“Their capacity for evil so evident and prevalent”

November 5th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , , ,

I wanted to revisit and expand on the “HEROES DON’T KILL” post from yesterday, since it prompted some conversation.

My biggest problem with HEROES DON’T KILL as a hard-line rule is that it stems from the days when comics were meant for children and suffered under the tyranny of the Comics Code. Heroes must be pure and heroic at all times, and killing was right out. For children, that’s fine. Simple morality tales are an easy way to introduce the social contract. What’s racism? Racism is bad. What’s war? War is bad. And so on.

The problem is that comics grew up with their audience, and writers started stretching the limits of believability in an attempt to appear grown up. Every time a villain broke out of jail, he’d have to do something worse to top the previous story. Joker evolves from the Clown Prince of Crime to the Thin White Duke of Death, and every breakout spreads death and decay by the dozen. Norman Osborn goes from a guy who killed a girl once and wanted to run the underworld into a scheming plotter capable of faking several deaths, ruining even more lives, and torturing whoever he likes.

At a certain point, in the quest to give heroes something to fight against, the creators of these comics have made the heroes look like failures. Batman: Arkham Asylum, the recent video game, is an excellent example. No matter what he does, or who he rescues, nothing he does matters. You can idly rescue a couple of asylum patients and workers in the game, but when you re-enter that area, whoops, look at that, they’re dead. Sometimes you get there in time to see an inmate beating their brains in, but it’s too late to save them. It makes Batman look inept, like all he can do is stand there in his long johns trying to hold back an unstoppable tide of pure evil.

It’s not any better in the comics. Villains break out of jail, murder a few people, go after the hero, and then go back to jail. Eighteen of our months later (if we’re lucky, and we usually aren’t) and they do it again. And again. And again. The body count rises, the hero thinks about all the lives that have been lost and feels bad about it, and then does the exact same thing again. Lather, rinse the blood off your hands, and repeat.

What’s even worse is the sliding scale of acceptable killing. Sentient beings from computer monsters to aliens? Murder at will. However, a guy who has, over the course of maybe six months at most, shot down an airplane full of civilians to see if a hero would catch it, ordered the death of several American citizens, hired mass murderers and villains under false pretenses, engaged in military actions in foreign lands, and placed scads of people who are loyal only to him in various sensitive places in the federal government? That guy is strictly off-limits.


See? Ms. Marvel is three things here. Creepy, smug, and a hypocrite. Why is it okay to kill aliens and not humans? Is that where “Thou shalt not kill” stops? “You weren’t born in Peoria, you’re fair game?”

It’s the hypocrisy that bugs me more than anything. When Hawkeye says that the Avengers should kill a man who has killed Spider-Man’s girlfriend, kidnapped his child, ruined the life of a good friend, created a vicious cycle of hate that infected Peter’s best friend Harry and his son, faked Aunt May’s death, and tortured Spider-Man for days… Spider-Man’s reaction, realistically, shouldn’t be to whine about how heroes don’t kill ever ever ever no matter what.

I’m not saying that all heroes should be bang bang shootem up all the time. That’s stupid. There are several perfectly good reasons not to kill someone, and killing would ruin the charm of certain characters. I don’t think Superman should ever kill anyone. Spider-Man, as the ultimate street level everyman hero, probably shouldn’t kill anyone, either.

(though back when i cared about that sort of thing, i realized that the one instance where spidey would kill would be if and when norman snaps, kidnaps MJ, or maybe Baby May, and it’s his last choice. he’d do it, and he wouldn’t feel good about it, but he wouldn’t regret it, either.)

But, to pretend that heroes should never kill, while their enemies continually up the ante and stack atrocity on top of atrocity and shoot past irredeemable and on into genocidal… you start to notice the guy behind the curtain. That’s when you realize just how the sausage is made and start caring less and less. Black Adam has millions of deaths on his resume. Vandal Savage destroyed Montevideo. Deathstroke’s blown up Bludhaven, and, along with Cheshire, nuked the capital of Qurac. Mongul destroyed Coast City.

At some point, you have to weigh your peace of mind and so-called moral high ground against thousands upon thousands of lost lives. And sometimes… it’s worth the sacrifice.

And that’s why the hard-line HEROES DON’T KILL is childish to me. It’s applying a black and white morality to a situation that doesn’t fit it any more. Back when Spider-Man was created, Doc Ock was killing people mainly by accident. Green Goblin just wanted to run the mob. Now? Now villains completely undercut the hero by simply existing, and every time we get one of the “I’m better than you, I don’t kill” scenes, or the scenes where the hero fights hard to save a villain’s life so that he can sleep soundly at night… well, I roll my eyes.

All I want is to see some nuance and maturity when taking on the idea of heroes killing, rather than heroes with barely a leg to stand on preaching directly at me. It’s not clever, it’s not smart, and we’re not children. Garth Ennis got it with his portrayal of the Punisher. It’s not even hard or really very complicated. Sometimes, the hard choice, the bad choice, the unreasonable choice, is the best possible choice to make. Sometimes you have to do bad to do good.

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40 comments to ““Their capacity for evil so evident and prevalent””

  1. I’m not going to say that my own personal morals should be the same morals of every superhero, but I think there’s a perfectly good reason to never kill: it’s not our place to decide who lives and dies.

    Superheroes (at least in DC, in my opinion) are supposed to be figures that we look up to. Even so, they can’t decide who lives and dies. There’s a reason we have a justice system in place, simple as that. And it may not be perfect, but it’s better than a world where people kill because they decide that someone deserves it. Your examples make sense, you’re dealing with people who have killed hundreds of people. But, theoretically, where do you draw the line? Is it okay to kill someone who killed one person? If that’s okay, then how about killing someone who caused an accident that paralyzed someone? And so on….

  2. I keep forgetting to mention the wholesale slaughter of Skrulls… the heroes have no problem with that but other threats to humanity and Earth are off-limits? How does that work exactly?

  3. I think that had something to do with some kind of war being declared, which meant that suddenly killing Skrulls was the heroic thing to do.

    I don’t mind reading stories in which the heroes can’t bring themselves to kill because they don’t have the guts to do it. There’s room for a more interesting story than if heroes just won’t kill because of their haphazardly-defined lines of morality.

  4. Here’s my issue with “heroes should kill.” None of these guys has to do anything. If they personally make a decision to help the law by bringing these people in and stopping them when they’re hurting others, why is it also their responsibility to kill them? On a personal level it makes perfect sense to me that a superhero could feel that crossing the line into executing criminals instead of bringing them to the law. That’s the difference between frontier justice and a civilization–and the superhero him/herself would probably be right in thinking it’s a good line not to cross personally, to decide that they should be killing these guys too.

    If there’s an invading army of aliens, for instance, I can see why that would be handled more like a war. A hero’s ideas about what he should do might seem arbitrary, but so do everyone else’s ideas about their behavior.

  5. I’m absolutely with you that the notion that the Villain escalation has made most comic book heroes look ridiculous. It smacks too much of trying to have one’s cake and eat it. You get edgier, more “modern” stories whilst keeping the characters the readers obstensibly care about untouched.

    I like Batman, and I like the Joker, but really, when someone’s bodycount is edging up to four figures, then no amount of insanity pleas should matter. He should have been executed a long time ago. But, and this is the big but; that’s a matter for the Law, not for Batman to decide.

    Similarly, Dark Reign had better end with Norman Osborn being executed for High Treason, not killed by the Avenger’s big three.

  6. @sistermagpie. I think the problem is that you just looked at this as it would make sense in the real world (“I’m outside the law a lot to do good, so I’d better make sure I don’t remove all credibility by being an executioner”), while, as he pointed out, the actual issue is that the reason superheroes don’t kill anyone who deserves it, even when it makes sense, is because of a really, really, really old and dead piece of legislation. And in our world not killing would make more sense, because we’d have a decent chance of putting a supervillain in jail or something and having it STICK, whereas in the comics anyone with half a brain cell can see that the guy is just going to keep on breaking out of prison ad infinitum because the readers want to see more Joker (or to be less meta, because that’s what he does).
    The same thing goes for the aliens and robots. They aren’t being killed because they’re invading, they’re being killed because they’re not human and therefore free game by the old crap-laws. I bet you can find thousands of situations where a nonhuman much more inoffensive than the Joker went on a little rampage and got destroyed for its troubles after doing something that Batman would risk his life to nonlethally capture the Joker for. ESPECIALLY if it’s less human-appearing. The more nonhumanoid, the less readers will react if a heroes-don’t-kill hero punches his fist through its chest.
    Incidentally, the Punisher’s logic works BETTER in such an unrealisticly warped world, because odds are none of the people he’s gunning for will ever stop breaking out of jail or punting puppies unless shot. If he existed in reality, HE’D be more nuts and the no-killin’ brigade would probably make more sense, because odds would be higher than whoever they locked up wouldn’t be out and gassing toddlers next week.

  7. The problem I have with the “never kill no matter what” line is that, in super-hero land, there really is no viable alternative. IRL one can justify a no-killing stance by advocating imprisonment, letting the justice system do its job and punish the guilty. If the Joker was captured in real life, he’d be incarcerated for the rest of his life (and probably be given the death penalty, as he’d fail to meet most legal definitions of insanity).

    In comic-book land, that’s a joke, because prisons are easily escapable. The Joker gets out over and over again – the ONLY way to stop him from killing others is to end his life. (Even crippling him or like actions wouldn’t really stop him.) Most modern societies accept that it is okay to kill in defense of others when it’s the only alternative. The moral calculus changes dramatically when there’s no viable incarceration option, but superheroes continue on as if incarceration is meaningful.

    That said, I don’t want to read about Batman killing the Joker or Spider-Man killing Osborn. I’m fine with suspending disbelief re: the effectiveness of the justice system. I do wish writers wouldn’t constantly call attention to the man behind the curtain by constantly having villains “up the ante” only to have the hero utter some platitude about “if I killed him I’d be just like him.”

  8. Sure–I understand that the inability to keep the Joker in jail makes not killing him more ridiculous. But even with the law not being effective the way it is in our world, I don’t see why that means that Batman is the one who should be killing these guys. Why would it make him personally at fault for not killing the guy, as opposed to any number of other people who go along with the same rules? I’m looking at that little grey area that seems to assume that it’s only batman to whom this question applies since he’s Batman.

    I take it on a character to character basis, but for instance, with him I can buy why it’s a good idea for Bruce Wayne personally to have that line for himself. I don’t mind other people challenging him on that philosophy, like Jason Todd, but I don’t feel like Bruce only believes in no killing because of the comics code. I feel like the character’s believably evolved to make that part of his psychology.

  9. @matches: That said, I don’t want to read about Batman killing the Joker or Spider-Man killing Osborn. I’m fine with suspending disbelief re: the effectiveness of the justice system. I do wish writers wouldn’t constantly call attention to the man behind the curtain by constantly having villains “up the ante” only to have the hero utter some platitude about “if I killed him I’d be just like him.”

    That’s about the way I read it too. I accept the main reason the Joker can’t die is that nobody wants to lose that character. He’s practically a supernatural being that gets loose that nobody can stop at this point. He’s almost like a projection of Batman himself at this point. The idea that someone would be “just like him” if they killed him is ridiculous, but I can believe a superhero having good reason to fear that crossing that line would be a significant change for the worse on their end.

  10. @sistermagpie. If Batman has the opportunity to let the Joker die after a recent and spectacularly gory atrocity, then I at least don’t see why he has to SAVE him, which is just taking it spectacularly too far. I do completely agree that what is needed isn’t necessarily “EXECUTE THEM ALL” so much as heroes that are willing to allow irredeemably horrible people to die or turn them over to people who will admit that it’s time to execute them. Capital punishment starts looking a lot more attractive when you’re looking at people that are serial killers who are usually either unreformable, have superpowers, or both.
    Basically, yeah, we don’t necessarily need Batman to start murdering criminals. It would just be nice if he didn’t constantly feel obligated to constantly prevent the deaths of some of the nuttier ones. And it would be nicest of all if they just got executed. Once Two-Face or Joker or Norman Osborn has gone on his latest killing spree, no one should be up in arms about making sure he comes back in one piece from the arrest, and they shouldn’t be jailing him anymore.
    We ONLY need “judge, jury and executioner” heroes if the hero’s justice system is unwilling to be any of those things responsibly. Once the superprison has been breached for the thousandth time, someone’s got to start owning up and taking responsibility – the public, or the hero.

  11. I don’t think failing to kill the Joker makes his future murders Batman’s fault. But I do think it raises the question of what exactly Batman thinks he’s accomplishing. Why go to all the trouble of apprehending The Joker if he’s going to be loose again in a week with no apparent consequences? If he’s unwilling to actually stop the bad guys from committing more crimes, he’s just a goofball in a Halloween costume.

  12. @Drakyn: If Batman has the opportunity to let the Joker die after a recent and spectacularly gory atrocity, then I at least don’t see why he has to SAVE him, which is just taking it spectacularly too far.

    I don’t think he has to either–but I can buy that it’s part of his personality that he does that. It could believably drive people crazy in dealing with him, but it seems like something they’d just accept as one of the many consistent things about Batman. He’s got a lot of behavior he sticks to, even if we don’t think it would really be bad for Batman to let the Joker die at all.

  13. I liked how Fraction handled things at the end of his first arc on Invincible Iron Man. He set off an EMP which ended up killing suicide bombers because repulsor technology was built into them. The last page of the issue is him asking how many died because of the EMP. He clearly felt horrible about it, but knew that was the only option to avoid the loss of innocent life.
    That EMP also took out Stane, and he avoided killing him when he was already beat. Killing Stane after the EMP would be, like Esther said, an execution.

  14. Totally agree, David. If art truly imitates life, then the black and white morality should be checked at the door and the gray should be explored. Remember the old adage: “To Do A Great Right, One Must Do A Little Wrong.”

  15. Superheroes are very big on duty. Whether it’s to themselves, to society, to their ma & pa, or to ancient secrets hitherto unspoken. The do what’s right because they have the power to act as an agent for justice/good/whatever. They’ve decided that the #1 thing in life is protecting the innocent/the world/whatever.

    Spider-Man does not run around punching muggers because he likes punching people. Superman does not lift trains over broken tracks because lifting trains is his favorite thing. Scott Summers certainly would probably prefer to be chillin on a beach somewhere with his translucent girlfriend or dead wife or kid or whatever, than constantly throwing himself into dangerous situations.

    But again and again, these folks save manhattan/the world/mutant civil rights from those who choose to kill and steal, rape, and torture, and enslave. The heroes are the ones who instead of have chosen to take their abilities and make the world safer for those who aren’t super powered. As was previously mentioned, when this means stopping aliens or sentient robots, or whatever, Killing is often the route they take to get the job done.

    In some rare instances, when superheroes kill supervillains that do not fit the “so inhuman it doesn’t matter” mould, It’s never because the superhero wants to kill the villain. It’s because he or she knows that this has to occur, and they choose to bear the burden of going against what they believe in, to make the world safer.

    Is killing right? No. Is it sometimes necessary in order to uphold the duty they have chosen? Yes, with precedence. Batman didn’t enjoy or want to kill Dick Grayson in DKSA, but had to, to protect Carrie. I am not going to go into all of the german soldiers that the Invaders/Wolverine/etc have killed. Or the various vampires and werewolves or whatever.

    Is killing (in comics) forgivable? It must be. It’s happened, and it’s going to happen again, and I don’t think that being a hero requires being blind to reality. Sometimes it requires doing the things you don’t want to to do at all.

    As with most commenters I don’t feel killing villains should be anywhere close to a common occurance. Superheroes should try to resolve things peacefully, or barring that, with as little loss of life as possible. But as a last, or only, resort? It should not be out of the question.

  16. I pin most of this stuff on the “grim and gritty” 90s and insertion of “realism” into comics. This was the rise of violent heroes like Spawn, Venom and the Punisher. I don’t know about other readers, but I don’t pick up a comic book to see realism, I pick it up for escapism. Comics are about extraordinary people doing fantastic things, that’s what they should be about.

    Of course, seeing a hero struggle with a human issue like killing their deranged and irredeemable foe can make for compelling storytelling. Superman’s struggle with killing Zod in the pocket dimension comes to mind. And again when he faced Manchester Black and refused to kill. Heroes are supposed to be better than gun-toting street vigilantes. They have power and they could easily step over the line and use their power recklessly. But, the point is, they don’t. That’s what makes them heroes and not killers.

    I hated and still hate The Authority with a passion for mainly this reason. There’s no morality in what they do, they simple use their powers to kill and are lauded as heroes. If a Marvel or DC hero did this, there’s no way they would EVER be trusted by the public they protect. Kingdom Come took a nice look at this, where public turned against Superman and embraced Magog, then we saw what that decision did to their world. That’s the reason why you don’t see The Punisher out in public killing criminals. He has to stick to the shadows to do his work. It needs to be done, but you’d never see a “hero” like him walking around in broad daylight doing his job.

    I’m willing to suspend belief to believe that my hero of choice won’t cross the line and kill, whatever the reason. If we hold them up to be heroes, then they should act like heroes. Leave the killing to the justice system, or anti-heroes like The Punisher. I never want to read a story about Batman executing his rogue’s gallery, it would totally be out of character.

  17. There absolutely is a morality to the Authority. It may not be a morality with which you agree, and that’s fine – reasonable people can disagree – but the Authority’s mission statement was to make “a finer world”. IOW they wanted to make the world better. That was their moral center – if it made the world better (in their eyes, of course) they would do it, whatever “it” was.

    That may or may not make them heroic, or trusted by the public – but that’s an issue separate from morality. “Hero” isn’t a job description; no one sets out to be “heroic”; they set out to do what they believe to be the right thing, in the case of superheroes usually to help people or to make the world better. You’re right that Marvel and DC books almost ceaselessly take the position that no one who kills can be respected as a hero, but that’s because Marvel and DC comic have a hopelessly simplistic view of the issue (which prompted the review from Chad that started this discussion).

    You say the Punisher does something that “needs to be done”. If it really needs to be done, then surely he isn’t wrong for doing it, particularly given that in the Marvel Universe no one else will (including the justice system). Whether he’s considered a hero at the end of the day shouldn’t be relevant *to him*. Whether the Punisher may be your type of character or not, he IS an extraordinary person who does fantastic things, and there’s very little realism involved.

  18. Batman “should” kill the homicidal Joker because Batman is a guy who does what it takes to save people and fight crime, and the Joker he’s been given needs killing, and in the world he’s been given, no one else will do it.

    The “villain escalation” is the problem. I wish writers would stop putting heroes into these situations. It’s not “more realistic.” Remember when Charles Manson escaped San Quentin and killed all of Sausalito just to taunt his arch nemesis? Yeah, me neither. Doesn’t work that way.

    So if you’re going to always bring back the villains, requiring a world with ineffective prisons, stop writing the heroes into situations where they might seem absurd if they don’t resort to cold-blooded murder. Just don’t write that. Take care of Max Lord with a purple healing ray, or Zeta-beam him to a primitive planet, or have Zatanna do her nasty “Identity Crisis” trick on him. Whatever. Absurd sci-fi fix to absurd sci-fi problem.

    That’s my solution to this plausibility crisis and the very logical moral conundrum you’re highlighting here: Just don’t write that.

  19. I was just going to comment on the Superman story where he fights the “Authority” and Manchester Black in a deathmatch, but Psychlone got there first. I found the ending to that story powerful and a terrific explanation of why Clark’s the hero he is…he always finds a better way than just rendering the ultimate judgment.

    Putting aside the question of the Joker, and it’s a sticky question, Batman’s not going to just let villains die if he can. Even if Harvey Dent were to kill every 22-year-old identical twin in Gotham City, were he dangling from a rooftop, there’s no way Batman would let him fall, because he’d be forever denying Harvey the chance to reform.

    Of course, killing is 100% A-OK if you’re a super-speedster and you find yourself in WWII in the uniform of your country, which is at war.

  20. Ha, I’ll go along with “just don’t write that”, because for me it’s totally laughable that in order for Batman to face this big moral question of whether to kill the Joker in the first place, EVERYONE ELSE must be assumed to be unable or unwilling to get there first…and yet, how does that make even a lick of sense? Batman is the only one in Gotham City who’s safe from the Joker, for pity’s sake — everyone else stands a pretty much equal chance of being killed by him tomorrow. Batman hands off the Joker to the cops all the time; the Joker kills boatloads of cops every year

    …I mean, it really strains credulity. It’s bad writing. Why would you call attention to the one irreconcilable flaw in your otherwise-sturdy fantasy? NO ONE will kill the Joker, how is that even possible in a world in which even bloody Batman thinks about killing him? I think the answer is that it just plain isn’t possible, which is why having Batman think about killing the Joker is a stupid writing decision. Because if Batman’s thinking it, then Robin’s thinking it…Gordon’s thinking it, and Bullock’s thinking it. Alfred’s thinking it. Jesus, I mean really, then…who wouldn’t be thinking it?

    How does the Joker stay alive long enough, in that scenario, even to get to the point where Batman needs to think about it?

    He couldn’t do it.

    So every time a writer brings this up, it just hangs there, and that’s stupid. There was this bit in a Civil War tie-in where one SHIELD trooper complains to another SHIELD trooper about how he doesn’t understand why Spider-Man doesn’t just kill the Green Goblin — but then if we’re going to go down that road, then why the hell doesn’t he do it himself, eh? Never mind that his current assignment is to track down and capture the dangerous vigilante called Spider-Man…and even shoot him if he has to…!

    You can actually grid this stuff out, really easily. There’s no reason for that SHIELD trooper to behave as he does, it isn’t logical, it doesn’t make any sense. Bendis wrote it because he thought it sounded cool, and he wasn’t concerned about it making any sense, and that’s how it gets to be Spider-Man’s fault. It’s actually the only way it gets to be Spider-Man’s fault. Even if the system “doesn’t work”, it is still not Spider-Man’s fault, because in that case there will always be tons of people whose hands are way, way bloodier than his by that logic.

    But who cares about logic, when Norman Osborn actually died years ago anyway?

  21. Taking it from the t-t-t-top:
    @Frank Stallone: I’m not advocating heroes having a free “break glass if you need to kill somebody” card. I’ve said nothing to even suggest that. As I say in the post, I’m talking about villains who have shown that they have absolutely no interest in reformation and take gleeful pride in doing terrible things, over and over and over. And it’s important to note that comic book courts are not like real life courts. Comic book courts are a failure.

    @sistermagpie: I agree that no one has to do anything, but at a certain point, the heroes do not look like heroes when their villains get away with everything up to and including beating a baby to death with a newborn puppy. They look incompetent and honestly pretty worthless. They are, at best, a stopgap, rather than a solution. It’s inextricably tied into my point about villain escalation in the post. If you’re going to up the ante with your villains, do it in a way that doesn’t completely pull the rug out from under the heroes. At that point, a hero killing a villain would diminish them less than them rescuing the villain and letting the villain go on another rampage.

    @Drakyn: You’re pretty much dead-on with what I’m saying here. In the real world? Yeah, people shouldn’t be going around offing other people and the Punisher should go to jail.

    @CasinoGrande: See, that’s really interesting to me. I don’t know if I finished that arc, but I like the idea of a hero who understands that death is a big deal. I think there was a Captain America story recently where he says that he knows the name of every man who fought with him and died in WWII, and does his best to honor their memory? Something like that. It was neat, I appreciated that.

    @Dave T: hey buddy great name

    @matches: I will say that sometimes the right thing to do is also a bad/wrong thing.

    @Guy Smiley: “Do comics better” is basically the answer to every problem I’ve ever had with comics.

    @Gorram Crate: Action 775 is one of my favorite comics, and I agree that Superman is better for not killing. Though he did kill Doomsday, but that’s basically the dictionary definition of extenuating circumstances.

    @plok: Good points all around. I’d probably pay good money for a story where Jim Gordon’s all growed up son comes back to Gotham (where is he, anyway?), shoots Joker in the face, and drops the gun like a microphone while going “You’re welcome” to Batman. And then a trial and the frenzy surrounding it. This would also be in a resurrected Gotham Central book that comes out straight to fat trade twice a year.

    I can dream.

  22. Regarding the supposed hypocrisy of refusing to kill humans but slaughtering aliens, it really isn’t any different than valuing human life more than animal life. I don’t think anyone would argue that the life of a cat or dog is worth more than any human life. I’d say the same for any hypothetical aliens. If this makes me a space racist, then get off my lawn.

  23. @drew: Since you’re equating (fictional) sentient beings with non-sentient animals, yeah thats kind of a definition for racism…

  24. @lurkerwithout: I realize this, and like I said if that makes me a racist against aliens then I’m fine with it. I’d take a humans and earth-first approach, and were I in the Marvel Universe I think most of Earth would agree with me.

  25. I can get the idea of “Earth comes first” as an explanation for killing hostile aliens, but I have to say that your cats and dogs analogy creeps me out a fair bit, Drew. “Earth comes first” is about survival, while the cats and dogs argument is basically that another lifeform is worth less because it’s different.

  26. “Why is it okay to kill aliens and not humans? ”

    Ape shall not kill Ape

  27. Maximum Carnage is the storyline that broke comics in this regard. It’s one thing to say you have a character who doesn’t kill, but then if you insist on putting him repeatedly into a situation where the only sane, rational response to a threat like Carnage is to kill, then you’re merely calling attention to an irreparable structural deficiency in your storyline. The answer is simply to not put Spider-Man into stories where not killing makes him look like a morally compromised idiot. Don’t put him into stories where not killing in order to satisfy his qualms makes him an accessory after the fact.

  28. If Batman is such a supreme martial artist like he’s written to be, why doesn’t he just cripple the fuck out of his rougues? It’s hard to commit crimes when when you’re in a wheelchair, and it would certainly make some of the pussie rones think twice. It allows him to keep his “Never kill” rule while severly limiting them. Break the Joker’s legs, Bruce. In several places.

  29. Gordon’s kneecapping didn’t slow the Joker down. Bullseye had his spine broken deliberately by daredevil and he just got it whoop-de-doo’d back to normal. All that’d happen in-story would be everyone Batman knows shunning him for “sinking to the Joker’s level” by allowing his mind (constantly portrayed as one of the best if not the best human intellects) to decide, alone, that somehow the Joker MIGHT commit fewer crimes if he couldn’t walk – that’s a job for the jury that seems to constantly decide there ain’t no rule ’bout executin’ psychopaths. Then the Joker would get his knees back to normal through some handwaved means and commit a bigger crime than ever just to show how misguided that idea was and Batman would get all complainy while he has to make it up to everyone.
    Any comics universe is a depressing one – you’re trapped in an eternal soap opera, your entire personality and reality swings around drastically every few months, and nothing will ever prevent you or one of your archenemies from coming back to life again, again, again, and again. Nothing. It’s sisyphus and his rock to the nth degree.

  30. I’m okay with the whole “what measure a non-human” thing because there’s a justice system for humans, not for nonhumans

  31. I agree on this bit in general. I mean, remember when Superman thought it was okay to kill Bizarro in the silver age? What was with that?

    I’m fine with not killing villains, generally. It’s for the courts, not my place, Superman has to be a good example to everyone…

    But when it gets to the point where a villain (even z-listers) can’t be kept off the streets for a month, kills hundreds every time he gets out, and the hero’s current goal in life is preventing Frank Castle from filling the villain with bullets rather than, you know, stopping the bad guy…

    Well, that’s stupid and dumb and I hate it.

  32. I think this an interesting point, but I’ve honestly never given it much thought as I’ve read comics. Maybe the reason that I haven’t thought of the reasoning behind why heroes don’t kill is largely that any “key” villain seems to be above the “law” of death. They can explain it however they want, but when a bigger villain finally gets the axe, you can only wonder how long before he/she comes back to the page.

    I do wonder, though, what would happen if, say Marvel, just started legitimately killing off its villains. Obviously they did this in a sense with Brand New Day, where Spidey fought “all new” villains, but it only lasted so long. What if they finally said, “you know, no more goblins. No more Lizard and no more Vulture”? Would readers drop the book? After all, we love the villains, even if we don’t admit it.

    I don’t have the answer to any of this, but it’s interesting to think about. For the time being, I’m perfectly happy just accepting the stories as they are.

    Two final things:
    1. I didn’t read it as Ms. Marvel being a hypocrite. She was fighting a war with the Skrulls and acted “accordingly.” With Norman, she’s fighting a battle against the man lauded savior of the world. If she killed Norman, it would get out somehow and she’d be incarcerated/executed/what have you. I also read it as she wasn’t saying that she was better than Norman in so much as she doesn’t kill her foes. She was saying that she’s better than Norman because she beat him, despite his technology and intelligence. He’ll have to live with the fact that she beat him and that may be a more painful torture for Norman than death.

    2. Obviously long after Maximum Carnage, but regarding the key villain of the arc, didn’t Sentry take him out to space and pull him apart, therefore killing him?

  33. house of reps lets hard line mayor of gotham instate the death penalty [actually, I think they already do, someone got killed in batgirl by injection].
    joker is caught on satelite surveillance killing people and planning to kill more.
    joker is put to death.

  34. @Rick Wears Pants:
    oh snap, thats right! I forgot that idea, batman breaking joker’s neck, then cutting his hands and legs off isn’t killing him, but is incapacitating him.
    of course, even though Barbara Gordon is still paralised, they’d give him dumb robot legs. comics are dumb.

  35. “I do wonder, though, what would happen if, say Marvel, just started legitimately killing off its villains.”

    They’d actually have to come up with new villains instead of reusing the same 20+ years old ones they continue to use?

    The horror!

    On another note, I don’t see where killing someone trying to kill you makes you less heroic. Wolverine and the X-men seem to still be considered heroes and they have some serious body counts.

  36. @Onion: Quite right. And now that I think about it, the Guardians have granted the Green Lanterns lethal force, so their body counts are also starting to rise.

  37. and even though they are ‘gone’ the cool plot twist about batman killing the joker is harley could have saved a lazarus pit and bring joker back, he is already insane.

  38. Chuck Dixon did a story where Joker got dunked in a Lazarus Pit and temporarily turned sane.

  39. For better or for worse, Ms. Marvel *is* Major (not Captain, which is something that the writers could have learned by reading Claremont’s UXM) Carol Danvers. She’s a former spy, trained markswoman and was skilled enough in unarmed combat to fight Mystique. For *her* character, with *her* background, killing an opponent who’s well able to kill her and has no compunctions about doing so makes sense. A cold and cruel sense, but sense nonetheless. The problem with the premise of this post is that the writers end up making everything into everything, a blanket statement made of sewn-together bones drenched in blood. We end up with comics that show characters like Slapstick beating people into comas. And, of course, the blanket is turned over to show it’s flowers-and-rainbow sticker side and we get comics that feature trained soldiers feeling remorseful about killing the terrorists who’ve not only struck them in a personal manner but proceeded to get “innocent” people involved in their attacks (ahem, USAgent, ahem).

    So I’m all for stories in which killing opponents makes sense. I’d just rather not see characters like Jubilee or Turbo offing stick-up kids or jaywalkers. And I’m not ready for a yearlong series of the reborn Captain America planting daisies on the graves of war veterans or Ms. Marvel wangsting about killing someone who had enough power to almost snap her spine (with that power being demonstrated to her when he repeatedly pummeled her in the back as she flew thousands of feet into the air.)

  40. These “no-nonsense” solutions of yours just don’t hold water in a complex world of jet-powered apes and time travel.