LUTHOR: We each have our own nemesis, my friend. You, your Web-slinger — I, my Man of Steel. Still, tomorrow, perhaps…!
DOCTOR OCTOPUS: “Tomorrow”? Tomorrow, we’ll be right here, Luthor — watched by those blasted all-seeing eyes!
LUTHOR: Perhaps. Perhaps not. Still — if we were free tomorrow, would you care to join forces? To make a small trade?
DOCTOR OCTOPUS: Hah! “My enemy for yours”? Why not, Luthor?
— Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man, 1976
Trump, Putin, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet at the G20 summit in Hamburg.
The pundit class believes this will be an affair to remember: every press outlet worth mentioning is full of game theory-type speculations and plan-drawing. Spencer Ackerman wrote in the Daily Beast:
Foreign ministries around the world are filled with anticipation over what will happen when Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet for the first time at the G20 summit. But veteran U.S. spies who've studied manipulation tactics, particularly from their Russian counterparts, are confident they know what's going to unfold.
Here's Davis and Thrush in the Times:
Even his top aides do not know precisely what Mr. Trump will decide to say or do when he and Mr. Putin meet face to face on Friday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit gathering in Hamburg, Germany.
And Hohmann in the Post:
Trump's comments come just one day before he is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Putin during a G-20 summit in Germany, and questions remain about whether he will confront Russia over the issue.
You get the message: the thinkpiece-tariat believes this will turn into the Hurricane Katrina of political assemblies, except this won't drive Bush into hiding. Everybody is putting on their twelfth-dimensional-chess hat for this one. Everyone is wrong.
The pundits are overlooking the very simple, very obvious reason for this meeting: this is the first assembly of the Legion of Doom.
THE LEGION IS NOW IN SESSION
For those of you fresh to the world, the Legion of Doom was a team of supervillain nemeses from the cartoon show The SuperFriends. The power of the SuperFriends did not prevent them from cancellation or being consumed eventually by the greatest monster of all, the DC Cinematic Universe. But the concept stuck: what if the worst people in the world had a team-up?
TVTropes defines the Legion of Doom concept as being when
one or more villainous characters — usually made up of some combination of past one-shots, members of the Rogues Gallery, and/or a few possible newcomers — join forces to destroy their common enemies, the protagonists.
I will not waste the reader’s time, or mine, in describing the qualifications of the principals in Hamburg for membership in the Legion of Doom. Their doings are dastardly, the effects murderous. I understand that enrolling Putin into this select brotherhood will be controversial, like putting Catwoman on a list of war criminals. Who among us has not been charmed by that rakish grin, brazen law-flouting, and twinkle in his eye? But he is a known crosser of international borders, and yeah, been complicit in the disappearance of his political enemies, so in he goes.
I can already hear the objections: “What, three guys? Hardly a Legion.” I could respond by pointing out that each man is an army in himself: Trump represents millions of angry Applebee’s patrons. Behind Tillerson are countless of oil-drenched waterfowl and God knows how many money-drenched dictators, not to mention the billions who will be forced into water-breathing when the oceans rise. And Putin cheats at hockey.
But I won’t make that argument. I will point out that every villain team-up begins much as the Martha Stewart brand did: with a dream and a handful of people. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Well said. And every villain team-up consisted of a few rogues at the beginning: Brainiac and Luthor. Joe Chill and Joe Chill’s gun. Hobby and Lobby. And so on.
Although it starts with three men and their translators sitting in a lavish room, this Legion of Doom will grow as it goes. This is only the beginning. Even their names go together. Putin, Tillerson, Trump: the Plastic Ono Band of misery.
THE BRIGHT SIDE
Which leads to my larger point. While we are all paying attention to the oncoming doom of the world and the extinguishing of all things bright and beautiful, we’re forgetting the silver lining. True, we no longer lob pilots at the dead space rock in our heavens; we have given up on Artificial Intelligence outside of Amazon, and we seem reluctant to euthanize Uber. In many ways, invention seems to have slowed to a miserable crawl. A lame pile of apps and sex pills are what the post-industrial scientists will bequeath to the millennials.
But I’m here to tell you, there is a bright sunset of hope. An unholy, bleeding-edge renaissance is birthing at this very moment. There is absolutely soul-shattering work being done in malefactordom. An embarrassment of villainous riches is before us.
The Tillerson-Trump-Putin meetup proves it. Diabolic thought-leaders are making strides not seen since the dawn of cable TV news. There have been villain teamups before, but they were always the exception — the Nineteen-Thirties, or the music industry in Nashville. These dark ages bloomed quickly, and disappeared, small black holes that were too impure for this world.
And while there have been cartoon villains with lasting power, they were always isolated figures, from shunned places: Mobutu Sese Seko, Pol Pot, or Margaret Thatcher.
But the leaders of the two leading nuclear powers are supervillains now—not outliers. And they gather in one place, in the heart of the Institutions of the Developed World. Look at what strides villainy has made. Was such a League even possible last year? The field of villainy is bursting with fresh ideas.
If we ignore these creative leaps made in knavery, are we much better than Xerox, who ignored Steve Jobs’ snooping around their intellectual property until he founded Apple? Are we so beset by moral scruples that we will ignore breakthroughs when they are unfolding before our very eyes? It is not just the forces of Resistance and the Left who can organize. Mountains had to be moved before Putin, Tillerson, and Trump could share a table.
Let us recognize the heartbreaking work of staggering meanness before us, and give it its due. This is the greatest collection of wickedness since the Koch Brothers last ate dinner alone.
The disgraced pop science writer Jonah Lehrer once spun a sentence of bromides about creative insight. Here’s how it went:
Before we can find the answer – before we probably even know the question – we must be immersed in disappointment, convinced that a solution is beyond our reach. It’s often only at this point, after we’ve stopped searching for the answer, that the answer arrives. All of a sudden, the answer to the problem that seemed so daunting becomes incredibly obvious.
Why not, Luthor?