The GeeksverseTo Kill Or Not To Kill?

To Kill Or Not To Kill?
Published on Thursday, July 12, 2012 by

Do heroes kill? Should heroes kill? These are questions at the heart of the super hero comic book. Years ago I wrote a letter to a comic that explored that. Has my outlook changed through the years?

Back in the 90s, when Image debuted, the idea of the anti-hero appealed to me. For me Batman just didn’t go far enough. He always let the Joker go and the Joker would go on and kill more people. This was back in the days when AOL was the only game in town. I belonged to & ran a Wildstorm message group, using e-mail, and a lot of the Wildstorm creators were involved in the group (Jim Lee, Brandon Choi, Brett Booth, Jeff Mariotte, others). My involvement in that got a character named after me in the short-lived series by Mariotte, Hazard. One of the posts I wrote, about the hero killing, was printed in an issue of Hazard. Here follows what I wrote.

What defines a role model? What makes a super hero a good role model? Personally I’ve never considered using a comic book character as a role model since they are fictious. I’d much rather look up to (or someday have my kids looking up to) real life people. Firemen, police officers, lifeguards.. those are the real role heroes, those are the people to look up to, to use as role models… not sports stars or comic book characters.

Anyways now that the preaching is done…

There is a major difference in the morals of today’s characters and those from long ago. Superman, Batman’s era were morally right… to take a life was wrong. Then came the Punisher, who in no definition of the word is a hero.

What makes Batman anymore a hero than say, Grifter? Batman won’t take a life. If need be Grifter will. Does that make Grifter any less a hero than Batman? No, it does not. Both are willing to sacrifice their lives to help others – that is what makes them a hero. It doesn’t make them good role models, either one of them. Grifter isn’t a good role model because he is willing to take lives. Batman isn’t either because the guy runs around dressed as a bat (you want to take mental problems..).

1996, where this appeared

I’ve always seen Batman as something of a wimp. Sure he fights the good fight, but he wimps out when it comes down to it. He won’t take a life. How many lives has the Joker taken since he and Batman first met? A hundred? Maybe even a thousand? That’s that many more people that would be here today if Batman had just killed the Joker when they first met. But because he didn’t, because Batman decided he would never take a life, the Joker goes free and kills again. I’m sorry but to me that does not a hero make. In this case the Grifter would be more a hero because he would kill the Joker. What’s one life, and that life belonging to a murderer, over the lives of everyone he has killed and ever will kill?

Which actually brings me to a real hero that resides at Wildstorm. This guy fits my definition of a hero perfectly. Willing to do whatever it takes to fight the good fight, only takes lives if thats the only option, and is willing to risk his life if need be. I’m talking Alex Hutton, Hazard. In Hazard #4 we see Alex kill Dr. Shock, because it was either that or watch Collins kill Caroline. But unlike other people, Alex doesn’t move on from the killing, it affects him. He makes a mark on his gun to remind him of it. Alex does what is necessary, he didn’t want to kill Dr. Shock but it was the only choice he had. Sure Batman might have found a way out of it without killing, but I doubt it.

I never liked Superman, or Batman, or Captain America (for the longest time, and then he was only an okay character until Waid got ahold of him…) or any of that breed. Those “heroes” never killed. But then again I hate the Punisher and his kind that kill constantly. To me the older generation never seemed right. They just never seemed hard enough. I mean, give me a break, the Joker should have been killed a long time ago. How can Batman let the Joker live all the time? He knows the Joker will only kill again. Is his moral code more important then the lives of the people the Joker will kill someday soon?

But then the world was different when those guys were created too. The world wasn’t as hard as it is today either. In those days, Batman was the epitome of a hero… Today he’s weak.

1996, I was 22 years old. I’m now 38. How much as changed in 16 years?

I don’t consider Batman weak, but how much of a hero is it?

No One Dies!

Recently, after the death of Marla Jameson, Spider-Man cried “NO ONE DIES”. He meant both villains, heroes and citizens. He took it seriously but Mary Jane Watson has since told him that it was a foolish declaration, that it’s something he has no control over and shouldn’t punish himself for.

The comic industry’s views of super-heroes killing have changed alot since I wrote the letter. It has slackened to a degree that even heroes like Batman and Superman have killed on occasion. We still have “heroes” like the Punisher and Wolverine, who kill and not really care, but there is more exploration of it. There are books like Uncanny X-Force, where the “heroes” preemptively got out and seek the bad guys, to take them out before they kill innocents.

So does the morality of “to kill or not” define a hero nowadays?

No.

I now see super heroes more like police officers and even soldiers. They aren’t out there to kill the criminals, or terrorists, but they will do so if that person calls for it or tries to cause harm to an innocent.

My definition of a comic book hero hasn’t really changed. I still see a hero as someone willing to kill to protect innocents. After all, isn’t that why the person becomes a super hero in the first place? To protect people?

But it isn’t heroic when the “hero” kills just to kill, just because the criminal is in the way. There’s nothing heroic about the assassinations and murders that the Punisher commits. Nothing heroic about Deadpool or Wolverine choosing targets to take out before those targets take out innocents. Nothing heroic about Wolverine charging into a room full of goons and killing them all just because they were there.

But it is heroic of Captain America to charge into a room full of Hydra terrorists, those intent on doing harm, and a couple of the Hydra agents dying during the fight.

Degrees of separation, yes, but the separation is there.

Heroic or Murder?

Years ago in West Coast Avengers, Mockingbird let the Phantom Rider fall to his death. He had mind controlled her into loving him and once she regained her mind, they fought and during the fight he fell off a cliff. She could have saved him. She choose not to. She let the Rider fall. Nothing heroic there. Not deliberate murder, but she would have been more a hero to save him.

So where is the line drawn? That is the great debate where super heroes are concerned.

But it really isn’t that difficult. A hero doesn’t want to kill. A hero wants to preserve all life. But if in saving a life they have to take the life of someone evil? That seems an easy choice to make.

And yes, the Joker should have been killed a long time ago.

4 Responses
    • I don’t really have a firm stance on heroes killing villains in comics, so long as the decision to do so (or not) serves the story.

      The problem, I find, is that the indefinitely ongoing format that is the norm in many superhero comics means that narrative closure—whether it’s from the death of a major villain or whatever—is editorial and continuity anathema, and the result is extremely convoluted in-story rationalization for why certain characters are killed off while others avoid the axe.

    • I liked that conflict in Nomad. Captain America clearly wouldn’t want to kill anyone but Jack didn’t have that moral line. Jack “Nomad” struggled with that. He tried not to kill for a while. I like the Dead Man’s Hand cross over because Jack watched the differences between Punisher and Daredevil to figure out the line he wanted to walk as a hero. 

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