Heroes Kill, Sometimes…A lot

By: S. Davis

So we’re in an age of superhero movies where killing is being directly addressed and it’s about time. Recently I got around to seeing Captain America: Civil War – which I thoroughly enjoyed – and anyone following Marvel Studios knows how important the film is in regards to their larger cinematic ambitions. This isn’t about that. It was always odd to me how dismissive death to civilians or collateral damage has been dealt with in comics (and definitely the movies that are birthed from them). It’s basically served as lip service or points to drive a plot but it usually falls to the side when the hero and the villain must finally square off.

That’s not going to be enough anymore and that’s satisfying. The comic genre – at least when it’s translated onscreen – has always had to fight for legitimate standing alongside other traditional dramas. Civil War was a drama that just so happened to feature super humans, otherworldly beings, and humans with super abilities.

Why the shift in tone? The public at-large has – and still – acknowledges comics as juvenile. Funny because I always see more adults than teenagers or children at these movies and the ratio is not even close. The characters may be powered, some are gods, but they’re tortured, stressed, and overwhelmed. That sounds like all humans beings; we can connect to that.

Death and killing is serious now in these movies. The impressive battles, the powers which are wielded and the destruction caused are no longer held in a higher priority than the innocent people who are lost. The people matter. The heroes mourn and have to consider their place in the world. I do think it makes the characters more human than their abilities otherwise express. It brings them down to the same level as vulnerable humans.

Is it disturbing that death is no longer being overlooked?

Directly addressing Batman V Superman, I’m not bothered all with Batman taking a few lives. It’s Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the character – not unlike a new writer taking on the Batman title every couple of years or so. He chose to make his version lethal, akin to what Tim Burton did when he had control of the property. In Batman’s early years it’s been well documented about the lives’ he’s taken.

I don’t have such a hard rule for Batman killing. Do I want him to? No. However, I like a Bat that has been through the ringer and has now resorted to lethal means (in this universe). It gives a different look to a classic character. Think of it as a new Bat-title on another Earth.

It always cracks me up when people have this fallacy that Batman won’t ever take a life or death is a line he won’t cross…at all. Remember when he attempted to kill Darkseid? Which led to “Battle for the Cowl” and his “death”?

The Justice League has engaged in vicious battles where Superman and Batman turn a blind eye when beasts, monsters, demons, and the like are being slaughtered by their comrades. Wonder Woman has some notches on her belt and will resort to lethal force when necessary. Should that be ignored? The big two sure have a fluid stance on death depending on the circumstance. Bruce Wayne beat Darkseid damn near to death – he would’ve succeeded if his mech-suit didn’t almost kill him in the process – when he retrieved a revived Damian Wayne. Batman was also close to killing Lex Luthor when he thought Luthor ended Dick Grayson’s life.

How many times has Superman destroyed Brainiac? Isn’t an evolved artificial intelligence such as it worthy of existence? Yet Superman repeatedly tries to wipe it out – and succeeds most of the time…until Brainiac returns. He’s also destroyed life forms on Apokolips. He also had to “kill” Doomsday to save Metropolis at the cost of his own life. (The comic event, not the travesty perpetrated on us in BvS).

There’s no way Bats hasn’t taken a life even being as careful as he is. He throws people through glass, smashes skulls against brick walls, rubber bullets from the Batmobile, hitting thugs with his car, breaking bones, concussing punks, etc. There’s no way that every criminal survives encounters with him. I don’t believe that. Is it acceptable for Batman to beat criminals close to death, probably to the point of paralysis, but retain his level of honor because he didn’t kill?

He’s been extremely lethal and has felt – over the majority of his existence – that vengeance isn’t justice but this version has dealt with loss. Even in BvS though, he could’ve branded Luthor with the bat-signal yet didn’t, which would’ve ended his life while in prison as the movie explicitly stated in the first 20 minutes.

An argument can be made that Batman is negligent for not killing some of his rogues, especially the Clown. He’s gone too far on too many occasions – yet the Bat plays the infinite cat and mouse game. Now we know this is all fiction and Joker is too popular a character for DC to leave dead but Batman should’ve put him down after his assault on Barbara Gordon, the “killing” of Jason Todd, and on…and on, and on, etc.

As much as it was a hero movie, BvS was not something young children should see. It’s gloomy, heavy and overwhelmingly serious in tone. Civil War was just as serious but it did find a way to encapsulate lighter moments into a deep film experience. Warner Brothers cannot match the Marvel formula – and it’s fine that they don’t attempt to as then they’ll be labeled as imposters. I didn’t have a problem in going to a movie where both leads are beaten down, haggard, and almost buckling under responsibility, duty, and birthright but it was a glaring 180 from what Marvel has laid out over the last eight years. BvS was for adults that wanted to see their heroes without the gleam of hope, it seems, whereas Civil War was just light enough where you could see a family sitting in the theater together. Batman and Superman are my favorite two superheroes but I can definitely admit that the movie wasn’t fun to watch. The kid in me was astonished that I was actually seeing them, together, in one movie but the adult was bothered by the elements of the script. I did like it but I could see someone rating it with any number on a five-star scale or a ten-point scale – and being completely justified. I gave it a 7/10. It’s divisive. Civil War was a nine; my issues concerned the coincidental nature of the villain’s plan. Too many decisions – by other individuals that couldn’t be predicted – had to fall in line for it to ultimately be achieved…yet it was mostly accomplished.

Consumers have defined expectations of what a superhero movie should be – and that’s fine. I do think the negatives of BvS are warranted although I know many of those displeased with the two characters that – by any measure – are the pillars of the comic book industry viewed it through eyes that couldn’t help but measure (and compare) it against the Marvel slate of titles. It’s undeniable. These movies aren’t just for kids anymore and that’s fine. People mature and want their childhood heroes to as well – and like it or not, killing is going to be apart of the equation.

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