Okay, and this Chad fellow, too. For those of you unwilling to scroll down two entries, I’ll re-post David’s entry in full:
Yeah, here’s the thing: not killing bad guys doesn’t make you better than them, it makes you a fucking pussy. It makes you responsible for everything negative they do after that point. No grey areas, no moral questions, no debates about what’s heroic and what’s not. […] I hate superhero comics for pretending that letting villains live is somehow the morally superior thing to do, because it’s not.
If you listened to the Fourcast! this week, and you should have, you’d know that I agree with every word Chad says. I wanted to have a longer excerpt, but it’s a pretty short review. Go read it.
Chad and David both seem to agree that in comics heroes should be able to occasionally kill villains. I agree, with specific exceptions, with this general idea.
Where we differ crucially is what ‘killing’ means. To quote Chad:
Should they kill every mugger ala the Punisher? No. Should they kill Norman Osborn when the chance arises? Um, yeah.
‘Killing’ someone encompases a variety of different concepts, from pre-planned murder to accidental manslaughter to legitimate self-defense. I think that, if the situation were to arise in which a hero had to kill a villain in order to save the life of that villain’s intended victim, they should, morally, kill the villain. That’s killing someone.
Killing Norman Osborn, or the Joker, or whoever else, when ‘the chance arises’ is not just killing someone. That’s an execution. There is a very distinct meaning to that, and there are very different consequences for it.
First and foremost, refusing to execute someone does not make anyone responsible for their later crimes. In an absolutist sense, only the person committing the crime is responsible for that, but that’s a little simplistic for me. In some cases, refusing to kill someone might make a person partially responsible for their crimes, (for instance, not shooting someone trying to escape from an asylum for the criminally insane, not shooting someone directly threatening another person’s life, not having someone go to death row to be executed) but we can hardly blame superheroes for that. Why not blame the incompetent or cowardly staff at the various institutions they are imprisoned in? Why not blame the courts for it? Or the legislature for not enacting laws that might end the lives of these types of criminals? Or the thousand idiot psychiatrists who did not seem to understand that just because someone has a gimmick, that doesn’t make them legally insane? Crime on that scale is a sociological problem, and all of society is to blame, not just the capes.
More importantly, I think we need to rid ourselves, once and for all, of the idea that all of society’s problems can be solved with more violence. It might be naive to refuse to execute someone who will never stop trying to kill people. It’s even more naive to think that executions performed by a secret society of people who patrol the streets and search through people’s private residences will make the world a better place. Morally, such a society itself is seen as a failure, not only of the people performing the executions, but of the people who live under that society’s protection. Practically, more brutality, more fear, more arbitrary violence and murder, have often destabilized a society rather than maintained peace and order.
Of course, we’re not speaking practically. We’re talking about a fictional world in which the rules are changing. That’s the problem, I think. The subject matter of comics has gotten more dark, the shock-tactics more extreme. We went from bank robbers, muggers, and invading starfish to villains burning pregnant women to death, murdering people’s families, and trying to blow up the entire earth. Meanwhile, the heroes are less flexible than the situations they find themselves in. The bad guys can do anything, the good guys are constricted. Not killing has almost become a talisman that lets us know the heroes are still heroes. (And of course, the heroes are bound by the fact that we need the villains to return for more stories.)
This pull between the truly evil villain and the curiously rigid hero causes a lot of fans frustration, and I can certainly understand it. However, I don’t think the solution to that is more killing, even if it is well-written. I think we should go the other way.
More bank robbers. More drug runners. More art smugglers. More mad scientists with misunderstood but rampaging creations. More nuisance criminals like the early Riddler. More money launderers. More bizarre (and non-sexual) kidnappers.
Less brutality. Less parodic violence. Less sexual assault. Less ‘this time it’s personal’. Less crimes that need to be resolved with a death.
More Batman doing detective work. Less Batman beating up snitches for information. More Wonder Woman dealing with mythological fantasies and modern-day mindsets. Less Wonder Woman snapping necks to save the world.
The comic book world doesn’t need heroes that are darker, it needs villains that are lighter. I don’t want the heroes to be heroes because they refuse to kill, even when someone has tortured their entire family to death in front of their eyes. I want the heroes to be heroes because they go out into the greater world, find all different kinds of crime, and figure out ways to stop it.