Thursday, June 03, 2010
A Time to Kill
OK, let's get one thing clear right away so we aren't fooling ourselves. The only reason, and I mean the ONLY reason superheroes don't kill the big name villains is because those are the money making villains. You can't kill the Joker not because he's some freaking genius immortal badass - you can't kill him because he makes it much easier to sell toys and video games (I would say lunchboxes, but do they even have lunchboxes anymore?) and the odds of anyone coming up with a villain that could match or surpass the Joker are remote. Even if you could, why would you give that idea to DC for a song given their shitty shitty record on creator's rights?
Alright, now let's move on to the other stuff.
I'm not a fan of superheroes killing except in extreme circumstances usually involving self-defense or the "no other choice" to defend the lives of bystanders or some other justifiable excuse. I've also noted in the past the extreme difficulties a superhero would likely face in engaging in non-lethal combat given the high level of power many of them wield. So I think it's safe to say that lethal results would be more common in superpowered combat, but that it's neglected for larger storytelling and economic reasons.
However, we do have to acknowledge the flip side of this coin, and that's what is being increasingly ignored in comic book writing. If you're not going to have the heroes kill the villains, you should either give them a rationale that doesn't make them look irredeemably stupid nor make the villains so grotesque that any rational human being would kill them.
It's one thing not to kill a supervillain if he's a bank robber, even if he's a career criminal with a long list of largely non-lethal crimes. However, as the years have gone on, writers have expanded and increased the body count of big name villains in order to establish their status as alpha-primate bad guys you should not fuck with, the suspension of disbelief that no one has killed them yet snaps. It's one thing to say that Superman won't kill Lex Luthor if Lex hasn't deliberately killed anyone (except for one or two people he's offed in such a way that can't possibly be connected to him), but it's absolutely insane to think that Kal-El wouldn't give Lex a heat-vision lobotomy (if not him, than certainly Kara) after he clearly instigated a genocide. The Silver Age "no-kill" rule does have a logical limit - and it's safe to say it does end at mass murder.
(As a complete sidebar - Cry for Justice? While there are many valid points on which to attack that completely terrible book, one that doesn't work for me is Green Arrow's actions. A Bow and Arrow have always been considered lethal weapons - consult history if you feel at all differently).
So maybe, and this is a crazy thought I know - but maybe it's time to cut down on the mass murdering supervillains? Because in order for them to still be alive involves the hero (and the justice system - how the Joker hasn't been given the death penalty is frankly beyond me) behaving with a moral code that is indefensible and makes them look not only weak but ineffective.
And if there's one thing a superhero should never be, it's ineffective.