23 October 2014

No Justifiable Homicides for Superheroes

Recapping network television episodes seems to be big business for entertainment websites these days. I did it myself for Den of Geek and the first season of Turn.

For the new Flash series, Playboy evidently has the money to go straight to the top because the magazine’s recapper is Mark Waid, who wrote scores of highly regarded issues of that comic book and its spin-offs in the 1990s.

In his discussion of episode 3, Waid starts by analyzing a superhero trope that goes all the way back to when the genre was codified in the 1940s. He recaps his argument with an iconoclastic comic-book publisher about the rule against superheroes solving problems by killing bad guys:
Yes, there is absolutely such a thing as justifiable homicide, but it’s a last resort, not a method of operation. The concept that life in all forms is sacred isn’t just a throwback to fairy tales or simpler times, I argued; it’s a philosophy as old as realized religion.

Okay, yeah. Cops have to shoot robbers sometimes. Soldiers have to kill. Homicide detectives and private investigators, real or fictional, sometimes kill. They’re people just like you and me, with limited abilities and limited tools.

But super-heroes were created specifically, from the imaginations of the young and the young at heart, to do the impossible — to defy gravity or bounce missiles off their chest or outrun speeding bullets. It’s baked into their DNA. To find a perpetual audience, super-heroes must seem relevant and relatable and admirable, but they are still creations of fantasy.

We read their comics and watch their TV shows and movies to see them do the things we can’t, to triumph heroically against odds that would flatten you and me...not to suffer with them as they’re forced into the trauma of making the same real-world choices that you and I, mere humans, would have to make if we [were] caught helpless with our only available weapon one that was designed explicitly to kill.
To be sure, some costumed heroes, like Marvel’s Punisher and DC’s Vigilante, are specifically designed to go against the no-killing rule. But it’s notable that neither of those characters has fantastic powers. And the companies’ biggest brands avoid killing even if (as in the case of Wolverine) they talk about being willing to do it.

Waid’s faith in that dictum is what got him in trouble in viewing Man of Steel a couple of years back, as he so memorably described:
Superman wins by killing Zod. By snapping his neck. And as this moment was building, as Zod was out of control and Superman was (for the first time since the fishing boat 90 minutes ago) struggling to actually save innocent victims instead of casually catching them in mid-plummet, some crazy guy in front of us was muttering “Don’t do it…don’t do it…DON’T DO IT…” and then Superman snapped Zod’s neck and that guy stood up and said in a very loud voice, “THAT’S IT, YOU LOST ME, I’M OUT,” and his girlfriend had to literally pull him back into his seat and keep him from walking out and that crazy guy was me.

That crazy guy was me, and I barely even remember doing that, I had to be told afterward that I’d done that, that’s how caught up in betrayal I felt. And after the neck-snapping, even though I stuck it out, I didn’t give a damn about the rest of the movie.
And in that Waid was exactly right. Flash is not exhibiting the same problem.

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