Here is one lesson from Friday’s Colorado theater massacre: superheroes are fantasy but supervillains are not.

Less flippantly: we live in a era where it is infinitely easier to commit transcendent evil than to perform remarkable good. This is only the latest in a series of episodes that demonstrate the malign power unique to our times. The 9/11 attack. The Columbine killings. The Fort Hood shootings. Choose-the-bombing with the terrible details of blameless dead and wounded from too many cities anywhere in the world.

If news reports are right, this particular nutjob took his inspiration from the 2008 Batman movie The Dark Night. Most of what made that a great film was the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker, a decades-old nemesis of Batman in the comics.

And a lot of what made the Joker such an effective villain, in the comics and the movie, is how ordinary he is. There’s nothing “super” about the character. No special powers, only limited technology that goes much into the impossible. Over the many years and artists who have developed the character, the Joker has sometimes wandered into the realm of goofy camp. But the most effective versions — notably the ones in Frank Miller’s Dark Night graphic novels and that 2008 film — were human-sized figures of creative evil with no obvious motive.

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