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Dealing with devils.

Old 06-03-10, 01:13 AM
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Dealing with devils.

Hello, all. Long time lurker, first time caller. I'm not quite sure this is an appropriate topic for this forum, but here goes.

I used to be an ardent comic reader (DC, Marvel, Kitchen Sink, numerous indies, etc.) and have, to some extent, rediscovered the medium via DC. I guess I'm just a sucker for characters like Superman, Supergirl, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and many of the rest. The artwork has also improved by quantum jumps.

Anyway, there is a continuing theme in all DC properties that thou shalt not kill.
Spoiler:
This is being rammed down Green Arrow's throat currently with his "termination" of Prometheus.


This issue has been raised a few times - the most notable occurrence I can think of was in Identity Crisis - but never really resolved (IMO). I realize the current punishment for villains is either prison, institutionalization, or exiled to far off worlds a la Khan in ST2.

There have been some great pieces written about how Batman has been a complete and utter failure as a superhero (even though technically he's just a "hero"). Gotham continues to be one of the most crime-ridden cities in the DCU and Arkham is woefully inadequate to handle villains like The Joker, Clayface, Two Face, Poison Ivy, etc. As such, many innocents have been crippled for life (e.g., Barbara Gordon) and outright murdered after these cretins have escaped and gone on rampages.

Frank Miller seems to've resolved this ethics conundrum for The Dark Knight Returns, as Bruce finally dispatches The Joker once and for all after the bastard goes on a mass-murder spree. Batman finally understands that the ONLY way to protect Gotham's citizens is to kill The Joker.

And, frankly, I don't have a problem with that.
Spoiler:
Just as I don't have a problem with Oliver shooting an arrow into Prometheus right between his eyes. In the case of Prometheus, he killed tens of thousands of people in Star City alone. What sort of justice is appropriate to deliver to someone as purely evil other than eliminating his very existence?


Now, I realize the point of the "no kill" rule is to avoid the moral decay of the frontline superhero. However, many, if not most, of these villains would surely get the death penalty if convicted in a state that had capital punishment still on the books. They are assuredly deserving of such and the people best able to mete out such a fate are the superheroes themselves, as I can't imagine these beasts agreeing to sit quietly in an electric chair or waiting for a lethal injection. Indeed, given the resiliency of many of these villains, traditional capital punishment means would be trivial to overcome.

So, does anyone have an issue with Oliver's solution to the Prometheus problem? If so, why? What other alternatives are there when faced with someone as dangerous and resourceful as Prometheus?
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Old 06-03-10, 08:13 AM
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Re: Dealing with devils.

It's been a while since I read Dark Knight, but I'm pretty sure Bruce doesn't kill the Joker. He beats the hell out of him sure and even breaks his neck. But I'm fairly confident in my memory that Joker criticizes Batman for not having the stones to finish him off and then twists his own neck until he dies, thus making it look like Batman murdered him.

As to the rest of your post, I think that characters that kill should be kept to a bare minimum. Punisher and Wolverine are enough for me.
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Old 06-03-10, 10:07 AM
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Re: Dealing with devils.

I think Justice League Unlimited dealt very well with the implications of heroes crossing the line, like the Justice Lords did. The fact is that in the comic book world, almost every superhero is a vigilante by definition and they are taking actions outside the law. That is why The Punisher is considered a criminal.
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Old 06-03-10, 02:19 PM
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Re: Dealing with devils.

In the real world, they would be on death row for 50 years anyway, no way they would get executed right away. In the fake world, they would get executed but then come back as soon as a new writer decided he hated the way that character was written off.

The DC universe has always had more iconic superheroes, while Marvel was more realistic/grim and gritty. I don't want to see Superman kill (though he has killed before) at whim. When Wonder Woman
Spoiler:
killed Max Lord on international television,
that rightly had a huge impact on the dc universe. One of the huge ramifications of the Sinestro Wars
Spoiler:
was allowing Green Lanterns the ability to kill, and it was a huge deal. This is an intergalactic peace keeping force, basically superpowered policemen, who up to that point were forbidden from taking life.
I don't mind that. DC is still largely bright, colorful superheroes, and they can still tell great stories without turning their characters into abject murderers. I mean, if they did execute villains, they would be judge, jury, and executioner, and this has always been shown (usually in elseworlds tales) to corrupt the superhero. This is actually the driving force behind the collapse in Kingdom Come:
Spoiler:
when Magog kills the Joker and is acquitted of the crime, it drives Supes into retirement and starts an entire generation of vigilante superheroes who feel they can do whatever they want.


The thing is, it's been established (though who knows what's in continuity anymore) that Green Arrow has killed before (I think in the Grell years). I mean, he shoots steel tipped arrows at people (after he got through his boxing glove arrow phase).
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Old 06-03-10, 06:18 PM
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Re: Dealing with devils.

Originally Posted by ytrez View Post
It's been a while since I read Dark Knight, but I'm pretty sure Bruce doesn't kill the Joker.
Hrrrr, you're right. I just re-read that part of TDKR and The Joker does, indeed, commit suicide after Bruce paralyzes him by breaking his neck. The mind plays tricks sometimes.

Still, I wonder at his intent. All through that part of the story, Bruce is driven to finish The Joker once and for all. One thought caption from Bruce even reads, "Tonight I'm taking no prisoners." Perhaps he had a last-second change of heart and maybe he genuinely thought The Joker would no longer be a menace if he was paralyzed from the neck down (which would be incredibly stupid given Joker's history of proxy battles with Batman).

Back to the main point - what do you do with the consummate super-villain, like Prometheus, Sinestro, Darkseid, or Superman-Prime? It seems incredibly disingenuous (not to mention dangerous) to consider traditional forms of incarceration to be sufficient. Unless exile to the Source Wall can be effected, it seems to me that no other rational choice exists but to erase the source of the evil. Anything else is pussy-footing around with these devils to the peril of thousands, millions, and even billions of people.

It is a source of great drama, but the almost holier-than-thou attitude taken by those towards Oliver, from the JLA, JSA, Titans, and every other superhero, fails to address the basic point of what to do with these ultra-evil bastards. You can't exile them to a pocket dimension (e.g., the phantom zone), as they'll eventually just get out to cause even more havoc. No prison on Earth can hold them for longer than a second or two. Putting them in permanent stasis is great for the short-term, but eventually leads to complacency resulting in escape.

Is it really wrong to kill these arch-enemies with the means, motivation, and opportunity to cause Armageddon? I personally don't think there's any other option than a "fight to the finish". In that sense, I think Oliver's actions are/were entirely warranted and the right thing to do.

Now, sure, this COULD lead to abuse to the point that the Jason Todd's of the DCU are routinely sanctioned by a Justice Lords sort of organization. But that's taking things to the other extreme and isn't, IMO, the necessary and even logical outcome of such a policy. Great power indeed requires great responsibility, but that responsibility must extend to the people you're helping to protect. When your personal morals conflict with the welfare of the whole (in some cases, the overwhelming whole), that's a huge problem. You're essentially saying, "Yeah, I caught this guy and I'm sending him to Alcatraz, but I know he'll escape in a month's time and will probably destroy a city or two in the process. Ohwell!"
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Old 06-03-10, 07:33 PM
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Re: Dealing with devils.

The thing about the Phantom Zone, is that it always seemed to me like a weird sort of prison... you basically give the prisoner immortality until they break out. But as I said before, even death has no permanence in the DC universe, how is that any different from incarceration? In addition, the laws of comic books also state that rehabilitation is much more likely than in the real world. How many former villains become good guys eventually? How many are possessed by something or someone and kill (ie: Parallax and Hal Jordan)?

That being said, I have no problem with some "heroes" killing, but I don't think the likes of Supes should condone it.
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Old 06-04-10, 12:41 AM
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Re: Dealing with devils.

Well, don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want Supes going around, muttering, "We need to kill this baddie and that baddie and this other baddie over here." However, if the collective superheroes of the DCU were at all serious at seeing justice be done over certain egregiously heinous acts at the hands of supervillains too powerful to adequately quell once apprehended, then it only seems logical that sanctioning be a card on the table. And this could be done with the support and blessing of law enforcement and the judiciary. It would be somewhat similar to our current model of super due process for death row inmates, but much more quicker and decisive.

The phantom zone is, indeed, a bizarre pocket dimension. I understand Jor-El's motivation for its creation, and it is pretty effective at keeping the "regular" nasties at bay, but even it doesn't stand a chance against someone as determined and crafty as Zod and his ilk.

Obviously a distinction should be made between those who're possessed by evil versus those who are composed of evil.

I don't think you can make an argument for supervillain rehabilitation, even by quoting numerous precedents, particularly given the lackluster way superheroes clean up messes after battles. Actions are judged in the here and now, not by the hope of what might be. It could be said that every supervillain has a good side just waiting to be released, but when that doesn't happen for several years, all the while the bad side runs rampant maiming and killing as it goes, that's a massive problem that demands attention and answers. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Hitler could've been shown the error of his ways and become the next Mother Teresa. While that may be nice and all, it doesn't absolve him of past atrocities, no matter how repentant he might be. There's a line that, once crossed, cannot be uncrossed.
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Old 07-26-10, 07:08 PM
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Re: Dealing with devils.

An interesting thread so far; wish I'd found it sooner, but I hope I'm not too late.

There are certain storytelling factors that must be remembered. The first rule of any storytelling is: "Know your audience." I remember being a teen, and I used to hold very absolute views of the world for the same reason everyone with a narrow mind does: I was simply too arrogant to appreciate the experiences I hadn't had. Inundate that kind of youthful, all-or-nothing mindset with the kind of vengeful, lethal actions you suggest and even if you don't have a ton of angry parents, you'll likely retard the social development of your readers.

I don't mean to suggest that only thoughtless people endorse the death penalty, of course, but rather that these are serious issues and whatever side one takes, it ought to be after serious thought. Objecting to the death penalty simply because death makes one squeamish is, to my mind, just as useless as endorsing it because one believes a convict should go into the express lane to Hell. This is why it's so important that there be consequences whenever a hero has taken a life. Remorse, justification, seeing the community react in various ways; these are all important to explore.

Another important point is that death is permanent. Each time a writer invents a way to resurrect a dead character, it not only de-values the previous story in which the character was killed, but it lessens the sense that there's any meaningful consequence for the characters within their world. It's okay in Looney Tunes that Wile E. Coyote falls to his demise when his rocket gives out over a chasm, because it's established that these characters--while subject to pain--are immune to the rules of life and death. When a story purports to place death as a possible outcome, though, it weakens the credibility of the writer and story to undo death. I don't mean to suggest that anyone would have mistaken comic books for documentaries, but rather that a story must establish its rules and then abide by them. Any rule-breaking must be reasonable and justified within the established rules. The fantasy elements of comic books allow for resurrections, but we've seen time and again that fan response is almost always a collective "groan."

Finally, there's the fact that if you kill a character, you have to either forfeit any future stories with him or her, or you paint future writers into a corner where they have to explain the return of that character. I personally don't understand why writers who dislike a particular character can't content themselves to just not include that character in their stories. Fans conveniently forgot it, but back in the Robin II: Joker's Wild mini-series, the Joker kills Mr. Freeze. Then came Batman: The Animated Series and for the first time, Freeze was an interesting, viable character. His Wikipedia page doesn't even mention being killed by the Joker, which is about how much attention anyone else paid to it.
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Old 07-27-10, 08:52 PM
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Re: Dealing with devils.

The problem is that most of these superhero comics are work for hire, so you have dozens of different writers with different favorites and different mindsets and different styles taking on the same characters. And it seems like every single character has a fan, no matter how obscure. So when heroes are villains are killed not as some great payoff to a great story, but either in a bad story or in a non-consequential way to give a big event "meaning," fans get upset, and eventually a writer who is a big enough fan of the character brings them back. This is why death has no meaning in superhero comic books.

I like the Martian Manhunter, and hate how he was unceremoniously killed just to show how menacing Libra (who?) was, so I have no problem that he was brought back. Hal Jordan went on a crazy killing spree out of nowhere (which Johns had to later jump through hoops to try to explain) to become Parallax, then to redeem him they made him the Spectre, but really they just totally destroyed his character so I had no problem that he got a "rebirth." James Robinson, in particular, seems to like to pluck his favorites out of obscurity,but to give his villain, the Mist, some weight he had a whole issue devoted to killing off a bunch of JLI second stringers. Barry Allen gets what some would deem the perfect send off in Crisis, which for many many years fans accept, until Johns or someone in editorial decides that we need Barry Allen back.

My point is that because everything that every hack comic book writer writes is somehow put into canon, they come up with ways to retcon stuff that either no longer makes sense, or that they just really don't like, and that's always been the way of comic books (see the One More Day Thread).
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Old 07-27-10, 11:32 PM
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Re: Dealing with devils.

Originally Posted by fujishig View Post
My point is that because everything that every hack comic book writer writes is somehow put into canon, they come up with ways to retcon stuff that either no longer makes sense, or that they just really don't like, and that's always been the way of comic books (see the One More Day Thread).
No one ever consulted me, but if they had I'd have told them that the best comics character death ever was Elektra. Why? Because Frank Miller brought her to life, and Frank Miller took that life. I say if you want to kill a character, it should be one you created. Otherwise, play nice with the toys someone else made and leave them in some kind of condition for the next guy. Isn't it funny how few creators actually kill characters they create?
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