As humans, we’re well aware that killing is a bad thing, at least generally. Self defense is one thing, but it’s another to just go around randomly beating people to death for the hell of it. The same rule applies to superheroes; as guardians of the world, it’s more or less gospel at this point that killing goes against everything that they subscribe and stand for.
Recently, Spider-Man writer Dan Slott took to Twitter to talk about how Superman and Batman specifically don’t and shouldn’t kill. This was spawned by a quote from Batman v Superman producer Charles Roven saying that in the film, the Dark Knight has become “not only the cop… he has also become the jury and executioner”, which was more or less made clear by scenes in the trailers where a Bat has been branded onto criminals he’s apprehended. Slott further went on to say that not only have neither heroes should never be able to kill, but that doing so has been when a writer has gotten the characters “horribly wrong”.
I'm not talking about EVERY comic book hero.
I'm talking about Superman & Batman.
Superman does NOT kill. EVER.
Batman does NOT kill. EVER.
— Dan Slott (@DanSlott) January 27, 2016
No. Except all the times someone got the characters HORRIBLY WRONG.
They've been in thousands of stories. It happens https://t.co/uewgOZVtlp
— Dan Slott (@DanSlott) January 27, 2016
Naturally, as is the case with basically anything Slott or any human being says on Twitter, this prompted a bit of a debate for a few hours late into the evening. While some argued that superheroes should never take a life, others felt like some leeway could be given to them. For example, Wonder Woman is generally viewed as the most acceptable member of the Trinity to kill, given her upbringing as a warrior. Wolverine kills, something that is specifically why Iron Man and Captain America recruited him for the New Avengers. Green Lanterns are space cops and more or less have to kill their enemies if the situation calls for it. Hell, Slott himself wrote the Superior Spider-Man, which, while appropriately showing the ways how Doc Ock controlling Peter’s body made for a different hero, had a moment where the titular hero beat a guy to death on national TV.
But Batman and Superman are different from others because of their massive icon status as heroes in the DC universe, and as superheroes in general. They mean a lot more to the medium and their universes than perhaps say, Spider-Man or a Nightwing. That being said, it’s not right or fair to just wave off continuities where either hero has killed. Not only has Superman snapped Zod’s neck in Man of Steel, he’s also killed in his early incarnation, snapped Desaad’s neck in the animated film Justice League: War, melted Lex Luthor’s brain in an episode of Justice League and most infamously, put his fist through the Joker’s chest in Injustice: Gods Among Us (along with melting Shazam’s face).
In most of these situations, it’s because he’s put in situations of stress or mind control–Joker had tricked him into beating his wife Lois Lane and unborn child to death in Injustice, Lex had just killed the Flash in the “Justice Lords” episode, that sort of thing. Man of Steel tried to justify the neck snapping by putting him in a situation where Zod was going to liquify a family with his laser vision and presented that as the only choice, despite the fact that he could’ve just as easily put his hands over Zod’s eyes or tried to fly him away. I imagine the problem for a lot of people was less about the killing itself and more that it had no real buildup to it; in the case of Injustice or Justice League, it was made clear, even in those short moments, that the Man of Steel felt a tremendous sense of loss and it was enough for him to break his one rule. The reason why it’s so surprising when Superman guts someone is because of his ability to see the good in people and utter kindness
Batman, on the other hand…look, as much as folks want to point out that Bruce does a lot of good trying to help criminals by giving them jobs to work at factories, there’s no denying that he’s kind of a psychotic dick bag. While Bruce Wayne is doing the best he can to rid Gotham City of crime, the Batman spends his nights going around throwing folks through walls and breaking limbs. Even if fans want to say that that version is “not their Batman”, there’s no denying that it’s basically a core tenant of his character at this point. Because of things like Frank Miller’s Dark Knight comics, the Nolan films like Dark Knight or the Arkham games that let you throw some guy’s head into a transformer or summon your tank-sized car to go around blowing people up. He pretty much beats people to near death already, to the point where it feels more like a freaky sex thing than a need to protect his city.
Personally speaking, I think that superheroes should be allowed to kill, at least in certain situations. Yeah, there’s that whole thing about how it makes them as bad whoever they’re going up against, but I think that’s a bit of a load. After years of a bad guy getting away and causing massive amounts of destruction, a hero should be allowed to put a motherf*cker down so they don’t cause any more harm. Sometimes, it’s not about who has the moral high ground so much as it is making things safer for the innocents caught in the crossfire. While some characters may need to be watched more than others, I imagine that it would generally be a good thing.
This is why I wouldn’t entirely mind it if DC gave the green light to a writer and let Batman finally kill a dude. After everything a bad guy like the Joker has done both to him and the city, it’s hard to imagine a situation where he beats the clown to death and the reactions would be anything less than “fucking finally“. In fact, if/when DC creates a new universe as a jumping on point for readers, they should just do the Arrow thing and have him kill his bad guys right from the start. That way, it’ll make more sense for him to take a “no kill” oath, and it gives Gordon a good reason to trust him when they first meet.
So, should superheroes be allowed to kill their enemies? If the situation calls for it, like Joker’s escaped Arkham for the 4th time that month or Doomsday is wrecking half a city, then feel free to break a neck or toss them into the sun, in my opinion. But if it’s a random thug knocking over a mom and pop store, maybe don’t beat them to death. But if they’re the kinda person who makes that “if it doesn’t ring, it’s free joke”, well…I won’t tell if you don’t!