Yesterday's decision to execute Troy Davis in Georgia and the week's leading up to it has brought the topic of capital punishment (the death penalty) back to the front in North American society and really the world. Despite being in Canada, a country where capital punishment is not an option, the events in Georgia still dominated a number of news organizations recently. This case was quite infamous and I recommend reading about it if you are at all interested in the topic as numerous people including Nobel Peace Prize winners, former presidents and the pope all came out in favour of the man, in the end to no avail. For those that know where I stand on such issues it is obvious where I stand on this one, but my point here is not to debate this case, but rather to look at how capital punshiment as it is portrayed in comics. Comics book fans have very strong opinions on capital punishment at times, stating that even in a region where it is not authorized that they should for instance make an exception with the Joker (this sort of doesn't pay enough attention to the fact that he is criminally insane and thus should not be executed on moral grounds.) Really though, capital punishment is never really mentioned in comics, except perhaps in passing. There are a couple of reasons for this as I see it. The first is that is is a complex issue, and it is not one which can really be glossed over easily in terms of a comic book story, or allowed to lay dormant in the background with being expanded upon. More so comics do try to avoid offending readers and this issue is extremely polarizing. As a case in point on this issue, over the course of one year period in comics capital punishment was touched on twice, in an issue of Birds of Prey and Batgirl (incidentally I reviewed these issues this morning if anyone is interested in specifics - they were Birds of Prey #17, and Batgirl #19.) In the one case and offering the trickier side of the argument is Barbara Gordon. As a member of the Bat family she is as dedicated to justice as the next hero, but here after the Joker has been caught after nearly destroygin New York City with a nuclear weapon, she informs him that he will be considered a terrorist and thus tried in Federal Courts where he could be put to death. Of course this betrays the concept that he is criminally insane, but for Barbara she seems to not mind if the man that has brought her so much pain would actually be killed, albeit by legal means (although this is not consistent with her character.) This is of course raises one side of the issue, that of a form of payback, an eye-for-an-eye so to speak and giving the family and friends of the crime a degree of closure. Adversely in the issue involving Batgirl she was portrayed as interested in not letting anyone die in Gotham for an entire night. In addition to the regular victims, she decides that this applies to everyone, including a man sentenced to death and on his final hours. This means she has to break into a prison to stop his execution, even if she is just postponing it. To her in the case (and in a more black and white application of morality) a life is a life and if she intends to save all lives that night she has to do so without prejudice. This creates some confusion as Gotham is almost always portrayed as not using the death penalty (otherwise Blackgate and Arkham would be empty), but I figured in comic book logic it must have been like a New York/New Jersey thing where the city spills over numerous legislative regions. These two story do offer a good though short examination of the complex issues at hand, and all things considered I can understand why the issue is not dealt with as much in comics, because the real world issues offer too many moral challenges in itself, that in comics the issue could become too real or too artificial pretty quickly.