Manichean Murder Machine

November 4th, 2009 by | Tags: , ,

Chad Nevett on New Avengers #58:

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.

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17 comments to “Manichean Murder Machine”

  1. Which is of course why everyone completely despises Batman.

  2. That’s bullshit. Heroes (or anyone) should only kill when there’re no other option. The only reason a guy like Punisher is slightly likeable is because in comic book world heroes are not allowed to make mistakes, and because villains are made to be as despicable as possible. We the readers never see the colateral damage or the act of killing an innocent by mistake.

    Spider-man or Batman are right. The people a villain kills are the fault of the villain solely. THe incompetence of the authorities of comic book world is not the hero’s fault.

  3. @Deicide.UH: If somebody tells me that he’s going to kill a baby unless I kill him, and I go “Yeah right” and then he kills a baby? That’s my fault. I had a chance to stop him and I didn’t.

    If the other option is “someone dies,” then, in my mind, there’s no choice at all. Ms Marvel should’ve twisted Norman Osborn’s whole head off.

  4. I’d agree if this was the Joker or whatever, but this is a (for now) publically loved government official. If he gets straight up executed by the New Avengers, it will force them even FURTHER underground, rather than into the light which is the whole point of getting rid of Norman Osborn. I don’t think killing him would solve anything, and it may very easily just make things worse. It’d be a half-cocked “solution” that didn’t work. I mean, what would happen? People would go “Thank god you finally killed Osborn, Spider-Man! We love you now!”? They’d be on the run for the rest of their lives, and God only knows who Osborn’s replacement (who would be continuing his policies, since Osborn would basically be martyred) would be, and how much worse they could be.

    That said, Carol is a fucking hypocrite for her talk about how she’s BETTER THAN U FOR NOT KILLING considering how incredibly bloodthirsty and downright homicidal she was during Secret Invasion.

  5. @david brothers: who was Osborn going to kill … at the time? for the most part he’s been more or less decent about following the law when there are witnesses (ie. keeping Cage alive, not throwing Tony Stark into the incinerator)

  6. @David Uzumeri: Okay, then, they should examine that in the book, instead of Spider-Man wetting his pants, screaming “HEROES DON’T KILL”, and pass-agging at Hawkeye.

    @Nathan: Everyone is decent about following the law when there are witnesses. When there aren’t witnesses, he’s shooting down airplanes full of civilians, ordering the death of American citizens, hiring mass murderers and villains under false pretenses, engaging in military actions in foreign lands, and having scads of people who are loyal only to him in various sensitive places in the federal government.

    This is one of the few cases where the death penalty really is a preventative measure. It’s clear that he has no interest in rehab, no interest in doing actual good, and is only interested in furthering his own goals.

  7. @david brothers: In a lot of stuff I’ve been reading Osborn comes off as believing his own hype. He wants to keep America safe because people love him for that, everything he’s been doing is to keep his position steady, which yeah I admti includes a lot of heinous stuff.

  8. Sherm, what’s your opinion on Monster? This book deals with this concept heavily.

  9. In the real world, I have a ton of objections to capital punishment. In the world where you cannot reliably imprison supervillains for life, and they often have the power to take out whole cities, yeah, you gotta kill them right away.

    I’d prefer, I suppose, that this be handled by courts, but if you can’t trust the system to be quick, or “right,” then maybe a costumed vigilante has to, you know, go full-scale vigilante on ’em.

    However, since it’s a given that valuable intellectual property like Dr. Doom and the Joker ain’t gonna be filed in the Eternal Longbox, I suppose we just have to accept the rationale of “heroes don’t kill,” just like we have to accept that really high doses of radiation don’t kill, either. The problem becomes, do writers write themselves into a corner when they have villains so evil, so dangerous, that not snuffing ’em defies even the level of suspension of disbelief it takes to make me believe a man can fly?

  10. I agree that comics should treat killing with more maturity. “guns are awesome” vs. “killing a guy even if he’s going to go on to kill even more guys is wrong” is just getting old. There are consequences to killing, too – killing Osborn now would bring on similar effects to, say, offing Josef Stalin or Adolf Hitler at their respective heights of power. But letting a murderous, irredeemable prick like Bullseye off the hook time after time? That’s dumb. Berating Wonder Woman for snapping Max Lord’s neck to stop him from killing a bunch of people? Dumb.
    Then again, like Guy says, death in long-running media of any kind only lasts so long, so maybe the heroes (or just the authors, at least) are just looking at it from a cynical “what’s the point?” view and using morals to rationalize it all.

  11. Nah I am not good with “heroes” killing. Which is why Punisher’s not a hero to me, he’s a … punisher.

    Vigilantes who kill are just lynch mobs in the dark, sure they’re better than the courts, keeping babies alive and women unraped. I know several heroes have pointed out that as soon as they decide they’re fully equiped to do all the judging and sentencing as well as investigating, all tolerance for them will fall away – and it should.

  12. This is one of the many reasons why I like Iron Man. He’s not a stone cold killer, but he has killed in the past, and it’s always been for a damned good reason.

  13. If somebody tells me that he’s going to kill a baby unless I kill him, and I go “Yeah right” and then he kills a baby? That’s my fault. I had a chance to stop him and I didn’t.

    Superheroes pretty much would stop him, though.

    The way I see it, it’s not that superheroes cling superiority by not killing, but if their policy is to capture criminals but not kill them, that’s a perfectly reasonable policy. They want to turn them over to the law because they’re acting to support the law.

    Like with Batman people will get angry that he hasn’t killed the Joker, but there’s no reason Batman has to kill the Joker. If it’s so bad to keep him alive a policeman could do it, for instance. Just because a superhero decides to take on some responsibility for others doesn’t mean he’s wrong for not taking on even more responsibility. He doesn’t have to do any of it.

  14. What I really want is a more nuanced, mature discussion in comics over the issue — but, also, as I said in my post, the ‘heroic’ thing is to kill when necessary and not fall back on that as your only means of dealing with a problem. To say that killing is never the ‘heroic’ thing to do is insane.

    Also, in one of the early New Avengers issues, someone at SHIELD says something to Spider-Man about superheroes being responsible for bad guys killing people after throwing them in jail time and time again only for them to break out. My reaction to THAT argument was that the system itself is obviously broken if the best it can think to do with people who continually break out of prison is to keep locking them in prison. It is a responsibility beyond just the superheroes… but NONE of them are morally superior because they refuse to kill. That’s a childish and inane concept that shouldn’t be put forth by anyone over the age of seven.

  15. So you have this guy, he like hurting people. He’s also REALLY good at escaping. So good that he can get away from the authorities basically at will. Even super humans can’t keep this guy locked down forever because they’ll let their guard slip eventually. You just can’t keep him locked up for any meaningful amount of time.

    Not only that, but by hurting people I mean killing them.

    So you’re one of the few guys around who understand this maniac well enough to bring him down before he does too much damage. Too much, but not no damage. Someone always dies, or very nearly so, every time this guys breaks out. Even you can’t be eternally vigilant because this guy has given you the slip occasionally as well.

    However, let me congratulate you on sticking to your guns and not permanently taking this guy out of the picture. I know you’re so anguished and tormented by this turd killing so many people. I’m sure they feel a lot better that you haven’t become “just like him” and permanently taken him out of the picture.

    Of course, what’s really at stake here is that this aforementioned villain is worth $$$, and you simply can’t kill him. Also, the people he kills largely don’t matter. The readers aren’t made to care for them. Their deaths just serve as shorthand for “this guy is really bad”, and once they’ve died, they cease to exist for all reasonable storytelling applications. So the villain gets to continue to exist, the writers get to repeat the same stories a few times each decade, and a breezy moral relativism is allowed to endure so long as the readership as a whole doesn’t think too hard about it.

  16. It’s a far more selfish, and far more human reason that keeps, say, Batman from killing the Joker:

    How would he live with himself afterwards

    These baddies can kill BECAUSE they are sociopaths, not the other way around. For a character like Batman or Spider-Man to cross that moral or psychological line would require a mental effort of staggering proportions, and would have an irrevocable effect on their psyche. Look at what happens to soldiers, post-theatre, or cops that have to fire their weapons. People with the law and morality and necessity behind them. The cost can be high.

    Ironically, to resist the urge to kill might actually be the most realistic thing that a superhero can do…

    Here’s the thing: a fireman won’t rebuild your house. Leaving aside any other moral or legal considerations, a superhero – a civilian/vigilante/community support agent – wouldn’t be any more or less a cog in the system than a paralegal, a clerk of the court or a prison guard. Part of the unspoken social contract that holds our societies together is the notion (or the hope) that everyone has a part to play, right?

    For a superhero to cross that line – to kill in anything other than immediate (inadvertent?) defence of self or others – to kill in order to protect, preemptively, hypothetical future victims – undercuts that social contract. Emasculates the system that they might otherwise support. And that way, Authority lies. Or Doom, give or take ninety years.

    Of course, there are stories or characters for whom such actions are a dramatic necessity – V (appropriately enough, given the day) – but for characters like your Batmans, your Spideys, etc., it’s a line to be forever avoided. Not because it sends the wrong message, but because it would have an ceffect on the character that, Cosmic Reset Buttons aside, they couldn’t take back.


  17. […] the issue of superheroes killing and that's spurred some responses — most notably at 4thletter (one, two, and […]