Should Villains Be Killed?
Apr 12, 2012 by     4 Comments    Posted In: Editorial

Batman Hush VillainsIt’s a moral quandary heroes wrestle with. Is killing a villain right if it is to save lives? Some heroes abide by a strict code and a line they won’t cross. But, in recent years that line has been blurred. You still have some heroes that won’t cross that line, but more and more are crossing it in an attempt to prevent future atrocities. And if a hero doesn’t kill a villain if they have the chance, are the future crimes of said bad guy partly the fault of the superhero who couldn’t pull the proverbial, and sometimes literal, trigger?

Villains are bad guys, that’s why they do what they do. Whether they’re psychotic, greedy, manipulative, or whatever negative affliction they suffer from. But, there are degrees to villainy. The Shocker, for instance, just wants to make money. The Joker, on the other hand, is a downright psychotic individual who has fun butchering innocents. In the grand scheme of things, Shocker is fairly harmless, while the Joker is a prime candidate for forced euthanasia. I think it’s important to discuss the difference between killing someone and murdering someone. Murder is premeditated and done willingly. Killing is usually done in defense of oneself or others and is not taken lightly.

Maxwell Lord DeathCops can use deadly force in situations that call for it, is there ever a situation like that for a superhero? If the only way to stop a villain from murdering civilians, would be to kill him, shouldn’t the heroes be given a pass for it? Wonder Woman caught a lot of flak for killing Maxwell Lord, granted the general public didn’t know she did it to stop him from keeping Superman under his control. But, in that case, the only way to release Superman from Lord’s mind control was to kill him. When Cyclops reformed X-Force he did it as a preventative measure, to eliminate threats to mutantkind before they could do damage.

One concern heroes would have about killing an enemy would be escalation. It can be a slippery slope, once they start killing villains, where do they stop? Sure, they can take out bad guys like Joker, Norman Osborn, or Lex Luthor, but after they’ve taken care of the worse of the worst do they move on to the Hydro-Men and Sportsmasters of the universe? Batman himself is worried that if he finally does snap and take out one of his rogues gallery, he won’t be able to stop.

Another area of concern would be the issue of human morality dictating law. For instance, the Green Lantern Corps is now able to kill threats to the overall good of the Corps. If a Green Lantern were to kill a villain, should they be subjected to the laws of Earth? They are bound to a higher authority than the laws of man. Or how about, the Spectre? He is the embodiment of God’s wrath, and kills murderers and rapists, but should he be judged by a jury?

Let me know what you think. Is killing a villain ever justified in comics? If it is, what are the situations and circumstances require? If it isn’t explain why not.


4 Comments Add Comment

  • Chip Reece April 12, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I think self defense constitutes a good reason, BUT it isn’t really self defense if the hero willingly pursues a villian and ultimately is the cause of putting himself in that position.

    A “pure” hero really can’t kill because then he puts himself above law and judgement. Even if it was justified to save someone, a court of law still has to determine if that was the cause, otherwise any Jack and Tammy could use their gun to nail someone they assumed a threat.

    If a hero kills, and doesn’t account to the law for that killing, then he is a criminal.

    FOR INSTANCE the Travon Martin case in the news. I’m not saying that the killer was in ANY WAY right. But, if our system just assumed he was in the right because he said he was protecting himself/society that is exactly what it’s like when superheroes do the same. How does anyone know its justified unless it is properly judged lawfully?

  • Jason April 12, 2012 at 10:46 am

    I will bring an entirely different perspective to this.

    The problem with killing villains is that it creates story problems. If Batman kills Joker, he loses his best supporting character. Notice the characters that do kill tend to not have very good villains. Name one good Punisher villains. Jigsaw? The fact that Castle did NOT kill Jigsaw yet is stupid. He is THE primo assassin and hasn’t managed to kill some thug mob boss?! Problem.

    Occasionally a writer will come along and challenge the no killing rule and extract a good story from it. Wondy killing Max Lord is a good example. But then that only amplifies the story problem caused by the no killing rule. How many deaths could Batman have prevented by killing Joker? Hundreds, yet he insists on some kind of self-imposed morality. It seems clear that Joker will never reform and will always destroy lives. He needs to be taken out of the equation.

    From a story perspective it’s a little damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s such an inherently central issue for many superheroes that it must be addressed but addressing it is fraught with pitfalls.

    Personally, I’m willing to go with whatever on the page as long as I’m enjoying it.

  • MattB April 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    No. What they heck are Steven Sparks and I supposed to talk about if they do this?

  • Chip Reece April 12, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I totally agree with Jason N’s point.