon to beat-up between the real threats, but it’s still annoying. Even when Darklyte shows up he’s less like a Nihilist than someone auditioning for the Brotherhood of Dada.

Anarchy in comics, of course, is largely left to villains. Alan Grant’s Anarky was an exception (Grant himself was a member of the UK Anarchist Party) but unlike the Nihilists he’s a good, interesting exception.

Over the years I’ve seen many articles and blog posts by writers who want superheroes to stop being allies to cops or the authorities and get back to being outlaw street-fighters, doing what the legal system can’t or won’t do. Mostly these wish lists seem to imagine Batman and Superman (or whoever) becoming more like the Punisher — maybe not killing but dealingwith bad guys personally rather than turning them over to the cops.

Me, I’d sooner see them stick it to the man than to the hoods on the street. It’s part of why I like Anarky, who disregards the law to nail the powerful and seemingly respectable —— and who’s willing to call R’As al Ghul out and argue mass-murder isn’t the best way to fix the world.I wish Anarky’s two solo series had lived up to that concept but they didn’t. The first series wastes space on Anarky confronting Darkseid — and seriously, how was a face-off between an anarchist and the embodiment of absolute order not more thrilling? The second wastes three issues on Anarky working with the JLA to stop a reality-warping monster. I suppose the intent was to show he can play in the big leagues but it makes him too similar to every other superhero.

That said, I still like him and what he represents (even though I’m no anarchist). His anti-authority stance is one I wish some Elseworlds or multiversal story would take some time. Have Superman protect innocent people in the Middle East from American drone strikes. Have Batman expose prosecutors who railroad innocent people or forensic detectives who fabricate results. I don’t anticipate that happening with DC or Marvel so Anarky’s as close as we’re likely to get.

#SFWApro. Jim Mooney art on Son of Satan, Norm Breyfogle on Anarky.


  1. Le Messor

    Have Superman protect innocent people in the Middle East from American drone strikes.
    Sounds like something he would’ve done on Earth-1. Hasn’t he?

    Have Batman…I don’t anticipate that happening with DC or Marvel
    Yeah, I really don’t see Marvel running with either of these examples for some reason…
    😀 I kid! I kid!

  2. Peter

    For my money, Batman already is a pretty anti-authoritarian figure. The Dark Knight is frequently interpreted as being kind of OK with fascism, but if anything I read it as anti-authority. The president, the shapers of public opinion in the media, even Superman – these figures stand for something and are shown to have susceptibility to corruption, while Batman fights that corruption. I would be way more into a Batman vs. Corrupt DA story than the meaninglessly high-stakes stuff we are getting in today’s Batman title.

    1. DKR reminds me a lot of Dirty Harry: people in authority are useless, the cops are tied up by red tape and worries about thugs’ rights. Only the guy on the street who sees things clearly can do what needs to be done.
      I don’t see Batman in general as particularly anti-authoritarian, just willing to operate outside it.

  3. Edo Bosnar

    Yeah, the ‘Nihilists’ from Son of Satan seemed off to me, too. It’s one of several reasons why I don’t think that series was one of Gerber’s better efforts from that period.

  4. John King

    re “Have Superman protect innocent people in the Middle East from American drone strikes.”
    I doubt that such a story would be published.
    I remember a Nick Fury series started a four-part story of Fury’s cold war memories which was due to lead the series into a new direction (SHIELD strike force) with the same writers. The second part of the story involved a rather immoral American spy operation.
    It looks like the writers were quickly sacked after that issue was published and their plans abandoned – the replacement writer immediately retconned the flashbacks of the published chapters

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.