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To Kill or Not to Kill

JayJay here. Earlier today Rob commented on A Review: Captain America & Bucky #624:

Jedi Knights and Harry Potter wizards are clearly superheroic. heck, the HP kids are children-who kill bad wizards. Plenty of kids look up to them.
and the rest of them are “normal people” the same way Batman is lol i.e. not really.

and yet, I still looked up to Luke Skywlaker though he blew up the Death Star and killed thousands of people; sliced off arms, and casually knocked people into the Sarlaac pit.
Rob
December 12, 2011 6:12 PM

Here’s Jim’s Answer:

RE: Heroic characters killing or not, here’s what I think:  Heroic fiction often tends to place heroes in life or death, kill-or-be-killed situations. If no one ever actually does get killed, if it always turns out that there was a nobody-dies alternative, then the jeopardy was false and can become tedious.

Stan in the 60’s managed to do it well enough — not have heroes kill anyone, that is — so that it never bothered me that the building destroyed was, fortunately, abandoned, that people were “thrown clear” by the blast, that everyone got out alive. Stan seldom had anyone killed.

Other writers didn’t do so well. In Green Lantern, for instance: When Green Lantern’s ring was, without any set-up, revealed to automatically protect him from mortal harm to undo the dramatic death he’d just suffered, when Green Lantern was “proven” dead, but the Guardians, I think, were able to bring him back because there was still an “atomic spark of life,” I realized that rabbits would always be pulled out of the hat. Reading those “yarns,” as Julie called them, was all about guessing or seeing the clever trick at the end — the “twist,” to use Mort’s term — not the human drama.

These days, writers use death for drama with reckless abandon. And it has the same effect as the GL gimmicks — we become inured to it, and it becomes tedious.

My feeling is that each heroic character should be true to his core concept. Some few will not kill.  Period. Most, I think, will kill in extremis. Some, of the new bad-boy “hero” ilk will kill when it is “fair” enough, but not really unavoidable.  Some kill seemingly callously or carelessly. “It’s okay, they’re bad guys.”

Whether the characters at any particular level on the killing scale are “heroes,” I suppose, is up to the beholder. To me, the latter two categories might be protagonists, but aren’t heroes or heroic in my book. Doesn’t mean they aren’t legit protagonists, or can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done. Do them well, I say. True to their core concepts.

But be conscious of consequences. Think through and reflect the ramifications. For example, Claremont once had a scene in which Wolverine killed several of the bad guy’s henchmen brutally and unnecessarily — “It’s okay, they’re bad guys” syndrome. Wolverine does this in front of Storm.  Her reaction?  “I can’t look.”  She averts her eyes.

No, she wouldn’t. She would stop Wolverine, or, failing that, she would thenceforth consider him a bad guy. Storm falls in the will-not-kill, or possibly the kill-in-extremis category. Seeing Wolverine unnecessarily gut several of the villains flunkies, who weren’t at that moment doing anything heinous and were in no way a match for Wolverine or a threat to him would change Storm’s relationship with Wolverine forever. I told him do it and deal with the logical consequences, or change it.

Which brings us back to Stan, and other good writers. Death is serious. Handle with care.

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170 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Hi Mr. Shooter,

    Longtime reader, first time commentor. Thank you for your insights: I’ve been very much enjoying your blog and feel I have learned a great deal about comics and storytelling from it. It’s a fascinating and invaluable resource!

    I did not come to this blog knowing very much about comics (I hope that has now changed a bit), so I have not commented so far. But something I DO know very well is Harry Potter and I feel compelled, though it feels a bit silly, to correct Mr. Rob on this: The good guys in Harry Potter do not kill. There is only one spell that kills people, called the Killing Curse, and its use is illegal and considered highly immoral by most wizards. The bad guys use this curse freely, resulting in many, many deaths throughout the books, but the good guys don’t. They all use a spell that stuns, but does not kill. Usually when a bad guy dies, it’s the result of something they themselves did, backfiring on them.

    I’m sure there are one or two moments in the books where this rule doesn’t hold, it’s a lot of material and the characters are pushed to some extreme places, but I’d bet about 99% of the time this hold true: bad wizards kill, good ones don’t.

    That’s my bit of info! I hope someone finds it helpful, or interesting at least. Thanks again for your thoughts, Mr. Shooter. I especially liked the point you made about Storm. From the little I know, she wouldn’t stand for that.

  2. Crap, one thing I left out: I'm not sure that they all signed their names to that wall personally or if Byrne/Austin did it for them, but their names are there. For anyone who happens to be curious, it's #122, pages 9-14.

  3. Of course, given that the next two issues are the Days of Future Past arc where Storm stops him from using his claws, it seems Wolverine spends a little more time mulling over this than the narration suggests he will. And then there's that Christmas issue where he pulls his claws out on Nightcrawler when the latter jokingly kisses Mariko on the cheek. Although in that instance, after Xavier calms him down (in the space of a panel), Wolverine comments that he'd hoped he could be changed, but that apparently he was wrong.

    One last little thing:

    Nick Yankovec said, early on in the comments:

    "Incidentally, if you go back and read Claremont's X-Men, the amount of times Wolverine kills (excluding Brood and disposable Ninjas!) you can probably count on one hand. To me, Wolverine stopped being a great character when he became another anti-hero who would kill at the drop of a hat."

    I don't know if you're referring to a specific story arc with the "disposable ninjas" label or if you're using it to refer to random, faceless henchmen, but Wolverine kills a mess of goons in the Hellfire Club arc. But, in a great touch, those goons are all given names (names that I always suspected were borrowed from other people working in comics as a gag, like the time that seemingly the whole Marvel office signed their names as part of the graffiti in a slum Storm visits, but I don't know enough names to confirm that that's where the Hellfire goon names came from).

  4. Argh, "I remember being a young reader (who…" is how it should be. That's irritating. Anyway:

    An earlier commenter mentioned Wolverine's discussion with Nightcrawler about his stance on using his claws and said he thought it was the Wendigo two-parter but that he was probably wrong. He's right, but he left out a part at the end that I think is pretty important. Here's the full discussion, for the record:

    Issue 140,
    page 20

    –Panel 2–

    The ship transporting the de-powered (and arrested) Wendigo (Georges Baptiste) flies away. Nightcrawler looks up at it (although it's a little hard be sure about that with the way it's drawn), facing Wolverine. Wolverine removes his mask. The italics in Nightcrawler's first speech bubble are regular italics, not bold italics. That doesn't really matter, but I like being exact about these things.

    NIGHTCRAWLER: Looking at Georges Baptiste, mein Freund, I can't help thinking, "There but for the grace of God goes you."

    WOLVERINE: How so?

    NIGHTCRAWLER: Baptiste, as Wendigo, killed. Now he must pay the price. And you, Wolverine? Should you not pay a price as well?

    –Panel 3–

    Change angles. Wolverine is in the foreground, lighting up a long, thin cigar (I think it's supposed to be a cigarillo, which I would think isn't Wolverine's preferred… whatever). Nightcrawler is now looking at Wolverine.

    WOLVERINE: Kurt, in my life, I've been two things: a wartime soldier and a secret agent. As one, the government paid me to kill; as the other, they licensed me to kill. I was very good at both jobs. They liked that–an' I got the medals and commendations to prove it.

    NIGHTCRAWLER: Perhaps, but…

    WOLVERINE: I ain't finished yet, bub.

    –Panel 4–

    Wolverine is walking, Nightcrawler following behind him. Wolverine is looking very, very slightly over his shoulder at Nightcrawler. There is a forest in the background for the first time, and it will disappear in the next panel. The precise nature of this magically appearing and disappearing forest is never explained.

    WOLVERINE: A man comes at me with his fists, I'll meet him with fists. But if he pulls a gun–or threatens people I'm protectin'–then I got no sympathy for him. He made his choice. He'll have to live–or die–with it.
    WOLVERINE: I never used my claws on someone who hadn't tried to kill me first. I call that self-defense.

    –Panel 5–

    Change angles. Nightcrawler, in close-up, is in the foreground, turned slightly away from Wolverine and towards the reader. He's looking out into the distance, thinking. Wolverine has turned his body slightly towards Nightcrawler but is still looking at him over his shoulder.

    NIGHTCRAWLER: I understand, Logan. What you say is reasonable, logical, justifiable.
    NIGHTCRAWLER: But does that make it right?

    NARRATION (under panel, no box): Wolverine does not reply and, for a long while, there is silence between the two men…

    page 21

    –Panel 1–

    Establishing shot of the Parliament building in Ottawa.

    NARRATION: …and the few times he does speak, during their leisurely meander–a vacation by any other name–home, his tone is thoughtful. Nightcrawler's words–his final question–struck deep.

    NARRATION (no box): Now–like it or not, for better or worse–Wolverine must deal with them.

    (Comment to be concluded…)

  5. There's quite a few comments to scroll through, so forgive me if I'm pointing out something that already been taken care of, but I read the first, like, sixty? comments and it wasn't mentioned, so just in case:

    Claremont actually has the Wolverine/Storm disagreement come up in the "Days of Future Past" arc, Issue 142, page 13. I'll quote from it here in the form of a comic book script, with descriptions included, just so it feels as much like the comic book as possible through text, and maybe jogs some memories.

    –Panel 3–

    WOLVERINE: I'm still too woozy from my burns–my senses can't tell 'em apart.
    WOLVERINE: But I figure the real Nightcrawler ought'a be able ta teleport outta the range of my claws.

    SFX: SNIKT!

    VOICE (off-panel): Wolverine, sheathe your claws!

    –Panel 4–

    Storm is behind Wolverine, her hand on his shoulder. He turns his head to look at her, angry.

    WOLVERINE: Not a chance. We're in the middle of a fight, Storm. I'm in no mood fer a debate!

    STORM: Sheathe them–or use them on me.

    –Panel 5–

    Wolverine has turned to face Storm, snarling, claws extended.

    WOLVERINE: That can be arranged, babe!

    STORM (thinking): Goddess, he means it!
    STORM: I am leader of the X-Men. While that is so, you will use your claws when I command. No other time.

    WOLVERINE: I wouldn't take that from Cyclops!

    –Panel 6–

    Close-up of Storm's face over Wolverine's other shoulder. He has turned away from her, gritting his teeth, biting back his anger.

    STORM: You will take it from me. You possess speed, strength–your unbreakable adamantium skeleton makes you nearly invulnerable. You should not need your claws–

    STORM: –except in the most extreme of situations, against the deadliest and most powerful of foes.

    –Panel 7–

    Close-up of Wolverine's hand, claws retracting.

    WOLVERINE: All right, Storm. I'll do it yer way–fer now.
    WOLVERINE: But this conversation ain't finished. Not by a long shot.

    SFX: SNAKT!

    I remember being a young reader (Who, admittedly, hadn't read very many comics) finding that mind-blowing, although I may not have explicitly realized it. People disagreeing with each other philosophically during a fight? Awesome. I thought it was a great character moment for Storm, especially because Storm's convictions in the present were contrasted with her (alternate) future self's bitter, hardened anger.

    Same issue, page 7, panel 5:

    STORM (thinking): In my own way, I've become as hard, as ruthless, as merciless as Wolverine.

    STORM (thinking): I've become so numb I can't even hate myself anymore. If anything, my soul feels… tired.

    The same contrast is provided with Colossus to really drive home to the reader how desperate and horrifying this future wasteland is. Again, not something I noticed explicitly when I was younger, but of course most of the things in stories that make them work aren't recognized explicitly while reading. They're only discovered after analyzing what you read.

    (Continued in next comment for reasons of space.)

  6. Dear Steven,

    RE: "Mr. Shooter, I've been wondering if you'd be interested in hosting an informal competition to reboot the Marvel Universe — getting ideas of what the ideal editorial setup and roster of title characters would be."

    Wow. That's an ambitious project. I'll talk with JayJay about it. Maybe.

  7. Dear Jeff,

    Tales of DEFIANT coming up soon. Thanks.

  8. Jim,
    Speaking of Defiant Comics and your carefully-constructed continuity, I remember trying to follow the continuity between Dark Dominion and Good Guys at around their fourth or so issues (I do not have them present at this time) and I remember running into some confusion (which issue for that month should be read before the other issue, for example); I realized that you were doing your usual universe-building and I was really into it until the x-over between the two titles ("Fox on the Run" might've been the title). I'm still wondering if I was the only one puzzled by this. I realize that you were fighting the Marvel lawsuit and dealing with about a hundred other things, which probably explains the situation, but I was just wondering if you had any behind the scenes comments or info on that.

  9. Did someone mention violins?

    Feast yer eyeballs on this humdinger by the greatest of all time.

    http://whatnotisms.blogspot.com/2011/12/dandy-violinist-by-sinkevitch.html

    Was steered there originally by a link on Warren Ellis's site. Well spotted Warren, you brilliant goddamn weirdo.

  10. Dear Defiant,

    The Red Violin. Okay, it's on the list. Thanks.

  11. I should also add that the time stamp in the corners of the panels were a VERY important element when I read the pre-Unity Valiant. This is one reason I noticed BWS had written a story with the epilogue dated one year prior to the prologue after Jim had left the company. The epilogue date coincided exactly with the events of Shadowman #1. The time stamps were what enlightened me that event were happening simultaneously in several titles. I had never seen titles integrated this carefully.

    On an unrelated note, I'd be interested to know what Jim's opinion is of a movie titled "The Red Violin" if he gets a chance to watch it. I'm not asking for a full review, but I liked the way the story was pushed forward from the past and pulled forward from the present.

  12. Anonymous,

    Valiant was a collaboration. I feel that Steve's shortcomings on continuity required that Jim more clearly mesh the synchronized events to clear things up. There are also background issues not mentioned here. Some may not realize Jim had to justify the inclusion of Harbinger into the Valiant universe. Two people which Jim can mention if he likes were strongly oposed to Valiant publishing the title. I feel that this process of turnoil brings out a passion to make the product it's best. It's no different than a vocalist insisting that the guitar enhance his vocals rather than just letting the guitarist do his own thing. I fully agree that Steve derailered what Jim was doing. I believe Jim's extra effort to fix the problem kept him even more focused on the details and timing. I believe his extra effort showed as this was a very cohesive series of events.

    From what I can tell of Jim's plotting, key events are planned out well ahead and the writing essentially connects the points in time. For one reason or another… DEFIANT did not do as well a job of communicating the interconnectedness of events. I assume it was due to the distractions of the Marvel lawsuit or perhaps the time allocated to resolve the mess the River Group made of their public relations. Regardless, DEFIANT was not really getting back on track storywise until the last third of their publishing time window.

  13. Anonymous

    PS: This is not to argue against your other fine points in this whole thread (which I enjoy reading) — just that I don't think the rock analogy quite works.

    Denny

  14. Anonymous

    Defiant,

    I have to disagreee with the last statement. I felt the whole coma-as-a-catchup device to sync with what Steve was writing marred the early cohesiveness that Jim was trying to portray with his new universe (which was much more exciting than what Marvel allowed him to do with NU).

    The music analogy I think only works if you think of comic book collaborations as wielding different instruments (Lee/Kirby, Thomas/Adams, Moore/Gibbons). There is a greater distillation where the writer and artist have mutual respect and feed each other ideas.

    A good writer/writer collaboration, IMO, was Waid, Morrison, Rucka, and Johns on 52, all four parties enjoying the process and each admitting (and admiring) the others brought ideas and plots to the table that otherwise would not have been considered.

    I don't see that in Steve's contributions to Valiant. Not to negate the man's talent but when there is a singular vision (ie, Jim's ground rules for making his universe unique) the best work comes through synchronicity with that vision, not suddenly creating your own.

    What Steve did was at best disruptive and disrespectful, at worst harmful to Valiant continuity the longer he would have stayed aboard.

    That's my opinion at least.

    Denny

  15. Jim,

    I was making more of a generic comment about Steve's stories vs. Bob Halls stories. I did not mean to imply you were picking one over the other or even involved with Bob getting the assignment.

    I agree that Steve not following the plot guidelines is a serious reason to let him go. Especially since other time, money, and resources were involved in the larger interconnectedness you were building. I'm inclined to believe that Steve's ego (I'm taking people's word on that) could have predisposed him to hear what he wanted to hear when you let him go.

    Ultimately, I feel that the extra care Steve forced you to take made an even better product. Much in the same way that rock bands produce their biggest and most profitable albums and reveal later that the recording session almost broke up the band entirely. Examples: Fleetwood Mac "Rumors" and U2 "Achtung Baby".

  16. Anonymous

    Jeff clem
    Separate your perception of the man from the man's artistic output; whatever you may think of the man personally, that shouldn't color your criticism of the work.
    ***
    My opinion of his work came far before my opinion of him as a person. and even that, i dont have much of an iopinion of him as a person other than that he's OVER confident, and overselling himself.

    and if i got that on a resume, i would discard it because it's too much obvious puffery or the person is obnoxious.

    There's a way to believe in yourself without being obnoxious. or you can be Guy Gardner.

    Rob

  17. Anonymous

    I liked the first Batman movie very much. at the time. and i don't see much Silver St. Cloud in vicki vale. But to say the movie is 75% his? seems false to me. Taking too much credit. Having an unhealthy sized ego. and he takes credit for the film because he calls it "the good one." (this was obviously written a long time ago, before the new movies).He says i believe it was 75% his.

    As does every single comment he makes on his site re: his comics work. It's always the definitive this, the definitive that, obviously so and so stunk until he came along, etc. and then when he left marvel its because they chose to have creators with no backbone and no originiality over him, the holy grail of creators

    anyone who uses Cap to espouse their own personal far left or far right politics does not understand Cap. as does anyone who has him quit.

    and he essentially admits on his site he used Cap based on his personal politics, and that he had to make Cap stand for the same things he stood for.

    absurd.

    Rob

  18. Dear Defiant,

    As I said, Steve is a tremendous talent who has written many wonderful stories. Every creator and performer needs a healthy ego and the confidence that comes with it. It takes some ego and confidence to walk out on that stage. However, you can overdo it. Even Steve's best friends and greatest supporters roll their eyes when Steve does one of his I-am-the-greatest routines, but they would never say so here or in front of anyone who wasn't a friend or supporter. As I was.

    I didn't hire Bob Hall to write Shadowman. It's not as though I made a choice between Steve and Bob. I wrote the UNITY issues of Shadowman, then other people made the choices. I valued my close continuity at VALIANT more than any one writer, no matter how talented. That policy worked out well, in the sense that VALIANT became a huge success that made a lot of money for all involved. Except me.

  19. Anonymous

    Writers should keep their politics separate from their "craft". This doesn't happen. Which is why fantasy crap is synonymous with comics.

  20. Anonymous

    In my opinion, Steve Englehart is THE writer of the 1970s, just as Stan Lee was THE writer of the 1960s. Steve, I believe, was the first writer to use recurring themes in his stories (reincarnations, rebirths, etc.). Some may disagree, citing Denny O'Neil or Len Wein or whoever, but Steve's plotting was very strong. I wasn't too much into his dialogue, though.

    Cheers.
    –Rick Dee

  21. czeskleba,
    Once again, the voice of reason! Thanks for explaining things for Rob.
    As to why Englehart would want to claim any credit for the first Burton-Batman film, look at his website carefully: it's information for the fans but it's also a resume'! He is a freelance writer, after all, and whether or not you, I, or Rob like that movie, it made a lot of money and revived the Batman franchise something fierce, as well as bringing a lot of non-comic book fans to Batman. Englehart wrote two treatments for the movie around 1986 or so, and it's been reported that most of the various script versions that floated around Hollywood for years were based on the Englehart/Rogers/Austin run. Too, I don't know your age, but a lot of Batman fans were looking forward to the first, serious film treatment of the character, and it was a little bit of a roller-coaster ride in the promotional build-up in the months before the film was released (Michael Keaton? That guy that directed Beeteljuice and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure? Will it be corny and campy like the Adam West version?).
    Yes, we've all agreed that Englehart has a healthy ego. So? He's a performer and performers usually have healthy egos – that's part of what makes them good and successful. When he says he wrote the definitive Batman, he didn't make that up – he's repeating what many others, pros and fans, have said. So he's proud and honest and doesn't act or behave modestly; I'm not sure I would either. Confidence in one's abilities is understandable when the stuff is good; when the stuff is bad, that confidence is just cockiness.
    Separate your perception of the man from the man's artistic output; whatever you may think of the man personally, that shouldn't color your criticism of the work. Harlan Ellison, for example, might be an asshole, but that doesn't erase the power of his stories.
    Now, someone please explain this to Rob.

  22. The script for the first (Tim Burton) Batman film was in part derived from a treatment written by Englehart. And "Vicki Vale" and "Carl Grissom" in the film are based on Silver St. Cloud and Rupert Thorne in his treatment, despite the name changes. I'm not sure why Englehart would want to claim any credit for that film though, as it's lousy and Burton clearly did not understand the character of Batman at all.

    I don't disagree that Englehart has an ego on him. But I also think he's done some great work. His Batman and Justice League are my favorite iterations of those characters, period, and his Avengers and Doctor Strange were also extremely well-done. And I disagree with the notion that he did not understand the character of Captain America.

  23. Anonymous

    From the moment this eight-issue run appeared, it was dubbed the "Definitive Batman."
    ***

    So I got to do the second treatment with just the characters that eventually hit the screen: Bruce Wayne, the Batman, Silver St. Cloud, Boss Thorne, and the Joker.
    ***

    Except two of those characters are not in the movie…

    The new Dark Knight movie with Heath Ledgerwas 70% his Batman too….

    He's an egomaniac

    Rob

  24. Anonymous

    The renewed relevance of the CAPTAIN AMERICA run led to my presenting a paper on the series at the Convention of the Modern Language Association.

    And the renewed popularity led to two TV movies. Unlike the Dr Strange film, these were "Let's buy the name and make up a whole new character" dogs, but it was still gratifying to get Hollywood to buy the name. That makes three Hollywood productions I've helped get made to this point (Justice League and UltraForce are the others), in addition to the five I've generated directly (Dr Strange, Batman, NightMan, Batman: The Animated Series/The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and The Silver Surfer).

    BWAHAHAHAA!

    He's directly responsible for the Batman movie and everything else! Di dyou read where he took Stan Lee's least favorite book Captain America and turned it into Marvel best selling title? You will 312 times on his site!

    Rob

  25. Anonymous

    Jeff,

    It was an abuse of a character and a book. If he wants to do so, create his own character with his pov. Perhaps it worked in the 70s. It's heavy handed and forced today. Like most 70s expression of politics in comics-say Green Lantern.

    I've read other stories by him and i dont think they hold up much either but i don't take offense to them like i take to that one where he simply doesn't understand the Captain America character.

    I've read his website, and he seems very egotistical. What can i say. I call it like i see it.

    Here's his quote of himself "He was finally hired away from Marvel by DC Comics, to be their lead writer and revamp their core characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern). He did, but he also wrote a solo Batman series (immediately dubbed the "definitive" version) that later became Warner Brothers' first Batman film (the good one)."

    lol

    Cap Wolf? Thought that was Gruenwald.

    Rob

  26. Anonymous

    Dear all,

    The Stern/Byrne run excepted, Englehart's Secret Empire/Watergate storyline is probably the Captain America story i enjoyed the most.

    Stéphane Garrelie.

  27. Rob,
    Yeah, I gotta tell you, I was once a staunch political conservative – a real Nixon/Agnew guy, mind you, but after I read that Cap quits thing, Englehart converted me to dippy-liberalism. And that crazy, liberal agenda was never more heavy-handed than in Englehart's Cap-as-a-werewolf story, or when the Yellow Claw attacked. And that Dr. Faustus thing? Don't get me started. And, of course, since that Nixon/Cap quits thing sucked so much, pretty much everything else Englehart wrote really sucked.

  28. Phillip,
    I do think it is meaningful to see realism and symbolism as general literary styles which to a great extent define each other by how they relate to each other. But of course it's a scale, where few works are at either extreme end. It works for me as an operative generalization which it should also be fairly simple to make others understand. To me, there are narrative cultural conventions which are comprised of a certain symbolism, and an insistence on realism, even just a little, can very easily ruin it. In my experience, creators with good artistic sensibilities tend to understand this.

    I do not have a problem with anti-authoritarianism per se – quite the contrary. I'm very left-wing myself and consider it of paramount importance to expose and end the abuse of power. I love V For Vendetta. But American superheroes are ideals; optimistic and by nature uncorrupted examples of all the positive things about the human spirit. To subordinate superheroes under a "power corrupts" view just because superheroes have powers is, as I have said, anathema to the superhero archetype, and I consider it completely unacceptable. Certain genres have certain conventions, and if you break with them then you have to make it very clear what you are doing and why, and it must also be on the basis of an understanding of what you are doing. British writers generally don't have this understanding of US superheroes.

  29. Phillip/bmcmolo:
    The dialectic is an interesting thing. Thesis and antithesis leading to synthesis. In other words, first you identify two distinctive traits about something, and these then allow you to understand it on a new level. On this new level, you do the same thing again to understand it in more depth: identify at least two fix points which lets you see a structure or pattern that you didn't see before. It's important to realize that this is actually a scientific method, and not dualism at all. When you identify two fix points (two extremes on opposite sides of a scale, say), you are not claiming that a simple conception of the one is always required to make sense of the other; rather, you understand that it is a sliding scale, like temperature, or an infinite number of dots connecting two points. Having the two traits is only the beginning of seeing a more complex picture. To make sense of temperature, it is useful to first talk about "hot" and "cold", and then proceed to the full scale of Celsius or Fahrenheit.

    (Continued…)

  30. Anonymous

    i really don't think Engleheart's stuff holds up at all

    That Cap fights a nixon standin and then quits story is terrible. Just terrible.

    If Cap quits, then the writer probably doesn't understand Capt. America and is using him as their personal political mouthpiece.

    Rob

  31. RIP Joe Simon!

  32. Phillip wrote "Once more, as regards "realism" vs "symbolism". It's a dualism. And thinking based on dualisms, needs picking apart – as it's a form of shorthand – whatever Hegel & his dialectic say."

    Interesting. It's been awhile since I read Hegel/ the dialectic, but doesn't Hegel himself explode dualism? Perhaps I'm mixing him up with someone else. I always thought the fatal flaw in any dualistic system is that everything contains within itself the kernel for its own destruction/ deconstruction. i.e. there's no such thing as a one-sided coin. I freely admit it's been years and years and perhaps my understanding of it is faulty.

    I had the same experience with the V for Vendetta movie – just couldn't get into it at all. But the comic is classic.

  33. If you are talking about realism in the more general sense – of fiction depicting real life, or issues, as opposed to superheroes/sci-fi. I would be even more wary. There a few more loaded words than "real" & "realist". Some people think the world's real because it's nasty – i.e. imperfect, and we must compromise our ideals in order to survive. However, the ideals & desire to be better/perfect are also a "real" preoccupation. Joseph Conrad's writing (not sci-fi, etc).

    Your Emily Dickinson quote's a good one. Writers did have to be very careful, in the past. In Shakespeare's time, Ben Jonson & some other playwrights wrote a play (The Isle of Dogs) that was so subversive they had to flee for their lives. Thomas Hardy was castigated for writing Jude the Obscure.

    However, this didn't start with realism. There was a tradition of anti-authoritarian in romantic literature, around & after the French Revolution. Romanticism & realism came to the U.S.A. about 100 years later. In fact, it started even before that, as Chaucer poked fun at authority, too.

    Take terms like "realism" & "romanticism" with
    a considerable pinch of salt.

    As regards great art using symbolism to get people to see what they couldn't take being shown in a direct way. Maybe, but not always.

    In one of his novels,the serious sci-fi writer, Philip K.Dick, depicts a future America, in which the Nazis won the war. This is depicted realistically, rather than symbolically, and people draw a variety of different conclusions from it.

    Also, realism sometimes depicted poverty & suffering, without pointing the finger, specifically. The writers wanted the problem fixed, not the blame.

    It isn't as clear cut as a dialectic/spectrum.

    Sorry for this boring snooze-fest.

    The stuff about Steve Englehart is very interesting. I enjoyed some of his stuff, very much.

    Interesting the person who thought Drax should have finished after the Thanos saga. I thought he peaked in Captain Marvell # 59.

    Phillip

  34. Back by request…the boring debate between Phillip & Tue 😉

    Good writers – like Jim – write spontaneously, and it's almost perfect. When I write spontaneously, it's garbled. In my last post, I wrote "imported", when I meant exported. I'll try again.

    Tue,
    You said, "The Brits bring to it the sensibility that power corrupts". I'll take your word for this, as you're familiar with modern stuff, and I'm not. However, remember America has a tradition of anti-authoritarianism, too. The American political system's checks & balances were designed specifically to stop anyone gaining too much power – i.e. a tyrant (whether or not it works, is a separate debate). Anti-authoritarianism is also in American literature – e.g. Thoreau's 'Civil Disobedience'. In Englehart's Avengers, Iron Man expresses disillusionment about Watergate. Do you remember what Korvac wanted to do? Maybe you mean the George Orwell-style world of V-for Vendetta? I started watching the film, but only managed the first 20mins. I've never read the comic.

    Once more, as regards "realism" vs "symbolism". It's a dualism. And thinking based on dualisms, needs picking apart – as it's a form of shorthand – whatever Hegel & his dialectic say.

    Anyone reading our debate, might think that symbolism came first, only to be superseded by realism, when people were no longer afraid of authority.

    To me, realism and symbolism aren't opposites. Symbolism is a technique, not a genre, which has been used in many different forms of fiction (you are saying this, citing Shakespeare & Sci-fi).

    "Realism" was a genre, having certain general tendencies (as you say). However, defining fiction by genre, is a bit of a game. Often these terms weren't used at the time, but were only created by academics, much later, as a way of categorising fiction. We must be very wary of them.

    "Magic realism" (e.g. South American) straddles supposed symbolism & realism.

  35. Jim,
    Steve only did the one story for Byron Preiss' WEIRD HEROES and that was "Viva!". When I quoted above from the Afterword, I had the book in front of me for reference and, while Steve does toot his own horn, there is no statement, parenthetical or otherwise, from Preiss disagreeing with Steve's self-evaluation.
    Steve's come under fire from various fellow professionals such as yourself for being less-than-modest about his abilities and one might fall into one of two camps: those who agree with Steve and have no problem with his lack of modesty or those who agree that Steve is a damn good writer but he shouldn't be the one saying it. Whatever. Not everything he wrote is gold, but a lot of it sure is, kind of like you. The only difference is he's less-modest about it.

  36. An ego and confidence are just tools to get things done. If it works for Steve, that's fine. He should expect the criticism. I go around singing "Everything is beautiful, when it's my way."

    As stated earlier, I liked a lot of his stories when I got into comics. By the time he left Marvel, I felt the stories were falling flat. I liked his Shadowman issues, but felt the transition away from his writing left the character without a focus. I'd rather reread one of Steve's stories than read any of Bob Hall's stories. Bob did a solid effort, but his stories weren't as interesting to me.

  37. Dear Jeff,

    My memory of the Weird Heroes book, which was quite a topic of conversation around Marvel in 1976 is what it is, and if I am wrong, I bow to the light of truth. I am not sure I'm wrong yet. Did Steve do only one Weird Heroes story? What I remember is an intro in which Steve said he more or less elevated comics from bland pablum to higher levels and was poised to do the same thing to prose fiction. Priess inserted a disclaimer.

    Whatever. What I said happened at VALIANT did, absolutely. Ask Steve's agent at the time, Mike Friedrich. Mike is an honest man. He will tell the truth, but frame it in the nicest, politest, most favorable terms for his client, or former client, Steve. When I fired Steve, he went ballistic. I had a long talk with Mike over the phone. He knew how Steve was and he understood. He managed to cool Steve down. Ask him. Mike, I mean.

    Steve is, again, a tremendous talent. He does have a very high opinion of himself. Talk to him for a while….

  38. Dear bmcmolo,

    Fascinating conversation, I agree.

  39. I find it interesting that Englehart was unaware of the continuity disruption his titles caused at Valiant because I've known about it for at least 12 years. I've also heard Engleharts side of the story as to why he left.

    I guess from my experience being a manager, I know that emplyees hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe. I used to have a great guy working for me, but he never quite followed my instructions. I was baffled, so one day I gave him a list of what I wanted done. He shook his head in agreement as if he understood. I then asked him to repeat back what I told him to do. Everything he repeated back to me was completely wrong. When I said "no", he looked shocked. I went over my instructions a second time and he did everything right.

    I don't understand why people hear what they want to hear, but my guess is that Jim remembers his frustration vividly and Englehart just picked up a completely different meaning from what Jim was actually saying.

  40. Jim,
    You said: "Steve Englehart is a great talent and generally a nice guy. However, he has an extremely high opinion of himself. Anybody remember those Weird Heroes books Byron Priess put together back in the 1970's? In one, possibly the first one, that featured short prose stories by a number of comic book writers, Steve wrote a introduction for his contribution that was so self-aggrandizing that Byron felt the need to place a parenthetical disclaimer in the middle of it, words to the effect that what was stated there were Steve's opinion/claims about himself, and that the publisher did not endorse them."

    Actually, Byron's parenthetical disagreement was in the Afterword, written by Steve, not the introduction, which was written by Byron, whose parenthetical statement in the Afterword appears thusly: "But that brings me to Viva. In case you haven't guessed, Byron Preiss appreciates comics and that's why he wanted me to have a hand in his 'heroes of the 70s' scheme. I remember him looking me right in the eye and saying, 'There's one that's right up your alley, Steve. It's a hooker turned jungle queen.' (False – Editor)"
    The intro to "Viva", written by Preiss, is pretty flattering to Steve. Steve is pretty flattering to Steve in the Afterword, but, then again, he was a damn good and popular writer and one person's take on that could be that Steve was being cocky or conceited. Another person's take might be that Steve was just telling the truth as he saw it. But your claim of editor Preiss disagreeing in a parenthetical statement with Englehart's self-flattering statements is flat-out wrong; Preiss was denying that he said what Englehart reported.
    Whether or not Englehart behaved as you report in the Harbinger/X-O affair, this kind of thing can sure hurt your credibility.

  41. The genesis of realism in literature came from the sudden realization of writers that it was no longer necessary to say certain things in veiled artistic/symbolic terms. Instead, because various authorites were relaxing, it became possible to say a lot of things (mainly things critical of authority) directly that couldn't have been said before. Some writers had been lamenting the lack of freedom to say whatever they wanted to say, and when they suddenly became able to say those things more directly, it spawned the realist movement. All good and well. But of course, it was and is a limited movement, and most artists are still choosing to use some measure of symbolism to communicate their ideas. It is also arguable whether you really can be direct about all kinds of views, even today. The greatest art, from Shakespeare to Alan Moore, communicates things that most people today would neither understand nor accept if they were told about it in true, plain words. Which means there is still a need for art to be indirect – as explained by Emily Dickinson:

    Tell all the Truth but tell it slant
    Success in Circuit lies
    Too bright for our infirm Delight
    The Truth's superb surprise
    As Lightening to the Children eased
    With explanation kind
    The Truth must dazzle gradually
    Or every man be blind

    🙂

  42. Phillip said:
    "I don't quite understand your point about symbolism transcending limited specific circumstances of time, place, and setting (don't be offended!) Maybe if you give an example."

    Well, I think it's very simple – you can see a story or style of writing on a scale with "symbolism" at one end and "realism" at the other. Each are really defined (at their extremes) by the absence of the other. Trying to be completely realistic means not using symbolism, and vice versa. This means that non-realistic stories like sci-fi and superheroes (and fantasy, supernatural horror, surrealism, etc.) have an immediately in-built disposition for great symbolism. Wild sci-fi stories rarely make sense from a realistic point of view, which means that something else must fuel their quality: points and messages that come across through symbolism. Just as with the general tenets that define the fantastic genres, symbolism transcends realism. It can communicate things that realist narratives cannot. Having said that, I do admit that most realist literature is not entirely at the extreme end of that scale; most works make room for *some* symbolism and themes, amounting to philosophical works rather than rigorously realistic ones. Most writers want to *say* something; promote certain views and ideas, and do it in artistic ways that may not be fit for plain and direct description, but need to "sink in" through a work of art. If an artist just put all his views into plain words, he would probably have very few adherents. A lot of art has progressive messages which can only come through properly by being disguised, and make people (and all of Western culture!) think about them for a long time.

    Continued…

  43. 🙂 Well, bmcmolo, I was going to abandon it, but it you feel *that* way, maybe just a couple more posts…

    Phillip said:
    "You make the distinction that you'e not talking about British comics, but about British writers working on American comics. I got the sense that you thought there was a British way of doing comics that existed in Britain, and that the British had gone over to America, and started doing it there – i.e. imported our supposed bad practices."

    No, not really – British writers large write US comics in the same style as the American writers (I am not very familiar with original British comics, besides Alan Moore's work). It's just that the Brits bring to it the sensibility that power corrupts, which they incorporate into the basic morals of the stories, in my viewing messing them up, and portraying the heroes in ways I have big problems with. Even Alan Moore can do this (he brought too much realism to THE KILLING JOKE, in my opinion), but he hasn't worked that much in the mainstream comics universes, and so hasn't done appreciable damage (besides making scores of writers attempt to mimic his approach to WATCHMEN – something he felt bad enough about afterwards to make amends by doing up-beat comics for years and years with Supreme and America's Best Comics, which to me demonstrate his class and that he is many leagues better than the other Brit writers).

    Continued…

  44. Dear Tue/ Phillip,

    "I'll concede that you are right and I am wrong, rather than inflict this debate on the other members of the blog, any longer."

    Hey, inflict away – it's been a fascinating conversation.

  45. When you get round to obtaining 'War On The Gods', tell me what you think about Drax.

    IMO, the continued existence of Drax after Starlin's Thanos epic concluded was a mistake. Douglas's spirit should have gone on to an afterlife. The Drax character concept had huge holes where his motivations should have been.

    SRS

  46. In other words, is the character first and foremost the mask or the person behind the mask?

    That depends largely on his motivation for fighting crime, I'd think. Using a power to fight crime solely for the sake of stopping crimes, at the risk of one's own life, isn't rational, especially when done repeatedly — unless the reward exceeds the risks. That means having a vigilante mindset or fighting crime as a job. Those two choices tie into one's origin and the continued existence of foes; the foes are connected to, of course, the source(s) of powers in the universe.

    So, vigilantes are always "on"; others have normal lives when they're off duty.

    Mr. Shooter, I've been wondering if you'd be interested in hosting an informal competition to reboot the Marvel Universe — getting ideas of what the ideal editorial setup and roster of title characters would be.

    SRS

  47. Dear Tue,
    Thanks for the reply. You're absolutely right; I'm not well-versed in U.S.comics history. I'm only interested in Marvel comics circa 1977-1982 – the era I read them in. I'm also interested in what happened to my favourite writers & artists after this period.

    You make the distinction that you'e not talking about British comics, but about British writers working on American comics. I got the sense that you thought there was a British way of doing comics that existed in Britain, and that the British had gone over to America, and started doing it there – i.e. imported our supposed bad practices. If you didn't mean that, fine; I'm not looking for an argument.

    I don't quite understand your point about symbolism transcending limited specific circumstances of time, place, and setting (don't be offended!) Maybe if you give an example. I would agree that death & rebirth isn't limited to a specific time, place, & setting; for example (you find it in ancient Egypt, right up to the present day). In other words, it represents an archetype – something universal – as we discussed previously. Maybe this is what you meant, too. However, Hester Prynne's scarlet letter (from which the novel takes its name) is a symbol, in that it has various connotations – 'A' for 'Angel'; 'A' for 'Adulteress'; 'A' for 'Agony' – and others – unlike an allegory, which is specific. Same with Elric's sword, which symbolises at least 3 different things. Hester Prynne's scarlet letter does relate to a specific time – i.e. the time of the Puritans; and possibly a place, in general, too. Maybe I'm contradicting what I said in an earlier mail, here.

    'The Tempest', of course, observes the unities of place, time, & setting, yet is heavily symbolic, in many ways. I think you cover this, though, by saying the best art can masquerade as many things ("masque" being the operative word!)

    About good writers can't help including the symbolic, to some extent. Yes – often.

    I think Chandler isn't as formulaic as he's portrayed to be. Only Farewell My Lovely is the traditional stereotype of Chandler – and even that isn't how it's usually shown in movies. Each one of the other novels is quite different.

    I wouldn't call Hemingway a modernist. There's plenty of symbolism in Fiesta. To Whom The Bell Tolls seemed quite "realistic" (if not strictly realism). I suppose the Donne reference would go more towards your take that it isn't.

    Yes – possibly modernism was a revolt against realism, to a certain extent. However, it was also a reaction to other things – e.g. Freud, WW1, etc.

    I'll concede that you are right and I am wrong, rather than inflict this debate on the other members of the blog, any longer.

    As I said before, respect to you & your views. We must focus on the comics. When you get round to obtaining 'War On The Gods', tell me what you think about Drax. That was my only misgiving – that he came to such an ignominious end. At the end of the Broderick Captain Marvel, he flew off for the stars, intent on becoming a creator, rather than a destroyer. Although helping his daughter, Moondragon, was a noble ideal, in War On the Gods, it's a pity he never fulfilled his ambition of becoming a creator, not a destroyer.
    That would be something I'd like to discuss, rather than us quibbling (my fault, not yours!)

    Phillip

  48. Dear Steve,

    No rules. If you do it, do it well.

  49. Dear Dan,

    I never said it out loud or fired anyone over it, but when someone suggested killing a character to trump up some (false) drama, I often thought: "Out of ideas, eh?" or "Oh, you're an amateur."

  50. Dear Denny,

    Super hero identity vs. secret identity coming up soon. Thanks.

  51. I'd suggest everyone should read Berserk by Kentaro Miura. It's got lots of killing, maiming and butchering. Great fun and no hand-wringing about it either.

  52. Dan

    Death is dangerous to superhero continuity.

    Look at Marvel an DC. They've done a death storyline for almost every major character–and they've all come back. DC now has two problems: (1) All those stories are a joke and have no impact or meaning; and (2) they have rendered their big money-makers into wholly-unrelatable characters. Who can relate to someone who has been dead? The whole DC/M universes are utterly ridiculous.

    The solution isn't to not bring back dead characters. That's just not going to work. There are always new writers/editors who want to use the characters they loved as readers. So nobody stays dead.

    The solution is to not kill characters. And to fire writers/editors who suggest doing so.

    Writer: "I want to kill [character]."

    Responsible editor: "Out of ideas, eh? For the sake of the credibility of our franchises, you're fired."

    To me, it's that simple.

  53. Dear Defiant,

    Steve Englehart is a great talent and generally a nice guy. However, he has an extremely high opinion of himself. Anybody remember those Weird Heroes books Byron Priess put together back in the 1970's? In one, possibly the first one, that featured short prose stories by a number of comic book writers, Steve wrote a introduction for his contribution that was so self-aggrandizing that Byron felt the need to place a parenthetical disclaimer in the middle of it, words to the effect that what was stated there were Steve's opinion/claims about himself, and that the publisher did not endorse them. Steve is an outstanding writer. Not good enough, though, for me to allow him to ruin what I was trying to do at VALIANT.

  54. Wout Thielemans said:
    Batman DID have several altercations pre-Crisis where the villain died in the heat of the battle.
    *************************
    Can you cite a single example of this? I can recall stories in the 70's/early 80's in which a villain died due to circumstances beyond Batman's control, and Batman was unable to prevent it. But I cannot think of a single story in which a villain died as a direct result of Batman's actions, or in which Batman deliberately allowed a villain to die by his own inaction. That never happened, because the pre-Crisis policy was that Batman did not kill, or even passively allow people to die.

    The KGBeast story you mention was post-Crisis.

  55. Anonymous

    Sorry. I meant "PLOT point of being discovered"

    — Denny

  56. Anonymous

    Jim —

    This suggestion may get lost amid the discussion but I would love to read a post sometime re: your thoughts on Super Identity vs Secret Identity.

    In other words, is the character first and foremost the mask or the person behind the mask?

    I ask this because I think one of the things lost in most solo books today is the well-developed supporting cast who can drive subplots and otherwise enrich the world in which the characters live. And I think that's because writers tend to focus on the long underwear rather than the person wearing it.

    For me when I was growing up, Spider-man wasn't just a superhero. He was an everyman named Peter Parker, a guy who was concerned about his schoolwork, his social life, his Aunt, his job. When he fought Doc Ock or the Vulture he wasn't doing it in a bubble — he was balancing that time against the things that REALLY mattered to him.

    This in turn gave Spider-man an added dimension that characters like Superman and Batman generally lacked. For those characters Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne were just convenient masquerades. But over at Marvel we got to see Peter grow from a depressed loner to an outgoing and engaging person. Along the way his supporting cast grew and began to take on a life of their own. Jonah became more than a one-note character. Betty Brant found love elsewhere. Peter met, romanced, and later lost his great love, Gwen Stacy. Along the way other friends met and married, high school turned to college turned to post graduation, and his everyday life behind the mask went on.

    I don't want to downplay the colorful villains or the dynamic art, but back in the day reading about what Mary Jane looked like (via Marvel Tales reprints) was just as entertaining as trying to guess who wore the Green Goblin mask.

    The importance of secret identities doesn't necessarily apply to every character (Dr. Strange certainly didn't have much of a social life), but when I think about the soap opera plots in Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, etc they usually revolved around the secret identity rather than the super identity.

    As a professional storyteller and someone who has obviously thought a LOT about what fellow writers like Stan Lee brought to their craft, what is your view?

    Should a writer be concerned with the superhero and gravitate all supporting characters and storylines around his public persona? Or does the secret identity still have any purpose storywise other than the point-point of being discovered?

    Denny

    PS: Having grown up and enjoyed both Marvel and DC (for different reasons) for several decades, I should point out I thought Superman was great when Byrne declared Clark Kent was the real persona and Superman the mask to get the "job" done. In his wake Wolfman, Stern, Jurgens, Kessel developed a rich and diverse cast with ties to both identities and storylines to drive them. Unfortunately I think the advent of LOIS & CLARK caused much of that to be phased out so as to not confuse any potential readers.

  57. Wout Thielemans

    @czeskleba : Batman DID have several altercations pre-Crisis where the villain died in the heat of the battle. He even acknowledged it in a conversation (with Dick Grayson, I believe, though I may be wrong). I read a slew of '70s-'80s Bat-titles about a year ago and I was amazed at how different Batman's approach to the sanctity of life was. Not a killer, but someone who acknowledged that life-or-death struggles could result in death, and who had no major problems with this.

    And there's the Nights of the KGBeast-story in which Batman basically leaves the KGBeast imprisoned to starve to death, and is fully cognizant of the fact – it was the only way to stop his enemy. (the later resurrection of the KGBeast of course totally undid the impact of this deed).

  58. I had fond memories of Steve Englehart's writing in the 70's. I was not aware he was flat out insubordinate at Valiant. You did the right thing by firing him. I wouldn't think twice about making such a decision under those circumstances.

  59. I doubt that many comics writers (or editors) have considered how stories would benefit from abandoning the soap opera approach to superhero serials which often requires that characters go into suspended animation between issues or that timelines not exist.

    Conflicts with villains don't have to be written as separate stories. If battles happened in the background, the significant developments could be referred to as part of ongoing plotlines; weeks to months could pass while events developed and coalesced into patterns.

    I suppose that people might not like the idea of dealing with the details of powers — they might consider that busywork — but it's essential to a story's internal logic. One example of the details mattering is handling paranormals who absorb kinetic energy. That's a lousy power, especially if the notion that the paranormal absorbs all kinetic energy is used, but he can still be dealt with by using telekinesis or another application of psionic energy to set him in motion. The eventual impact would kayo or injure him as it would any vulnerable person, since the psionic energy can't be absorbed.

    SRS

  60. Dear MikeAnon,

    RE: Gasoline Alley style storytelling, and your comment: "The problem, though, is that the impression given by such storytelling is that only 12 exciting things a year can happen to each of your titles….": What? No, as many things as you want can happen to a character in a year. In twelve good issue per year you can tell a lot of story. And, you can add specials, annuals, novels, or extra issues if you wish, though it isn't really necessary. Obviously, you'd want to feature the most exciting moments as the main thrust of each issue, however many there are. And, the books don't have to keep up with real time all the time, but when a year of story goes by, everyone should have aged a year. I would have endeavored not to fall too far behind the calendar, however.

    RE: Your comment: "…or else you have to do like you did with HARBINGER and keep the kids in comas for months on the on moon.": The reason the Harbinger kids were in a coma for months on the moon was because I trusted Steve Englehart to write a book, X-O Manowar, and he ignored our tight continuity to the point that I had to have months pass for the Harbinger kids to make our planned and solicited crossover work. When I caught what he'd done there was no time to fix it in his book, so I had to make adjustments in other books. I confronted Steve about it and he informed me that he deliberately ignored continuity obligations, that he would do whatever he damn well pleased and that I would have to adjust to his plans, not vice versa. So I fired him. Catching up with the calendar or synchronizing between titles doesn't have to be that awkward.

    RE: Your comment: "Why should a fictional universe reflect real time? What about creating an earth that didn't have the religious figures who define time for us today? Make an alternate earth with an alternate history that gives us the same world we have today but allows us to establish our own timeline in which to fit characters' lives and momentous events." Well, that's one way to go, I suppose. I prefer the Gasoline Alley style and a reality-based world over that, certainly for the VALIANT Universe as I conceived it, anyway.

  61. Phillip,
    I get the impression that you're not well-versed in US comics history (no offense!)… I'm not talking about British comics at all, but about British writers working on American comics. Check out this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Invasion_(comics)

    There are several kinds of realism; when I use the term I mean the kind that takes the utmost consequence of its foundational philosophy and avoids symbolism for the sake of being utterly realistic, which proponents of that tendency consider an ideal. There are many examples (in fact, there is hardly anything else) of realist literature which doesn't go that far, or which incorporate some symbolism. My point just is that the more symbolism a story has, the less realistic it is required to be – because realism relates to limited, specific circumstances of time, place and setting, while symbolism can transcend those virtually ad infinitum. Of course, the best art can masquerade as several different things at the same time, but if one of those things is realism, its realist facade becomes just that: a mask, and not actual realism. Having said that, even major realist works (like HUCKLEBERRY FINN and WAR AND PEACE) do have larger themes and symbols that become apparent on closer analysis. Good writers can't help putting that stuff in.

    Mind you, noir detective fiction is not what I would call an example of realist literature at all. It is moody pulp fiction following some quite specific formulae.

    Hemingway is a modernist, but he writes with heavy thematic and moral bias, including some symbolism, and certainly doesn't see the attainment of realism as a stylistic ideal. Some aspects of modernism actually comprise a revolt against realism.

  62. Tue,
    Thanks for the reply. That's clarified things a great deal – glad there's no ill-feeling.

    I think we're heading for a convergence here. Yes, I'd agree, power enhances whatever trait was already there. Thor had a small amount of hubris – which then became greater, as Moon dragon diminished his self-control.

    I don't know much about realism in current British comics, as I haven't read them for so long. My brother had one with a character who looked like a human stickleback – that didn't seem very realistic at all. Then again, like I say, I'm not interested in modern stuff. I also think modern U.S. stuff is bad, and if we Brits did do it, shame on us.But I don't know anything about it.

    I think lots of twentieth century fiction which seems 'realist', often has symbolism in it (if not symbols in the literal sense). Raymond Chandler has Arthurian symbolism/Marlowe as a knight errant. Hemingway had all kinds of stuff.

    I think modern fiction isn't referred to as realist anymore, because writers don't operate within that frame of reference. I think the last genre was post modernist; and they've now thought of another one, after that. But, like I say, modern stuff isn't my bag.

    When I was a teenager, I used to be obsessed with science fiction and fantasy, asking my American aunt why she didn't like fantasy, and read detective thrillers, instead. Now I'm older, I've read all kinds of things, but see meaning in books which I couldn't get into at all, twenty five years ago. I won't bore you with it all, but I'm glad I now understand what you mean.

    Best regards

    Phillip

  63. Phillip, just one more thing:
    I don't specifically remember War of the Gods (damn, I have most issues of Avengers from around #200, but I'm missing #220!), but I remember that there was a post here recently from the Molecule Man story (Avengers #215-216?), where the plot resolution happens specifically because a hero points out that power *doesn't* corrupt, but just enhances whatever inherent trait was there to begin with.

  64. Part 2 to Phillip…

    But again, this is very complex stuff, and my outlook is very broad and general and also has many exceptions. My view of artistic structure and symbolism comes from Shakespeare, and I think the allegorical mode of writing and plotting that his plays are great examples of are the literary style that should be (and very often are) mimicked in artistic narratives. Because they say something about BIG issues; about the entire human condition and history, whereas the genre of realism is enormously more limited, usually only concerning the way things actually are here and now, rather than how they could and should be, and rather than addressing the major problems of the world. For me, realism is almost always unbearably boring and useless (we're already steeped in it outside of fiction), while science fiction and in some cases superhero comics are talking about important things relating to the future and to alternative ways of imagining human culture. It's so much harder for realism to be good and entertaining than it is for the fantastic genres, which are not constrained by what is believed to be realistically possible, but can let the human mind really rip, revealing vast territories of wonder and mind-boggling possibilities.

  65. Phillip,
    There's no ill-feeling; I was just referring to a gap of understanding.

    I didn't know you were British; I was expressing my views about the (as I see it) negative influence on US comics that the "British Invasion" has caused in the comics industry. With a few exceptions (like Alan Davis), British writers generally take the position that "power corrupts" (under which dictum superheroism is impossible) and that superheroes are "agents of the establishment" and therefore not a force for good. This is completely anathema to the modern US superhero paradigm, which (at least for Marvel) is based on Stan Lee's "With great power comes great responsibility". Hence, my feelings about British comics writers tend to be very negative; to a large extent I credit their influence with (what I see as) the decline in the quality of US comics since the '90s (or late '80s in some cases). Some of them Brits are truly great writers when they do their own serious (or humorous) work, but when they interfere with the mainstream Marvel and DC characters, it turns into a terrible, terrible mess. Some of them have a distinct love/hate relationship with superheroes, wanting to satirize them as well as do straight (and, of course, edgy and shock-value driven) stories. That doesn't work for me, and I fail to understand why it works for the Marvel and DC editors who hire these people.

    I'm not a Brit-basher of any kind; being Danish I am generally on the European side in any argument between Europe and the US, but in the particular case of American superheroes, I just think the Brit writers have brought nothing but disaster on the superhero comics industry. (As always, there are occasional exceptions, of course.)

    Realism is not new, no; as a literary trend it started out in the 1800s, and was considered very modern (still is). It has its place sometimes, but I don't think superheroes and realism mix. Alan Moore did something remarkable in WATCHMEN, the point of which is that the "heroes" of that story are regular people and do not have superheroic morals (except Ozymandias), but only an Alan Moore can pull something like that off. And it's a radical break with traditional superheroes precisely because those characters were supposed (unlike classic superheroes) to be realistic people. Most Marvel and DC heroes are not. They are ideals, and their stories are works of art and based on what I will call an archetypal structure. The usual fictitious story has a beginning, middle and end, and comprises a universe of meaning all its own; a wholesome work of art, with messages and statements put in subtle and clever ways. This is completely different from a work of realism, which is trying to depict events and people straight from the real world and (usually) its current circumstances. For realism, there is no demand for a well-crafted structure in a story, since events in the real world do not have a structure that can be well represented in a single story.

    (continued…)

  66. As a tangentially related aside, and given Jim's interest in trampling cliches, so to speak: I might recommend that while he's out at the Mile High Megastore he might see if he can get a hold of The Invisibles, Vol. 1, #12 ("Best Man Fall"). It spends twenty-two pages interrupting the main narrative to show a soldier's life flashing before his eyes when one of the main characters callously shoots him as part of an armed siege. Good stuff.

  67. continued

    "Realism" as a literary phenomenon isn't anything new, relating to Britain (are you thinking of the kitchen sink dramas of the late 50s/early 60s?) In fact, "realism" was going on ages ago, in America. Was it Dreiser? It's a long time since I studied all that stuff.

    I don't quite understand what you mean by "the common cultural framework of literary symbolism that has evolved over many centuries". The idea of symbols is that they are archetypes – the term you used. You find the same symbols – for example, the death & rebirth motif – over & over again, almost since the dawn of art. They don't evolve, as they represent universal truths, that have always been latent, in the collective unconscious (I don't personally believe in Jung, though). Like you say, let's try & be as clear headed & scientific as possible (except for social science!).

    The idea of layered narratives (we could both give many examples of this) – or literary polyphony – is a whole other can of worms.

    I like lots of kinds of fiction (many different genres), as long as it is sincere – i.e. has a core of inner truth. It's nothing to do with being British or American.

    Please don't take what I said as a personal attack. I enjoyed reading your post, as I've enjoyed reading your others, in the past.

    People reading arguments like this get bored to tears – I know I do, UNLESS IT'S ABOUT THE COMICS.

    We are all supposed to be united on this blog, in that we are all fans of Jim's work – no matter what our differences in perspective about other things.

    Best regards, Tue, and my respect to your viewpoints. Sorry for any ill-feeling.

    "Realism" as a literary phenomenon isn't anything new, relating to Britain (are you thinking of the kitchen sink dramas of the late 50s/early 60s?) In fact, realism was going on ages ago, in America. Was it Dreiser? It's a long time ago since I studied all that stuff.

    I don't quite understand what you mean by "the common framework of literary symbolism that has evolved over many centuries." The traditional idea of symbols is that they are archetypes – the term you used. You find the same symbols – for example, death & rebirth – over & over again, almost since the dawn of art. Supposedly they remain the same, as they represent universal truths, that have always been latent in the collective unconscious (I don't personally believe in Jung, though). Like you say, let's try to be as rational as possible.

    The idea of layered narratives (we could both give many examples of this) – or literary polyphony – is a whole other can of worms.

    I like lots of different kinds of fiction (many different genres, not just realism), as long as it's sincere – i.e. has a core of "inner truth". It's nothing to do with being British or American.

    Please don't take what I said as a personal attack. I enjoyed reading your post, as I've enjoyed reading your other ones, in the past.

    People reading arguments like this get bored to tears – I know I do – UNLESS IT'S ABOUT THE COMICS.

    We are all supposed to be united in this blog, in that we are fans of Jim's work, no matter what our differences in perspective on other things.

    Best regards, Tue, and my respect to your viewpoints. Sorry for any ill-feeling.

    Phillip

  68. Anonymous

    "While I was in charge of VALIANT, we fully intended to go with the Gasoline Alley style of storytelling — having the characters age in real time."

    [MikeAnon:] The problem, though, is that the impression given by such storytelling is that only 12 exciting things a year can happen to each of your titles, or else you have to do like you did with HARBINGER and keep the kids in comas for months on the on moon. If I recall correctly, the same timing was applied to the NEW UNIVERSE line of books, and it showed.

    I would actually prefer the TRIUMPHANT UNIVERSE's "universal date" approach in which each comic was "stamped" on the cover with the date on which it occurred according to that universe's timeline. I'm actually able to read all of their books in chronological order.

    Think about it: Why should a fictional universe reflect real time? What about creating an earth that didn't have the religious figures who define time for us today? Make an alternate earth with an alternate history that gives us the same world we have today but allows us to establish our own timeline in which to fit characters' lives and momentous events. [–MikeAnon]

    "Torque died….I hope nobody brought him back after I was gone….his death was a first, to my knowledge….Stabbed from behind. Dead."

    [MikeAnon:] Nope, nobody brought him back. And not only stabbed from behind but also poisoned in the ambulance! [–MikeAnon]

  69. Tue,
    My quote "reality is a subjective thing, which varies according to the viewer's own prejudices" was something I learned from a Marvel comic, more than 20 years ago – Thanos said it, in Strange Tales, featuring Adam Warlock – just before Warlock confronted the Magus. Take it up with old rock face, if you don't agree!

    In your second comment you say, "Doesn't sound like you're going by a scientific world-view." Oh but I am. On the quantum level, everything is subjective (Professor Brian Cox is doing a good show on that, next week). But let's not get into one of these kinds of squabbling debates.

    Next you say, "Frankly, I don't detect much understanding of my views in your comments". Please don't take offence. It's very easy to misunderstand what someone is saying in this kind of forum; I concede that. I just thought the way you'd defined your terms of reference, 'realism' & 'art' didn't make sense to me. If we were speaking face to face, it would be easier to understand each other. As I could discuss various interpretations of 'art' & supposed 'realism' – as could you. I'm not wanting to put you down, or belittle you. Sorry if it came across that way.

    You saying that I was talking about subjective "inner truth" is misunderstanding my point. A good story should have objective truth, not a subjective one. Although your interpretation of Spiderman's origin is one I'd never considered, so some subjectivity is clearly in it.

    As to your idea that Spidey's dictum is a radical rejection of 'All Power Corrupts'. Maybe. But to me, it just said that the more power you have, the greater the responsibility. The idea that power has the potential to corrupt arises in Jim's story, 'War Against the Gods'. Thor's inherent (albeit very mild) hubris shown at various times over the previous year, is increased by Moondragon's antics (& mind control), whereupon he & her started to see themselves as being above mere mortals. If you don't know it already, it's one to look at. If you disagree with my interpretation, still read it to watch Iron Man absorb Thor's lightning bolts & the resulting wallop! Another classic from Jim.

    If, knowing that I'm British, you wish to hurt my feelings or make a personal attack on me, by attributing to me a position that all British comics fans take, this is mistaken. I haven't read a British comic for nearly 30 years, and the only ones I used to like reading were the American ones (except for the odd 2000AD/Starlord, & the Beano & IPC, when I was 8!).

    Your comment about British people having one view, and American people having another seems like a massive generalisation. They all think something different – each one of them.

    I think you are misunderstanding the terms "realism" and "symbolism". But I know this sounds patronising, so ignore it.

    What is the British perspective? We all think something different. Do you mean negativity, or an anti-authoritarian stance? Some people who are doing badly now in Britain would feel that (although others may feel positive enough to feel they could conquer their difficulties). In the U.S., some would feel that, too.

  70. Anonymous

    "One murder should not be enough to get the death penalty, but if you kill many people I think you forfeit your status as a human being who can exist among other human beings."

    [MikeAnon:] I'm happy that someone else recognizes one significant reason the death penalty exists — to firmly and finally remove people from the planet who can no longer be trusted to function properly in human society.

    I do not, however, agree that one murder is not sufficient for a person to have reached that threshold of non-coexistence. Nor do I think that loss of life is required. In my opinion, anything for which a person might receive LWOP (Life W/O Parole) should be a death penalty offense instead. We should have no compunction about saying there is a minimum threshold of humanity a person ought to exhibit to remain breathing. [–MikeAnon]

  71. Anonymous

    Actually in the first Punisher story he's hired by the Jackal to kill Spider-Man, whom he is told is a very bad guy.

    Rob

  72. Phillip,
    Reality is a subjective thing? Doesn't sound like you're going by a scientific world-view. Frankly, I don't detect much understanding of my views in your comments – I am talking about large general symbols and (indeed) archetypes, but I don't think our respective terminologies about those things are compatible. My views are based on a complex theory of art which relates to culture and our common cultural consciousness – not some stuff about subjective "inner truths".

    Spider-Man's dictum, to my mind, is a radical and progressive response to "power corrupts" which has the broad effect of making superheroism possible, unlike what most British (and some British-friendly American) comics writers believe. The Stan Lee type of superhero is based on a philosophically triumphant idea which is valid (i.e. has real application for those who choose to embrace it), and which rejects the pessimistic idea that power of any kind must always corrupt. The Brits have never gotten beyond the tendency to appropriate all sorts of stories for their one-trick anti-establishment project of criticizing the government or what have you, whereas Marvel superheroes have (or had, before the British influence ruined them) crossed over into much more inspirational territory, being about a destillment of all the positive things about the human spirit and the symbolical desire to solve world problems. Again, the problem with the British perspective is its insistence on trying to be realistic. Realism can never contain as much progressive substance and as many layers of meaning and interpretation as well-done artistic symbolism – pop culture entertainment is art precisely *because* of that symbolism. The choice to write a realistic story means that the author often removes himself from the common cultural framework of literary symbolism that has evolved over many centuries, in interaction with the human nature of the readership. This can only make the realist work poor in comparison, unless it is particular strong and inspired. But, this is a complex discussion (what is the nature of art?), and there are many exceptions. I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with me.

  73. I believe that most publishers wouldn't dare do such a thing. They cling desperately to every marginal success fearing that it might never happen again, as if it were a lucky accident.

    You're right, unfortunately. One of the reasons that new superhero characters often fail to succeed is that they're too simplistic and are seen as derivatives. Some superhero comics readers transfer their attitudes toward fiction generally and label all fiction as formula fiction, when it's not, of course. The power of fiction to create a fictional reality in any given story is in the details, and too many comics writers seem to think that the artwork will cover the shortage of details. It doesn't.

    Superhero stories don't have to be morality plays; the characters don't have to be symbols. A crucial part of constructing a superhero story, or a superhero universe, is determining the source of the powers. Whether the source is aliens (e.g., Marvel's Celestials), gods, technology, or inherent in humans (the Rick Jones power), that will influence the nature of the stories based in that universe. In other respects, the stories can be as rational as any genre fiction story, and as full of ideas as any hard SF story.

    SRS

  74. Various thoughts on stuff people have said:

    Even if Gotham is in a state that allows the death penalty (and I think there was a story where the Joker got the death penalty for something he *didn't* do, only to be cleared by Batman), that need not spell the end of the Joker. There's often a time lag between someone between sentenced to death and actually being executed, especially if there's an appeal process and especially since a year doesn't pass in the DCU after a year of stories.

    I think the letter pages at the time called BS on the Cap killed a terrorist story. Even if you discount the WW2 stories, it looked a lot like Cap and Rick Jones killed Hydra agents when Jim Steranko was the artist. But that was against a huge group of villains. I had more of a problem with him killing some bad guys at the start of Brubaker's run just because he was going through a rough time and got a bit reckless. I see Cap as someone who will kill under specific circumstances but never as a first option and never if it's preventable.

    I think with Sgt Fury there was a disconnect between the art and the writing. Stan negated deaths where he could but he couldn't always (e.g. when Gabe and Dum Dum tossed grenades into a room and shut the door).

    I think the Punisher works best as a counterpoint for heroes who don't kill and they should always try to arrest him when he turns up. That said I enjoy his solo adventures as well, at least when the stories are true to him as an anti-hero. For him it's actually when he uses "mercy bullets" that he doesn't work for me unless he's actively trying to fool the heroes.

    While this hasn't been brought up, I had a problem with how non-challantly heroes killed Skrulls during the Secret Invasion. I was more disturbed than I think I was supposed to be when Hawkeye killed a Skrull who genuinely believed herself to be Mockingbird. Not only is this and his attempt to kill Osborn out of character to him, but even from a practical perspective it made no sense: she posed no immediate threat and in the event that she "went native" (which certainly seemed possible) could have been a valuable asset to the heroes. Even the Punisher, being a skilled tactician might have opted to use her and then dispose of her later. But even if you consider this a war situation, the heroes should have been disturbed once they had time to reflect on things.

  75. Tue,
    You've raised a lot of interesting points. I'll try to go through them, one by one.

    You start by making a distinction between realism and art. This is too simplistic (I suppose you know this, yourself, and are just using shorthand). First of all, 'reality' is a subjective thing, whilst art – in the form of fiction – is not homogeneous. The are many forms of fiction – realism, romanticism, and dozens of others.

    However, fiction, whether it is in the form of 'realism' or not, must have an inner 'truth' (even in fairy tales). The author is responsible for what he writes. This cannot be avoided. Joseph Conrad was obsessed with this issue, condemning Melville's Moby Dick, on the grounds that he thought there wasn't a sincere word in it (I disagree strongly). To great writers – in comics too – the story must be sincere (i.e. have an "inner truth"), or it NEVER works.

    You said that superhero stories – by their very nature – aren't realistic, or intended to be such. I disagree. The characters parade around in lycra & spandex, but the stories deal with 'inner truths' – most famously Spidey's "Great power…etc". When they don't, they become the kind of dreck that's published today.

    You also talk about the stories being 'symbolic', and discuss archetypal characters, like the hero who will not kill. You are confusing a motif with an archetype. Archetypes are truths from the collective unconscious sometimes represented by figures – if you believe that Jungian stuff. I think this was what you are saying, too, in a different way. Psychologists please elaborate.

    The early Blade story worked – trust me. It was very powerful (Francis Bacon's famous quote).

    The Punisher is not a character whose raison d'etre is to 'save the innocents'. He started out, trying to take out the mobster who killed his family. This was the first Punisher story, and it made some kind of sense (whether you agree with his methods or not). Not long after that it just got silly, with Castle spraying machine gun bullets everywhere.

    I thought Fight Club was very poor, pretending to be more profound than it actually was – like the protagonist was a modern day Babbitt. Lewis did it better.

    You said ultimately it's reduced to black & white – good versus evil, like in Commando, with Arnie. I watch films like Commando to relax, occasionally, but I don't take them seriously.

    Extremely good stories, like Jim's Korvac Saga, however, which aren't just cartoon violence, make such an impression on me that I'm still thinking about them 30 years later. That's because the story has an inner truth to it, and the writer – i.e. Jim – is sincere.

    Sorry, if I've misunderstood your views, or have over simplified them, in order to disagree with them. Feel free to point out how I've got it wrong – I frequently do. I enjoyed your comments about the Star Wars stormtroopers – reminds me of the guards at Claremont's Hellfire Club!

    Phillip

  76. Anonymous

    Tue brings up a good point

    Punisher, like Dirty Harry, and Death Wish, is a symbol. A symbol of the desire of the regular guy to “do something” about the world that seems to be out of his control and where it seems the victims get nothing and the criminals get every advantage-whether legally, through corruption, etc. A world that seems out of control.

    It’s not surprising that these figures emerged in popularity in the 70 and 80s, and it is not surprising that they faded some when crime plummeted in the 90s and 2000s.

    The little guy in the 30s wanted to shake the slumlords and beat up the crooked politicians, etc. These were the forces that seemed to control their world unfairly. They got Superman and Superman did that-smashed down slums, threatened to beat up crooked politicians and labor leaders and racketeers, ended wars easily.

    In the 70s and 80s, society felt overwhelmed by crime. And the perceived coddling of criminals. They wanted to blow away the drug dealers and the murders, and the rapists. Remove them from society. Enter the Punisher.

    In the 2000s, similary with the fear of terrorists and the sense of it being out of one’s control, enter Jack Bauer, who could solve any threat to the world in 24 hrs without sleeping or eating, who tortured, yes, but guys we knew were bad guy murdering scum who had the secret to the ticking nuclear bomb that we knew as the viewer was about to go off.

    It’s simplistic. But it’s also cathartic. Therapeutic.

    To live your lives through these guys who know who all the bad guys are, know how to deal with them, and never suffer any guilt or post traumatic stress because they are that strong and right and their mission that true.

    Rob

  77. Dear Denny,

    When the scene where Wolverine killed the guards came up, I suggested a storyline to Chris Claremont, addressing why the X-Men, who were reluctant-to-unwilling to take a life kept a homicidal berserker in their midst. To prevent him from killing! I proposed that Xavier (ever concerned about public perception of mutants) had been subtly exerting a level of mental control over Wolverine from the beginning, restraining him a bit. Wolverine finds out. Major conflict ensues. Where it might have gone, I left to Chris.

    Chris wasn't interested.

    I used a variation of the idea during my Legion of Super-Heroes run. Previous writers had established Timber Wolf as feral and violent, too much like Wolverine to suit me, frankly, but whatever. That was the editor's call, not mine. I had Saturn Girl control him. Conflicts ensued….

  78. Dear Steven,

    While I was in charge of VALIANT, we fully intended to go with the Gasoline Alley style of storytelling — having the characters age in real time. I fully intended for Shadowman to die in 1999, as predicted in UNITY. The Shadowman series, even if tremendously successful, would have ended at that point due to the death of the star.

    And the death of a character was irrevocable as far as I was concerned.

    I believe that most publishers wouldn't dare do such a thing. They cling desperately to every marginal success fearing that it might never happen again, as if it were a lucky accident. I felt if we at VALIANT took such a bold step, allowing the death of a headliner, A) we could create another success, because we knew what we were doing, and if what we were attempting worked at all, we could do it again, and B) after that, who would dare look away?

    P.S. Torque died, and I fully intended to keep him deceased. I hope nobody brought him back after I was gone. I don't know whether anyone noticed or cared, but his death was a first, to my knowledge — never before had a bad guy planned to murder a hero and succeeded as planned. No mano-a-mano, no heroics. Stabbed from behind. Dead.

    P.P.S. No cutting to the graveside and hearing "…ashes to ashes…" We did the entire burial service. We trampled every cliche we could.

  79. Phillip,
    Good points – but again, there is that difference between realism and art. Realistically, if you go around killing a lot of people like Punisher does, the chance that you will one day happen to kill someone who doesn't deserve it is pretty great. But if the character inhabits a cartoony universe where we know that all his victims were real bad guys, that worry isn't there. REALISTICALLY, any superhero (even Captain America) who goes around punching (bad) people all the time, perhaps even using superpowers, are always at risk of inadvertently hurting someone innocent. Like when Green Arrow killed a guy (back in the Neal Adams days). But most superhero stories are NOT realistic, and so do not have to worry about this. Blade killing a non-vampire is an element of realism encroaching on a usually non-realistic type of storytelling. Sometimes such stories can work. But often they don't.

    Whether the Punisher is a force for good or not entirely depends on the universe he inhabits. His aim is to destroy evil and corruption. To save the innocents. The violence he uses is the same kind of symbol used in violent action movies, and which came to a head in the movie Fight Club: Violence symbolizes change. Progressive social change which shakes people out of their uncritical acceptance of the way things normally are. This is also a basic symbol in superhero comics. In this sense, the symbolism is actually even starker in Punisher stories than in most other mainstream superhero comics. The trick is not to take the stories literally. They are not about killing; they are about the furious resolve to *do something* about the problems of the world. And because the real problems are very complex, the symbolism reduces the situation to something very, very simple. Good guys vs. bad guys. The Punisher is not a superhero with lofty ideals, but he *is* an action hero just like a lot of what we see in movies, incl. Rambo, Commando, Die Hard, etc.

  80. Anonymous

    Of course the Punisher is a force for good. If you're taking out murderers, rapists, huge drug dealers/smugglers, terrorists, etc. and refuse to hurt innocent people, in a world where the police and the courts are too ineffective or too corrupt to take care of these things themselves, you're a force for good. and they'd probably give you a medal.

    That said, his stories tend to be boring and repetive. IMO, the best Punisher stories are when his methods are contrasted with DD, Spidey, Cap, even Wolverine.

    Rob

  81. Good one, Denny.

    Tue,
    I agree with a lot of what you've put, but the Punisher isn't a force for good. The only way characters like the Punisher work, is when they are kept separate from the mainstream Marvel universe (the problem with this argument, though, is he started in Spidey – someone will tell me this, even though I've already made the point myself).

    British Marvel had a monthly, called Savage Action, which combined Moon Knight, the Punisher, Dominic Fortune, and Night Raven, all in a large, single comic. Savage Action's strapline highlighted their parallels, saying they were enigmatic soldiers of fortune (or something like that) – i.e. NOT superheroes. Savage Action made for a good read. However, it almost never went into the mainstream Marvel universe.

    Later on, Savage Action (the title tells you it's not the world of superheroes) featured Blade (sorry to start on vampires again, but I'm going somewhere with this).

    This early Blade story showed exactly what happens if you go around acting like the Punisher. Blade was a confident man, with great faith in himself, killing only in cases in which the end justifies the means. Then one day Blade was so sure of himself that he killed a vampire, only to find out it wasn't a vampire at all, and his entire world collapsed. Blade's near breakdown after this killing was dealt with in great detail. This was a very powerful story (maybe someone else remembers the exact issue). Eventually, some kind of "cheat" by the writers let Blade off the hook – was it a trick by the vampires? I forget. Nevertheless, it was very astute of Savage Action to include this story in the same volume that featured the Punisher, as it gave young readers (who probably shouldn't be reading Savage Action!) a balanced look at things.

    Phillip

  82. Anonymous

    If Cap never killed anyone in wartime, and he has such a distaste for killing-to the point in the 80s he'd take down heroes who tried to kill-then Cap would have been obligated by his own morality to take down Sgt Fury, and every soldier he ever worked with who killed. Because it would have been unaccpetable to for anybody to kil anybody

    Fairly ludicrous.

    A man who smashed other men in the head, stomach, or body with a shield made out of the hardest substance every created is not a pacifist, and he's not a lightweight, and would be hypocritical to have a no kill position.

    Rob

  83. Anonymous

    Hagop, Cap is not a civilian. He's worked with and for SHIELD since he came back pretty much

    He's more like a soldier who then joins the CIA in the field and accompanies SEAL TEAM SIX to Pakistan to get Bin Laden..

    Rob

  84. Anonymous

    No, Iron Man is a rich public figure Tony Stark. Captain America is a symbol of the country. They cannot do things that Wolverine or even Spider-Man (were he to be a killer) could do because they don't represent anything to anyone.

    How can killing be morally wrong to save a life? Makes no sense.

    as for subverting the justice system, superheroes do that every day when they act without probable cause, do not have chain of custody for evidence, and bash people's skulls in. So that would be a selective reason.

    The reason they don't kill is a holdover from the comics code, and various imposed standards by the companies becayse comic books were read by 5 yr olds and scrutinized.

    TV used to get the same thing.

    But just like Jack Bauer is not the Lone Ranger, and Sipowitz is not Jack Webb, times changed.

    Rob

  85. Rob said:
    The Avengers are symbols and public and there things their members can't do because of that, is how i read it.

    *********************************
    The reason super-heroes typically don't kill is because they believe it is morally wrong and they don't want to subvert the justice system. It's not because they are symbols. In the scene I described, Captain America is not arguing that having Wolverine as a member will be bad for the Avengers' image, he's arguing that Wolverine is morally unfit for membership.

    At any rate, the analogy to a President having the CIA assassinate someone does not fit. Iron Man and Wolverine are peers in the Avengers. If Iron Man can't kill people because he's a public symbol and it would reflect badly on the Avengers as symbols, then how can he have Wolverine kill people for him when he is also an Avenger?

    The only conclusion is that Iron Man's reasons for not killing are simply that he finds it personally distasteful to do so. I think that's a repugnant position to take, and a hero shouldn't be depicted in such a manner.

  86. I think people should be careful about wanting fiction to reflect what happens in real life. The reason I think so is complicated. I believe most serious fiction is art, and based on various archetypal and symbolical elements of storytelling, which make statements about what those element symbolize. Of course, a lot of writers are not actually aware of this, but I think it is an ingrained cultural thing. Sometimes, however, writers are specifically going for realism (mimicking real life), which often undermines the erstwhile symbolism. This can only really work if the writer is acutely aware of what he's doing. I think a great example of the mess this can cause is the Batman/Joker situation. The Joker keeps adding to his mass-murder score, and Batman can't kill him. The result is, essentially, that those killings are becoming Batman's fault. Yet he refuses to kill the mass-murderer. To me that's just really awful storytelling, moronically mixing realism and the (normally admirable) artistic archetype of the hero who refuses to kill. A great reason that I have never been much of a Batman fan.

    I think fiction should be kept either properly realistic or properly symbolic/artistic – and I don't much care for realism; I want art. Killing in symbolical stories (to which category the vast majority of superhero stories belong by default) is ill-advised, and if there is a lot of it, it corresponds to stupid and lazy writing. It should only be done (if ever) in exceptional cases, under very clear and justified circumstances. It should never be done lightly.

    However, some stories belong in a different category; a cartoony world of black & white good and evil, often with some humor, where the symbol schemes are very different. Like Star Wars. In such stories, it's perfectly fine to kill faceless stormtroopers, because they only symbolize clear evil.

    Then there is Punisher stories, which has elements of both. The point is that the Punisher is not a hero. He is a force for good, and he solves problems the hard way: by eliminating them. In terms of realism, his actions can't be justified, but in a simple balck & white world where we know with 100% confidence that the drug lords and mafia goons he kills are all total bad guys who really deserve it, it becomes effective entertainment that one can root for (here I'm talking more of Mike Baron's stories than the later ones by the likes of Ennis, which are completely different and of no interest to me). Even so, the best Punisher stories are the longer and more complex storylines where he actually might not kill that many people, but still manages to deal a crippling blow to crime and corruption.

    I am emphatically not in favor of the death penalty, although I do think it should be invoked in extreme and exceptional mass-murder cases. One murder should not be enough to get the death penalty, but if you kill many people I think you forfeit your status as a human being who can exist among other human beings. This is also why I often have no problem with a corruption-fighting protagonist killing the evil bad guys.

  87. Anonymous

    well put Denny

  88. Anonymous

    Another interesting topic. People certainly have diverse ideas on what a hero is.

    For my money a hero is a beacon of hope, an idealist who practices what he or she preaches. That doesn't mean said hero is a pacifist or afraid of getting knuckles bloodied. But if we extend the mantra "With great power comes great responsibility" heroes have a duty not to take the easy way out and kill lawbreakers, murderers, enemy soldiers, et al.

    A protagonist, on the other hand, may be a hero or may not. I never had a problem with characters like Jonah Hex, Sgt Rock, and, say, the 1980s Suicide Squad killing their opponents because they never professed to be being heroes. Just people paid to do a job — and often nasty jobs at that.

    Just a couple thoughts on various characters mentioned:

    Captain America — A hero. I grew up in the era when Roy retconned pretty much all original Golden Age stories as either all or partially non-canonical (Invaders #5) so I never believed Cap killed anyone even in wartime.

    Punisher — A protagonist and bad one at that. I remember when people like Spidey and ol' Hornhead used to hand his murderous butt over to the police. The day he was rewarded his own book was when I thought the House of Ideas took a very wrong turn.

    Wolverine — A mad dog on a very short leash. It always bothered me when writers began to try and glamourize his character with veneers of "honor". I'd probably have felt different if he had shown remorse for his killing (and maiming) actions at the time. Instead it was like trying to whitewash villains like Magneto (and Deathstroke over at DC)
    later on. Blech.

    And his killing (or extreme maiming?) of the guards in X-men #116? Surely a "hero" whose superior stalking skills would allow him to hunt (NOT kill) a deer in X-men #109 could have just sneaked up and rendered the guards unconscious. And Storm and Nightcrawler should have challenged him on that!

    Finally, writers who tend to depict Cap (and Bucky too) as "heroes" who regularly killed in WWII just give me one more reason to stay out of mainstream comics. And to rethink getting rid of the comic code was such a great idea.

    Denny

  89. re: "I think that line of thought is insulting to soldiers. Find a combat soldier that has killed in time of war, and ask them how they feel about killing as civillians."

    I don't think that is a good analogy. Super heroes aren't civilians. If a soldier returned from war, his role and actions would be different if he, say, went into accounting – rather than being a cop.

    An accountant isn't tasked with keeping his community safe and being in the line of danger. A cop is.

    A super hero puts him self out there as well. If he will not/cannot do what needs to be done, he shouldn't be in that line of work.

  90. I don't really want to weigh in on the whole "To Kill or Not to Kill" debate. Suffice to say I agree with Jim: Do whatever–but play out the consequences and don't take it lightly.

    But I wanted to comment specifically on the idea (that is apparently pretty widespread) that since Captain America killed people in World War II, he would "have no problem killing". I think that line of thought is insulting to soldiers. Find a combat soldier that has killed in time of war, and ask them how they feel about killing as civillians. I'm sure they'd be willing to kill "in extremis", as Jim puts it, to protect themselves or others when there is no other option. But they don't have the supernatural talents and skills of Captain America. Assuming they would kill merely for expeidency is insulting to them. And to superimpose that on Cap shows a severe misunderstanding of Steve Rogers as a character.

  91. These characters don't end.

    Accept it or move on i guess.

    That perspective is too simplistic. It's very possible for characters to change and progress, and for the fictional universe to progress toward an endpoint. The trick is to pace the progress and to make the characters complex enough and lifelike enough so that changes in their perspectives and relationships matter to them and to the reader. Politics, economics, morals, ethics — the number of ways in which there can be conflicts which don't require fake deaths is huge.

    The illusion of change policy as practiced by Marvel and DC is based on the conviction that the existing readership is too unsophisticated to accept marriage, complexity, and subtle changes which can't be marketed simply.

    The increasing prevalence of reboots as a way of finding new readers is an indication that the audience for the never-ending serial is shrinking too quickly for publishers to accept.

    SRS

  92. Anonymous

    Anyway, batman and the joker will be doing this same dance 50 yrs from now, the same way that CHarlie Brown never learned not to try and kick the football, the Simpsons characters never aged, Garfield still wants to eat lasagna, and sherlock holmes will be rebooted again and again. Optimus Prime will never really defeat megatron. Big Bird will always have the mentality of a six year old. Elmo will never grow up and move out of the house.

    These characters don't end.

    Accept it or move on i guess.

    Rob

  93. I think the problem is not that the heroes don't kill the villains. After all, the law on lethal force is pretty clear that it is unlawful to use except in the defense of life.

    The problem is the sheer number of stories where the hero is put into positions where lethal force is entirely justified…and still can't bring himself to pull the trigger and save the day. For instance, in the Phoenix Saga, Wolverine throws Colossus in a Fastball Special (they're on the moon, so it's justified) at Dark Phoenix. He tells him he wouldn't be able to kill her because he loves her, which he's fully cognizant is a failing at this particular moment, but it's the only way to stop her (and it was, as the end of the story indicates). So Colossus is hurtling toward her, intent on stopping her menace, and at the last moment, he can't do it. It's understandable, it's even human, but it's a sign of weakness, not heroism. Colossus was not a superhero at that moment.

  94. Anonymous

    A Corporation that owns a comic is never going to permanently kill or end major characters. They would eventually lose the copyrights. those are valuable properties

    So you either have to accept that they will go on forever-and semi-frequntly be rebooted, restarted, or things undone and continue to read things that will never have real endings

    or grow up and move on to other things that have real endings as people were pretty much meant to do with comics.

    Part of the problem today is that there's too many people who remember "HEY-35 yrs ago when I was 8 Cap was paralyzed at the thought of killing someone and had to quit and now he killed a terrorist without thinking about it-bogus" and can't let it go

    as opposed to the past. Back in the 80s, there wasn't so many people around to say "HEY, this is crap, 35 yrs ago, Cap killed commies without caring and now he's paralyzed at the thought of killing? Bogus."

    or "I can't believe they retconned that Bucky was older, don't they know it didn't happen that way? Bucky was younger and killed. Retcons are an abomination"

    "But that was a retcon by Stan Lee."

    " Oh um, but that one counts, see, because I read that when i was 7, and now I'm 45 and I can't accept them"

    Rob

  95. You have to accept as a convention of the genre that villains will get out of jail far quicker than they would in real life [snip]

    The only alternative is that the stories do not go on forever.

    The "illusion of change" policy, wherever and whenever it's implemented, is just that: a deliberately chosen policy which emphasizes name recognition and formulas over creativity and writing as a job over writing as art.

    Labeling the absence of death a "genre convention" means that there will never be actual drama in stories, since making changes dramatic requires that they last. When someone dies in a novel, the death has an emotional impact; if a novel has an unhappy ending, the impact of the ending lasts precisely because there's no way to undo it. The characters have met their fates.

    Labeling structural weaknesses in stories "genre conventions" amounts to an argument that people shouldn't read the stories.

    SRS

  96. Anonymous

    You have to accept as a convention of the genre that villains will get out of jail far quicker than they would in real life, or heroes will not kill them-talking major villains-and that heroes won't get permanetly hurt, etc

    The only alternative is that the stories do not go on forever. Which makes maybe for better stories but is not going to happen to properties wortha lot of money in serial fiction.

    Rob

  97. Anonymous

    czeskleba said…
    If Stark and the other Avengers are willing to let Wolverine kill people for them, that tells us that the reason they don't kill is not because they consider it wrong or unethical, but simply because they find it distasteful to do it themselves. Blech.
    ***
    I don't read it that way or find it disateful

    The Avengers are symbols and public and there things their members can't do because of that, is how i read it.

    Same reason the CIA does things that the FBI can't, and special forces and spies and what not do things we don't even want to know about.

    or why say JFK didn't have killed the S. Vietnamese President, he had someone else do the coup.

    Rob

  98. Anonymous

    To follow-up, sincee death penalty was reinstated in 1976 by the Supreme Court,, the U.S. government has only executed 3 people following criminal trials.

    1. Tim Mcveigh, the OK city bomber in June 2001

    2. Juan Raul Garza also in June 2001, drug smuggler convicted of murdering 3 people

    3. Louis Jones Jr. March 2003, a gulf war veteran who broke into an air force base, raped a female air force private, and then beating her to death with a tire iron.

    Rob

  99. Anonymous

    Or, for that matter, did any of the judges in any of the Joker's subsequent trials ever even sentence him to death? Apparently not. Why? Who knows? I would guess it was because of the insanity defense. So, if the U.S. government (who will execute someone at the drop of a hat mind you) doesn't see fit to "kill" the Joker, why is it Batman's responsibility to do so?

    ***
    Not true. The U.S. government doesn't execute at the drop of the hat.

    The crimes you are talking about are generaly state crimes. and it would be up to each state whether they have the death penalty, what the insanity defense means, and whether he would be executed. Not the U.S. government

    Texas, for example, would have executed him. NY would not.

    Now, in no state of course would the Joker-who knows rigth from wrong, ever get the bargain of the insanity defense and Arkham would have been closed long ago for incompetence but that is another story.

    Rob

  100. Anonymous

    A soldier who kills Nazi soldiers or spies during WWII might get a medal, whereas that same soldier killing the perpetrator of a gas station robbery could be charged with murder.
    ***
    That's not really true at all. If the person is in the process of a robbery, deadly force can often be used to stop it, particularly an armed robbery. and the person does not have to be a police officer to do it.

    and of course, Cap is fighting villains which threaten the world far more than nazis.

    Rob

  101. If Batman should kill the Joker, shouldn't he also kill any other villains that have killed people, escaped justice, and then killed again?

    That’s not going to happen, unfortunately. The Joker, as a commercial property, is too valuable to be written to a permanent endpoint. There will always be people who haven’t seen Batman and the Joker in action or don’t mind seeing them yet again.

    They could be written to endpoints, though. Imagine a scenario in which Batman kills the Joker and finds that the death actually lasts and removes the villain from the scene — but the realization causes Batman to become unbalanced. He begins to kill evildoers too easily, in the course of seeking permanent solutions to his perceived problems. Then the world itself rises against him: Batman begins to face increasingly grotesque and savage enemies who are out to kill him, and the only apparent way to stop them is to kill them. Things reach the point at which the world itself seems to be insane, bent on Batman’s destruction. He has a choice: Does he continue to try to live in an insane world that’s seemingly intent on killing him, or does he try to get out of it? The solution is to kill himself. If he wakes up in a new reality, whether he’s Batman or someone else, his biggest problem has been solved. If he remains dead, then he has ended a life that was no longer worth living. Either way, the DC Universe is gone too.

    People can be killed. Cartoon characters cannot be.

    SRS

  102. Nick Yankovec

    Regarding Batman, if you have a similar view to Batman as Nolan seems to, in both his Batman films, then you can understand why Batman does not and cannot kill. Compare the endings of Batman Begins, where Bruce lets R'as die, and the ending of the Dark Knight, where he will not let the Joker die.

    Powerful stuff, and Nolan sure explains it a lot better than I could ever hope to 🙂

    Nick

  103. Anonymous

    Much like motion pictures that had to operate under the MPPDA after 1934, comics had to convey sex and violence in a more subtle way. Also like motion pictures, it made the creators get creative. The end product was sometimes much cooler than if they had just shown violent gore,IMO. A good example of this that struck me at the time as being quite cool was in X-men #137(I think. It's too early and I'm not looking it up.) when Wolverine "kills" the Hellfire Club henchmen. Instead of being graphic,Byrne simply shows clothing being ripped. But what made it very cool was the panels that Wolverine deals the "killing blow" were colored all red. I thought it was brilliant.

    Salamandyr, I agree with you.

    Neil

  104. re: "If Batman should kill the Joker, shouldn't he also kill any other villains that have killed people, escaped justice, and then killed again?"

    Probably. I realize we have to suspend some reality – as it's no fun to lock up a villain and never use him/her again. Even worse, off the villain and then you really can't use him/her again – unless you clone them, or they didn't really die, or that was an android (well… you know what I'm saying.)

    But if one wants to look at it from a rational angle – Batman has every right to off a lot of his foes. How can you justify the countless innocents deaths because the authorities can't hold on to them?
    He's done it in alternate continuum. He's done it in the movies. Hell, many of the super hero movies end with the villain slain.

    Of course in the 'real world', the Joker or anyone else would have a pretty hard time busting out of a place like Leavenworth. One could live up to the moral code to try to apprehend and subdue.

    But with fantasy serial media you can't really do that, because people empathize and 'enjoy' a good villain. Its like having a hot rod you stick in a garage and never take out – except maybe on a Sunday night at 2am.

    I guess my point is – I am not saying Batman or any others should go around killing off villains. I am saying that if they were to kill one, assuming the circumstances were right, they would be completely justified and it would still 'fit' their character. Now – they might have consequences afterwards – guilt or other issues – but that's the danger of being a super hero. Not every wound should be from a bullet or laser blast. Mental scars can be just as devastating.

  105. Wout Thielemans said:
    In the '70s and '80s, Batman often killed foes in combat – not with the desire to kill them, but in a kill-or-be-killed situation.
    ********************
    No he did not. I'm certain there are no examples of Batman intentionally killing anyone in any 70's or pre-Crisis 80's comics. Once it was decreed (in 1940, I believe) that Batman couldn't kill people, he never again killed anyone in a pre-Crisis comic.

    At any rate, I still don't see what sets the Joker apart that he should warrant execution by Batman when no one else should. Sure, killing 500 people is worse than killing 50, but should it make a difference as far as what Batman does? Should Batman have a minimum threshold, so that he's willing to kill only after a villain reaches a certain number of victims? Or should he kill all his foes who have committed multiple murders? If not, why not?

  106. Wout Thielemans

    The Joker specifically kills more and more people in more and more gruesome ways to provoke Batman, goad him into killing him. So in DC Editorial's mind, Batman is being very heroic NOT killing the Joker, but just slapping him around a bit.

    In the '70s and '80s, Batman often killed foes in combat – not with the desire to kill them, but in a kill-or-be-killed situation. And he just accepted that as a fact of life. It's only post-Crisis that the still-current 'I won't kill anything, not even a demon from Hell!!!!'-attitude took over. And frankly, it's baloney.

    But if the Joker shouldn't be killed, Batman at least should put him out of commission forever. Remove ears, eyes and tongue, amputate hands and feet, and throw him in the deepest cell possible with no communication with the outside world. Because as things stand, Batman accepts hundreds of civilian deaths as acceptable collateral damage in keeping his own conscience clean.

  107. If Batman should kill the Joker, shouldn't he also kill any other villains that have killed people, escaped justice, and then killed again? I'm not up on current Batman continuity, but I bet he has a lot of foes who've killed multiple times in a similar manner. Why should he stop with the Joker? Aside from number of victims, there's no argument for killing the Joker that doesn't also apply to many of other villains. Should Batman kill his entire rogue's gallery? If not, why not?

    I suppose part of the problem is the ridiculous construct of Arkham Asylum. The Joker does not in any way meet the definition of not guilty by reason of insanity, so there is no reason he should not be sent to jail.

  108. re: "That reminds me of most of the GOP & Fox 'News', and their love for torture. Sorry, "enhanced interrogation"."

    First off, the definition of torture is relative. I have read what the CIA is authorized to do. I have read what has been done by the Taliban to others. I can tell you hands down who I would like to be interrogated by.

    Second, I find the broad characterization of "loves torture" to be bullshit. It's something unfortunate that some feel is necessary to extract information and save lives. One can debate how useful it actually is – but I don't think it is fair or honest to characterize it as being done for some sadistic pleasure.

    re: "heroes killing – real and superhero"

    A hero does what needs to be done for the greater good. This may include sacrifice or killing. It isn't something they should take joy in. It shouldn't be done for revenge or an unnecessarily brutal manner. But when they sign up to be the sheep dog, they must occasionally put down a wolf.

    Now not all heroes are equal. Someone like Superman have the luxury of being patient and careful in a lot of circumstances. He can take the stab in the back or the ambush and just chuckle. Someone like the Punisher, who is mortal, can not. People like Spiderman or Batman can set out to not kill – to try to apprehend and subdue – but if you are "in the trenches" some day you a realistically going to have to take someone out permanently.

    I know people who teach 'Conceal Carry' classes. Their students range from people doing it just to exerciser their rights, to people wanting to protect themselves. When the class starts they make it clear that if that person plans to carry, they need to look long and hard at the prospect that they may have to use it some day, and how they will live with those consequences.Cops go through similar training as well, to deal with the psychological aspects of having to pull the trigger. Not to be trite, but "with great power…"

    Superheroes don't have to be superheroes. It is a calling they chose to answer. I know – this is all fantasy. Comics have to do a balance act between fantasy and realism. Because of this Spiderman can have a million adventures where he is never put into that one do-or-die situation. But if he is, we shouldn't look down on him if he chooses life.

  109. re: "Again and again you have quite dynamic battle scenes that, without the use of text, would suggest people being killed. But nearly every time, Stan makes a short comment showing that (a) the Germans actually ran away unharmed; (b) they were just knocked unconscious; (c) only their weapons or assorted machinery were damaged."

    That seems like a cheap cop-out, IMHO. In the chaos of war and battles, how is one supposed to make sure one only knocks out a soldier – not too hard to really hurt him – but hard enough to lose conscientiousness (BTW, getting "knocked out" usually lasts a very short time. Anything more than 1/2 a min or so pretty much guarantees a concussion and is potentially fatal. If you ever watch MMA you will see some killer knock outs, but they often "wake up" a few seconds afterwards.)

    Now throw in explosions, grenades, falling debris, friendly fire, etc, and your sanitized stories become a bit absurd (like the old GI Joe cartoon, or the westerns where the good guys just shot pistols out of peoples' hands – who later had them amputated when the gangrene set in).

    re: "Did the police kill him [The Joker]? Or, for that matter, did any of the judges in any of the Joker's subsequent trials ever even sentence him to death? Apparently not."

    Not an expert on the history of the Joker, but in Joker: Devil's Advocate he was sentenced to death and only saved at the last minute by Batman who figured out the particular murders he was tried and convicted for he didn't actually do. There is also the fact the guy escapes all the time, and given the years it takes to try, convict, and settle all the appeals and lawsuits before an execution, he has lots and lots of time to get out.

    Of course – Batman is just as bat shit crazy as the Joker. The Joker has pointed this out to him many times. It is unconscionable that he continues to allow the Joker to live. He can make the rational that he isn't the Law or has some higher moral code – but that's bullshit. Not taking the law into his own hands is prudent for the first few go arounds, but how many people does he have to murder before Batman stops saying to himself, "Woah – they just can't get their shit together at Arkham. If I bring him back, he will be out in less than a year, killing. Meh – I'm cool with that. I'm not the law. I'm not a jailor. Hope I no one I know or care about gets hurt." In the very least he could cage the Joker up himself.

  110. People should never be killed casually, or without regret, but there are situations where killing is necessary. “Kill or be killed” happens in real life. I’d prefer that comics writers recognize that, and that killing someone can be the best, logical solution for a problem. Ordering writers to set up situations so that killing a villain is avoided constrains them.

    In Busiek’s run on AVENGERS, he had the Avengers go to war against Kang. The villain wiped out the inhabitants of Washington, D.C. with a bomb. In the course of the war, Warbird (formerly Ms. Marvel) killed the Master of the World. The storyline ended with Kang being captured but escaping, and Warbird facing a formal court martial for killing the Master, but being excused because the Avengers were at war. The storyline as a whole should have been more dramatic than it was — events should have had more pathos — but the conventional treatment of the superheroes limited the impacts of events. No one should be bound by moral absolutes.

    One of my favorite storylines is the WEST COAST AVENGERS one in which Mockingbird lets the Phantom Rider fall to his death and then has to deal with the consequences, because the situation was a tangled one without a neat solution. Wondering how a situation will be resolved and who will be hurt the most, or the least, is much more involving than reading a story in which the outcome is known in advance because the heroes’ behaviors are predictable.

    SRS

  111. ja

    Salamandyr,

    If memory serves, it sounds right that extraordinary rendition started with Clinton. Shame on him.

    However, ever since 9/11, the vast majority of the proponents of torture are from people who can't seem to contain their glee over the practice of it. There's such a lust for that kind of behavior from that side of the political fence.

    Except for someone like John McCain, whose only sensible stance in the last bunch of years (to me) is his stance on torture. He should know, based upon his experiences.

    Fox news has no editorial opinion on torture?!? Then you obviously haven't watched Fox 'News'. They happily trot out those talking points all the time. They did recently about the cops pepper spraying the Occupy Wall Street non-violent protesters, claiming that (industrial strength cop-level irritant) was nothing more than a harmless 'vegetable product'.

    As for 'cheap shots'… I had an opinion, which I feel was pretty damned accurate. I expressed it, just like everyone else does theirs. I'm not going to restrict my opinions, just as no one else here restricts his or hers. So next time you see that I've posted, just skip the post.

    =D

  112. As far as killing goes in comics, I have no problem with it when it is clearly shown to be necessary to save lives. I think one of the best depictions of this conflict was actually in an episode of the animated Justice League series "The Savage Time". Vandal Savage had gotten hold of futuristic weaponry that was turning the tides of WWII against the allies. The heroes are sent back in time, and see the allied forces being driven into the sea on D-Day. Realizing that they cannot save that Allies, much less give them a victory without taking lives, Superman says "All right" and begins blowing planes out of the sky. There are a few parachute shots to provide deniability, but it's clear, by both the destruction and the attitude of the heroes, that they are taking lives.

    To me, becoming paralyzed with horror, or allowing even greater destruction to occur in order to keep your hands "clean", is moral cowardice. It's one of the things that I found lacking in comics as I got older. Of course, then they decided to "mature" and turn everyone into rampaging psychopaths. That doesn't work too well either.

  113. Ja, for the record, extraordinary rendition began under Clinton, the Democrats in Congress were in agreement with the Bush Administration regarding enhanced interrogation until they decided to use it as a bludgeon, and Fox News, as far as I know has no editorial opinion one way or the other on torture. They've got opinion journalists working there on both sides of the issue. That is, of course, leaving aside the argument of what exactly falls under the legal definition of torture. But most of all, can we please, please, stop with the cheap shots at political opponents, especially when they don't even relate to the matter at hand? Not only is it a non sequitur, it's rude, and it makes reading the comments an unpleasant experience for those of us who don't share your opinion. There are hundreds of political blogs out there. This one is about comics. Can we please keep it about that?

  114. Bobby P.

    In regard to the supernatural, I think vampires are portrayed, at least at one time as having no soul.

    When the person returned, they were no longer the same. They were twisted and evil. Working for demonic forces.

    And it's always been an accepted notion it's okay to kill demons.

    Plus vampires preyed upon humans.

    So in this way, it's okay to exterminate them. 🙂

    Vampires in the last few decades have been too humanized. Plus when they die they conveniently disintegrate. So there is no body for the hero to clean up. I always thought that was a cop out.

    What about Zombies? The fact that they move means something is working in their brains.

    Are they alive in some form? I like the idea that it's basically a virus. And who doesn't want to get rid of them?

    But it's okay to kill them cause they are already dead. Or close enough to it. lol

  115. ja

    Also, regarding Captain America being a soldier, so it's understandable that he's killed people, or might have to again.

    Just like with anything else, it's all about context. I'm sure if I killed a person with my car, I would be devastated. Even if it weren't my fault. Especially if it was my fault. But if I killed a person in self defense or in defense of others, then I'm sure I'd still feel terrible about killing a human being, but I'd at least know I had no choice in the matter.

    It seems to me that's what Jim's talking about: context.

  116. ja

    There are similar rules when working on commercials for toy products, or anything that's broadcast on something like Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon.

    Generally, when you use animation in a toy commercial (like your play character coming to life in cartoon form), by law it's relegated to a certain amount of 'fantasy' time. The rest of the time kids must be shown to play with the toys with no special effects animation whatsoever. This demonstrates actual reality, so there's no chance of anyone claiming that the toy *should* have actually come to life and fly away or something.

    I worked on several 1-minute GI Joe 3D-animated commercials that advertised the GI Joe website only, so we got around that particular rule. However, there were big discussions on guns vs. laser beams. It was decided that laser beams were 'fantasy', so the weapons would be depicted that way, instead of being depicted as bullet-producing weapons. The final animation (if memory serves) included all the VFX explosions and laser beam trails and such. But for Cartoon Network broadcast, the explosions and laser beam visuals were taken out of the 3D animation. Only the sounds were left in.

    Then for broadcast on Nickelodeon, we had to go one step further. The weapons were visually removed from that render. It was as if the GI Joes were like kids, 'shooting' with only their fingers and hands. This fit Nickelodeon's sensibilities, as they felt their audience was even younger than Cartoon Network's.

    It's like the swastikas being removed from the Captain America movie because Marvel didn't want to lose out on the distribution of the movie to countries like Germany, which doesn't allow such visuals. Like it or not, these various rules and restrictions do exist. You have to abide by them, so as not to lose business.

    I'm betting a great deal of the creators who worked for Marvel back when Shooter was there – and now, I'm sure – never wished to be bothered with the sophistication of 'nuancing' their craft (really not in a big way) toward what everyone's goal always should be, which is to entertain & keep the audience they have, and to do what they can to make it easy (easier) for new readers to hop on board whatever title they're picking up. Hopefully to then build a bigger audience.

    From the stories Jim's told here, it seems whenever he would mention such standards, he was hit with a lot of immature creators balking at being told what to do. That Jim was being a big ol' meanie, and was ruining their day.

    Paying attention to how things are or can be perceived by your audience, or whatever client you're working for in any capacity, can make your eyes crossed. But, it's necessary.

  117. Bobby P.

    Great topic, I never liked the idea that was one time promoted that Captain America hasn't killed people.

    He's a soldier. That's part of the job description. It's something soldiers have to unfortunately do.

    For Cap not to kill people in the line of duty.
    Or to feel guilty about it.

    Would be the same as a firefighter not wanting to go into a burning building. It's part of the job.

    Plus it would make his WWII exploits utterly ludicrous even for a comic book.

    Cap volunteered to be a soldier. No one forced him to join.

    As a trained soldier, he'd have to be able to shoot weapons and be proficient in it.

    For instance in the recent Cap movie, I liked the scene when Cap was battling in the airplane to get the Red Skull.

    A Hydra soldier targets Cap, and what does Cap do? The easiest option he had, he tosses the trooper out of the airplane, because a hole was nearby.

    Then Cap continues his mission.

    That does not mean a hero has to be bloodthirsty. But if it's a war situation and the easiest option to protect everyone is to take the villain out lethally. Well, that's just part of the job. Even for a superhero like Captain America.

    And he shouldn't be whining about the topic. Those were some bad Cap story ideas.

  118. Dear Marc,

    Wonder Woman. Hmm. I re-read what smart fellow Jules Feiffer said about her in his wonderful book, The Great Comic Book Heroes. The aims of William Moulton Marston (Charles Moulton) which had to do with a positive, heroic image for girls and such were admirable. Some of the ways he went about trying to accomplish his aims in those less enlightened times were less so — the emphasis on bondage, etc. I would probably start with Marston's aims and pay less attention to the particulars he (and others) established and make Wonder Woman the embodiment of equality he meant her to be.

  119. Dear novakmm,

    RE: Your three points:

    1) My problem wasn't that a berserker like Wolverine might have killed the guards (and a defense that relies on what might have happened between panels is very thin). My problem was that non-berserker Storm would have objected to his doing so — unless it was absolutely unavoidable. I don't think a few ordinary people, armed or not, pose much of a threat or challenge for Wolverine, so…was it absolutely unavoidable? Did he really have to kill them? Daredevil would easily put down a few armed people without killing them. Wolverine is far more powerful than Daredevil. Oh, God, I think I just started another line of debate. Anyway….

    2) Nothing in the Code Stan (and I) worked under said people couldn't be killed. You could not, however, show blood (this rule people later got around by making the blood black), you could not show a dead man's face, there were limits on graphic gore and you could not show any use of a weapon that could be imitated by a child. No bullets bounced off of Superman's chest in those days because a child might point a gun at someone. (P.S. That's why scissors breaking on Superman's invulnerable hair was frequently used as proof of his invulnerability. Couldn't use a knife or a gun.) Rayguns, "electro-whips," lightning bolts, etc were okay. And, by the way, showing a woman's cleavage wasn't permitted, resulting in many unibreasts. But that rule slowly came to be ignored.

    3) I suppose I'm with you in the main. If someone, vampire or whatever, gives every indication of being sentient, sapient and conscious, well…they're alive or close enough, no?

  120. Kev from Atl

    Hmmm…even if Batman maybe should not technically kill the Joker (although I think his conscience should be clear if he did), maybe he should not try so damn hard to save his life. If I were Batman I would feel personally responsible for every single innocent death perpetrated by the Joker after I saved him from plummeting to his death for the umpteenth time, only to have him shortly thereafter escape and murder many more innocent people.

    Also, as much as I loved Byrne's Fantastic Four (and I truly did love it), Lilandra was right and Reed Richards should have been found guilty after saving the life of Galactus. IIRC, the argument was that he was a force of nature and therefore should not be stopped. Well if we ever figure out a way to prevent earthquakes let's be sure we don't do it, because they are forces of nature and should be allowed to proceed despite the thousands of deaths they cause.

  121. ja

    czeskleba said: "If Stark and the other Avengers are willing to let Wolverine kill people for them, that tells us that the reason they don't kill is not because they consider it wrong or unethical, but simply because they find it distasteful to do it themselves. Blech."

    That reminds me of most of the GOP & Fox 'News', and their love for torture. Sorry, "enhanced interrogation". They wouldn't do it themselves, and they certainly wouldn't allow what they say *aren't* life-threatening tactics to be performed on themselves, either. Yet they'll be happy to have others do it.

    Same difference.

  122. In my opinion, this whole "Captain America is a soldier" rationale is ludicrous. He was a soldier for a short time SIXTY odd years ago. Cap was once a cop, a freelance artist and a SHIELD agent… he's no longer any of those things. His military service isn't the point. I was a soldier once too…I'm not one now.

    Captain America should represent the American Dream not the US government. He fights for each citizens right to achieve their own personal liberties.
    He is a superhero now. As such he would not use a gun or kill anyone unless there was absolutely no other way to protect innocent people. Cap is a character that logically should be used as the moral compass for the Marvel Universe the same way Superman is used for DC.
    As far as Cap punching Hitler on the cover of his 1st issue, it was a propaganda tool at the time. Times have changed! It doesn't work for superheroes to fight real world antagonists. You can tell stories that relate to what's happening in the real world without using the actual circumstances. Englehart proved that with his Secret Empire/Watergate storyline in the seventies.
    Granted I haven't read much of Brubakers supposed genius (he lost me with the whole hackneyed Death of Captain America) but when talking about the definitive Cap I prefer the DeMatteis run followed by Gruenwald and Englehart.

    I KNOW I'm old fashioned and but I like my comic book heroes to act like heroes.

  123. Dear Jim,

    There's some debate here over who Wonder Woman is supposed to be. What do you think is the character's essence?

    Dear New York Yeti,

    To this day I've never read a Punisher story. The concept is too disturbing for me.

    Crippling force creeps me out.

    Dear Rob,

    Is the "I NEVER KILL" motto in the 80s a reaction to the rising levels of tolerable violence in entertainment? A way to tell the reader, "We don't go that far" in a decade when Rambo and the Punisher were firing away?

    Dear Keil,

    I'm surprised Jim hasn't mentioned the Mile High sale. This is his blog and he has every right to promote himself. If I weren't on Mile High's mailing list, I wouldn't have known about the event. Needless to say, I wish I could be there.

    Dear Tony,

    You beat me to what I had been planning on saying. Yes, Cap was a soldier. Was. He's not one anymore. It would be interesting to see Cap and Nick Fury (who still has the license) argue over killing. Maybe it's already been done.

    Dear Bill,

    I'm not against killing bad guys, but I agree with your argument about Batman. I could even go further and say that as long as conventional law enforcement exists in a superhero universe, there is no reason to kill a super-villain except in kill-or-be-killed self-defense.

    But wait. What if there is no more police? No more judges and juries? And even if conventional law enforcement still existed, what if it were powerless against the villains? The Joker is still a man in the end. The police can handle him — and presumably anybody the Punisher hunts down which is why Frank Castle bothers me. But what about Darkseid? Thanos? Korvac? Dark Phoenix?

    In What If? #27, Havok, Polaris, and Cyclops try to kill Dark Phoenix. The k-word is not actually used. Polaris distracts Dark Phoenix so the Summers brothers "can get into position." Havok cries, "Scott, it's up to us! Phoenix must die!" But Scott hesitates, and the narrator tells us (emphasis mine), "Havok's power alone is great enough to stagger Dark Phoenix … but it does not destroy her." "Destroy." Lethal force. If they weren't supposed to kill, what else could they have done? I've heard that writers simply shouldn't paint superheroes into corners like these. Dark Phoenix lives on to kill Havok and Cyclops, then freaks out at Scott's death and destroys the Earth and possibly her entire universe.

    Dear Nick,

    I don't see how "the issues are just too complicated" if Cap fights terrorists. People of various political stances agree that terrorism is wrong. Cap punched Hitler on his first cover dated March 1941, even before America went to war. Why can't he punch out a terrorist on a cover in 2011?

    Dear czeskleba,

    Can you imagine that Avengers scene taking place in the 60s? Sick.

    Why is Wolverine an Avenger? Does he have a good in-universe reason? I'd think being an X-Man would be a full-time commitment.

  124. Jim Shooter wrote:
    Hmm. Apparently I DIDN'T prevent it. I sure tried. I guess I didn't follow up.
    **********************
    It's been a long time since I read those issues, but John Byrne has said that in a subsequent issue, you forced them (he and Claremont) to add some dialogue indicating the henchmen that Wolverine killed were actually robots or somesuch. So apparently you did follow-up, but just after the fact.

    There was a recent issue of Avengers in which Tony Stark defends Wolverine's membership in the group despite Captain America's objection that he is "a murderer." Stark says that "We're going to need someone to go to that place that we can't", ie someone who is willing to kill people when the rest of the Avengers aren't. What a sad, awful scene. If Stark and the other Avengers are willing to let Wolverine kill people for them, that tells us that the reason they don't kill is not because they consider it wrong or unethical, but simply because they find it distasteful to do it themselves. Blech.

  125. novakmm

    Three Points:

    1) I seem to remember – while it's been 20+ years since reading it – in the X-Men Compendium (early 80's) Claremont/Byrne/Jones commenting on Shooter's issue with Wolverine's killing of the guards in the Savage Land. Their offhand remark was that it took place off panel so "maybe" the guards (who clearly had their backs to Wolverine as he approached) turned and saw him, so (as mentioned in a previous comment) the situation warranted their killing. I don't think anything in the story presentation (or anyone reading it for that matter) gives credence to this. They appear to be glib in addressing Shooter's concern.

    2) Great praise is heaped on Stan Lee for his moral stories (deservedly so), but wasn't he also restricted by the Comics Code when it came to violence and killing? (Although I do recall many South East Asian baddies clearly meeting their demise.)

    3) Not really looking for an answer here, just a comment. In Star Trek (and innumerable other places) there were stories where everything from Data to doorknobs were deemed to be worthy of existence owing to having a consciousness. If that is accepted, then why would killing a vampire be any less morally wrong for a hero?

  126. Nick Yankovec

    Jim, think it was still Louise at that point. I know that Claremont has stated he didn't like the way you objected to some of his stories and ideas, but I've also read that he did ackowledge that it made for better writing in the long term.

    Which probably goes a long way to explaining his disappointing work on the X-Men once he returned to the franchise, to be honest. Easily best long form writer ever, when partnered with a good editorial team.

    Back to the subject of Captain America, there has been talk on this post about Cap fighting terrorists; now I have no problem with Cap fighting AIM and Hydra and all those fictional sci-fi terrorist organisations, but I'm not comfortable with him taking on comic book analogues of real terrorist organisations, the issues are just too complicated. Do I want my Cap fighting a thinly veiled Al Queda or battling Batroc Zee Lepair? The french kick boxer gets my vote every time 😀 I'm just old fashioned I guess

  127. Anonymous

    Let's use Batman as an example of why most super-heroes don't (and shouldn't) kill. I seem to hear something like this a lot… "The Joker's murdered hundreds of people, so Batman should have killed him years ago."

    Really? Just think about that for a moment? Batman should have killed the Joker? Why? How man times has Batman captured the Joker and turned him over to the police? Like a hundred? Did the police kill him? Or, for that matter, did any of the judges in any of the Joker's subsequent trials ever even sentence him to death? Apparently not. Why? Who knows? I would guess it was because of the insanity defense. So, if the U.S. government (who will execute someone at the drop of a hat mind you) doesn't see fit to "kill" the Joker, why is it Batman's responsibility to do so? He's not a cop, or a judge, or any sort of an official law-enforcement officer. In fact, he's a freaking vigilante! One who already walks a very thin line as far as a lot of Gotham's legitimate law-enforcement officials are concerned.

    So, imagine what would happen if Batman ran around just killing anyone he thought "deserved" to die. I'll tell you what would happen. He would be wanted for murder. Then he would be hunted down by the "real" police, and if captured, would be put on trial and possibly executed himself.

    So, the next time you're thinking to yourself. "Batman's a wuss. He should just kill the Joker already." Remember, Batman already is a guy who dresses up like a bat and runs around all night beating up criminals. If you saw something like that on the news for real, you'd think he was a nut job. Now, imagine if he was also killing people…

    This logic can be applied to pretty much any costumed super-hero/vigilante. So, when you think about it, the strict "no-kill" policy adopted by most of these individuals really makes much more sense than the alternative.

    Bill

  128. Anonymous

    "The conception of Wonder Woman as an ass-kicking, sword-wielding warrior is 180 degrees from Marston's original conception, and it's ironic that what was conceived as a feminist hero has been so testosteronized for today's audience."

    MikeAnon: I couldn't have said it any better…other than to note that it seems men have tended to write Wonder Woman better than women. I think George Perez was the last writer on Wonder Woman who made me feel like I was reading about a woman rather than a man with jugs. [–MikeAnon]

    "I think [Northstar] died his second death in 'New Avengers'. But I don't know if anyone ever elaborated how he came back from death each time."

    [MikeAnon:] Northstar was killed in the WOLVERINE story "Enemy of the State" and resurrected during that same story by the evil ninja clan The Hand to fight for them. Apparently he was later deprogrammed and returned to Alpha Flight only to be killed in a NEW AVENGERS story and was recently resurrected along with most of the dead members of Alpha Flight at the end of the CHAOS WAR mini-series by a divinely-empowered Hercules. (Yes, that was lame as hell. Alpha Flight's original characters should stay as dead as they are tired, and there should be a new Alpha Flight to take their place.) [–MikeAnon]

    "…remember when duping fans (a la the 'it was all a dream' on the TV show Dallas) was a transgression?"

    [MikeAnon:] To be fair, I have to say as a DALLAS viewer of that era that what sucked so much was not the "it was all a dream" motif but the fact that the prior season had so many good storylines that were never resolved whereas the following season was just horrible — JR acquired a hick child-bride and an illegitimate European son who spoke like a surfer dude, for heaven's sake. No tactic will be remembered as a bad tactic if the result was good stories. Quesada's "One Moment in Time" made his "One More Day" retcon of Spider-man's recent past almost forgivable. [–MikeAnon]

  129. Anonymous

    @Pete – yeah, it was one of those deaths that you knew would be undone as soon as you saw it – remember when duping fans (a la the "it was all a dream" on the TV show Dallas) was a transgression

  130. Jesus Chambrot

    Dear Mr.Shooter,

    I learn a lot from your critiques. Salud!

  131. Dear Nick,

    Yikes. So maybe Louise (or was it Ann?) and Chris DID choose to "deal with the logical consequences" and the theme of Storm's morals was their way of doing so. And, I guess I bought it as a solution. I don't know. I do clearly remember objecting to what I felt was a scene that didn't work.

  132. Dear Phillip,

    Hmm. Apparently I DIDN'T prevent it. I sure tried. I guess I didn't follow up.

  133. …and again.

    I think he died his second death in "New Avengers". But I don't know if anyone ever elaborated how he came back from death each time.

  134. And Northstar lives again…

  135. Anonymous

    a cigar-smoking weasel

    I dug Millar's Wolverine Enemy of the State. But I think he had Wolvie kill Northstar in it for no good reason (another throw-away death)

  136. I remember the controversy about Wolverine killing the henchmen. To be honest, it had no impression upon me whatsoever and if a friend hadn't mentioned it, I would have never even thought about it.

    In all honesty, I discovered last night that a wolverine is essentially a type of weasel. I'll never think of him the same way again.

  137. Bingo, Anonymous, there was no such incident because I PREVENTED it. It was intended for a story set in the Savage Land.

  138. New York Yeti (Gregg) said…
    I don't think it goes against the core concept because she's always been an Amazon; a warrior, and warriors, I'm afraid, do kill when extreme measures must be taken.
    *************************
    The notion of Wonder Woman as a "warrior" is a relatively new one, something primarily developed post-Crisis.

    In Marston's original conception, Wonder Woman and the other Amazons were pacifists. They would fight only to defend themselves, and to my recollection they never were shown killing anyone. Their weapons were all defensive, such as lassos and bracelets. I don't think there is any Wonder Woman story in the 40's in which she uses a sword or a spear, or where she allows someone to die, much less deliberately killing anyone. The Marston-era Amazons also were big believers in reforming criminals, rather than punishing them.

    The conception of Wonder Woman as an ass-kicking, sword-wielding warrior is 180 degrees from Marston's original conception, and it's ironic that what was conceived as a feminist hero has been so testosteronized for today's audience.

  139. Cory,
    See the final sentence of my first para.

    The readers all knew that Wolverine would do what was needed – and more. I'm a big Chris Claremont fan; his stuff seemed even better when it first came out. Nevertheless, you know when you've heard a false note. The rest of the story, however, was absolutely excellent.

    Sorry for being a bit flippant about your first point. Even before Baron Blood, in the Stern/ Byrne run, I seem to remember Cap fighting 'Joe' (?), the mentally ill character, with a (supposed) madman's strength, who aimed a killing blow at him. I think, at that point, Cap wondered if he would have to break his fundamental values, and actually take a life, in order to save his own. He wavered, momentarily, but quickly rejected that idea. I may have got this wrong, as it's hazy, after 30 years. Maybe this isn't what happened. Besides, this is probably the point you are making, too. Cap would do almost anything rather than use lethal force.

    Phillip

  140. I think Captain America can distinguish between a soldier killing the enemy during wartime (Golden Age stories) and killing a criminal during peacetime (Silver Age stories). A soldier who kills Nazi soldiers or spies during WWII might get a medal, whereas that same soldier killing the perpetrator of a gas station robbery could be charged with murder. After the war was over, he had neither the right nor the authority to kill anybody, so he avoided it. Perhaps if he'd become a full-fledged agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury would've given him a "license to kill." But not killing bad guys was the price of Cap's independence.

  141. Nick Yankovec

    Re: X-Men 116. One of the main themes in that issue is about Storm's morals with regard to killing, which Claremont returns to a lot in his run on Unanny.

    She doesn't stop Wolverine killing, because the situation calls for it, the fate of the Savage Land. The story ends with her failed attempt to save Garok, and the effect that has on her. It's a fascinating story arc for Ororo, and this relationship between her and Logan has a great pay off many issues later when she basically orders Wolverine to go kill the Marauders.

    Incidentally, if you go back and read Claremont's X-Men, the amount of times Wolverine kills (excluding Brood and disposable Ninjas!) you can probably count on one hand. To me, Wolverine stopped being a great character when he became another anti-hero who would kill at the drop of a hat.

    The problem I have with Brubaker's Cap, is that it pretty much invalidates many past Cap stories; Grunwald's Super-Patriot epic is based on the guilt Cap felt at killing a terrorist. Brubaker's run is *good* but it just doesn't feel like my Captain America. Geez, when Bucky a Cap was running around with a gun, that was just… wrong! (in my opinion)

    Hey Jim, any thoughts on the Super-Patriot becomes Captain America arc?

  142. Anonymous

    Well, Wolverine is now a guy who kills on a whim, and a guy who can regrow his entire body from a single cell after being blown down to his skeleton with a bomb – so I'll forgive Claremont (lol)

  143. Re – Captain America and Baron Blood: Vampires are undead, and in a lot of ways, there is precedent for killing vampires not being thought of the same as killing a "living person."

    Re – Wolverine – I remember Claremont saying in that scene Wolverine had to take out the guards quietly and quickly, there were other guards around, there were flying patrols, etc… It was set up like the scene in the spy movie where the hero had to take out the guard in such a way that they couldn't be discovered. I don't think the scene was set up well enough to communicate that, but it was a way to show Wolverine as the Man Who Would Do What Was Needed.

  144. Anonymous

    By the by, I suppose Jim has been too humble to mention this – but Mile High is running a sale on Shooter autographed comics right now. The way it works, you buy a Shooter comic on Mile High, and for $2 Jim will autograph it for you.

    -Keil (no affiliation with Mile High Chuck – heh)

  145. Anonymous

    BTW, Mr. Shooter

    It’s an absolute thrill that you responded to a post I made. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but as a kid, the idea of ever seeing much less interacting any comics creator would have been unthinkable.

    Much less the writer of Secret wars, which was my introduction to the Marvel Universe (other than Spidey), and the coolness of characters like Doom, Colossus, Galactus, Kang, etc.

    It’s still my favorite Dr. Doom story.

    Rob

  146. Anonymous

    @Phillip – and that's exactly it. Stern built a well-developed scene where the drama and narrative supplied enough reason to kill in that instance. It worked – it was well-written, and enough impetuous was given for the rare, drastic action. I don't see modern writers accomplishing this.

  147. Anonymous

    That strange tales story sounds interesting Phillip.

    Rob

  148. Anonymous

    Anonymous,

    I think a soldier, a man of ideals, and a hero can kill bad guys in th appropriate situation. and do in real life, and heroic fiction!

    Only comics and 50s cowboys tv shows show otherwise

    Heck, John Wayne's characters always did and his characters were virtually always "symbols, man of ideals, and heroes." He-or his persona- was the symbol of America to many for a long time. Now he had some rules. He wouldn't shoot them in the back, maybe. He played "fair." Dirty harry was allegedly to rough a character for him when he turned it down.

    But he still killed.

    Rob

    • Anonymous

      [Digger:] Re: John Wayne wouldn't shoot anyone in the back.

      I'm guessing you haven't watched "The Searchers" lately.
      [–Digger]

  149. For the answer to the Captain America debate, I'd refer to the definitive Captain America – the Stern/Byrne run. In # 254, Captain America was facing the most vicious, bloodthirsty foe he'd ever faced, up to that point – Baron Blood. Cap repeatedly tried to stop Baron Blood without using lethal force, even bearing in mind the nature of the foe he was facing. In the end, however, Captain America killed Baron Blood, severing Blood's head, with the edge of his shield. This seemed quite shocking at the time, particularly from Captain America (it wouldn't be now). Roger Stern made it quite clear, however, that even taking the life of a foe as murderous as Baron Blood, was a terrible thing for Captain America to come to terms with. I suppose nit-pickers will quibble over whether or not Cap actually took a "life", as vampires are the undead.

    Another interesting one happened in Strange Tales, featuring Adam Warlock. Warlock's soul gem was like Elric's sword; it would steal people's souls, capriciously. When the soul gem decided to steal Captain Autolycus's soul, the reader & Warlock are made to understand the full enormity of what taking a life involves. They see Autolycus's memories – when he was a little boy, playing with his dog; when he was growing to an adult, etc. Starlin & Weiss depicted all this. I suppose there is a "cheat", though, as Captain Autolycus lives as a kindly figure in the soul gem's world, where Warlock eventually greets old enemies, as friends.

    Phillip

  150. Anonymous

    I don't think it's being an apologist to point out both Superman and Captain America killed under their creators.

    That said, it feels wronmg to me for Superman to kill.

    It doesn't feel wromg for me for Cap to kill terrorists and the like. I think Cap is a soldier and prefer these days for stories with him dealing with terrorists, spies, and other soldiers more than just superheroics.

    I seem to remember Cap killing at times even in the silver age, albeit not graphically shown. I'd have to double check though.

    I just find it odd that in the 60s the heroes rarely ever killed but they also rarely ever remarked on it. By the late 80s, they seemed to be constantly saying, even to villaisn "I NEVER KILL" like a motto or something. I'd prefer the former than the latter.

    IIRC< Hawkeye once kicked Mockingbird, his wife, out of the West Coast Avengers and divorced her because she let her rapist fall to his death. He was hanging from a cliff and she did nothing to heklp him. (of course he got better later).

    as a kid i was like "yeah superheroes don;t kill"

    as a married man, i think "Really Hawkeye and writer of WCA? Really? A man is going to divorce his wife because she let her rapist die?"

    Rob

  151. I'm currently reading Marvel's "Essential Sgt. Fury" volume, and it's amazing to see how Stan manages not to have Fury and his Howlers kill anyone. (This is WWII, after all!)

    You'll have things like the Howlers bursting into a tent in which a German soldier is hurriedly raising reinforcements on the radio. A gun nozzle flashes in the direction of the reader, with a radio headset flying off in the foreground (really suggesting that the poor radio operator was just shot in the head). However, Stan defuses the scene by having a character exclaim "there's a radio set that won't be used anymore!"

    Again and again you have quite dynamic battle scenes that, without the use of text, would suggest people being killed. But nearly every time, Stan makes a short comment showing that (a) the Germans actually ran away unharmed; (b) they were just knocked unconscious; (c) only their weapons or assorted machinery were damaged.

    Even Junior Juniper's death was not explicit; he was "seriously hurt", and then he "wouldn't be able to come back". Anyone could choose to interpret that as him being too grievously hurt to take part in missions again, and being back home to recover.

    Stan has taken a lot of flak over the years from people who thought they could do better, but man! Does he know his stuff.

  152. Anonymous

    Notice the people who advocate Cap the killer focus solely on the fact that he's a soldier. They ignore completely the fact that he is also a symbol, a man of ideals, and a hero.

    -excelsior!

  153. GePop

    My feeling is that Captain America is a soldier, and that he is prepared to kill IF NEED BE. Cap will always opt for the alternative so long as that is feasible, but if he must kill an enemy in order to save himself or others, he will do so.

    The only enemy of his whom I think Cap would seriously consider killing outright would be the Red Skull, because he knows so long as the Skull lives, innocent people are probably going to die. Even so, if he had the option to capture the Skull and turn him over to the authorities, he would probably attempt that first.

  154. Anonymous

    "…she's always been an Amazon; a warrior, and warriors, I'm afraid, do kill when extreme measures must be taken."

    [MikeAnon:] Not arguing with that. What I'm arguing with is the fact that she had no remorse about it. If her mission is to teach "Man's World" that war and conflict are not the answer, then her killing her enemy was completely anti-mission, yet she expressed no remorse at all, even when Superman and Batman were taking her to task. At least, that's what I recall, and it seemed at the time that DC was purposely driving Wonder Woman to be the premier ass-kicker in the DCU rather than a preacher of peace. [–MikeAnon]

  155. Paul Dushkind

    Captain America killing Baron Zemo has always bothered me. It was exceptional because Cap deliberately set out to get revenge.

    I never liked it when a Marvel villain would be killed and brought back without any explanation or acknowledgement of his demise. Did anybody like that?

    Of course, the murders in Michael Fleischer's Spectre were just an excuse to make the Spectre a sadist.

  156. Anonymous

    "I always felt the move to have Captain America kill was the wrong decision not because I'm against killing, but because it seemed SO out of character for Cap."

    [MikeAnon:] But it makes total sense, though. Cap was a soldier in WWII. That's what he was made to be: a Super-*Soldier*. (I also thought Brubaker's revising Bucky to be a stealth commando was brilliant.) This is not to say that Cap killed wantonly, or for pleasure, but he killed in the same way a cop does when put in a situation where killing an offender is the only "good" resolution left. [–MikeAnon]

  157. I don't think it goes against the core concept because she's always been an Amazon; a warrior, and warriors, I'm afraid, do kill when extreme measures must be taken.

    That said, I agree 100% about Superman and it's one of the reasons I love Batman, although one of my friends brought up a valid point that despite his no kill policy, Batman has used crippling-force at times, which, one could argue is worse than being dead, depending on how and in what way you are crippled.

  158. Anonymous

    [MikeAnon:] I liked John Byrne's take on why Superman doesn't kill. In Byrne's run Superman rationally but grudgingly executes some depowered villains who had murdered billions of people without remorse. But Superman suffered so much psychologically from having acted as judge, jury, and executioner, that he swore never to kill again. (Personally, I'm a death penalty proponent who thinks Superman did the right thing, but I can at least see how Superman would take that experience and form in into his own personal code against killing.)

    I would have to say, probably one of the reasons I don't care for Wonder Woman much these days is knowing that she has killed before and will kill again if necessary. To me her "some people are monsters, and you slay monsters" mentality goes completely against her core concept, which is to show "Man's World" that there is a better way to live than through war and conflict. It doesn't look like DC with their New 52 promotion has done anything to get Wonder Woman back to being herself instead of just a "Red Sonja" type. [–MikeAnon]

  159. That Claremont stoty-plot seems to contradict an early John Byrne story where he and Nightcrawler, IIRC are talking and Nightcrawler calls Wolverine on his bloodthirsty dispatching. "Never killed anyone that didn't try and kill me first. A man comes at me with fists and I'll meet him with fists. However – he pulls a knife or a gun and he's forfeit his own life." Or along those lines and Nightcrawler's retort:

    "Oui. But does that make it right?"

    I want to say it was the two-parter Wendigo story, but I am probably wrong.

    Punisher is one of the few (if only) heroes (Anti-Hero) who I think who gets away with wholesale slaughter of villains exactly because "It's okay, they're bad guys."

  160. Anonymous

    rolandman – the apologists will say that Cap killed back in the 1940's comics. Like they were alive then and reading every issue of Cap since the beginning

  161. I always felt the move to have Captain America kill was the wrong decision not because I'm against killing, but because it seemed SO out of character for Cap. It's been hard to view him the same since then.

  162. Anonymous

    ah, right, early in the run and my memory failed me. my bad, thanks for the catch.

    also good, garok was a spaz and his henchmen probably deserved to die.

  163. Anonymous

    Interesting points as always Mr. Shooter. I very much enjoy your blog.

    It is a complex issue. I remember seeing the most recent Indiana Jones movie, and in it, Indy does not directly kill (he allows bad guys to be killed, but there is no "shooting the Cairo swordsman" type scenes.) It struck me as weird at the time that he did NOT kill.

    Recently, in Justice League #3, Superman kills some Parademons — IIRC he even decapitated one of them. Granted they weren't people, but I remember thinking that this was a slippery slope and very casually setting new precedence.

    Two great heroes by any definition, but IMO Indy kills bad guys and Supes does not. I think this goes back to Jim’s idea of “core concept.”

  164. Anonymous,
    In X-Men # 116 Wolverine kills some of Garok's flunkies, and Storm looks away. She says something like, "When he kills he is like the great cats on the veldt – there is no mercy in him." As a kid, although condemnatory, this seemed to contain a grudging sense of awe, which didn't seem quite right. In the 70s, very, very few Marvel protagonists killed in cold blood.

    Phillip

  165. Dear Jim,

    I'm amazed by how quickly you write posts inspired by comments. It's been less than 24 hours since Rob wrote his comment.

    He got me thinking too. I grew up watching Japanese superhero TV shows which have a lot of killing. But those heroes never took any pleasure in killing or even injuring. I draw the line at sadism. "It's okay, they're bad guys" is not "okay" when "it" is "unnecessarily gut[ting] several of the villains' flunkies, who weren't at that moment doing anything heinous and were in no way a match for Wolverine or a threat to him." What was the point of such violence? What does it tell us about Wolverine? About the readers who applaud it? Violence can be a necessity. It should never be an object of glamour.

    Japanese heroes rarely died, but when they did go, they generally stayed dead. Their deaths mattered. Eventual resurrections in American superhero comics make death even more "tedious." If Bucky can come back, anybody can.

  166. Soldiers are heroes. They kill. It's at the core of their job description and they're, hopefully, at war – though that doesn't make it any better. But the Harry Potter kids were "at war" essentially and it was the same situation with Luke Skywalker. I'm sure Nick Fury killed his fair share of A.I.M. and HYDRA henchmen.

  167. Anonymous

    when did claremont have wolverine kill a bunch of henchmen in front of storm? i just re-read his entire uncanny run and storm never lets wolverine kill anyone. storm was always ruining all the fun. boo storm.

    even the hellfire club henchmen that wolverine was supposed to kill but came back as cyborg reavers was "killed" while wolverine was alone. in fact that was the name of the issue i believe, "Wolverine ALONE".

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