By Strider92 11 Comments
I came across this post and it got me thinking. In hindsight I could have replied there but it was going to be a long-a$$ post so I decided to do it here.
Yay or Nay?
Its quite an interesting question really. The whole no-killing code was something that dates back right to the golden age of superhero comics. In-fact at one point it was almost a prerequisite that to be a hero you mustn't be a killer no matter the circumstances. Now however that is far from true. Recently we've had quite an influx of more laxed heroes who are prepared to do anything if it means wining and keeping the people they love or the world safe. So why has this happened? Why aren't characters such as Superman or Spider-man still out there in abundance (they are still there of course but for every strict no killer I can name I can name about 4 all-out killers)?
I think the culprit is simply the time that's past and how society has changed between then and now. I know for a fact that as a kid I wasn't exposed to as much brutality in film, literature and other general entertainment media as I am now. Heck I remember that Stephan Sommers "The Mummy" used to creep me the hell out and yet now that seems pretty tame in comparison to some of the things i've watched now that have the same rating. For example I recently saw "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" (which wasn't great imo but thats another topic) and in that I was watching people's heads getting blown off, crushed, people getting torn apart literally limb from limb and heck even at one point a forced suicide. This was only rated 15 and it was all VERY graphic. There is no way that a film like that would have passed for a 15 rating back when I was a kid not even close. Another thing that made me notice this was when I saw my nephew (he's 10) and he wanted to watch Taken (which is an awesome movie btw!). All the way through that movie he didn't bat an eyelid not even at the part where the guy is getting tortured.
Now you may be wondering where i'm going with this! The hero in this was doing all the things he did to get his daughter back and save her from prostitution and whatever other nasty things the people had planned and he went on to murdered a LOT of people even tortured one and yet all the way through the movie you couldn't fault the guy because he was trying to save his daughter. The whole thing was based on "the end justifies the means". Now as a kid like probably everyone who is reading this now was taught that killing is wrong (duh!) however no matter how you looked at this movie there is no way that the hero despite the fact he was killing people left right and center was bad. So somewhere along the line the whole "No killing-code" became void because if he hadn't have done what he did he would have failed and the ending would have been very sad. Not mention due to the more graphic violence we are being exposed too its less shocking when the hero kills someone.
This can be seen in comics too the most recent on which I came across in Constantine. As usual ol'John is getting picked on by those pesky cultists until one of them attempts to poison him. He then confronts the woman responsible who then tries to kill him yet again using some demonic voodoo crap and ol'John doesn't even hesitate to kill her by incinerating her entire body. I don't know about you guys but I can't really reproach Constantine for what he did here because if he hadn't of reacted he'd have been flash fried not to mention he wasn't initially going at the situation lethally. He even tried to interrogate her pretty calmly until she went all cultist on him. So how can we have a go at Constantine in this kill or be killed situation frankly we can't but what we also have to remember is who Constantine is. The guy is a stupidly powerful magic user and had he wanted to i'm sure he could have taken this cultist out without killing her. However at no point reading this did I think "Oh my god what a bad person. He murdered that psycho-murdering-demon-worshiping woman in cold blood." I believe my thought at the times was "That'll teach the demon-worshiping-cultist!
The reason "No Kill Codes" seem outdated is because media does have a much bigger habit of using "the end justifies the means" approach. Meaning that someone who stands by a strict set of values not to kill is less likely to get the job done than someone who doesn't. A very good example of this (no matter how much it pains me to say it) is Superior Spider-man. Prior to Superior Peter Parker was a guy who wouldn't even kill in self-defense no matter the circumstance. The "Power and Responsibility" line kept him from doing it. Now of course he's been taken over by Doc Ock and is going about the whole Spider thing a tad differently. Now a quick bit of back story. Well before Superior began Spider-man apprehended a murdering psychopath called Massacre. Who had murdered quite a few people. Spider-man of course captured him and gave him to the police even saving his life when the police tried to gun Massacre down.
Now back to Superior. Massacre breaks out of jail and proceeds to kill everyone in a fast-food restaurant children and all. Now had Peter simply have put him down back when he fought him the first time all the innocent men, women and children in that restaurant would still be alive. So I put it to you guys. One life of a psychopathic mass-murderer or the lives of those men, women and children he brutally killed prior and post Superior? I think I know what most people's answer would be. Of course SpOck then came along and did what everyone else was thinking. He took Massacre down in a way that he could never hurt anyone again. So here we can see that "No Kill Codes" are sometimes very very inefficient and end up causing so much more harm than they prevent. As much as I hate to admit SpOck is far more efficient than Spider-man. Suffice to say how we view what our heroes does and how they do it has changed. What does grind my gears some times is when people refer to comics such as say Punisher or even the scans I provided of Superior as "Dark and Gritty". They aren't. In most cases they are the cold truth (albeit exaggerated). We see it on the news sometimes that someone out on bail has gone and murdered another 3 people. The reason "No Kill Codes" seem outdated is because of how our society has evolved, changed and how we view things. Back when I was young I would never have seen the kind of scene we had with Massacre on the TV or otherwise and yet now we hear about this kind of thing on a not so rare basis in the entertainment media and more scarily in the real media as well. Inspiration for comics (especially street level ones) are being drawn more and more from the reality of what we are seeing. So we are judging the scenario's we see in the comics as we would in reality because we've seen them on the News and other media. So that when we do see a villain such as Massacre get his just deserts we aren't off-put because if someone had done the same thing to a real-life mass-murderer all his later victims would still be alive. Now I must stress i'm not debating whether this is right or wrong i'm just stating what i'm seeing.
Another prime example of this is Batman and the Joker. Batman won't kill due to the whole thing with his parents and because he feels partly responsible for what happened to him. Now Bruce is Batman because of what happened to him as a child and he wants to do his very best to prevent what happened to him ever happening to another child a noble cause yes however all in all he's horribly inefficient when it comes to the Joker. How many people has the Joker killed? and how many times has he Bruce put him back in Arkham or prison? I honestly don't want to try and guess at either. He won't kill the Joker because its against his code and yet by not doing it he is causing the perpetual misery of what happened to him as a child to befall the children of the mothers and fathers Joker has murdered. Its madness. No matter how rigid you are there comes a point when something has to give. Especially as Bruce must be able to relate to all the orphaned children he has indirectly caused by not putting Joker down the 4th, 5th or whatever time the Joker broke out and went on a killing spree.
What this whole thing comes down to is that "No Kill Codes" are horribly inefficient now. They are a noble thing to try and achieve but very misguided when you considered the magnitude of how keeping someone like the Joker or Massacre alive completely contradicts what you are trying to achieve by using those set of values.
Before comics went "Dark and Gritty" (or drawing stories from reality as i'd call them) we didn't have the same level of psychopathic, mindless violence we see now. Before it was stereotypical for a hero to be fighting a mad-man as he attempts to take over the world not a psychotically twisted individual who wants nothing more than to inflict pain simply because he or she can. The way villains are portrayed now is far more disturbing than before and the reason for this is in my opinion is that writers are no longer taking their stories completely from fantasy. We don't see the classic "i'm going to take over the world" very often now its murder, mutilation and butchering that is basically very exaggerated forms of what we see on the news. Because writers seem to be drawing more and more from reality it puts us more in the situation of the hero. For example how would any of us cope with taking down a villain that is going to pull the earth out or orbit and let it freeze over? We have absolutely no idea at all because we will never be put in that situation and cannot relate to it but how would we react to being around a homicidal, maniac who kills people simply because he/she can? We all would have a very good idea we'd probably be angry, upset etc....
That is one of the reasons heroes like Superman can get away with having a "No Kill Code" because they are put in situations we will never ever ever find ourselves in EVER! Characters like Batman, Spdier-man and Daredevil have a much harder time due to the more realistic foes they have. For example we're never going to have to fight Darkseid (at least I hope not!) or H'el but there is always a VERY slim chance that one day you might get attacked by a psychopath. Because it is a real-life threat (albeit a very small one) we look at people like the Joker and Massacre far more personally.
Another thing with the Classic "No Kill Codes" superhero's like Superman and Spider-man is that to lash out in anger and really want to kill something it always had to be a monster and by monster I don't mean figuratively I mean physically and mentally. A good example of this is Spider-man Vs Shathra:
Here we have Spider-man probably the most far gone he has ever been. He is actually going in to kill her but this is whats interesting. In the 4th scan we see Peter refer to Shathra as a "Monstrous, inhuman, thing" this is further enforced by how she looks. Suddenly he's no longer fighting someone like Scorpion or Vulture he's up against something that he doesn't consider human and thats when he lets loose. Because of Spider-man's strict "No Kill Code" the writer had to turn Shathra into something less than human so that Spider-man could truly lay into her. All through this issue I did not feel one inch of empathy towards Shathra because she was what the writer set out to portray her as BUT through that entire arc she did not kill 1 person! Thats right her slate is even cleaner than the Vulture. All she did was attack Spider-man personally. So why should he react in such away when he's been present for one of Massacre's shoot-outs and not been anywhere near as angry? The reason for this is because that although "No Kill Codes" are declining the writers still want to keep people like Spider-man and Superman as the epitome of good so the only time they can truly lax out is against a monster that is both physically and mentally not human in such a way we cannot relate to it and say "Hold on a sec how come he killed that guy and not that guy?"
Are "No Kill Codes" outdated? The simple answer is yes. They are the classic ideal of being good no matter the circumstance and all in all are rather inefficient in today's media. HOWEVER does that mean we want them done away with? HELL NAW. Imagine having your child growing up not having fictional characters like Superman, Spider-man or Batman who try to do good no matter what? While ineffective, contradictory and sometimes out right hypocritical, heroes that follow the "No Kill Code" are in general far more interesting than ones who don't because they have to live with the consequences of what they do and don't do. Batman, Spider-man and Superman have never woken up and gone "Well i've killed all the bad guys the city is safe!" No! They wake up knowing that through their actions some people might get hurt and that sense of responsibility is what motivates them to fight harder and stronger because they know if they fail its their fault. All in all "No Kill Code" characters have a far more emotional connection to what they do and that's why we like them!