If ever a global moment seemed so dangerous and unfathomably complex that only a superhero could resolve it, that moment is upon us.
With the brinksmanship between the US and North Korea more alarming by the day, the conditions for a superhero intervention are in place. And no wonder about that, even if in all the high excitement, no one noticed the startling merger which has brought us to this point.
Until 20 January, the epicentre of American power and a leading purveyor of superhero fiction always maintained their distinction. But with the election of Donald Trump the two were combined into a single entity under the combined trading name of Washington DC Comics.
In this extended universe – the Bizarro World where white supremacists become key Washington players, and the sanest person in town is a General nicknamed Mad Dog – the protagonists are satirical recreations of DC Comics’ baddies, and specifically Batman baddies.
Trump, who changes his mind about the big issues on an hourly basis, and who can express diametrically contradicting ideas within the same sentence, is Two Face. Kim Jong-un, with that bespoke talent for being simultaneously terrifying and hilarious, is The Joker.
These paradigms of malign buffoonery are better matched than their militaries. The spoilt, pampered sons of rich, powerful fathers, they share more than one of the most ridiculed hairdos on this or any planet.
Politically, they exist solely to inflate gargantuan egos and hold power for reasons presumably as far beyond their understanding as anyone else’s. To these ends, there is no military extreme they will not openly consider.
Not content with the ceaseless bragging about the might of their armed forces, they are the only two heads of nuclear states who speak brazenly about deploying their nukes.
During a national security briefing last summer, candidate Trump asked thrice within an hour why a President shouldn’t deploy nuclear devices as first strike weapons. When he saw the weekend footage from the rally in Pyongyang, where thousands of goose-stepping soldiers gazed adoringly up at Kim while his phallic missiles were paraded, you can imagine the crushing power of his penis envy.
Today, within days of Trump showing us how big his is with that Moab strike in Afghanistan, Pyongyang tested a new missile of its own. Although it reportedly exploded on launch, North Korea’s military hardware is improving all the time. Its sixth nuclear trial is imminent, and experts believe that within several years, The Joker will have an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering its nuclear payload to the west coast of the United States.
Understandably in the context, almost everyone agrees with Two Face when he gives voice to the traditional squeal of the terminally bemused that… Something. Must. Be. Done.
But what? So far, what might be called his thinking has concerned a dual strategy. One prong is bribing the Chinese with favourable trade deals to lean on their neighbour and ally. But American presidents have tried this since the early 1990s, and here we are.
The other is projecting hard power, with the Moab and the Tomahawks dropped on Syria, to scare the North Koreans into line. But while Kim may be crazier than Trump, he doesn’t seem as ignorant. He knows US bunker busting bombs cannot destroy his nuclear programme, and that the Pentagon has war-gamed a regime-changing onslaught for decades without finding a way to do so without risking horrendous retaliatory casualties in South Korea and Japan.
As for harsher sanctions, these would make the hungry even hungrier while Kim and his buddies continue to enjoy their artisan cheeses and velvety cognacs. The only answer, much as with Syria, is that there appears to be no answer at all.
And this is the point, in a better written comic book adventure, when the Caped Crusader would arrive, Boy Wonder at his side, to sort those two old enemies out.
The trouble is, he seems to be holed up in his Gotham cave, presumably still exhausted from a mighty battle when the last two DC characters were pitched against one another in Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Whatever the explanation (most likely, the merger is having initial teething troubles), this is what happens when the creators of superhero fiction leave the superhero out of the narrative. With Bruce Wayne gone AWOL (and Superman gone for apparently good), there is no one around to deal with the nuclear warmongers either side of the Pacific.
It may not be too late. If the people at Washington DC Comics aren’t up to the job, perhaps the guys at Marvel will plug the gap by reassembling The Avengers. Admittedly, taking down Loki or Ultron looks a doddle next to this. But when Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Widow, Hulk and the gang get together, all things are possible.
Purists might complain about the heresy of allowing separate universes to bleed into one another, with heroes from one recruited to crush villains in the other. But it’s a bit late to get precious about that when two such preposterous comic book inventions have escaped the confines of fantasy fiction, and burst through the fourth wall to nudge a shivering real world towards satirical Armageddon.