…PLUCK IT OUT. MARK 9:48
The loss of an eye is a familiar disfigurement for a superhero, supervillain, or sidekick. Without even checking my sources I can call to mind Nick Fury and Odin (Marvel), Deadshot & Deathstroke (DC), Xander Harris (Buffy), Madame Kovarian (Dr Who), Blofeld (James Bond), Alastor Moody (Harry Potter), and Molotov Cocktease (Adventure Bros.).
These very varied characters, from very varied sources, all have one thing in common; they received their wound or scar in some form of battle, except for Madame Kovarian about whom little is known. The wearing of an eyepatch covers the area for many characters, with cultural connotations of piracy and adventure – despite the distinct lack of reason or evidence for this link. However, the addition of this particular bodily injury to a character often has much deeper connotations: the result may be a dashing patch and tale of honour, but the eyes carry a lot of cultural weight.
Windows to the soul
Why am I thinking about eye-patches and the wounds beneath particularly? I just finished watching the first two seasons of the CW series Arrow, adapted from DC’s Green Arrow comics. [Spoiler Warning: this will reference elements of plot!] I noticed constant references to eyes. In the first season, character’s keep seeing ‘the truth’ in each other’s eyes, with varying degrees of accuracy. First Lauren says about the Arrow, ‘he’s a killer. I looked in his eyes; it’s like he had no remorse.'(S01E04) Probably fairly accurate; Oliver spent five years away from civilisation, has no problem with taking out henchmen, and he was beating the guy with his fists past the point of unconsciousness. Then Oliver, as he begins to heal with his colleague Dig’s help, wants to save Helena from becoming the villain, the Huntress. However: ‘I looked into her eyes tonight and I can’t stop her going over the edge. She’s already lost.'(S01E08) Well, for a time… Dig’s ex-colleague, Ted, can apparently ‘see it in his eyes’ that Dig won’t kill him, despite his villainy.(S01E11) True, Dig is a man of honour, and would not kill in cold blood. And, most tellingly, villain Edward Fyres says of his mercenary’s balaclava uniforms,’they hide everything but the eyes. In a man’s eyes one can always find the truth.'(S01E11) This, then, is more than just a cliche run rampant. The scripts for Arrow are very good, full of self-reflexive humour and meta-textural jokes. The idea of looking and seeing is not restricted to reading other’s eyes, and the significance of being able to look is not only to judge. Lauren declares that she ‘needs to see’ Oliver’s scars, she must know the truth about the past. Oliver replies that he didn’t tell her about them before because he didn’t want her to ‘see him differently'(S01E05). Different from what? The guy who cheated on her with her sister? There’s a lot of complex half-truth in the denial of the gaze, and the final revelation. Perhaps most significantly, before I look at the symbolism of the damaged or lack of the eye, is the link made between the gaze and life itself. When Oliver cannot save his best friend’s life [I warned you about the spoilers], he beg’s Tommy to ‘open his eyes’. What, then, does it mean in this fictional world to only have one eye? To be half a person? To be half dead?
deadeyed and soulless
Deadshot and Deathstroke are both key players in the narrative across both seasons,and both lose an eye at the hand of Oliver Queen. Deadshot already wore an eyepiece; as a mercenary sniper for hire, morally Floyd Lawton is only half a man already when Oliver stabs through that patch-like laser-sight and leaves him for dead.(S01E03) Without his mercenary career, Deadshot is content to drink himself to death (S01E16). Yet, with a cybernetic eyepiece he takes up his rifle once again; first for criminal hire (S01E20), then in the service of a shady government agency (S02E16). His motivation is finally revealed to be more than financial, he has a daughter called Zoe. Given encouragement to take on the mantle of fatherhood, and the opportunity for honour, by the man who hated him most (Dig) there seems to be hope for reform for Lawton(S02E20). Deathstroke, aka Slade Wilson, is the first man Oliver stabs through the eye and leaves for dead(S02E23). (Bad Habit) Slade has literally died, but was brought back through the effects of a miraculous serum called mirakuru(S02E08). Unfortunately, though it healed his body, it shattered his mind – he hallucinates, and nurtures irrational hatred. Slade is at once more than he was physically, and less than he was mentally. The visible wound to his face a permanent reminder of both; it is the one wound the serum will not heal, and with his remaining eye he sees, continually, the ghost of his lost love.Slade is injected with a cure for mirakuru, but his eye remains damaged and his hate remains intact. Unlike Deadshot, given a prosthesis that restores a semblance of his former life, a potentially better life, Deathstroke is given no such potential. Deathstroke also has a much less visually appealing injury – at least Floyd retained his eyeball. It is interesting that Arrow reverses the scar/wound dichotomy I identified as a trope in my last post. Here it is the villains who need to heal, and the heroes (or potential heroes) who must come to terms with their fixed past. Why the difference?
Redemption through suffering
I am suggesting a reading of these images inspired by an essay in this collection on the cultural resonance of pre-Raphaelite artist Joseph Noel Paton’s depiction of Lucifer, by Aoife Leahy. The idea that moral worth will manifest in the body recurs again and again in western cultural frames, linked to Christian ideas of sin. The linking of beauty and goodness seems inherent. However, as Leahy points out, in the mid-nineteenth century the art critic John Ruskin claimed that this was a corruption of proper Christian moral ideals.The biblical passage that provides the title to this post continues ‘better for thee to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire’. Whilst ugliness or deformity is still linked to sin, it is also linked to redemption. Ruskin saw the pursuit of ideal beauty, rather than truth, as the ‘doom of the arts in Europe’. It follows that those who are superficially beautiful have simply not admitted to or revealed their inevitable sin, for only God is without sin in Christian theology. However, interestingly it is only male beauty (or its lack) that seems to figure in this way. Perhaps, because women’s beauty is so often already coded as dangerous or deceptive: as Slade Wilson claims, they can be a ‘distraction’. Oliver bodily, his eyes remain intact; his crimes before he entered purgatory (on the island of Lian Yu) were not as serious as murder. Floyd Lawton, however, is a murderer, and thus is soul is damaged – represented by the damage to his eye. Like Oliver Queen, the scarred central hero, Deadshot must suffer before he can truly value the opportunity for righteousness. This suffering is written on his skin – the eye that offends by choosing the targets of a killer, must be plucked out. To be unable to see the path clearly, to be unable to communicate your own soul to others as they look into your eyes, is of great significance in the symbolic world created on screen in Arrow. Oliver does not always see clearly; refusing to investigate his mother’s involvement in crime in season one, and mistaking Sebastian Blood and Isabel Rochev for allies in season two. He is clearly still working through his redemption. There is more to see in this series, and to be said, I shall keep watching. And recommend others do too.
UPDATE: I only just noticed, the good guys lose their left eye, the bad guys the right! The good guys attacked by ‘sinister’ forces, suffering bad luck. While the bad guys are damaged on their ‘good side’.