Hello, kids! Rolling Head of Pantha here! I'm your guide to the fun world of Violence in Comics.
Do you what Bowdlerizing is, kids? It's when overly protective adults cut out of literature anything they think is "bad" for readers.
Adults love to bowdlerize any literature for children, taking out or altering any references to death, violence, even conflict. You should see how violently they savaged the Brothers Grimm! Why, some of their stories were barely recognizable afterwards, and could only be identified by dental records... .
But it's a funny thing: de-fang stories for children and their point gets lost. Children, as anyone who's ever met one knows, are not subtle people. Behavioral amelioration of negative characters through positive feedback does not impress them. Witches are evil child-eaters and must be pushed into ovens; monsters are threats to society (just like Mike W. Barr!) and must be slain. In the words of the Alligator Men from the Monster Society of Evil, "We've lost! Quick! Eat the children!"
Fairy tales and the like are not designed to convince children that the world is without dangers. Quite they contrary. They are designed to put children on their guard, to show that there is evil in the world and it must be defeated through alertness, intelligence, and a willingness to act. And the fairy tale tendency of such lessons to be stark and graphic is not lessened one whit by the influence of comic books' other roots, like pulp fiction!
While comics books are no longer really written for children per se, they retain, to a large degree, the zoroastrian morality that typifies children's lit. For example, reformations are few and usually short-lived (such as that of Black Adam in 52).
How you feel about this reality is a major determinant of how you feel about superhero comics in general...
Those who view comics more from the mythic/fairytale perspective like stark differences between Good and Evil. You'll find those people prefer DC Comics, where characters retain their fairy-talish extremeness and abstraction; to some, that is a virtue.
To others, it's a flaw that makes such reading childish; they prefer a more sophisticated and ostensibly realistic approach to the motivations and values of both heroes and villains. They hew toward the interesting moral complexities of pulp fiction, and so they gravitate toward offerings by Marvel comics.
It is no accident that DC's recent goals have been to heighten the contrast between heroes and villains (as stated by its editorial board in its discussion of its recent crossovers) and Marvel's has been to heighten the conflict between its heroes over morally grey areas (Civil War). It is their nature.
Comics inherit not only the morality of the fairy tale, but its bloodthirstiness as well. While major characters are (mostly) immune to dying (or, at least, to remaining dead), minor characters and bystanders die gruesomely by the score -- just like me!
If a character that you like gets his block knocked off in a crossover melee, this reality can hit you pretty hard and unpleasantly. Trust me, I know how that feels! But getting bumped off gruesomely-- no matter your age, gender, race, or even species -- is part of the job when you're a supporting character, whether you're strangled and stuffed in a refrigerator or eaten by the Big Bad Wolf.
If your youth was during a time when comics were ruled by the Bowdlerizers, then you may think the Descent into Violence of Modern Comics is a sure sign of the End of Times. If you grew up watching deformed madmen try to kill Batman and Robin every week, (same bat-time, same bat-channel) in some of the most creatively horrible ways imaginable, you may have a thicker skin.
In any case, to a certain degree complaining about a superhero comic book being violent is like the frog being surprised that the scorpion stings; it is its nature. If you want to avoid it, read Nancy & Sluggo.
On second thought, kids, don't read Nancy & Sluggo; it's a hot bed of value-sapping surrealism, the artistic enemy of all right-thinking folk, and much worse for you than violence.
Anyway, all of this is a long way around the barn, just to let you kids know that I'll be hosting a fun new feature here on the Absorbascon:
GREAT CORPSES IN COMIC BOOK HISTORY!
Be the first on your block to collect 'em all!