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Lethal Force in the MU


Benevolent Psychopath
Feb 19, 2005
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So recent events in the Marvel U have had me pondering how different "heroic" characters view the use of lethal force against antagonists. It seems like Frank Castle and Wolverine are no longer the only heroes (anti-heroes I should say) who are willing to take drastic measures, and that now more and more good guys are ready to either kill or accept others killing as a necessary evil. For instance, Cyclops, during and in the wake of Messiah Complex, is more than willing to allow or even order Wolverine and the rest of the claw squad to mortally dispatch the enemies of mutantkind, or anybody else that stands in the way of their agenda. And of course there's the new gun toting Bucky-Cap, who, even though he has so far only used his gat to cap (no pun intended) some goons in the knees, seems poised to cross the line at some point in his CA career. Plus, we didn't see whether or not Black Widow actually killed anybody during the fight in CA#34. Which brings me to the next example: Tony Stark, as early as New Avengers #4 acknowledged that there are times when you need a killer on the team (e.g. Wolvie). What's more is that he now has on the Mighty Avengers team both the pistol packing Widow in addition to Ares, a god of war who has probably killed more people (often in cold blood) than anyone else in the MU, save Galactus or the Phoenix.

Still, it could be argued that killer heroes are nothing new to comics, since most of the Golden Age heroes had no qualms with shooting bad guys dead. Just look at how many of the newly revived Twelve carry guns. Hell, even Steve Rogers killed the spy that sabotaged the original super soldier experiment, as well as scores of Nazis. Most comic book historians (and, yes, there apparently is such a profession) will probably tell you that the heroic code against killing only began with the institution of the comic code, thus ushering in the change in attitude of the Silver Age. As Steve Gerber pointed out recently, grim and gritty isn't really a new phenomenon in comics, it was just mildly suppressed during the Silver Age. Think about it, the Punisher isn't really a departure from the old pulp-noir protagonists of the late 30's early 40's. So, I ask you, is the code against killing breaking down? Are we seeing the reemergence of pulp values?
Although killing is morally wrong. . . it does has its benefits.

Imagine how many people would have been saved, if Joker was finally executed.

Heroes capture villains, villains get jailed, villains eventually escape, people die, repeat cycle.

Kill off the villains, break the cycle.

But then, how can you really trust such heroes? What's to prevent them to imposing their rule over us?
Also, from a creative standpoint, if you kill off the villian you are left with no villian for the character to fight. Then you never get an arch enemy, and you constantly have to have him fighting new enemies.

I don't know about pulp values, but I do know that the whole comic industry has hit a period (with a few exceptions) have hit a period that it much more dark, harsh in tone, serious, and less fun, and a whole lot more realistic and violent.
Marve Wolfman was talking at the comic con about writing and said that comics (he used some term but I can't remember it) are less fun and silly.
I think he said something like you can't be as purple or something anymore.
The tone, I think he meant, is so realistic and serious and you can't be as lighthearted and fun as comics used to be.

That seems to be whats going on to me. The feel and tone of all the comics seems a little to serious and somber.
Don't know why, maybe it just has to do with the last few major stories from the big comics. So I don't think its just that heroes are willing to kill. Even in Civil War Captain America kicked Punisher's butt because he was a killer. Cap only kills, I think, when he is forced to. And I don't think Spider-man is willing to kill.
Thor murdering Goliath was a huge shock, especially to Spider-Man.
But if you have almost every character willing to kill then where is the dramma and the shock when a character actually does have to kill (like when Cap had to kill Baron Blood.)
It might also have something to do with being able to bring characters back to life in comics.

I don't know. I may in fact just be talking to hear myself talk.
The simple fact of the matter is that there should always be casualties on both sides on some occassions.

villains should die, heroes should die, death is an integral part of life and leaving it out of stories is a shame.

Unfortunately because of the fact these heroes have existed so long, death is now made out to be a big money spinner.

Ultimately death forces people to get creative and write in new heroes and villains with new agendas so by the time all of the older generation has fizzled out, we don't care anymore and have a new generation of heroes and villains to find interesting, such is life.

Instead we get these really bad ideas on how to keep certain characters fresh which seem to all be rehashes of older ideas to keep them fresh from the 90s, or 80s or 70s or 60s...

I think there should be a spectrum of morality in comics, just as there is in real life. The Punisher and Wolverine represent one end of the spectrum while Spider-Man and other absolute no-kill heroes represent the other. Everyone else seems to fall somewhere along that line. I have no doubt that a lot of heroes would kill if forced into it, but one of the things that separate heroes from anti-heroes is that the latter would do it regardless, even if a better solution presents itself. Regardless, unless it's someone like the Punisher, who kills remorselessly, I think the absolute most important aspect of killing in comics is that its ramifications need to be examined. Even Wolverine himself balks at his own lethality sometimes because it represents a backslide into the feral side that he's always at war with. If Spider-Man or Iron Man or Ms. Marvel or any hero killed someone and no one bothered to give any consideration to the effects that would have on them, that's a narrative failure.
Some very good points, Corp. I totally agree about the spectrum and the need for ramifications, but do you think that there is a trend towards absolute no-kill heroes becoming more willing to accept killing as an option?
Oh, yeah, I do believe that's an issue. I think, as you pointed out, that that's more a symptom of the Comics Code's downfall and creators' feeling more freedom to pull the characters back from the super-shiny, non-killing heroism of the Silver Age. When it's done well, it's great and brings a lot of new dimensions to a character. One recent example of that is Brubaker's early issues of Captain America; Cap gets a lot more violent and some of his enemies die as a result, but Sharon Carter calls him on it and we learn that it's endemic of a deeper internal conflict Steve is going through.

On the other hand, there are also things like Danny Rand and Orson Randall killing HYDRA soldiers like it's nothing--makes sense for Orson, not so much for Danny. I would've liked to see that addressed some. Same with Connor Hawke killing a guy in his recent mini-series over at DC. He specifically chooses to kill a man, admitting to himself that there were probably better ways to go about things, but we never see any fallout from that because it's in the last issue of the mini. Next time we see Connor is in Green Arrow/Black Canary, and it's as if nothing has changed. Those kinds of things piss me off.
Steve didn't kill those HYDRA agents in issue #1, they died of their own accord.
I'd have to check the issue, but I'm pretty sure at least one of them falls off directly because of Steve. Either way, whether he killed them directly or scared the **** out of them enough that they jumped off and killed themselves, the issue was Steve's descent into more violent and brutal methods than he would usually employ, and that scene conveyed that pretty well.
Didn't Steve also kill some of those Modok, brainwashed, killing machine guys, using the justification that they're not really human anymore. I know Bucky did the same in the Patriot special. Seems like DareDevil has also allowed for the killing of Hand ninjas under the same justification. Guess there's always soem grey areas, even for staunch non-killers.

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