Here at Major Spoilers, your humble MS-QOTD tries as hard as I can to not give in to cynical, one-note “LOL Fail!” point-and-laugh Internet shenanigans, but even I have my weak spots.  Case in point: ‘Man Of Steel’, a movie that I can’t bring myself to sit through thanks to Superman’s (SPOILER) use of lethal force against the villain.  While there are characters that I can accept such violence from (Michael Keaton’s Batman blowing up Axis Chemical with loads of mooks inside, for instance, doesn’t give me the same issues, nor am I particularly bothered by the clear murderous intent of all the Avengers during the Battle For New York), Superman isn’t on that list.  Of course, I’m just enough of a historian to have a traditionalist bent on superheroes as an archetype which should not kill, which leads us to today’s neck-breaking query…

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) came from a time when Superman had a specific rule against killing, to the point where one reality had him voluntarily removing his own powers as penance when he chose to do so, asking: Do you mind a hero/protagonist who will kill in the line of duty?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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15 Comments

  1. January 26, 2015 at 11:40 am — Reply

    Depends on the violation – Jaywalking, no. Mass murder, sure.

  2. January 26, 2015 at 11:45 am — Reply

    I agree with Matthew. And, to say this as he would…
    “Weeellll….. ” I do NOT believe that Superman should kill.
    I even expressed why in a comic strip blog I posted a few months back:
    http://2angrymen.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/hero-destruction/

    P.S. Superman should also not grab his chest logo and fling it at villains where it expands to a giant cellophane “S” shield wrapper. Just sayin’.

  3. Alisha
    January 26, 2015 at 11:59 am — Reply

    Depends on a lot of factors. For heroes who try to live up to some standard, then I think it only works as a truly last resort. If someone like Superman or Optimus Prime were to kill, then it had better be for a really good reason.

    Just look at The Doctor. He was ready to commit genocide, killing not only the Daleks but also his own people, for the sake of the entire universe. I can get behind that. I may not find it to be the best solution, nor would I be comfortable with it, but I can understand it.

    Now killing someone just for being a member of an evil organization (possibly unwittingly) or for committing some minor crime? No, thats too much.

  4. TheWolverine
    January 26, 2015 at 12:01 pm — Reply

    Personally I like how it was back at the beginning with Superman. He would not go out of his way to kill anybody, but if a criminal murderer was already in a life or death situation (like say falling off a building or about to be hit by a train etc.) he would not go out of his way to save them either. For me, any hero who has been actively a hero and not an anti-hero or some other variation should never directly kill someone. It should always be that no matter how badly they want to kill they remain in control. Taking someones life should always be shown as a very hard decision by more than one individual.

  5. Mike
    January 26, 2015 at 12:13 pm — Reply

    If it is consistent with a character, then yes, killing enemies is acceptable. The problem I had in the Man of Steel movie, is that they tried to establish that Superman was supposed to be a shining beacon that humans could aspire to be like. Apparently, that includes the execution of an enemy.

  6. Doctor Dinosaur
    January 26, 2015 at 1:04 pm — Reply

    Depends on what kind of story is being told.

    I do resent the sort of reader who demand that superheroes kill so that they’ll be realistic, I don’t think those kinds of people appreciate the underlying metaphor of the “super” hero at all. You might as well demand that they stop flying, take off the damned capes and act more morally ambiguous. And if that’s what you want buy some binoculars and stare, stare at your neighbour.

    You pervert!

    • Alisha
      January 26, 2015 at 3:21 pm — Reply

      I TOLD you, I was using the binoculars purely for research. Yeah, research, that sounds plausible.

  7. January 26, 2015 at 1:11 pm — Reply

    Its quite complicated. Depends on character and tone & theme of the story. In case of Superman, 99% of the time Im opposed to him ever killing villains, but lets say Anti-Monitor is about to destroy whole planet within seconds, then I would absolutely accept Superman delivering lethal blow.

    On the other hand, for example Punisher should kill criminals without second thought, thats who he is. It also brings great contrast to some other heroes, like when he meets Daredevil, both are street level guys and essentially deal with same villains, they both even respect each other, but their methods and philosophies are completely different.

    Then there are cases when I generally dont like heroes to kill, like Batman or Captain America. In TDKR I wouldnt mind Batman killing bunch of bad guys because its an alternate story and meant to be much more violent and heavy in tone than average Batman story.
    Same goes with Cap, I dont want to see him killing common humans who he can easily overpower, but hes a soldier who will do it if he has no choice. Also, in something like WW2 story I wouldnt mind him grabbing a Thompson and shooting nazis left and right. Its a matter of circumstance.

    • January 26, 2015 at 1:19 pm — Reply

      Now when I think about it, only character I cant think of who I cannot accept killing under ANY circumstances is Spider-Man.

  8. Rob
    January 26, 2015 at 3:51 pm — Reply

    My feeling is that heroes that kill without remorse aren’t actually heroes, characters like the Punisher or Judge Dredd are at best anti-heroes and often out right villains.

  9. Arbor Day
    January 26, 2015 at 4:45 pm — Reply

    I think power is a factor in this. Superman or the Doctor can use their gifts to find alternatives; street level heroes have more limited options.

  10. Lee Goldberg
    January 26, 2015 at 6:27 pm — Reply

    For the most part yes. Killing should be the exception, and it should be something particular to that specific hero (like Wolverine), not a last resort available to all heroes. Especially heroes like Superman, who is defined not just by his powers (which are now as generic as they come), but his unwavering sense of right and wrong (See Kingdom Come). As Superboy once said in the excellent Geoff Johns Teen Titans series, “Superman does not kill!!’

  11. Ian
    January 26, 2015 at 8:09 pm — Reply

    Depends on the medium and milieu. War and horror comics and pulp mags are much different than run-of-the-mill superhero stories. For me, killing is ok in the former, but I don’t care for it in the latter. That’s why I hate characters like Ravager (the heroic one) that run around with swords and guns… it often places the creative team in an awkward position of how to show them contributing to a fight without actually hurting someone.

  12. Oldcomicfan
    January 26, 2015 at 8:12 pm — Reply

    My brother and my uncle are policemen. They are faced with the possibility of having to use lethal force on a daily basis and they train accordingly. I think the people who moan and wail about Superman using lethal force are as out of touch with sanity as the milquetoasts who go around ranting that police should never use lethal force. I happened to like Man of Steel. To those people who say he should have been able to contain any collateral damage and stop Zod without slaying him, I say this…. what movie were you watching because it couldn’t have been the same one I was watching! Superman was only just learning the extent of his abilities and he was being hammered by three super-powered Kryptonians as well as being attacked by several Kryptonian space ships… while at the same time saving the entire planet from being Kryptoformed and you think he’d be able to break off from combat to catch kittens falling from trees, snatch falling rubble, and keep flowers in the park from being trampled? That kind of magical thinking led to Superman III and Superman IV, cellophane S shields, memory removing kisses, and spinning the earth backwards to turn back time. No thank you! If DC had a problem with Superman killing Zod, they wouldn’t have allowed the movie to have been made, nor would they have published a comic book in which – guess what – Superman killed Zod! Hello! I will admit, the Zod scene was shocking, but I didn’t go off weeping that the new Superman was not the real Superman because he ought to have been able to stop a super-powered Kryptonian who had just vowed that he would never, ever stop killing humans without hurting the guy.
    I had a friend who absolutely hated Frank Miller’s Dark Knight returns for similar reasons. HIS Superman would never turn into a patsy for some ancient old Reagan clone! HIS Superman would never be defeated by The Batman! No, never! And all this attitude did for him was to prevent him from enjoying what was one of the most epic comic book tales of his era. And I think the people who hated Man of Steel are doing themselves a disservice of the same type. I grew up watching Superman on television back in the old black and white days, and comparing the silly, kid-friendly Adventures of Superman to Man of Steel – or even the Christopher Reeves Superman movies to Man of Steel, MOS was a superior product in every way, shape and form. I look forward to seeing what they do in the next movie. Should Superman turn into a homicidal maniac? Of course not! But it makes for much better drama to have people get hurt because Superman couldn’t magically contain all the collateral damage and mystically contain a homicidal maniac who had all of Superman’s powers AND a lifetime of military training without using force.

    • Alisha
      January 27, 2015 at 9:40 am — Reply

      “My brother and my uncle are policemen. They are faced with the possibility of having to use lethal force on a daily basis and they train accordingly. I think the people who moan and wail about Superman using lethal force are as out of touch with sanity as the milquetoasts who go around ranting that police should never use lethal force.”

      But that is a HUGE difference. Superman has powers, and also happens to be fictional. With those sort of powers, it feels like lazy writing if he kills without it being a last resort.

      Police, on the other hand, have no powers. They have to think on their feet, and sometimes that comes down to split second decisions. There are no rewrites or retcons or anything like that in the real world. Sure, in an ideal world, lethal force wouldn’t be needed, but this isn’t an ideal world. Those men and women have to deal with the situation as it comes.

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