Heroes, Violence, and the Devil’s Tempation

 

marvels-daredevilnEditors’ Note: This post contains spoilers regarding the first seasons of “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones”, as well as references to other superhero movies and shows.

Given its dependence on violence, the superhero genre struggles under a childish reluctance to explore its implications. As a general rule, superheroes — exemplified by Batman and Superman — are not allowed to kill their antagonists, but are expected to bring them to justice and (hopefully) repentance. Villains don’t always live to commit another crime or threaten another city, but they are far more likely to meet their end through suicide or their own hubris, rather than at the end of a hero’s fists, blade, or — God forbid — gun. And even when this hero’s rule is broken (even Superman and Batman have killed), it’s rarely give the weight it deserves, and is often undone by the genre’s reliance on resurrection and reboots.

https://youtu.be/m5_A0Wx0jU4

This problem was particularly acute in the first season of “Daredevil”, as Matt Murdock’s refusal to kill is presented as admirable but unquestionably leads to a great deal of innocent (and preventable) death. The show’s inability to deal with this was laughable at times, but frustrating at others. Wilson Fisk may not be the wickedest villain in the Marvel universe, but he was a selfish brute who was indifferent to human suffering if it stood between him and power. He needed to be stopped and Murdock’s prohibition on killing — but moral ease with very nearly everything short of that — deserved a more honest accounting. As it was, the series retained a pre-teen morality, even if its levels of blood and gore were well into R-rated territory.

In contrast, “Jessica Jones” approached the subject with much greater maturity, giving — in turn — good reason for Jones to keep Kilgrave alive, showing the tragic consequences of that choice, and showing what happens when circumstances change. We were still inhabiting a world where villains can mind-control others at a word through a “virus” but this is much more mature and thoughtful stuff.

Based on the newly released trailer for the second season of “Daredevil”, however, it seems we’re in for a bit of grappling with this, as Murdock confronts Frank Castle (aka, the Punisher), a vigilante who shares none of Murdock’s scruples. More importantly, the trailer shows Castle landing some rhetorical punches on Murdock, questioning his naiveté and — through him — the show’s own first season.

I hardly expect the series to vindicate Castle — whose vigilantism is every bit as immature as Murdock’s Catholic-flavored boy scouting — but seeing the two in conflict should be interesting.

There are 66 comments.

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  1. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    That’s always been my gripe with superhero genres. It’s morally celebrated for the good guy to beat a murderer within an inch of his life. But it’s somehow wrong to kill, even though this mercy always leads to the deaths of more innocents.

    To my mind, the greatest superhero movie will always be “Unbreakable.” Bruce Willia plays the very subdued hero whose powers are never fully shown, but only hinted at. Since he is unaware of his power, or at least skeptical of it, he is not hamstrung by self-righteousness.

    • #1
  2. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    There’s always Deadpool.

    • #2
  3. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    TKP’s got you on that one. There’s actually a pretty good scene in Deadpool about what defines a hero and Deadpool’s conscious decision to reject that ideal.

    Then it’s followed by a dirty joke because it’s Deadpool.

    • #3
  4. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    I see everyone has been convinced by my epic rant on Flyover Country about the stupidity of Batman.

    My work here is done.

    • #4
  5. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: As a general rule, superheroes — exemplified by Batman and Superman — are not allowed to kill their antagonists…

    Except, of course, when they do:

    • #5
  6. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: I hardly expect the series to vindicate Castle — whose vigilantism is every bit as immature as Murdock’s Catholic-flavored boy scouting — but seeing the two in conflict should be interesting.

    The few quotes I’ve read from the series showrunners suggest that Castle is going to be portrayed relatively unambiguously as a villain rather than as a hero, as per the character’s comic book origin (he was originally a Spider-Man villain).

    • #6
  7. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    I will defend Daredevil from charges that it doesn’t take seriously the issue of not killing Fisk.  There is an episode (maybe 10?) where Murdoch does nothing but ponder whether he should kill Fisk, and ultimately goes to do just that.  He just gets his butt kicked instead.

    When Murdoch gets his next chance, the situation on the ground has changed, and Fisk is already wanted by the authorities.  This world is not one where Murdoch has seen villains escape from prison only to cause more harm.  It is perfectly reasonable and moral for him to apprehend Fisk under these circumstances.

    • #7
  8. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Misthiocracy:

    The few quotes I’ve read from the series showrunners suggest that Castle is going to be portrayed relatively unambiguously as a villain rather than as a hero, as per the character’s comic book origin (he was originally a Spider-Man villain).

    Interesting. Or, perhaps… less interesting.

    • #8
  9. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Byron Horatio: To my mind, the greatest superhero movie will always be “Unbreakable.” Bruce Willia plays the very subdued hero whose powers are never fully shown, but only hinted at. Since he is unaware of his power, or at least skeptical of it, he is not hamstrung by self-righteousness.

    I also love Unbreakable, but I think when discussing “superhero” stories one must consider the context of the fictional universe in which a particular character exists.

    Daredevil exists within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Earth-199999), where an interdimensional alien invasion of the planet has already taken place, the government’s super-powered spy agency has been exposed as a front for a sinister Nazi conspiracy, and the question of government regulation of superpowered beings is very much being debated (coming to a head in the upcoming Civil War movie).

    In that context, it makes a HECK of a lot of sense for a street-level vigilante to adopt a no-killing rule in order to remain under the radar. In this weird, post-Battle of NY environment, the NYPD may be willing to look the other way on a costumed vigilante as long as they don’t cause too many problems, but killing bad guys would almost certainly attract the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D.

    In the context of this fictional universe, if you want to kill you either go off-planet (like Peter Quill), you work for the government (via SHIELD), or you become a villain.

    • #9
  10. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    This from the moral giants who gave us the Suicide Squad. As its star Will Smith (Deadpool) puts it, “bad versus evil”… because “evil versus evil” would be too obvious a description.

    The Iron Man and rebooted Batman films were well done, though. The Avengers Civil War movie looks promising.

    • #10
  11. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Misthiocracy:

    The few quotes I’ve read from the series showrunners suggest that Castle is going to be portrayed relatively unambiguously as a villain rather than as a hero, as per the character’s comic book origin (he was originally a Spider-Man villain).

    Interesting. Or, perhaps… less interesting.

    Personally, I think The Punisher is more interesting as an outlaw. In the comic books he “went legit” for a while as a member of The Thunderbolts. It didn’t really work, but it got interesting again after he tried to leave the team. (Deadpool was also a member for a short period. That too felt … wrong.)

    In the context of the MCU, it seems unlikely that a character who causes as much fuss as The Punisher could operate for very long before SHIELD would make him choose between working for the government or doing a long stint in superprison.

    • #11
  12. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    It’s interesting that in the trailer Punisher must be stopped “before innocent people start getting caught in his crossfire.” He must be stopped for crimes he hasn’t yet committed.

    I assume Daredevil’s pursuit of villains never involves collateral damage.

    • #12
  13. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Aaron Miller:This from the moral giants who gave us the Suicide Squad. As its star Will Smith (Deadpool) puts it, “bad versus evil”… because “evil versus evil” would be too obvious a description.

    I can’t comment on the movie itself since it’s not out yet, but the concept of the Suicide Squad is potentially very interesting. It’s hard to deny that governments haven’t used “bad men” to accomplish their goals. Suicide Squad takes this truth and applies it to a fictional universe where gods walk the Earth.

    Is it so hard to believe that nefarious elements within the government of the DC Cinematic Universe wouldn’t try to make use of such miscreants for its own purposes?

    It’s important to always remember that these stories do not take place in our universe. In a universe where the very laws of physics are radically different than in our universe, why wouldn’t the natural laws of morality also be different?

    • #13
  14. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Aaron Miller:It’s interesting that in the trailer Punisher must be stopped “before innocent people start getting caught in his crossfire.” He must be stopped for crimes he hasn’t yet committed.

    I assume Daredevil’s pursuit of villains never involves collateral damage.

    Matt Murdock is, and has been ever since Frank Miller wrote the comic, a very conflicted individual. His Catholicism is an important part of his character. He’s not at all sure that he isn’t going to Hell (which he knows exists, because he’s met the Devil).

    • #14
  15. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Nice post.  I think this reluctance to engage in privately meting out justice is a consequence of the Romantic/Progressive mindset that we should let the government handle it (and everything) for us.  There are, of course, certain advantages to that.  Fair, speedy justice in a court of law is certainly a better option than lynching, for instance.

    But in an era where the authorities are widely seen perpetuating miscarriages of justice, this ceding of our right to protect ourselves begins to look much less appealing.  I think the first show that really endorsed the rejection of the government’s monopoly on violence was 24, which I really found to be a surprising place for it to happen.

    Jessica Jones, however, wasn’t really a great example of this process.  Kilgrave demonstrated repeatedly that he was literally above the law.  She only decided to enforce justice herself once it was abundantly clear that there was no other reasonable option.

    Another vote for Deadpool (which I saw last night) as a better exemplar of this trend.  Plus it’s a terrific, if incredibly un-Ricochet CoC, bit of entertainment.  Just the opening credits alone are worth watching, let alone the scene where Colossus chastises Deadpool for taking the law into his own hands.

    • #15
  16. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Misthiocracy:

    Aaron Miller:It’s interesting that in the trailer Punisher must be stopped “before innocent people start getting caught in his crossfire.” He must be stopped for crimes he hasn’t yet committed.

    I assume Daredevil’s pursuit of villains never involves collateral damage.

    Matt Murdock is, and has been ever since Frank Miller wrote the comic, a very conflicted individual. His Catholicism is an important part of his character. He’s not at all sure that he isn’t going to Hell (which he knows exists, because he’s met the Devil).

    It’s also a part of the character that he is an angry dude with a temper.  He isn’t a cold, disconnected guy making the rational choice about how best to save Hell’s kitchen.

    In episodes 9-10 of the show they dealt with this extremely well. The question of whether he needs to kills Fisk, or just wants to kill Fisk, is posed in a serious way.

    • #16
  17. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Austin Murrey: …Then it’s followed by a dirty joke because it’s Deadpool.

    A dirty joke? :)

    I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at sophomoric dirty jokes.  I generally despise movies that rely on that (Will Farrell does nothing for me), but this was really well done for the most part.

    • #17
  18. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Frank Soto:I will defend Daredevil from charges that it doesn’t take seriously the issue of not killing Fisk. There is an episode (maybe 10?) where Murdoch does nothing but ponder whether he should kill Fisk, and ultimately goes to do just that. He just gets his butt kicked instead.

    When Murdoch gets his next chance, the situation on the ground has changed, and Fisk is already wanted by the authorities. This world is not one where Murdoch has seen villains escape from prison only to cause more harm. It is perfectly reasonable and moral for him to apprehend Fisk under these circumstances.

    Thus far in the mythology of Earth-199999 we have not yet really seen how civil society deals with the incarceration of superpowered criminals. We’ve only seen how the government deals with superpowered beings it considers military threats (SHIELD or the Avengers either kills ’em or recruits ’em).

    Jessica Jones explored this dilemma excellently. How the heck would you put someone with mind-control powers on trial?

    Now, one can argue that The Kingpin isn’t superpowered so this dilemma doesn’t apply in his case. I’d counter that it’s been hinted that there may be a supernatural element to some of his backers (I have my own theories about the true identity of Madame Gao).

    • #18
  19. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Misthiocracy: Jessica Jones explored this dilemma excellently. How the heck would you put someone with mind-control powers on trial?

    What I loved was how they teased a possibility before snatching it away.  Kilgrave was captured, they had a lawyer and a cop who knew the truth, and a scientist who thought he could create a vaccine.  Everything was falling in place for the hero to not have to make the hard choice.

    Then he escaped, killed the cop, the vaccine didn’t work, and a ton more people died.

    • #19
  20. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Frank Soto: …they had a lawyer…

    Who of course was the one who let Kilgrave out as she pursued her self-interest.  LOL.

    “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

    • #20
  21. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Tuck: Who of course was the one who let Kilgrave out as she pursued her self-interest.

    <sarcasm>Like a good libertarian!</sarcam> ;)

    • #21
  22. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    If you want more “realistic” explorations of these sorts of issues within superhero mythologies, one could do way worse than Mark Millar’s oeuvre.

    My personal favourite is his Supercrooks graphic novel, which explores the dilemmas of basic law enforcement in a world with superpowered beings rather well.

    Also, there’s word that Marvel is developing a Damage Control tv series. If done right, it could answer a lot of the questions about how civil society in the MCU is adapting to this new “Heroic Age”.

    Cracked.com made an interesting point once when they pointed out that there have been approximately 5,000 superpowered people revealed in the comics. That works out to about 1.4 million normal people per superpowered person. Try to imagine being one of the normals in such a universe!

    In the MCU the ratio of normals to super is even higher, since there are so fewer supers.

    • #22
  23. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    M, I can understand setting evil against evil in a hellhole like Syria, where civilization is already wrecked and the good guys are weak. I can sympathize with leaving Stalin alone while he impedes Hitler.

    I don’t know the backstory of the Suicide Squad, so perhaps that’s the general situation. But setting loose sadists and monsters into a still-functioning city seems different from allowing already-dominant evils to fight over ruins.

    • #23
  24. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Aaron Miller:M, I can understand setting evil against evil in a hellhole like Syria, where civilization is already wrecked and the good guys are weak. I can sympathize with leaving Stalin alone while he impedes Hitler.

    I don’t know the backstory of the Suicide Squad, so perhaps that’s the general situation. But setting loose sadists and monsters into a still-functioning city seems different from allowing already-dominant evils to fight over ruins.

    Keep in mind, in the comics Amanda Waller (the government employee who sets up and manages the Suicide Squad) is pretty much a villain.

    Also, we don’t know the nature of the threat they’re being recruited to fight. This team is set up in the aftermath of Metropolis being utterly devastated by a Kryptonian invasion. That’s a level of crisis that has never been seen in our universe.

    Once again, I say it’s very arguable that the laws of morality would be different in a universe with such vastly different laws of physics.

    God chose to not make our universe like the DC/Marvel universes for a reason.

    • #24
  25. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Aaron Miller: I don’t know the backstory of the Suicide Squad, so perhaps that’s the general situation. But setting loose sadists and monsters into a still-functioning city seems different from allowing already-dominant evils to fight over ruins.

    There is a hubris component. There are reasons to think they have total control over the sadists and monsters. Then things go wrong…

    • #25
  26. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Speaking of Catholic superheroes, I was pleasantly surprised by the Constantine film. I’ve never read a comic book, so can’t speak to the character’s origins. But the movie generally adhered to real Catholic beliefs, as I recall, such as the inability to buy one’s way into Heaven with good acts which are not performed out of genuine love.

    Again, ethical and philosophical complexity can make for compelling drama. It’s great when writers avoid cartoonish characters without also denying the existence of good and evil.

    • #26
  27. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    It’s not just superhero stories that run into these issues. When it comes to most action/adventure stories, one should never assume they take place in our universe. These people do not operate according to the limits of the laws of physics:

    366618_v1

    192300

    Picture 17

    And then, there are those rare examples where a story actually underperforms compared to the real world:

    192853_v1

    • #27
  28. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Aaron Miller:Speaking of Catholic superheroes, I was pleasantly surprised by the Constantine film. I’ve never read a comic book, so can’t speak to the character’s origins. But the movie generally adhered to real Catholic beliefs, as I recall, such as the inability to buy one’s way into Heaven with good acts which are not performed out of genuine love.

    Again, ethical and philosophical complexity can make for compelling drama. It’s great when writers avoid cartoonish characters without also denying the existence of good and evil.

    I agree. DC has actually dumbed the character down in the comics since the New 52 relaunch.

    • #28
  29. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Aaron Miller:Speaking of Catholic superheroes, I was pleasantly surprised by the Constantine film. I’ve never read a comic book, so can’t speak to the character’s origins. But the movie generally adhered to real Catholic beliefs, as I recall, such as the inability to buy one’s way into Heaven with good acts which are not performed out of genuine love.

    I presume there must be a bunch of essays on Daredevil’s explicit — but, I think, superficial — Catholicism, but haven’t read any. If anyone has suggestions, I’m game.

    • #29
  30. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Aaron Miller:Speaking of Catholic superheroes, I was pleasantly surprised by the Constantine film. I’ve never read a comic book, so can’t speak to the character’s origins. But the movie generally adhered to real Catholic beliefs, as I recall, such as the inability to buy one’s way into Heaven with good acts which are not performed out of genuine love.

    I presume there must be a bunch of essays on Daredevil’s explicit — but, I think, superficial — Catholicism, but haven’t read any. If anyone has suggestions, I’m game.

    http://www.lmgtfy.com/?q=Catholicism+in+Daredevil

    • #30

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