Every Friday in Panel Discussion, Jeremy Writebol considers how the latest comic book releases intersect with the Good News of Christ. This piece may contain spoilers.
Why do we do the things we do? When we have the opportunity to consider our actions, it can sometimes lead us to another level of consideration. We don’t just consider the action itself but begin to ponder why we did what we did in the first place. Underneath the flesh of behavior lies the heart of motivation. Most will tell you there are a million-and-one motives in our hearts directing and activating the behaviors that lie on the surface. The reason we do whatever we do is because some desire — some motive — leads us to act.
But what if one of those motives, one of those main impulses, was the bedrock of your personality and character? What if one impulse was your “power” and at the same time, your weakness? DC Comics has been exploring that question with one of its more popular characters, The Green Lantern. In 2004, Geoff Johns altered (and perhaps improved) the basic fabric of the Lantern’s story by establishing some meaning behind his green light. The green light is based on an “emotional spectrum” that causes various emotions to display unique colors, with green being the emotion of “willpower.” DC was able to capitalize on this spectrum and create a new line of stories featuring characters and villains with different emotions serving as the bedrock of their nature.Fear, when it is ultimate in life, clouds and covers every joy and delight in the world, even peace itself.
One character who isn’t new to the Green Lantern story is the villain/anti-hero Sinestro. Sinestro’s popularity has been on the rise lately, enough for DC to give his character its own monthly book. Like The Green Lantern, Sinestro possesses his own power ring that thrives on his nature’s base emotion: fear. Fear appears as a yellow light, and around this power Sinestro has formed his own team, all wearing yellow rings, called the Sinestro Corp. This team is standing in for the missing Green Lantern Corp as the universe’s protector, and are currently fighting against a very powerful religion called the Paling. The Paling is, to quote Sinestro, “an anti-emotion religion from the farthest reaches of space. They are drawn to emotion… and they seek to destroy it.”
Central to Sinestro #16’s story is an on-earth expedition in which the Sinestro Corp meets up with the closest thing they have to an ally and friend, another DC villain named Black Adam. Black Adam is the pharaoh-type ruler of a Middle Eastern kingdom called Kahndaq. More than just a social visit, the expedition is a research project as Sinestro seeks to gather as much intel as possible on the Paling so that he can proactively fight the emotion-destroying menace. At once it’s clear that Sinestro’s main motivation — fear — drives everything he does.
Fear, or the anxiety concerning future pain and danger, is one of the most powerful motivators in human life. We often find ourselves doing (or not doing) many things because in our heart’s core, fear dictates our directions. Fear, though, isn’t an impersonal force acting upon us from the outside: it’s an informed emotion that causes us to proactively protect and defend ourselves against threats, whether real or perceived.
This is where Sinestro’s actions reveal how fear dominates everything he does. His fear of the Paling is driving him to take the fight to them. Although Sinestro and Black Adam are friendly to one another — Black Adam is possibly the only “friend” Sinestro could really have given his absolute arrogance — it’s played out through the story that Sinestro doesn’t trust anyone, not even his “friend” or his fellow Sinestro Corp members. His fear of betrayal runs deep. Sinestro’s every line is filled with anxiety, worry, suspicion, and ultimately fear.
While Sinestro’s underlying identity is that of a villain in the DC world, his presentation here gives us good reason to wonder if fear really is such a good thing. If this story were a Greek tragedy, the Stoics would be standing and rejoicing (actually, they would just give a golf-clap) that the Paling was coming to defeat and destroy all emotion, even the emotions that protect and serve the universe.
Yet Sinestro’s fear isn’t just a rightly directed fear to protect himself and others. Sinestro’s fear leads him to a fundamental skepticism of everything. He fears that everyone and everything could be out to destroy him and his world. He fears being seen as weak, defensive, and small in the universe — so much so that he can’t pause to enjoy the party that Black Adam has thrown. Fear, when it is ultimate in life, clouds and covers every joy and delight in the world, even peace itself. Hostile suspicion takes over and prevents true happiness from occurring.
I’ve seen Sinestro in the real world. He’s a control-freak who has no joy and delight. He must constantly be in control of everything in his universe to build his kingdom and maintain his value. He looks at everyone with fearful suspicion, especially those in his inner ring. (Of one of his allies and teammates Sinestro says, “surely you can appreciate the need to keep your enemies close.”) Real world Sinestro drives and manipulates people, seeing them as either functional tools for him to use or worthless hindrances to be cast aside and ignored. His fear of what he can’t control gives him sleepless nights, a proactive chasing after any threat to his power, and a dominating arrogance that makes him intolerable.
Sinestro #16’s conclusion finds Sinestro face-to-face with the very thing he fears the most, a Guardian of the Universe. It’s no irony that the those who live fearfully to dominate others will also find themselves face-to-face with the Lord of the Universe. Fear does have it’s rightful place in directing and influencing our motives. Rightly directed, fear gives us a proper orientation towards those realities that are dangerous and overpowering to us. However, it should lead us to rightly fear God and to humbly love and serve others. The writer of Proverbs understood this in saying that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7, ESV).
Apprehending true wisdom in this world comes from a proper fear of God himself. Fear shouldn’t lead us to dominate others. Rather, it should reorient us to the one whom we should rightly fear and awe, and to turn and trust in him.