Thumbnail image for Rex cover 150x120.jpg
Fill in the blanks: In the fictional world of comic books, Rex Velvet vs. Phoenix Jones is most similar to ________ vs. ________.

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Stranger Than Fiction: The Comic Book Characters That Most Resemble Rex Velvet and Phoenix Jones

Thumbnail image for Rex cover 150x120.jpg
Fill in the blanks: In the fictional world of comic books, Rex Velvet vs. Phoenix Jones is most similar to ________ vs. ________.

Reporting and writing this week's feature story on satirical Seattle supervillain Rex Velvet, I was often left pondering that question. Trouble is, I'm not much of an expert on comic books. I'm more fond of the movie adaptations, particularly Christopher Nolan's recent series of Batman flicks.

A few parallels between Gotham City and Seattle factor into the story, and the Jones/Velvet dynamic certainly shares some similarities to the Dark Knight and his series of foes. Batman, of course, is one of the few superheroes without superpowers. He's just a regular (albeit ultra-rich) dude who wants to clean up his city's streets. Phoenix Jones also lacks real superpowers and, although he is presumably not in Mitt Romney's tax bracket, much like the caped crusader, his actions are regarded by some as vigilantism.

The Riddler and Rex Velvet seem to frequent the same haberdasher.
As for Rex Velvet, he's certainly a joker. Unlike the real Joker, however, Velvet is not a criminal maniac. In fact, he's opposed to people committing actual crimes. He's more interested in poking fun at Jones' self-seriousness via YouTube. From our story:
On this point, Velvet strives to make himself clear: He is opposed to physical violence and illegal acts. There is, as he puts it, a fine line between evil and illegal. Waging a propaganda campaign to taunt harebrained do-gooders like Jones is evil; blowing up a building is illegal. "You do that and you look like an asshole terrorist," Velvet says. "There's no class, no tact. Rex has charisma. It takes a great man of distinguished character to cripple you psychologically."

It's an odd paradox. Velvet purports to promote all manner of nefarious deeds, yet when push comes to shove, he is anti-shoving and pro-hugging. To rephrase the immortal question posed by Rodney King: Why can't Phoenix and Rex just get along?

"There's no rhyme or reason why Rex doesn't like good guys," Velvet says. "He just doesn't. He's only a villain because he dislikes superheroes. He's an opposing voice, a devil's advocate. Rex isn't necessarily doing anything bad, he's just stirring the pot."

Seeking an informed opinion about the correlation between Jones/Velvet and the comics world, I put the issue to three forensic psychiatrists at Broadcast Thought. As trio of M.D.'s, they try to educate the public and dispel misconceptions about mental illness by using examples from comic books. They also do consulting work for Hollywood screenwriters. In short, they are some extremely well-educated comic book geeks.

Although they said it would be inappropriate for them to psychoanalyze Jones or Velvet (both are real people after all, and the doctors must abide by medical privacy laws), they did have an interesting take on the situation.

Although Velvet's bowler hat is more the style of The Riddler or Odd Job from James Bond, Dr. Vasilis K. Pozios says Velvet's style of villainy calls to mind Superman nemesis Lex Luthor.

"If there is a villain that exists where their whole reason for being is to convince others that superheroes shouldn't exist, it would be Lex Luthor," Pozios says. "He's one that believes in the power of humanity, and somebody kind of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, and being great because they're human. The fact that Superman comes and saves the day constantly with his otherworldly powers and abilities, Lex feels as though Superman is getting in the way of humans taking care of their own issues."

Booster Gold's star is even brighter than Phoenix Jones'.
Jones, meanwhile, draws comparisons to Booster Gold. A DC Comics creation and a member of the Justice League, Booster Gold is known for unabashedly seeking out the spotlight. Pozios recalls how the character, "actually has advertising on his costume like a European soccer team," and can't help but think of Jones and Velvet.

"What does it say about us as a culture that one of these real life costume heroes wants to become a vigilante rather than joining a police force?" Pozios asks. "Putting on a latex outfit and the mask, and having a self-promotional aspect with Hollywood agent, and high-production videos -- it tells us something is going on here rather than a purely altruistic motivation."

Ultimately, though, the conversation turns back to Batman. A key dimension of the cover story this week is pointing out that Velvet's existence is predicated on Jones', and a by-product of Velvet's mockery is more headlines and attention for Phoenix Jones. It's a weirdly symbiotic relationship, kind of like Batman and the Joker

"They can't live without each other," Pozios says of the fictional characters. "One thing I'm reminded of is a scene from the Dark Knight Returns graphic novel. When Batman returns to action after ten years of retirement, the Joker is suddenly awakened from a catatonic state and goes back on his killing spree. In that comic it's made very clear that the two can't live without one and other. And, ironically enough, the Joker ends his own life after Batman chases him down at a state fair, and Joker dies in Batman's arms in the tunnel of love. That kind of underscores that relationship."

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